The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (book 4 of 4)
Hardcover: 656 pages
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 studentnamed 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
In part one of the book, we follow a father and daughter as they discuss the fact that it is believed that Dracula is still alive. As the daughter digs for information, both from her father, and from libraries, and from letters left by Mr. Rossi, her father seems to be coming weaker until one day he simply disappears. We are in search of: Dracula!
I was 1/3 of the way thru the book and it was turning out to be pretty good...I continued to read.. on.. and on... and on... and....on.
By part 2, I gave myself some atmosphere while I read Rossi's letters of his search for Vlad Dracula, while his daughter Helen and Paul searched for him.
By now it is believed that Rossi, who mysteriously disappeared, would be found at Dracula's tomb... I read on.
Here is a snippet of one of Rossi's letters:
I remembered Bram Stoker's hero setting off into the Transylvanian forests... a fictional version , in any case... by stagecoach, and almost wished we'd departed at evening, so that I too might have glimpses of mysterious fires in the woods, and hear wolves howling. It was a shame, I thought, that Georgescu had never read the book, and I resolved to try to send him a copy from England, if I ever got back to such a humdrum place. Then I remembered my encounter in Istanbul and it sobered me.
This very large book was more interesting than I thought it would be. I was surprised at how quickly I was reading the chapters.
To keep things interesting we were also reading a love story. I can't say I expected a love story in the middle of a story in which Historians were searching to Dracula!
Snippit : upon reaching what they believed was Dracula's tomb: Helen drew back, white lipped in the candlelight, and I fought the urge to take her arm and run up the steps. "Helen", I began softly, but there was nothing else to say. I picked up the dagger and Helen slipped a hand into some part of her clothing... I never did see where... and drew out the tiny pistol, which she put an arm's-length away, near the wall. Then we reached under the edge of the gravestone and lifted. The stone slid halfway off, a marvelous construction. We were both shaking visibly, so that the stone all but slipped out of our grasp. When it was off we looked down at the body inside, the heavily closed eyes, the sallow skin, the unnaturally red lips, the shallow, soundless breathing. It was Professor Rossi.
Not only were we searching for Dracula's tomb, in hope that he was dead not alive.. but things kept popping up to make me believe Dracula was very much alive. *groan*
I found that I began to wonder...
Did I now believe in Dracula?
..a blood-sucking vampire???
that's just ridiculous..
there are no vampires!
Despite the fact I seem to be sleeping more than normal.. This book was an enjoyable read, and I think you'd enjoy it too!
This completes my RIP Challenge Peril the First, to read 4 books... but since it's not even October yet I decided to "continue" and try now for Peril the Second, to read Two books of any length, from any subgenre of scary stories that you choose... at least I will try... I mean.. well.. if I can shake off being so sleepy!