Welcome to a retelling of Dracula for the twenty-first century, only think much better and more interesting; less of the weak and pitiful women and demanding men; more history and research. Elizabeth Kostova, while no doubt being a very well off person who went to the best schools for writing, has nevertheless spent a long time researching and writing The Historian with the resulting book being little about vampires and undead and more about books and history and researching and following the trail; it’s an academic adventure novel.
Our narrator is a young girl in her teens traveling through Europe, following the letters of her father from his travels in the 1950s, who was following the letters of his mentor from his travels in the 1930s. While most of the book is in letter form – with speech quotes framing just about every sentence – Kostova forgoes the accuracy of the letter form and, like Bram Stoker in Dracula, makes the letters part of the novel with action, emotion, and character reaction – attributes that would not usually be in a letter, but for the sake of this book, need to be.
The premise is that Dracula, or Drakulya, better known as Vlad the Impaler, who was killed in battle in the fifteenth century is still alive and well in the twentieth century. The three story lines of the narrator, her father, and his professor all have an event in common: they each received a copy of an ancient book with an elaborate woodcut of a dragon, the symbol and emblem of Drakulya. Each of them travel throughout the many cities of Europe tracking Dracula and tracking each other through their letters; clearly Kostova herself traveled to each of this cities, for the book is partially a travel log of Europe, written in exquisite detail.
At the end of the book, when each person finally confronts Dracula in their time, it is revealed that Dracula himself is a lover of history and books and has been building up his library for hundreds of years with the hope of having every old book and important piece of writing in history at his finger tips, all he needs is a librarian to maintain it, of course they need to be turned undead so that their duties as librarian will last as long as Dracula is alive. The professor is turned and when this is discovered, is staked, while the narrator’s father leaves due to the loss of his wife – the narrator’s mother – thinking her dead. It is at the very end when the narrator finds Dracula, she also finds her father on the trail, and then her mother who all play a part in killing Dracula once and for all; the family united at last.
While this review may make The Historian seem trivial and “tied in a big red bow,” the author clearly worked very hard and long in her research of books and places; the result is a lengthy tome that takes you on a long journey through a well-described Europe, through old documents and journals, to an adversary we have read and written about for hundreds of years.
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Originally written on January 21st, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.