Finished The Historian


Jim continues his 2-0 record of book recommendations with his suggestion of The Historian. It was an excellent book in the DaVinci Code style of intrigue, research, museums, and early Christian history. Make no bones though, this is a much stronger book than dVC.

The book is told, like Dracula, through the presentation of diaries, journals, and letters. I find thin an interesting convention, but it wore on me after about 300 pages. I suddenly wanted there to be a spirit of action, of live action story telling. The only time this convention falls away is in a climactic battle and but a few chapters thereafter before the end of the work.

The main reason I really liked it was that much of the action was set in that strange part of Europe that haunts and dazzles the Occidental mind: the land link between western Asia Minor (Anatolian Turkey) and those south eastern Western outposts into Ottoman lands, The Austro-Hungarian holdings. While da Vinci and other books of this sort (Angels and Demons) are set firmly in Western traditions with capital cities of action like London, Paris, and Rome, The Historian weights to the Eastern Roman Empire: out of Catholocism and into the Orthodox with cities like Budapest, Sofia, and Constantinople.

It is the exploration of these worlds, of this Western / Eastern European dynamic that is the function and the work of The Historian, yet Kostova needs a way to wind that thread through. How would western Europeans come to that part of the world? How could they come there in past as so much of it was under the Iron Curtain? How do Westerners conceive this part of the Eurasian landmass?

The iconic Eastern interloper turns out to be her thread: Vlad Tepes, The Impaler, known as Dracula.

In searching the myths of Dracula from outposts in Oxford and the New World, the Western mind of the reader and the protagonists in put into the Eastern zone, and thus the study of dynamic that Kostova truly wanted to present is shown.

Full of Gothic conceits: bodices loosely clinging to freshly bitten necks, strong female characters, overwhelmed folklorists finding their grimoires of peasant fantasy coming to utility just in time, mists, unholy animals, and a reflection of our own cruelty in the “civilized world”, The Historian is a great way to learn more about the Ottoman / Orthodox borderlands, their ethic, and the mind of the citizen under the Soviet cloud.

I highly recommend the work.