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Informative,
Dramatic,
Adventurous

10 reviews

The Historian
by Elizabeth Kostova

Published: 2005-06-14
Hardcover : 642 pages
34 members reading this now
53 clubs reading this now
28 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 8 of 10 members
To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history....Late one night, exploring her father's library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to "My dear and unfortunate successor," and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of-a ...
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Introduction

To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history....Late one night, exploring her father's library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to "My dear and unfortunate successor," and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of-a labyrinth where the secrets of her father's past and her mother's mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known-and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula. Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself-to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive. What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed-and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends? The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe. In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler's dark reign-and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages.Parsing obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions-and evading the unknown adversaries who will go to any lengths to conceal and protect Vlad's ancient powers-one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil. Elizabeth Kostova's debut novel is an adventure of monumental proportions, a relentless tale that blends fact and fantasy, history and the present, with an assurance that is almost unbearably suspenseful-and utterly unforgettable.

Editorial Review

If your pulse flutters at the thought of castle ruins and descents into crypts by moonlight, you will savor every creepy page of Elizabeth Kostova's long but beautifully structured thriller The Historian. The story opens in Amsterdam in 1972, when a teenage girl discovers a medieval book and a cache of yellowed letters in her diplomat father's library. The pages of the book are empty except for a woodcut of a dragon. The letters are addressed to: "My dear and unfortunate successor." When the girl confronts her father, he reluctantly confesses an unsettling story: his involvement, twenty years earlier, in a search for his graduate school mentor, who disappeared from his office only moments after confiding to Paul his certainty that Dracula--Vlad the Impaler, an inventively cruel ruler of Wallachia in the mid-15th century--was still alive. The story turns out to concern our narrator directly because Paul's collaborator in the search was a fellow student named Helen Rossi (the unacknowledged daughter of his mentor) and our narrator's long-dead mother, about whom she knows almost nothing. And then her father, leaving just a note, disappears also.

As well as numerous settings, both in and out of the East Bloc, Kostova has three basic story lines to keep straight--one from 1930, when Professor Bartolomew Rossi begins his dangerous research into Dracula, one from 1950, when Professor Rossi's student Paul takes up the scent, and the main narrative from 1972. The criss-crossing story lines mirror the political advances, retreats, triumphs, and losses that shaped Dracula's beleaguered homeland--sometimes with the Byzantines on top, sometimes the Ottomans, sometimes the rag-tag local tribes, or the Orthodox church, and sometimes a fresh conqueror like the Soviet Union.

Although the book is appropriately suspenseful and a delight to read--even the minor characters are distinctive and vividly seen--its most powerful moments are those that describe real horrors. Our narrator recalls that after reading descriptions of Vlad burning young boys or impaling "a large family," she tried to forget the words: "For all his attention to my historical education, my father had neglected to tell me this: history's terrible moments were real. I understand now, decades later, that he could never have told me. Only history itself can convince you of such a truth." The reader, although given a satisfying ending, gets a strong enough dose of European history to temper the usual comforts of the closing words. --Regina Marler

Excerpt

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Discussion Questions

Questions from the publisher's reading guide:


1. In the "Note to the Reader," the narrator tells us, "There is a final resource to which I have resorted when necessary--the imagination." How does she use this resource in telling her story? Is it a resource to which the other historians in the book resort, as well?

2. The theme of mentors and disciples is an important one in the book. Who are the story's mentors, and in what sense is each a mentor? Who are the book's disciples?

3. Near the end of Chapter 4, Rossi says, "Human history's full of evil deeds, and maybe we ought to think of them with tears, not fascination." Does he follow his own advice? How does his attitude toward history evolve in the course of his own story?

4. In Chapter 5, Paul's friend Massimo asserts that in history, there are no small questions. What does he mean by this and how does this idea inform the book? Do you agree with his statement?

5. Helen and Paul come from very different worlds, although they share a passion for history. How have their upbringings differed? What factors have shaped each?

6. Throughout the book, anyone who finds an antique book with a dragon in the middle is exposed to some kind of danger. What does this danger consist of? Is it an external power, or do the characters bring it upon themselves?

7. Each of the characters is aware of some of the history being made in his or her own times. What are some of these real historical events, and why are they important to the story?

8. At the beginning of Chapter 1, Paul's daughter notes, "I had been raised in a world so sheltered that it makes my adult life in academia look positively adventurous." How does she change as a person in the course of her quest?

9. Helen's history is deeply intertwined with that of Dracula. In what ways are the two characters connected? Does she triumph over his legacy, or not?

10. In Chapter 73, Dracula states his credo: "History has taught us that the nature of man is evil, sublimely so." Do the characters and events of the novel prove or disprove this belief?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Longer book
by JerrilynnL (see profile) 07/18/11
We normally have one book a month but we took two months to read this one.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Good science fiction!"by thewanderingjew (see profile) 06/27/17

The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova, author; Joanne Whalley, Dennis Boutsikaris, Rosalyn Landor, Martin Jarvis, Robin Atkin Downes, Jim Ward, narrators
Does Vlad Tepes, Count Dracula still liv
... (read more)

 
  "Modern Gothic"by char83 (see profile) 11/04/13

I really enjoyed reading the Historian. The story pulled some aspects from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and some aspects from Ann Radcliffe's novels.

 
  "The Historian"by LGreco (see profile) 06/08/12

 
  "The Historian"by Denise Ritchie (see profile) 04/07/12

Enjoyed this book very much! It is long but worth the read.

 
  "a different kind of vampire book"by JerrilynnL (see profile) 07/18/11

This was a great thrilling story told in the first person of different characters. It was less about Dracula as it was about Eastern European history, with a lot of mystery.

 
  "History Researcher Finds Dracula"by ercourson (see profile) 02/09/11

Very interesting. I loved all the geography and the details. What if Dracula is still alive!?!

 
  "The Historian"by lemonie (see profile) 01/12/11

A little slow in the beginning, but worth getting through the first 150 pages.

 
  "The Historian"by sweetee (see profile) 08/31/10

“The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova

When my friend Barbara chose this book for our book club, I was horrified! Not only was it 656 pages long, it was about the legendary vampire, Dr

... (read more)

 
  "Informative"by elahenaz (see profile) 07/25/10

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