The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
December 12, 1930
Trinity College, Oxford
My dear and unfortunate successor:
It is with regret that I imagine you, whoever you are, reading the account I must put down here. The regret is partly for myself — because I will surely be at least in trouble, maybe dead, or perhaps worse, if this is in your hands. But my regret is also for you, my yet-unknown friend, because only by someone who needs such vile information will this letter someday be read. If you are not my successor in some other sense, you will soon be my heir-and I feel sorrow at bequeathing to another human being my own, perhaps unbelievable, experience of evil. Why I myself inherited it I don’t know, but I hope to discover that fact, eventually-perhaps in the course of writing to you or perhaps in the course of further events.
I just knew, after reading the back cover of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, that this book would be the type of spooky read I could curl up with in a big cozy chair.
The Historian is driven by the quests of four major characters during three separate time periods: in the 1930′s Dr. Bartholomew Rossi; in the 1950′s Paul and Helen, Dr. Rossi’s graduate student, and his daughter, respectively; and in the 1970′s Paul’s teenage daughter. They each seek the truth behind the legendary Vlad Tepes (Dracula) and his hidden tomb.
From the Publisher
“To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history….”
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. Continue reading ...
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. In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler’s dark reign – and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages.
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. Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel is an adventure of monumental proportions, a relentless tale that blends fact and fantasy, history and the present, with an assurance that is almost unbearably suspenseful – and utterly unforgettable. Back Bay Books / Little, Brown and Company
Book Club Ideas for The Historian
First of all, to ward off any unwelcome guests be sure to lay out garlic, a wooden stake, a dagger, and a silver (toy) pistol. Have some pa’linka (fruit brandy) on hand to steady the nerves and a bouquet of red and yellow flowers.
In response to the gypsy woman’s curse on Helen, Turget “rummaged in his jacket pocket and drew out a small object, which he placed next to her plate. It was a flat blue stone about an inch long, set with white and paler blue, like a crude eye. Be sure to have your own protection!
Next, some very nice Hungarian Gypsy violin music to further enhance the atmosphere …
Book Club Menu for The Historian
The inspiration for my menu comes from the scene in which Paul and Helen join Aunt Eva for dinner (actually an Hungarian feast) in Budapest. I read up a bit on Hungarian food before tackling this meal and found that the Hungarians are a soup-eating people and that a three-course meal always begins with soup, such as a meaty gulyas. A most important ingredient required in preparation of Hungarian food is Hungarian Paprika!
The First Course
Hungarian Gulyas ‘The stewed meats and vegetables – one dish of which Helen called gulyas… - gave rise to a long description of the invasion of the region by the Magyars in the ninth century.”
Hungarian Farmer’s Bread (Kenyer) “The wonderful golden bread”
The Second Course
“Aunt Eva explained to me through Helen, ‘We call these hortobahyi palascinta. They are a kind of pancake filled with veal, a tradition with the shepherds in the the lowlands of Hungary.’”
The Third Course (dessert)
“Just when I thought I could not eat another bite, two waiters appeared with trays of pastries and tortes that would not have been out of place in an Austro-Hungarian throne room…”
I couldn’t decide between Rigo Jancsi and Dobos Torte, so I made both!
“… and with cups of ‘Eszpresszo‘… Somehow we found room for everything.”
Book Club Resources For The Historian
Ratings at the time this post was published
|Goodreads: 3.62 stars (41,195 reviews)|
|Amazon: 3.3 stars (1,570 reviews)|
|Barnes & Noble: 4 stars (923 reviews)|
|My Rating: 4 stars A spooky, intelligent read!|
“…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, The Washington Post
“…Ten years in the writing, this debut is recommended for readers who enjoy arcane literary puzzles la Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Ian Caldwell’s The Rule of Four.” – Patricia Altner, Library Journal
- “Anyone who loves to become involved in the lives of fictional characters will find much to savor in this intricately plotted, delicately written novel. Kostova is a natural storyteller. She tells her otherworldly tale with great assurance and considerable style.” – June Sawyers, San Francisco Chronicle
Discussion Questions for The Historian
- What were your inital feelings toward Turgut? Did those feelings change as the novel progressed?
- What is the significane of Helen and her mother’s dragon tatoos?
- Why do you think the author never mentions the name of novel’s narrator?
- Paul, an American, and Helen, an Eastern European, have cultural differences but a shared passion of history. Discuss their relationship. Did you find their coming together believable? Why or why not?
- What did you think of the ending epilogue? Will the narrator be able to escape her legacy?
- Who is the Historian?
Purchase The Historian at your favorite bookseller
- 2003 Winner of Hopwood Award for Novel-in-progress
- 2005 Winner of Quill Award for Debut Author of the Year
- 2005 Nominated for International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel 2005
- 2006 Winner of Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Best Adult Fiction
Sony has bought the film rights to The Historian.
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