The Historian
Elizabeth Kostova
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The Historian
Elizabeth Kostova
Back Bay Books
704 pages
October 2006
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Historian.

The Historian is an ambitious first novel of admirable proportions, a marvellous epic that will take readers on a mysterious, alluring, and quite unforgettable journey into medieval Eastern European history.

The story begins in 1972 Amsterdam, when a sixteen-year-old girl discovers in her father’s library an old volume with a dragon printed in the middle and an envelope of yellowing papers which, on closer inspection, turn out to be personal letters dated 1930.

“My dear and unfortunate successor…” begins each letter, a line fit to become a classic in literature.
Several days later, in a coffee house in Slovania, she asks her father about her findings. A shadow of fear, grief and resignation crosses his face. Thus he begins his tale, one that compasses not only decades but centuries, to Medieval Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and a dark figure who became known for his incredibly cruel and sadistic tortures inflicted not only on his enemies but on his own people as well: Vlad the Impaler, better known as Dracula.

As the protagonists search for Dracula’s tomb, the story moves back and forth in time, through a series of letters by different authors, culminating in a heart-stopping and intriguing ending, to say the least.

The rich, fluent prose and plot technique of “box within a box” is reminiscent of an early Anne Rice in such works as The Witching Hour. The book, which took the author ten years to complete, is filled with fascinating historical details. Indeed, it’s like a crash course in Eastern European history. Never a dull moment, though.

Ultimately, the novel deals with an important theme: “The study of history should be our preparation for understanding the present, rather than an escape from it.” The author alludes to this theme several times throughout the novel: “The past is very useful, but only for what it can teach us about the present.” The title is mysteriously open to interpretation. Who, in fact, is the Historian?

Elizabeth Kostova, a graduate of Yale who is said to have received a two million dollar advance for this book, doesn’t disappoint. From page one the reader will be under the spell of this gifted storyteller. A suspenseful, addictive, spellbinding read!

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Mayra Calvani, 2005

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