Review

The Historian

by Elizabeth Kostova

A young unnamed woman discovers a stash of letters hidden in her father's library. Bewilderingly, they're addressed to "My dear and unfortunate successor." She wants to question her father, Paul, although she is simultaneously fearful of hearing his answers.

First, however, she insists he take her on his business trip to Slovenia. And so, in a foreign teahouse she asks her question. Paul looks sorrowful as he begins his story with his discovery of a mysterious and ominous book many years before.

The ancient book was blank paged except for a dragon running across the center. In the dragon's claws hung a banner emblazoned with the word "DRAKULYA." When it appeared on the desk of the young Paul's library carrel, he felt revulsion. When the book kept reappearing in his possessions, he felt terror. Fascination, however, trumped the other two emotions.

Paul continues his story, telling his daughter that his college adviser, Bartholomew Rossi, was saddened and horrified by Paul's ominous find. He, too, owned a similar book and had a story to tell about his travels researching Vlad the Impaler, the vicious medieval prince who inspired the legend of Dracula. In fact, Rossi confided to Paul that Dracula was still alive.

Paul, having gotten this far in his story to his daughter, is unable to continue. He leaves her yearning to hear more until their next trip together. Sporadically, he resumes his tale --- but only in short episodes and while away from home. She learns that Paul has inherited a dreadful curse from his adviser, who endangered the lives of those he cared for with his connection to the undead.

The girl herself becomes fascinated with Dracula, raptly attending to her father's tales and also furtively researching on her own. She glimpses a dark figure who appears to be watching the girl and her father as he continues his story. Paul tells her that when Rossi abruptly vanished, Paul was determined to find his friend. His search led him into ever deeper and more violent danger.

Paul has not finished telling his tale to his daughter when he suddenly departs on a startling quest. The woman now has a quest of her own: can she find her father?

Although the leisurely pace, passages of travelogue description, and bits of historical lore made for a bit of a slow start, I was soon well hooked. I became accustomed to the prose, which has the stately, unhurried cadence of a classic. This tapestry of tales is part mystery, part romance, and part adventure --- but at its heart, it is a stylish vampire story and fascinating reading. At 642 pages, the beautifully written and creepily realistic novel feels too long at the beginning, but then way too short as the reader eagerly yet reluctantly approaches the final climax.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 22, 2011

The Historian
by Elizabeth Kostova

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316070637
  • ISBN-13: 9780316070638