I finally finished the 900-page “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova. It’s my second pass through the book; however there is a huge difference between listening to the book read on a CD and actually reading it!
Yes, the book is about the search for Vlad the Impaler’s tomb and the reality of vampires, but I have different purposes for reading the book: exploring the quality of fiction writing, understanding a father/daughter relationship, looking at the coming of age of a young girl, and finally learning about eastern Europe that represents my husband’s ethnic heritage. My step-daughter loves to read about supernatural monsters, so my ultimate goal is to pass the book onto her.
Quality of Fictional Writing
The Historian, published in 2005, received rave reviews from numerous literature critics. The book received the Book Sense Award in 2006 for best adult fiction and the Quill Award in 2005 for best debut author. It ranked #8 on Publisher’s Weekly and #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list. Certainly, the book was well-received by readers and critics, but as this is my blog, my opinion still counts!
The author’s writing is incredibly descriptive. Her research on eastern Europe during the Cold War period is incredibly thorough, and the transitions between the father’s story and his daughter’s travels are extremely easy to follow. Even though the book is 900 pages, it is well worth the read.
Paul, the father in this novel, is both an authoritarian and overly generous to his daughter who is never named at any point in the novel. He is very strict, allowing her only to attend school and return immediately home. If she attends any extracurricular activities, they can only attended with friends who are equally reticent and as the daughter explains, boring. On the otherhand, the father and daughter are extremely close. He values her curiosity and often allows her to travel with him on his diplomatic trips throughout Europe. Kostova handles this dichotomic relationship very smoothly. As such, when the daughter sets off to find her father, she recognizes she is disobeying her father, but will also be forgiving and grateful to see her.
Coming of Age
When we first meet Paul’s daughter, she is a very immature 16 year-old girl, eager to please her father and never disobedient. However, her development takes a very steep curve when she discovers the letters that introduces her to her father’s search for Dracula. When her father suddenly leaves her with the excuse of an emergency diplomatic mission, she recognizes the lie and immediately chooses to follow him with Oxford scholar, Barley. He plays both friend and protector. As time passes, she discovers love and loses her virginity. She also becomes comfortable traveling with someone other than her father. By the time she finds both her parents, she is an adult.
What fascinated me most about this book was the vivid detail with which Kostova described eastern Europe. She describes the father’s travels starting in Istanbul, then Romania, Hungary, and finally Bulgaria. As I had mentioned, my husband’s ethnic heritage is Hungarian, and he is a first generation American. Shortly after high school, he and his father traveled to Budapest to live at his uncle’s farm. My husband told me it was the best education he had ever received. But, of course, he didn’t describe the city to me, the bridges, the buildings, etc. Granted, “The Historian” describes Hungary in 1954, before the revolution, before the fall of Communism. Kostova also describes the bitterness Hungary had against Romania, the country where Paul’s wife was born. Traveling from country to country was extremely difficult due to secret police and the anti-American beliefs of the government. Thanks to his wife’s aunt, he did get permission to travel through the different countries, but Paul was still watchful of people who followed him while he did his research. I’m very appreciative of the thorough research the author did to describe the different countries and their cultures, even if I had to read half the book before Paul and his wife arrived in Hungary!
Whether you are interested in the myths of Dracula, the dynamics of a family, the coming of age of a young girl, or eastern Europe in the 50s, you will enjoy “The Historian”, despite its length, and my recommendation is if you are able, you should read this bestseller.