The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

20061121-historianThere is the Dracula legend, thanks to the classic by Bram Stoker and then there is Vlad Tepes – the prince of Wallachia, Romania in the 15th century.  This book is blending facts and fiction quite successfully and therefore producing a rather  interesting read.  The Historian is the second lengthiest book I have ever read, the first being The Count of Monte Cristo.  After having read it on and off for months, I can say that it does take some time getting into the book, but once you do you might enjoy it, as I have.

The book is packed with mystery, however I think it could’ve contained a little bit more suspense as I felt the prose was dragging along, making me become bored halfway into the book and wishing it over. The story is loosely based on the history of Vlad Tepes and hunting down his burial tomb.  The story deals with a professor who tells the story to his daughter who, along with him and many others starts hunting down the tomb of Vlad Tepes by moving from Instanbul, Romania, Bulgaria in search for documents, research, history and maps to find the real tomb of Vlad Tepes.  On her journey she discovers the secrets of her father’s past and what happened to her mother, who left/died when she was a very small child.

Vlad Tepes
Vlad Tepes

I have never read Dracula by Bram Stoker, and I must admit that I know very little about this classic as well. However, what I’ve learned by reading The Historian is that Dracula is based on Vlad Tepes, which makes me think I should read the Bram Stoker novel too.  The Historian contains a lot of history about Vlad and also have some elements of his fictional persona, Dracula, in the book (i.e the believe in vampirism)

Regardless of the fact that I found the prose to be dragging in the first part of this lengthy book, I found it really interesting.  If I had read it without interruption and more interest (like say for instance I had read Dracula before) I would have enjoyed it more, of that I am positive.  This book also feels like a travelogue.  If you enjoy stories about travel, history, libraries, archives and especially Dracula, then you will surely enjoy this

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think of it?

Image sources here  and here

  • I completely adored this book – I am such a sucker for both epistolary novels and novels w academics in them! I also loved the sense of place the novel conjured. Maybe in October I should treat myself to a reread of Dracula AND The Historian!

    • Me too! I loved the book, the whole concept of it. However, I think I was bored in the beginnning, but after I finished it I thought “wow this was interesting!”

      I think I do want to read Dracula, maybe thereafter I should reread this one and see if I appreciate it more. I agree with your comment about the sense of place the novel conjured.

  • You should definitely read the Bram Stoker book. It’s very readable and enjoyable.

    I agree with you on The Historian. It was quite boring in places, and though it’s very popular, I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I expected to (maybe it was the hype that killed it).

    • I will really consider reading Dracula! I think IF I do reread it, I might enjoy it more (hopefully after I read Dracula). I have also seen really good reviews on this book, but I didn’t think it was THAT great… maybe because I didn’t have the background about Dracula etc.

  • I loved this book. It is one of the few vampire books I really enjoyed. I thought it was a great take on the myth as a whole and I loved the travel-ness of it! I wanted to hop on a plane for Istanbul right then and there!

    • I think I enjoyed the travel part of the book as well! I think it was mysterious, but not suspenseful enough for me to read it without interruption. I must admit, that this is one of few vampire novels I’ve read, and yes I also really enjoyed the fact that she played with the myth of Dracula.

      • I haven’t read many ‘vampire’ novels, because I find most of them to be silly or annoying or poorly written. This one I enjoyed. I also enjoyed Sunshine by Robin McKinley! 🙂 And of course Dracula! Which is amazing.

        • I’m glad that most people recommend Dracula! 🙂
          I will go read up about Sunshine on Goodreads. I have read the Twilight saga and I though that was nice, but other than that I don’t particularly like vampire novels.

          • Oh dear. lol. I’ll just admit up front that I’m a total Twi-hater. 🙂 But it’s all good. My sister loves it and we argue about it all in good fun. I’m much more of a Historian, Sunshine, Salem’s Lot type, not so into sparkling. 🙂

          • I didn’t read it for the vampire aspect, I think. It was more about the romance 🙂 I still want to read some Anne Riche…

          • You mean like Interview with a Vampire? That’s a really good one!

          • Yes!

          • You’ll enjoy it! It’s very good!

          • I’ll definitely let you know (via review) what I think of it!

  • I’ve read Stoker’s Dracula. Thats different reading too, as its done as a series of journal entries and letters. I don’t think I could plow through The Historian though. The longest book I’ve ever read (and loved btw was Sacajawe by Anna Waldo.

    • Great that you’ve read it! The Historian is quite a lengthy read, but maybe you would enjoy it?

  • Isi

    I read this book years ago and I don’t remember everything, but I can say I enjoyed it (it was actually an audiobook). It has some parts that are slow, but I liked the story and also the historical subject about Vlad, who I hardly known before.
    I have also read the second book of this author, and I liked a little bit more; it is very different, but gripping.

    • Well, the fact that you enjoyed it says a lot. Yes the prose is dragging a bit, but I think it picked up halfway through and became interesting. I think it was interesting for me, because of the things I’ve learned… about Vlad and also the history of the different countries they visited.

      I will have to go check out her other books on Goodreads! 🙂

      • Isi

        It’s titled “The swan thieves” and it’s about a painting that a man tries to destroy in a museum. The story goes back to the past, to know the story of the painting and forth to the man who wanted to “kill” the picture.
        I liked it very much. You have to give it a try!

        • I saw on your twitter yes. It sounds good, I will go read up more about it. Thanks for the recommendation Isi 🙂

  • Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    I think this is something I’d like to read, but maybe after I tackle Dracula. (Which I’ve never read!)

    • Maybe that’s a good idea 🙂 I have been too scared to read Dracula because I thought it would be scary. Apparently it isn’t.

  • I read this book three times by now and I still find new things in it. I love it to pieces *eyes her battered copy*. I tried Bram Stoker’s Dracula last year though and could not got trough it. I do hope you will enjoy it if you pick it up.

    • I think I will give Dracula a try and hopefully I will find much more enjoyment in this book. It was so interesting! Don’t worry, there’s a few books I want to re-read as well!

  • I have actually read the Historian three times and own both the hardcover and paperback versions of it. I love the topic of the book as well as the historical aspects of it and each time I read it I find something new in it that I missed the previous times I read it. The bottom line is that I just love this book. I have read Stoker’s Dracula a few times as well, but as has been mentioned in other comments it is a different read than the Historian, journal entries and letters, that being said, it deserves the status of classic and is a must read.

    • It definitely is an interesting read, and with the historical elements I also feel there is a bit of an academic aspect to it. I have heard about Dracula being more journal entries and letters, to think I was scared of reading it. I agree it is a classic and therefore a must read. I will read it eventually as I have the Bram Stoker book, but I will also reread The Historian. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • I had this very chunky book on my stacks for years, but after a couple of moves, I have no idea what happened to it. I just upgraded my copy of Dracula, as I intend to read it very soon. I also know some info about Vlad Tepes from watching documentaries through the years. I think I’ll add this book to my Nook so I don’t have to carry around its massive weight!

    Great review!

    • Thanks Andi!

      Too bad that you lost the book, I’ve seen it in store and it’s a rather lovely book (cover). I do hope that you will enjoy this one if you choose to read it. The history of Vlad was definitely the interesting part of this book.

  • I loved this book! However, to be fair, it took me a few tries to get into it. It does carry on at a much slower pace than most other books. 🙂

    • I agree, hence I read it so slowly, but once I got into it it went quickly. I might reread it, would you?

  • I did the opposite to you – I bought The Historian because Dracula is one of my absolute favourites! I’ve recently reclaimed it from my parent’s house for a reread, don’t think I got very far in my first viewing but I would definitely recommend Bram Stoker’s original – not a difficult read at all for a classic and has so many interesting ideas.

    • Thank you for the recommendation! I will definitely have to read it. I hope you have better luck with your second try of The Historian 🙂

  • I haven’t read it, or Dracula, but I love the concept and the info behind it. Shall we check out Dracula soon then?

    • It was interesting, although it was dragging at first. Yes, we definitely should, since most people recommends it and says its good 🙂

  • First I haven’t read this book but it interested me when I heard about it. Your agree sounds agreeable and so I’ll pick it up.
    But, Another perspective:
    I’ve read vampire books since I was 7. I thought I would go to college and specialize JUST in vampire myths. I knew them all. Growing up I read every vampire book I could get my hands on, including zombie books that I felt crossed the mythos juuuust enough to be considered a vampire in obscure terms.
    Yet. It took me until I was 27 to read Stoker’s Dracula. I could not get into it on paper. I had to read it via audiobook. I don’t know what it is about the book. I’d read books with obscure language before, in diary form, even made almost completely of poetic prose. I could not get THROUGH that book before I was 27. I like the story. I like the characters (mostly), but I couldn’t read it. I don’t think it would have made your trek through Historian any different, honestly. Vlad and Stoker’s legend about him have pervaded culture so thoroughly that you really know everything you need to in order to understand really any reference to the material.

    That being said, I will never tell you NOT to read a book. Even a bad book. Just remember to tell us what you think after you read it.

    • Hi Janna, thanks for your perspective on the Stoker classic. I think I will read Dracula, if only out of curiosity.

  • I spotted this book not long ago and nearly bought it because I have been intrigued about it for a while. However I didn’t end up buying it. I think it was the length that put me off! I did enjoy reading Dracula though so may be I should brave the epic length of it.

    • I hope that when you do get it, it will satisfy your curiosity. I think this book was about 800+ pages yes!

  • I loved Dracula when I read it many years ago so it’s time for a reread. As for the Historian, I own it but get wary of it’s hugeness every time I consider picking it up. My husband is dead set on visiting Romania to discover the Dracula/Vlad mythology at its source. We shall see!

    • I hope that you do pick this one up, sometime. WOW, a trip to Romania! That sounds really exciting!!

  • I read this book a long time ago but I remember that I absolutely adored it!

    • A lot of people seems to love this book and I can understand why!

  • Do read Dracula, if you get the chance. I was surprised at how much I liked it. I read it and followed it up with The Historian, which I think was a good combination. I really loved The Historian–all the rambling language and historical tidbits. I know not everyone did though.

    • Thanks for the recommendation. I am going to read it, especially since I might be rereading The Historian sometime again. I think the historical tidbits were what interest me, and the travel.

  • I have this book but haven’t read it. I just kept thinking, ‘Ah, I’ll read it later.”
    I’ll read it sooner now that I’ve read your post 🙂

    Based on what you said though I think I’ll probably skim through some of it. I hate doing that but sometimes some parts are boring, too much random information that could have been left out when it comes to travelling or history etc.

    I like the mystery elements you mentioned though, that’s intrigued me.

    • When you look at the size of the book, that’s enough to want to postpone reading it 🙂 It’s good that I purchased the Kindle book!

      Yes, it was an interesting read. After I finished the book I suddenly didn’t mind the boring parts.

  • I read this book in the fall when it first came out years ago, and it was a perfect autumnal read. I enjoyed it so much that I went on to read the original Dracula which I never had. I agree with out a out this being a travelogue kind of book, the images and details were wonderful. Am I correct in remembering a father/daughter relationship here, too? I think there was, brought letters or something? Now I’ll have to read it again!

    • It sure was an interesting read! I want to read Dracula. Yes, there is a father/daughter relationship. She went searching for her father, which put her on the trial of hunting down Vlad’s burial tomb. She discovered his research via letters. I want to read this again, too!

  • Wow! The Historian definitely intimidates me with its length. Great review- I need to give this one a try. I also have Kostova’s The Swan Thieves on my bookshelf but haven’t read it. It seemed to receive mixed reviews. Thanks for visiting me @ The Key to the Gate!
    Happy Reading,

    • Thanks for stopping by Rebecca. I have heard about The Swan Thieves, thanks for reminding me about this one again. The Historian is really interesting, just a bit boring (for me) in the beginning of the book, but that’s all complaint I have.

  • I too haven’t read Dracula…watched the movie though. I want to give a read too eventually…it’s soo thick.

    • I haven’t seen the movie, so maybe I should watch it.

  • Great review, I might think about listening to this on audiotape (rather than reading it) as I tend to do better with books that drag on tape.

    • Thanks. I’ve never listened to an audio book before *hides face*

      • Well they’re just so convenient! Maybe try one this year? 🙂

  • This is the first vampire novel I read, and I really liked it. I agree it does take a little time to get into though…

    • It wasn’t my first, but it was probably the most interesting, as it had a bit of an academic feeling too. I’m glad you liked it.

  • I read this book a few years ago (pre-blogging) and loved, loved, loved it. I keep telling myself I’m going to read her other book (the title escapes me) but I have yet to do it. I don’t know what’s holding me back because I adored this book! If I remember correctly, I read it in a weekend.

    • Wow that was quick. After finishing it I remember thinking “wow that was interesting”. The characters itself were interesting too, it was only in the beginning that I didn’t enjoy it so much.

      Her other book is called The Swan Thieves, as per Rebecca’s comment above. Maybe we should read it? 🙂

      • That’s the one! For some reason I keep getting Swan Thieves and Dovekeepers mixed up. Must be the bird theme.

        And yes. We should read it!

  • The Swan Thieves is okay, a little slow moving though, and a mature kind of book. I liked it at the time I read it. But now couple of years later, I just get a meh feeling about it.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Nish 🙂

  • I read this book several years ago and completely ate it up! Completely in love. I can understand how some people would think it was dragging in some places.. I think you have to be in the right mood for this one. (Or at least that’s how I usually work.) Thankfully I was in the perfect mood when i read this one and adored it. Her other book The Swan Thieves was also enjoyable but I didn’t find it as engaging and suspenseful as this one. 🙂

    Great review!

    Also, condolences on your family loss. It’s never easy to lose a loved one *hug* I wish you and your family the best and hope you’re surrounded with plenty of love during this time.

    • Hi April, thanks for stopping by and for the condolences. I agree with being in the mood for it, it was interesting… I have The Swan Thieves and I will read it maybe next year 🙂

  • Agree, the pacing was off at times. It is much more “readable” as an audio book.

    • Can you believe I’ve never listened to an audio book?

  • Now I know what I’m reading after I finish Reiss’ The Black Count!

    • I hope you enjoy the read, Lubella. It is a lengthy book, but it is interesting.

  • I am not put off by the length of a book but I really need to love the genre in order to complete a novel consisting of 1000 + pages… With this said, The Historian is not my type of book but I can easily see why you would love it. There was a reason why i dropped History(although I was damn good at it) for Mathematics, lol.

    • Hahaha! This one also felt alot like reading a travelogue. PS: I also dropped history for maths 🙂