” The Historian amounts to something profound… We encounter obsession, possession and the struggle against the brevity of life. It is an exploration of the eternal desire for intimacy”
– Saffron Burrows, London Times
“Brooding and atmospheric… Kostova has re-created a Dracula every bit as horrifying and as terrible as when the bloodsucking vampire first became fixed in popular culture with Bram Stoker’s celebrated telling of the tale in 1897… In the end, Kostova may have outdone Stoker”
– Carol Memmott, USA Today
‘The Historian’ is a debut novel by an American writer Elizabeth Kostova, published in 2005 by Little, Brown and Company, a publishing house established by Charles Coffin Little and James Brown. Author’s idea for the book was based on stories about Dracula told by Kostova’s father when she was a child. She worked on a book for ten years and it was sold within few months to the publishing house mentioned above. The novel may be classified as Gothic novel, adventure novel, detective fiction, postmodern historical novel or historical thriller. The book presents history’s role in society, the importance of books, the nature of good and evil as well as the relationship between the Christian West and Islamic East.
1. Hopwood Award for Novel-in-progress in 2003 (winner)
2. Quill Award for Debut Author of the Year in 2005 (winner)
3. International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel in 2005 (nominated)
4. Book Sense Award for Best Adult Fiction in 2006 (winner)
Part one: 1930. Bartholomew Rossi, a graduate student in history, finds a mysterious book containing only an engraved picture of a menacing dragon. Through diligent research at Oxford and Istanbul, he discovers that Dracula (or rather, the historical figure, Vlad the Impaler, on whom Dracula is partially based) is alive, hiding in a secret tomb somewhere in Europe. However, as Rossi pursues this information, people close to him begin to die of violence and blood loss. He ultimately decides it is too dangerous to push any further, and goes back to his usual life at school.
Part two: mid 1950’s. Paul, another graduate student in history, finds a mysterious book containing only an engraved picture of a menacing dragon. He takes it to his mentor, Bartholomew Rossi, who shows Paul his book and recounts some of the events in plot one. Then Rossi disappears, leaving only evidence of a violent and bloody fight. Paul becomes convinced that Rossi has been kidnapped by Dracula and taken back to his hidden tomb for some unknown evil purpose.
He joins forces with Helen, another student who turns out to be Rossi’s illegitimate daughter from a trip Rossi took to Romania in 1930 to search for Dracula’s tomb. (Rossi was given a potion to force him to forget this part of the trip, and thus abandoned Helen and her mother.) Paul and Helen, pursued by an “evil librarian” vampire, search museums, monasteries and libraries in Istanbul and Cold War Eastern Europe for clues to the location to the tomb in a frantic attempt to rescue Rossi. They finally find the tomb in Hungary, but too late: Dracula has fled and Rossi has received the three bites which doom him to become one of the Undead compelled to serve the master vampire. (Dracula kidnapped Rossi because of Rossi’s intelligence and persistence, intending to force Rossi to become…the curator of Dracula’s extensive library.)
With terrible grief, Paul and Helen drive a stake through his heart to spare him that awful fate. In the course of plot two we learn: a) Dracula is the one leaving the mysterious books to students, in order to find brave and brilliant scholars; b) Helen is a direct descendent of Dracula; c) Helen has been bitten twice and carries the vampire taint, although she is not yet one of the undead; and d) Paul and Helen fall in love and become the parents of the narrator of plot three.
Part three: mid 1970’s. Paul and Helen’s eighteen year old daughter narrates. She has been raised by her father; her mother died, apparently of suicide, when she was a baby. She finds her father’s dragon book in his study, and her father slowly tells her, through stories and letters, the events of plot one and two. In the midst of this, he leaves abruptly; she learns he is going to an ancient monastery in France to confront Dracula and rescue her mother, who is really alive and has been hunting the vampire all these years. She follows him to help; most of the book unfolds as she reads letters on the long train ride from England to France. She and her father confront Dracula, and are about to be destroyed when Helen arrives and shoots him through the heart with a silver bullet, reducing him to dust. The family is reunited and lives happily for many years.
Postscript: Present day: The narrator, now a respected professor of history, goes to Philadelphia to look at Bram Stoker’s notes for the book, “Dracula”. As she is leaving, she discovers in her briefcase a mysterious book containing only an engraved picture of a menacing dragon. (Yes, another one.) As she recoils, we end with a description of Vlad Dracul in medieval times, planning his eternal life and eventual world domination (and, presumably, extensive book collecting). (taken from http://www.thebookspoiler.com)
‘The Historian’ is definitely and undeniably one of my favourite novels ever. It was love at first reading. However, I’ll start with one negative thing about the book (the only one I can think of). It requires some patience at the beginning, since until the story gets its pace, it seems to be a little boring and confusing. But when you get into the world which the author created, you’ll become lost in pages until you reach the very last of them. What I liked about the novel, and what can be regarded as a drawback by some readers, is its complexity. It refers to both the protagonists and the plot itself. Kostova incorporated not only fictional characters into her novel, but also real ones. It makes the story more reliable and definitely more interesting. When it comes to the plot, the way the author composed her story is simply amazing. It’s a multi-level construction involving several stories of the main characters. What is interesting, these individual plots float around the same topic and are joined together at the end. This “story within a story” device used by Kostova makes the book dynamic and puts it on a higher literary level. I really appreciate historical facts and characters which the author made use of. Thanks to this, the book has not only an entertaining function, but also an educational one thanks to which readers get to know the world used as a setting for the plot as it actually was. Finally, I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t mention the atmosphere of the novel. Supernatural elements, mysterious places and events, unsolved puzzles, evil standing just behind characters’ backs… that’s what I always seek in books. That’s what makes me want to read one more chapter, and one more… until my eyelids start falling.
Here’s an online audiobook which I’ve found. I’ll put only Part One here. The rest of them are on the same site. Enjoy 🙂