Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, published by Little Brown and Company in 2005, is a thriller set in the East Bloc and surrounding environs.
The novel begins in 1972 in Amsterdam, when an unnamed female narrator tells the story of thirty years previous. She finds a set of old letters and a medieval book in her father’s library. Her father, Paul, was a graduate student long at an American University in the 1950s. (He later became a historian and then diplomat.) After reading the disturbing content of the letters, the girl confronts her father. He tells a story about his search for his graduate school advisor who had disappeared, Professor Bartholomew Rossi. Rossi had confided in Paul by telling him that Dracula was still alive.
At the time, the girl also found a book with a woodcut image of a dragon and the word Drakulya. Paul had found the book in the university library and tried to dispose of it; however, the book reappears magically. Paul had shown this book to Rossi; Rossi has an identical copy of the same book.
Paul tells Rossi’s story with this book. Rossi attempted to find the historical Dracula. He visited a library in Istanbul and found a map showing Dracula’s grave. He became frightened after meeting a stranger and decided to discontinue his search. Rossi told Paul some of these findings, and then Rossi mysteriously disappeared.
Paul, in turn, searched for Rossi during his diplomatic career. He met a woman named Helen doing similar research. Together they hoped they could find Dracula’s grave and then also be able to find Rossi. Yet, before Paul has an opportunity to share all of his story with his daughter, he disappears. His daughter enters the search in a race for time to find him.
Critics admire Kostova’s clear love for scholarly research and for books. However, the research of Rossi, Paul, and Helen slows down the pace of The Historian. Nevertheless, Kostova creates characters that convey the cultural aspects of different places and presents a story that is exciting for anyone who enjoys traveling and history.