The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian

The Historian

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2005
A dense, multi-layered version of the Dracula story written for the Twenty-First century.   A story within a story that  follows a young women as she searches for her father and discovers her family history.
You already know, my father said, that before you were born I was a professor at an American university.  Before that I studied for many years to become a professor.  At first I thought I would study literature.  Then, however, I realized I loved true stories even better than imaginary ones.  All the literary stories I read led me to some kind of –exploration–of history.  So I finally gave myself up to it.  And I’m very pleased that history interests you, too.
The young women (we never learn her name) discovers a strange book in her father’s library.  It contains only one  image, a rampant dragon, and,  buried in the image. a  name.  After asking her father about this book he begins to tell her it’s history, where he found it and where it lead him. When her father disappears, leaving her a cryptic note and a packet of letter,s we are drawn with her into this strange tale.
This was my second attempt at reading The Historian and I really wanted to love it. So many bloggers I admire do.  But, like my first attempt,  I found myself struggling with it  about two-thirds of the way through.   Kostova has certainly put lots of effort into this book and I enjoyed her writing when it touches on European history, the cities along the journey and the countryside.    I found the story disjointed, wanted more of some things and less of others.  The scary parts never really grabbed me and I found the ending very unsatisfying.  Maybe I’m jaded.  My favorite vampire stories are Dracula and Interview with a Vampire, and nothing else I’ve read has come close.
From what I’ve observed  people either love The Historian or hated it.  You should certainly give it a try.  I just think it needed a better editor.
Other reviews:


Filed under R.I.P. IV, Review

22 responses to “The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

  1. I’m in the camp that loved the book. I read Dracula and Interview but I liked The Historian better! I think I liked the academic feel to the Historian and could very easily relate to it.

  2. I thought this was a great review, and one that really reflected my own feelings on the book. I thought the first 250 pages were fantastic – really interesting, and chock full of suspense. And then it got sooooo boring, and all the drama and intrigue petered out. I mean, the main character is telling the story of what her father did in his youth – we obviously know he came to no ill end, or else he wouldn’t have had a daughter! I also thought the book needed a stricter editor (it went on far longer than it should have), and the ending was anti-climactic. I guess in the end I felt it was a book that had a really promising beginning but the rest of it didn’t live up to that start!

  3. I remember enjoying The Historian while I was reading it, but I have no inclination to read it over again. I’m not sure what camp that puts me in!

  4. I think I’m one of the few who neither loved it nor hated it. Like Jenny, I enjoyed it quite a bit as I was reading it, but it didn’t really stay with me, and I can’t see myself reading it again either.

    • I think I struggled with the end of The Historian thinking “I have this, this, and this that I really want to read, why am I reading this?”

  5. I’ve got a bookmark stuck in this one about 2/3 in, and it’s been there for over two years. I keep thinking I’ll go back and finish it one day, but I must say that I feel better finding someone else who struggled with it.

  6. Oh dear. I’m sorry you didn’t like The Historian – it’s one of my all-time favorite vampire books!

    I definitely agree that Kostova is amazing when it comes to describing place and evoking atmosphere. That was one of the things I most loved about The Historian. But what did bug me about it was just how detailed the father’s letters to the narrator were, even though they were supposedly written overnight in a hurry. That’s actually an issue I have with these types of narratives in general. Why is it, when one character is recounting events to another character, that the speaker/teller always seems to remember every last shred of dialogue?

    • I agree that Kostova is amazing when describing place and evoking atmosphere, and I apreciated her knowledge of academia. I am definitely going to try her new book when it comes out.

  7. softdrink

    I loved it, but mainly for a reason you mentioned…the travels throughout Europe and the descriptions of the cities. Otherwise, I’m afraid I don’t remember that much about it.

  8. That’s what I mean, there is lots of extraneous stuff in the book. I think she needed a better editor!

  9. I read this last year.. it is not what I would normally read but found I enjoyed it very much…

  10. Like you, I couldn’t make it past about 2/3 of the way of this book. I then gave it to my sister who loves vampire books, and she bogged down around there also–but she finished it, and said she liked it overall.

  11. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you! I’m more in the “love it” camp, but I agree that it did kind of bog down about 2/3s of the way through, and could definitely have used some trimming.

  12. I have this book. Someday… maybe someday, I’ll actually read it.

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