guide_430.jpg

Historian (Kostova)

The Historian
Elizabeth Kostova, 2005
Little, Brown and Co.
656 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780316067942

Summary
Late one night, exploring her father's library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to "My dear and unfortunate successor," and they plunge 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 inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history." The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known — and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula.

Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself — to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive. What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed — and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends?

The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe. Parsing obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions — and evading the unknown adversaries who will go to any lengths to conceal and protect Vlad's ancient powers — one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil. (From the publisher).



Author Bio
Birth—December 26, 1964
Where—New London, Connecticut, USA
Rasied—Knoxville, Tennessee
Education—B.A., Yale; M.F.A. University of Michigan
Awards—Hopwod Award for Nove-in-Progress; Quill Award;
   Book Sense Award
Currently—lives in Michigan, USA


Elizabeth Johnson Kostova, an American author, is best known for her debut novel The Historian. Swan Thieves, her second novel, was released in 2010.

Kostova's interest in the Dracula legend began with the stories her father told her about the vampire when she was a child. The family lived in Ljubljana, Slovenia in 1972, while her father was teaching at a local university; during that year, the family traveled across Europe. According to Kostova, "It was the formative experience of my childhood."She "was fascinated by [her father's Dracula stories] because they were...from history in a way, even though they weren't about real history, but I heard them in these beautiful historic places." Kostova's interest in books and libraries began early as well. Her mother, a librarian, frequently took her and her sisters to the public library — they were each allowed to check out 30 books and had a special shelf for their library books.

As a child, she listened to recordings of Balkan folk music and became interested in the tradition. As an undergraduate at Yale, she sang in and directed a Slavic chorus. In 1989, she and some friends traveled to Eastern Europe, specifically Bulgaria and Bosnia, to study local musical customs. The recordings they made will be deposited in the Library of Congress. While Kostova was in Europe, the Berlin Wall collapsed, heralding the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, events which shaped her understanding of history.

Five years later, in 1994, when Kostova was hiking in the Appalachian Mountains with her husband, she had a flashback to those storytelling moments with her father and asked herself "what if the father were spinning his Dracula tales to his entranced daughter and Dracula was listening in? What if Dracula was still alive?" She immediately scratched out seven pages of notes into her writer's notebook. Two days later, she started work on the novel. At the time she was teaching English as a second language, creative writing, and composition classes at universities in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She then moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and finished the book as she was obtaining her Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Michigan. In order to write the book, she did extensive research about Eastern Europe and Vlad Tepes.

Kostova finished the novel in January 2004 and sent it out to a potential literary agent in March. Two months later and within two days of sending out her manuscript to publishers, Kostova was offered a deal—she refused it. The rights to the book were then auctioned off and Little, Brown and Company bought it for US$2 million (US$30,000 is typical for a first novel from an unknown author). Publishers Weekly explained the high price as a bidding war between firms believing that they might have the next Da Vinci Code within their grasp. One vice-president and associate publisher said "Given the success of The Da Vinci Code, everybody around town knows how popular the combination of thriller and history can be and what a phenomenon it can become." Little, Brown, and Co. subsequently sold the rights in 28 countries. The book was published in the United States on 14 June 2005.

More
The novel blends the history and folklore of Vlad Tepes and his fictional equivalent Count Dracula and has been described as a combination of genres, including Gothic novel, adventure novel, detective fiction, travelogue, postmodern historical novel, epistolary epic, and historical thriller. Kostova was intent on writing a serious work of literature and saw herself as an inheritor of the Victorian style. Although based on Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Historian is not a horror novel, but rather an eerie tale. The novel is concerned with questions about history, its role in society, and how it is represented in books, as well as the nature of good and evil. As Kostova explains, "Dracula is a metaphor for the evil that is so hard to undo in history." The evils brought about by religious conflict are a particular theme and the novel explores the relationship between the Christian West and the Islamic East.

Heavily promoted, the book became the first debut novel to land at number one on the the New York Times bestseller list and as of 2005 was the fastest-selling hardback debut novel in US history. In general, the reviews of the novel were mixed. Several reviewers noted that she described the setting of her novel well. However, some reviewers criticized the book's structure and its lack of tonal variety. Kostova received the 2006 Book Sense award for Best Adult Fiction and the 2005 Quill Award for Debut Author of the Year. Sony bought the film rights to the novel for $1.5 million.

In May 2007, the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation was created. The Foundation helps support Bulgarian creative writing, the translation of contemporary Bulgarian literature into English, and friendship between Bulgarian authors and American and British authors.

Kostova's second novel, The Swan Thieves, was released in 2010. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
Elizabeth Kostova has produced an honorable summer book, reasonably well written and enjoyable and, most important of all, very, very long: One can tote The Historian to the beach, to the mountains, to Europe or to grandmother's house and still be reading its 21st-century coda when Labor Day finally rolls around.
Michael Dirde - Washington Post


Kostova may have outdone Stoker or even, for that matter, Hollywood.... Before the sun sets, grab this book and take a long and satisfying drink.
USA Today


Stuffed with rich, incense-laden history cultural history and travelogue.... A smart, bibliophilic mystery.
Time


Blending history and myth, Kostova has fashioned a version of [the Dracula story] so fresh that when a stake is finally driven through the heart, it inspires the tragic shock of something happening for the very first time.
Newsweek


(Audio version.) When a teenage girl asks about a medieval book hidden in her father's library, he reluctantly recounts how it changed his life. The book of blank pages, graced with only a single dragon illustration and the word "Drakulya," appeared as he pursued his doctorate, luring him into a historical search for the real Dracula, Vlad the Impaler. Similar works appeared to his mentor and to his future wife, enticing each to follow a trail of manuscripts and maps in search of Dracula's grave. Equal parts mystery, romance, travelog, and political primer, Kostova's debut novel won the Hopwoods Award for Novel-in-Progress. The tome took a decade to write and is occasionally as tedious as a long journey, but actors Justine Eyre and Paul Michael propel listeners through the byzantine plot.
Library Journal



Book Club Discussion Questions
1. In the "Note to the Reader," the narrator tells us, "There is a final resource to which I have resorted when necessary — the imagination." How does she use this resource in telling her story? Is it a resource to which the other historians in the book resort, as well?

2. The theme of mentors and disciples is an important one in the book. Who are the story's mentors, and in what sense is each a mentor? Who are the book's disciples?

3. Near the end of Chapter 4, Rossi says, "Human history's full of evil deeds, and maybe we ought to think of them with tears, not fascination." Does he follow his own advice? How does his attitude toward history evolve in the course of his own story?

4. In Chapter 5, Paul's friend Massimo asserts that in history, there are no small questions. What does he mean by this and how does this idea inform the book? Do you agree with his statement?

5. Helen and Paul come from very different worlds, although they share a passion for history. How have their upbringings differed? What factors have shaped each?

6. Throughout the book, anyone who finds an antique book with a dragon in the middle is exposed to some kind of danger. What does this danger consist of? Is it an external power, or do the characters bring it upon themselves?

7. Each of the characters is aware of some of the history being made in his or her own times. What are some of these real historical events, and why are they important to the story?

8. At the beginning of Chapter 1, Paul's daughter notes, "I had been raised in a world so sheltered that it makes my adult life in academia look positively adventurous." How does she change as a person in the course of her quest?

9. Helen's history is deeply intertwined with that of Dracula. In what ways are the two characters connected? Does she triumph over his legacy, or not?

10. In Chapter 73, Dracula states his credo: "History has taught us that the nature of man is evil, sublimely so." Do the characters and events of the novel prove or disprove this belief?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

top of page

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2014