book reviews · gen reads · writings

gen reads: the historian

Every time fall rolls around, I always find myself longing for certain books. Books that are a little scary and books that are meant to be read cuddle under the covers on a cool night with a hot cup of tea next to you. I have a few fall favorites that I revisit every few years and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is one of them.

I found it by total change one day the beginning of last fall semester as a college student. I was wondering the school bookstore in between classes and picked this book up for a reason I don’t even remember. I remember cracking it open after finishing my homework later that day and being immediately entranced by the story.

It’s a thick read and a winding tale with lots of twists and turns. It’s definitely a book that is chilling and thrilling while still managing to be a tender love story and a tale of the power of family. I am also a sucker for any kind of book that is centered around a deep appreciation for literature as reading is so dear to me.

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“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 student named 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.” (amazon.com official review)

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The plot is a somewhat spooky one which makes it one of my favorite top fall reads. The book is about vampires but not in a cheesy Twilight way. The story begins with our narrator who is a young woman and the daughter of a well respected historian named Paul. The narrator’s mother passed away many years before so she is often left alone often while her father travels. One day she finds a curious book in her father’s bookshelf, hidden away. This strange old book is almost a main character in The Historian as this mysertious book contains a horrifying past and is the catalyst for what changes a number of people’s lives when they come in contact with it.

So begins her father’s tale, told in short spurts as she pleads with him to share it with her despite his concern the telling her too much could place her in danger.

We then travel back to when her father was a young student and finds an unusual book on his desk one day. He proceeds to talk to his mentor, Professor Rossi  about the book and is stunned to find out that he too once found a strange book with a dragon on the front. Professor Rossi, after his own harrowing tale of what happened when he found the book, is convinced that Vvlad the Impaler otherwise known as the man the character Dracula was based upon…is still alive many centuries later.

So begins an a multi-layered adventure that spans across decades as Professor Rossi, Paul, and our narrator embark both separately and together on terrifying journeys into the unknown where past and present intermingle. It is a historical thriller, a love story, along with being what I would consider a bit of a “gothic novel”. It is told in three parts, some back before the narrator was born and some after she has found the book.

I really enjoyed it. Its the kind of book that makes you jump if you are reading it at night and then your phone rings. It’s also a long dense read which I always enjoy because it means I get to “stay” in this alternate world for awhile since I am a really fast reader.

I really recommend it to anyone who enjoys books that are “scary” without being terrifying.

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Some of my favorite quotes and passages from the book:

“When you handle books all day long, every new one is a friend and a temptation.”

“As a historian, I have learned that, in fact, not everyone who reaches back into history can survive it. And it is not only reaching back that endangers us; sometimes history itself reaches inexorably forward for us with its shadowy claws.” 

“Never before had I known the sudden quiver of understanding that travels from word to brain to heart, the way a new language can move, coil, swim into life under the eyes, the almost savage leap of comprehension, the instantaneous, joyful release of meaning, the way the words shed their printed bodies in a flash of heat and light.” 

“It was strange, I reflected.. that even in the weirdest circumstances, the most troubling episodes of one’s life, the greatest divides from home and familiarity, there were these moments of undeniable joy.”

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If this book sounds like something you might enjoy, please consider purchasing it through this line. In doing so you get to help me pay some of my medical bills off *wink* (I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.)

Happy reading friends!

What is YOUR favorite spooky read?? Looking for new books!

xogen

2 thoughts on “gen reads: the historian

    1. I think I tried to read it and just couldn’t get into it. Did you enjoy it? What other books has she written that you found at least decent?

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