Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Book Review Club - The Historian

The Historian
Elizabeth Kostova

Wow, when I dared to open Blogger to post my review of Kostova's, The Historian, it had been so long since I'd posted that Blogger had a new interface site. Yeesh. Leave cyberspace for a few months and it remodels entirely. I feel old.

But not as old as the villain in Kostova's book, Dracula. I've have this thing about Dracula since my graduate years back in Kiel, Germany (which predates the vampire fad by over a decade, which really dates me), when I first met the villain in Murnau's classic silent film, Nosferatu: Eine Symfonie des Grauens

Knowing my penchant for the Eastern European Undead, my best friend bought The Historian for me two years ago, Pre-MFA. It sat waiting for me like its villain. I resisted for two years, toiling away at that blasted MFA. As soon as it was over, this was my reward - a really really really long read with lots of twisted plots and complicated storylines and intergenerational information sharing. 

Not your basic five-character-chronicle.

Kostova's work bridges centuries, familial generations, multiple countries, you name it. She introduces so many characters I...well, I forgot one, a crucial one, when he reappeared at the end of the story, at the climax to be exact. I may need to work on my spatial reasoning for retaining complex, three-dimensional, non-kid stories.

I'd like to say there's a basic plot, but there are so many plots interwoven. Here's a go - Dracula's assassination...maybe.

If you like history, this story will pay out in spades. Kostova did an amazing amount of historical research to take her characters from the U.S. to England to Turkey, France, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Italy across centuries.

Like Stoker's version, this is predominantly a book of letters. That began to wear. Stoker's tale is about 200 p. long. Kostova's is 642. I had a hard time believing that the main character could read three hundred pages of her father's handwritten letters to her in one night. Plus, the form slowed down the pacing because it was a retelling within a retelling.

When the family (two of whom are Dracula's descendants) trying to kill Dracula finally catches him, his death is rather...well, quick. The resolution ultimately did not feel earned or catalytic. This may be because the story is just so long. Sheer length draws out the action and slows down tempo such that when the telling speeds up for the climax, it feels as though the author just wanted to get through it. 

However, the history in this book makes it well worth the read. If you are a Dracula hobbyist, this book incorporates many of the legends about him across continents and cultures. And, Kostova can write. She does wonderful descriptive work. I want to visit Romania now!

For more great reads, hop over to Barrie Summy's site. Happy Fall reading.


Linda McLaughlin said...

Stacy, big congrats on finishing the MFA! That's a major accomplishment.

I'm glad you found the book worth reading. I love history, but I'm not really into the undead and definitely not 641 pages of undead! Also not crazy about epistolary novels for the reason you mentioned. It's all telling and re-telling. But I know a lot of people really liked the book.

Stacy said...

This is one of my absolute favorite books. I agree with you about the ending (and Kostova's other book, The Swan Thieves, also has an unsatisfying end), but I loved the journey enough that I could overlook an overly speedy conclusion.

Barrie said...

Can you imagine writing something this complicated? :) Welcome back to the real world post MFA. And congrats!!

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Yay for your MFA!
I adored the mood she struck--this was such a suspenseful read. I had library dust in my nose throughout.

Stacy Nyikos said...

I can imagine writing something this complicated, but writing it well??? Now that's the trick.

Thanks for the warm congrats. It's great to be a part of the real world, or, at least, be in the process of reintroduction into the wild. I wonder if I'll ever fully reintegrate...

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It's so hard to accomplish reading this book, so thick enough for me. Not to mention what you have said, sometimes really makes me frustrated to really understand the story well