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The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian (original 2005; edition 2009)

by Elizabeth Kostova

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
16,272649108 (3.68)4 / 630
Title:The Historian
Authors:Elizabeth Kostova
Info:Back Bay Books (2009), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 720 pages
Collections:Your library, To read

Work details

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (2005)

  1. 323
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    tessac: Freedom & Necessity is epistolic in nature so if that appealed to you in The Historian, I heartily recommend F & N. There are no vampires but, like The Historian, the fantastical is subtly woven into the story.
  8. 51
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    Joles: Both of these books share a great deal of research and they keep you speeding through one chapter to the next. Oh...and they both have Dracula....
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    QueenOfDenmark: I've just started reading The Vampyre but right from the start it put me in mind of Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian. Lord Byron is used as the main character in Tom Holland's The Vampyre to interesting effect while count Dracula is the more traditional vampire hero in Kostova's Historian.… (more)
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English (628)  Spanish (6)  Dutch (3)  Swedish (2)  German (2)  Danish (2)  Norwegian (1)  Portuguese (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (646)
Showing 1-5 of 628 (next | show all)
I wish I had written this book, and I don't say that very often. ( )
  steve.lane | Nov 28, 2015 |
Forgot the name of this book for years! It's absolutely fantastic and full of history and great writing, my favorite combination. ( )
  arpentec | Nov 27, 2015 |
A bit long and slowish paced for my usual tastes but it runs across fabulously desecribed locations and has enough intrigue and suspense to keep me happy. A great alternative to the Twighlight take on vampire fiction. ( )
  garethmottram | Oct 27, 2015 |
Well, it was fun, but it doesn't really deliver all that it promises. Kostova's ambitious plan seems to have been to get beyond the strange conventions inherited from Hollywood and Bram Stoker and reimagine the vampire-story in an authentic historical and cultural context. She gets some way towards this, but ultimately we still have poor old Vlad being chased around by a bunch of disgruntled stakeholders, armed with all the usual paraphernalia of garlic, silver bullets and crucifixes. The most radical thing Kostova does for him is put him into doublet and hose instead of 19th century evening dress. And the stakeholders themselves adhere very closely to the equally artificial Hollywood conventions of what a university professor should be like (tweed jackets, no teaching commitments, unlimited travel budget, little knowledge of the languages of the regions they study, and a complete disregard for the principles of careful scholarship...).

The opening chapters of the book are particularly irritating (it does get better if you stick with it), because Kostova obviously felt the need to convince the tax authorities that all those European holidays were essential research trips, so her characters flit about the place from one colourful location to another for no obvious reason. This sticks out because Kostova sadly isn't very good at locations: she mostly sticks to the "picture postcard" approach, telling us the obvious thing that we already know about the place. When she tries to go beyond that, it usually comes out sounding generic and unconvincing. And occasionally totally wrong, as when she manages to imply that you get from Amsterdam to Oxford by taking one of the ferries from behind Amsterdam CS! The only point where she managed to convince me that she was writing about places she knew and saying something more than the obvious and trivial about them was in the Bulgarian section of the book, and that's possibly just because I don't know Bulgaria.

For what's marketed as an historical novel, she's also not very serious about establishing period. There's so little distinction in style between the voices of the three generations of narrators (supposedly writing in the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s) that it's often hard to keep track of which is which. If it wasn't for the occasional clunky reference to Hitler, Stalin and similarly obvious chronological landmarks, we would be quite lost.

So, probably better than the average vampire novel, but only marginally. ( )
  thorold | Sep 3, 2015 |
A fun variation about the Dracula myth if the Count had a sweet tooth for dry historians and librarians instead of virgins. Johnathan Harker's Dracula was much smarter as he knew how to procure professional services directly by paying for them instead of a very elaborate and not very efficient round-about way. In contrast, the amount of improbable coincidences beggars belief. I liked the various descriptions of the European locations (though they were not always completely accurate).

It is strange that the movie version has been in production hell ever since the novel was published. Action and scenery are plentiful. Add a couple of good actors into the mix and there should be potential for a good adventure film (albeit not in the desired PG-13 category). ( )
  jcbrunner | Jun 30, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 628 (next | show all)
Vlad Lit: don't flirt with it, just sink your teeth right in
When, after many other allusions to historians and historicism, Kostova introduced a character whose last name is Hristova, I was tempted to run out to a pharmacy for some antihristomine.

What's unfortunate about this overload is that the book -- which seems to want to do for historians what ''Possession'' did for literary scholars -- is otherwise the kind of wonderfully paced yarn that would make a suitable companion to a deck chair, a patch of sun and some socklessness.
In a ponderous, many-layered book that is exquisitely versed in the art of stalling, Ms. Kostova steeps her readers in Dracula lore. She visits many libraries, monasteries, relics of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, crypts, restaurants, scholars and folk-song-singing peasants. Every now and then a mysterious pale, sinister figure will materialize, only to vanish bewilderingly. The book's characters find this a lot more baffling than readers will.
Stuffed with rich, incense-laden cultural history and travelogue, The Historian is a smart, bibliophilic mystery in the same vein (sorry) as A.S. Byatt's Possession--but without all that poetry.
added by Shortride | editTime, Lev Grossman (Jun 12, 2005)

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elizabeth Kostovaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Eyre, JustineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Michael, PaulNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ram, TitiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schroderus, ArtoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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How these papers have been placed in sequence will be
made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have
been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the
possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact.
There is throughout no statement of past things wherein memory
may err, for all the records chosen are exactly contemporary,
given from the stand-points and within the range
of knowledge of those who made them.

     --Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897
What sort of place had I come to, and among what kind of
people? What sort of grim adventure was it on which I had
embarked? . . . I began to rub my eyes and pinch myself to see if
I were awake. It all seemed like a horrible nightmare to me, and I
expected that I should suddenly awake, and find myself at home,
with the dawn struggling in through the windows, as I had now
and again felt in the morning after a day of overwork. But my
flesh answered the pinching test, and my eyes were not to be
deceived. I was indeed awake and among the Carpathians. All
I could do now was to be patient, and to wait the coming
of the morning.

--Bram Stoker, Dracula,1897
There was one great tomb more lordly than all the rest; huge it was,
and nobly proportioned. On it was but one word,


     --Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897.
For my father,
who first told me
some of these stories
First words
A Note To The Reader

The story that follows is one I never intended to commit to paper.
In 1972 I was sixteen --- young, my father said, to be traveling with him on his diplomatic missions.
"To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history . . ."
"My dear and unfortunate successor . . ."
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Please do not combine with any abridged editions of The Historian.
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Late one night, exploring her father's library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to 'My dear and unfortunate successor'. Her discovery plunges 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 evil hidden in the depths of history. In those few quiet moments, she unwittingly assumes a quest she will discover is her birthright - a hunt for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the Dracula myth. Deciphering obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions, and evading terrifying adversaries, one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil.

AR 7.3, 42 Pts
Haiku summary
Dracula - alive!
But where to find him today?
Family's search for truth

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0316011770, Hardcover)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:22 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A young woman finds old papers which begin to reveal an ancient and evil plot concerning Vlad the Impaler and the legend of Dracula, which may still be continuing.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 9 descriptions

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