Thursday, October 31, 2013

Book Review: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I read slowly and because of this I seldom read books longer than 300 pages but on August 30th I undertook a challenge -- to read a book double this length. I left a trail of notes...

'[W]hen you handle books all day long every new one is a friend and a temptation.' (p. 12)

The Historian's old-fashioned charm captured me and I was helpless to do anything but continue to read. It was raining which added an atmospheric note to the experience.

Circles within circles within circles. We are told the story by the daughter, who in turn is told the story by her father, who in turn is told the story by his professor.

I continue to be intrigued by The Historian. I like how Kostova inspires the reader to invent her own answers to questions:  Why does the father have such a strange reaction to the matre d's story? What story is worse than the one being told -- and why? Has the father become a victim of the curse? Is the father a vampire? My creative mind gambles ahead in the rich, green meadow Kostova has led me to. Oh, if only I had all day to read.

Elizabeth Kostova skillfully weaves the threads of these stories around and around each other, like weaving a tapestry. She creates such a complicated design but the reader never gets lost -- always sees the pattern.

'It is a fact that we historians are interested in what is partly a reflection of ourselves perhaps a part of ourselves we would rather not examine except through the medium of scholarship; it is also true that as we steep ourselves in our interests, they become more and more a part of us.' (p. 250)

These vampires don't shimmer in the sunlight -- they lurk in the shadows. They aren't romantic but the embodiment of evil. Bram Stoker would be very pleased with Elizabeth Kostova's dark, mysterious tale.

Elizabeth Kostova has filled my mind with her tale and I'm finding it hard to sleep for fear of a dark figure lurking in the shadows. Yet I read on...

The professor had returned and we, the reader, dance from father to daughter as we travel ever nearer to Dracula.

I really enjoy how Elizabeth Kostova drops clues like petals along the path. If the reader isn't careful the petal will be overlooked, mistaken for just another blade of grass.

One member of the family is chosen to receive a dragon tattoo. What tattoo (talkative, secretive, demonstrative) do we receive from our family? Who is tattooed? Who isn't? Why?

'I'm on a quest of sorts, an historian's hunt for Dracula -- not Count Dracula of the romantic stage, but a real Dracula -- Drakulya -- Vlad III, a fifteenth-century tyrant who lived in Transylvania and Wallacia and dedicated himself to keeping the Ottoman Empire out of his land as long as possible.' (p. 391)

Male-female, we are mammals, primitive, uncivilized, wild, untamed, driven by desire, uncontrollable, capable of the unthinkable...evil? 

We bear the mark but must we do the deed?

The love of a mother for a child--and what would cause her to leave?

I wonder if Elizabeth Kostova is Hungarian or...Romanian? From what sense of cultural knowledge is this tale drawn?

'I would return to you immediately, but I know that if I do, the same thing will happen. I will feel my uncleanness,...I will feel the horror of it...How can I be near you knowing that I am tainted? What right do I have to touch your smooth cheek?' (p. 564 - 565)

What would make a parent feel this way about his child? Where would he go for comfort?
A father fearing that he will physically abuse his child may enlist to kill the 'enemy'.

'If there is any good in life, in history, in my own past, I invoke it now. I invoke it with all the passion with which I have lived.' (p. 621)

Would Dracula truly see himself as evil or would he justify his actions? Does anyone ever see himself as evil?

Within a book lies a trail of a book to a book.

No book is flawless. I felt that the last chapter was not written with as much care as the prior ones. So I wonder, did the author lose interest, did an editor instruct her to cut words, or did she simply have trouble finding the end? For me, it seems rushed--a lot of telling very little showing.

Regardless, The Historian was a titillating, captivating read. This book has me searching my bookshelves for the next read, something like must be, horror. My teeth long to sink into the flesh of the genre; taste another author's blood...