Freelance Writing · Poetry and Prose · Uncategorized

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – Not another Vlad the Impaler Story!

If shops can put out Halloween decorations before the kids are back in school or Labor Day’s been celebrated, then I can talk about vampires. Since Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, I have been fascinated from a young age with the idea of eternal life – its pros and its cons. While we speak often about eternal life in the ethereal sense, the idea of vampires and their…romance as witnessed in a multitude of small and silver screens shines a deeper light on our more banal nature.

Life after death. The fountain of youth. Admit it, you’ve wondered from time to time, what if? I know I have.

Maybe it had something to do with a childhood spent in hospitals; a congenital heart defect, three surgeries, and five pacemakers later, I am very much aware of the world of life and death and have myself wondered if the pros didn’t outweigh the cons. But, it doesn’t matter because vampires don’t exist, right?

Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel The Historian I have purchased twice. I bought the book as soon as it came out and sank my teeth into it.

A young teenager finds a letter addressed to her missing father hidden atop a dusty old bookshelf. This is what adventures are made of. The cryptic note leads her on a labyrinthine quest to find him and she finds more than she ever expected.

A shy girl by nature more at home in libraries than parties…does this resonate with anyone else? She is a born detective of history, but the romance of history has many thorns. Add to that lost opportunities, intentional amnesia, and a family secret so dark it’s hidden below bastions of the sanctity of religion.

I don’t know what happened to the first book, though as I write this, I recall loaning it to someone in Prague, Czech Republic who then loaned it to someone from Romania who then went on an around the world trip. So, for all I know, the first book I bought just may be somewhere in a small Romanian village.

Then, almost ten years later, after four years abroad in Central and Eastern Europe, I returned quite close to where the story originates in New England. So, in a small New England village in northern Vermont, at an independent bookstore, I saw the book again. Without thinking and really looking at the sales sign, I picked it up again and re-read the book blurb. I realized with a start, this book was promoting Ms. Kostova’s second novel, The Swan Thieves, I believe. Strangely, I didn’t recall reading the book ten years before, but its familiarity sprang to life as I read the first page.

The long lead into the heart of the story is reminiscent of Ms. Kostova’s style. If you’re looking for a book to curl up with, a glass of wine or cup of tea, on nights as the cool autumn air turns to winter chill, this is the book for you. Book with glass of wine

At 676 pages, The Historian is an epic tale of a family history that crosses borders, bloodlines, and the edges of sanity.

On the second reading, now older and wiser, I understood elements of the book which I had previously glossed over. I’d smile at a turn of phrase and nod my head. This book is a fresh twist on Vlad the Impaler and his…legacy.

I have to admit, it was fascinating to read now about places I’d been in real life. If pictures are worth a thousand words, then Ms. Kostova’s descriptions are worth a thousand pictures over a thousand lifetimes. Somehow, she balances deep descriptions with dialogue evocative of another time, though the story is set – more or less – in present day. I say “present day” with caution as once sucked into this book, present day can feel like today as you’re reading this or the origins of the story set in the middle ages.

For lovers of mystery. You’ll love the winding trails. For lovers of history, you’ll see places and dates in a new light. For lovers of romance, this is an epic story (a trite cliche, I know) of how far down the devil’s staircase one might wander in their love for another. How far would you go to save the ones you love?

When I was a child, I read…everything. An English teacher noticed me pushing myself to read more advanced books and suggested a trick. She said it would help me measure if I was ready to advance or needed to stay at my current reading level. She said, “open up a book to the middle and if there are 5 or more words you don’t know, you’re not ready for it. If there are 5 or less, then you’re ready for the book.”

In honor of her, I’ve taken the idea a bit further for our Book Review Week and opened up The Historian to page 306 (pretty much in the middle) and laughed out loud at the first two lines on the page.

“And with a strange American?”
” ‘And with a strange American,’ she murmured, which didn’t sound like a compliment. ~page 306, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

A timeless story of Vlad the Impaler or simply a timeless story? I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Images by: Lisa Street Rogers

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