Critique for ''The Historian''
edited: Tuesday, August 09, 2005
By S G Cardin
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Posted: Tuesday, August 09, 2005
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A book review of THE HISTORIAN, a fictional book about Dracula.
Critique for: The Historian
By: Elizabeth Kostova
Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars
It is 1972 and the daughter of a historian, Paul, finds several mysterious letters dated from 1930. Her father’s college advisor wrote the letters and they are about his hunt for Dracula. The advisor’s name is Bartholomew Rossi. When Paul’s daughter begins questioning her father about the letters, which imply that Dracula is still alive, he begins to tell her a story.
It is 1954 and Paul, studying under Rossi, finds Rossi’s mysterious letters himself. When Rossi is kidnapped, Paul tries to find him but the only clues he has are books written about Dracula. When Paul tries to find a copy of Stoker’s “Dracula”, he meets Helen Rossi, his advisor’s long lost illegitimate daughter that Rossi knew nothing about. Helen is angry with her father for abandoning her mother and wants to get back at Rossi by becoming a better scholar than him. Paul and Helen go looking for Rossi (Helen is bitten for the first time by Dracula) but before he can finish telling his daughter his story, he, himself goes missing on a visit to Oxford University. With help of her friend, Barley, and her father’s notes, the daughter goes searching for her father, believing him to be in an ancient French monastery near Perpignan.
While on the train to Perpignan, the daughter and Barley read her father’s notes which continue his story.
Paul and Helen, on the trail to find Rossi, go to Istanbul, then Hungary. Initially Paul and Helen are very abrasive with each other, but as their adventure turns dangerous, (if they find Rossi, they will also find his captor, Dracula) they start to gravitate toward each other. Paul and Helen become lovers in Hungary. From Hungary they go back to Istanbul. A Turkish helper, Turgot Bora, sends them to Bulgaria. Several key plot points are revealed during this time.
#1 – Rossi, on the hunt for Dracula back in 1930, goes to Romania and meets Helen’s mother in the hills of Transylvania. There is it revealed that Helen’s mother is a member of the Getzi family and a descendant of Dracula’s. Rossi leaves with the intention of returning for Helen’s mother, but is given some type of amnesia drug after he leaves and he forgets about her, leaving her pregnant with Helen.
#2 – Dracula, according to history, was beheaded by the Turks and his head was mounted in Istanbul for all to see. A group of monks from Snagov, where Dracula’s body was buried, traveled with the body to Istanbul where he was reunited with his head. From there, they went to a monastery in Bulgaria.
In Bulgaria, (Helen is bit a second time by Dracula) under the watchful eye of the “government” man, Ranov, Paul and Helen find Dracula’s crypt – and in it, they find Rossi, made into a vampire. It breaks their hearts, but Paul and Helen put a stake through Rossi’s heart. Unfortunately, Dracula is not there. Ranov and his henchmen arrive and put Paul and Helen on the next plane to Turkey.
Paul and Helen marry. After two miscarriages, their daughter is born, but Helen suffers some type of depression. Convinced the evil of Dracula will haunt her newborn baby daughter, Helen begins her research in secret which leads her to Perpignan. There, it appears she commits suicide and leaves Paul and her daughter. Helen is not dead, she is searching for Dracula, to kill him.
The daughter and Barley arrive in Perpignan and go immediately to the monastery there. They find her father, Paul, opening a secret crypt, but it’s empty. Then Dracula appears, tempting both Paul and his sixteen-year-old daughter. Barley’s friend, James surprises Dracula by his sudden appearance. This startles Dracula and allows Helen, who is hiding, to shoot Dracula through the heart with a silver bullet. The fiend dies and Helen is reunited with her family.
The Epilogue reveals that the daughter’s parents are now both dead, and in her work as a historian, she discovers that Dracula found out about vampirism at the Perpignan monastery and made arrangements to become a vampire before his death.
Paul & Helen – The Main characters
Both are well fleshed out, intelligent and lively. Helen especially makes a very good heroine, having come from the Soviet bloc, she speaks English in a jilted manner and wears her clothes plainly. Her flaws are subtle, yet easily identifiable. Paul is a bit “boring” (his dissertation is about Dutch merchants) but he’s very brave and smart. Like Helen, his flaws are subtle (bushy eyebrows and a clumsy manner from time to time) and he easily appeals to the reader.
The daughter, Barley, Bora, supporting characters
The supporting characters work well in the novel. The daughter and Barley develop that awkward friendship that teenagers have between a boy and girl. Bora, Helen and Paul’s Turkish friend, his very easy to like.
His story is interesting and keeps the reader wanting more. When he appears in the novel toward the end, he is as every bit mysterious, intriguing, and evil as the reader has built up in their mind.
PLOT AND PACING
Pacing is what earns this work a 4 ½ out of 5 stars for me. The book starts off incrediably slow, with only the tease of Dracula in Rossi’s letters to entice the reader. It isn’t until about 150 pages into the novel the pace begins picks up. When it does, it flows well, slowing down every so often to let the reader catch their breath before picking up again.
The plot is well thought out, but very complicated as the writer jumps from the 1930’s, the 1950’s, to the 1970’s. I found that in order to fully enjoy the plot, I had to read slower than I usually do to understand fully all the clues that were being revealed.
Easy to read and understand, moves the story forward well.
There are times, especially in the beginning of the book, where Kostova gives the reader a little too much description. Mostly the description is of Europe, the beautiful towns and places Paul takes his daughter. This is one of the reasons the book starts off slow. Once the book picks up though, the descriptions are enough to let the reader picture in their head what a place looks like without bogging down the pacing.
THOUGHTS AND IMPRESSIONS
Kostova is brilliant in weaving myth, fact, fiction, and reality all together. Up until the end of the book, she had me guessing if Helen was bitten a third time by Dracula. It was well thought out, well written, and very engaging once the pace picked up. It is a fresh take on the Dracula legend and not some stale vampire tale. Despite the slow beginning, this endearing tale easily gets “two thumbs up.”