The Historian

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 5)

Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel, The Historian, begins with a false introduction set three years in the future, suggesting that the work is not a fictional tale but rather the true events of the writer’s life. This introduction further deceives in that it contains the basic components of nonfiction, including a discussion of the writer’s scope and method and concluding with a list of those persons the author thanks. Though she does not give away the story line in this introduction, Kostova’s narrator hints at her personal investment in the themes: “This is the story of how as a girl of sixteen I went in search of my father and his past, and of how he went in search of his beloved mentor and his mentor’s own history, and of how we all found ourselves on one of the darkest pathways into history.”

This misleading beginning gives primacy to the narrator’s point of view, allowing her voice to serve as the central thread of the text, despite the fact that the events in The Historian are told through multiple voices in a variety of media, over the course of many decades from several different countries.

Though the narrator’s role in conveying the events of the novel is important, her main function in the first half of the book is to serve as a conduit through which the reader learns the basic premises of the tale. Intrigued by an ancient book on her father’s shelf, she takes it down, only to discover it is blank except for a central woodcut of a large, imposing dragon. When she asks Paul, her father, the story of this unusual book, he tells her of finding it in his stack of books at the library. As a graduate student studying history, he quite naturally asks his mentor, Bartholomew Rossi, about the origins of such an obviously old book and learns that Rossi possesses a similar tome. The story behind Rossi’s book, however, turns tragic when he disappears soon after he gives Paul a packet of letters related to the book and its dark, secret history. Eventually, Paul tells his daughter about the books as he provides her with Rossi’s letters that he read years before. The letters indicate that by possessing the books, both Rossi and Paul are part of a dreadful history with ties to Vlad Tepes, known as Draculaa real fifteenth century prince who is still very much alive as a vampire.

Shortly afterward, Paul disappears. The narrator, suspecting the worst, finds another series of letters from her father. From these she learns about her father’s involvement with Dracula after Rossi disappeared. Her father, intent on finding him and uncovering the truth of the books and the vampire, arms himself against Dracula by researching him. While researching, he discovers another person intent on the same subjecta young woman he finds reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) in the college library. Paul soon learns that the young woman, Helen, is actually Rossi’s illegitimate Romanian daughter. After tracking Dracula through a variety of historical sources, Paul and Helen travel all over communist Eastern Europe to uncover Dracula’s lair, eventually finding Rossi, but only after he has become a vampire.

The narrator reads her father’s letters while she and Barley, an Oxford student, take the train to Les Bains, France, a place indicated as a possible tomb location for Dracula which he purportedly visits only at certain times. Eventually, the three narrative quests from three different periods of historyPaul and Helen’s to find Rossi, the narrator and Barley’s to find her father, and the family’s to find Draculaculminate in a showdown with Dracula himself.

As the narrator learns about her family’s involvement with this historic and dangerous person, Kostova provides the reader with both a real and an imagined history of Vlad Tepes, the fifteenth century...

(The entire section is 1571 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 5)

Booklist 101, no. 18 (May 15, 2005): 1646.

Entertainment Weekly, June 24, 2005, pp. 166-169.

Kirkus Reviews 73, no. 9 (May 1, 2005): 499.

Library Journal 130, no. 11 (June 15, 2005): 58-59.

The National Post, July 9, 2005, p. WP13.

The New York Times 154 (June 13, 2005): E9.

The New York Times Book Review 154 (July 10, 2005): 16.

Newsweek 145, no. 24 (June 13, 2005): 74.

Publishers Weekly 252, no. 35 (September 5, 2005): 58.

The Washington Post Book World 35 (June 15, 2005): 15.