The book ‘ The Historian‘ was hailed as a thriller, a splendid debut by Elizabeth Kostova. Every time I read a review of this book, I felt I would adore this book which was steeped in history with apparently a daughter in search for her roots. The summary appealed to me but unfortunately, the book did not live upto my expectations.
The story begins with the daughter proclaiming about the legacy her father left her behind. Then the 1st chapter goes on to how she stumbled upon this legacy. The story then continues with the father, Paul, narrating stories from his past that are connected to his horrific legacy. Paul had happened to come into possession during his university days, a book with only a single woodcut of a dragon. His curiosity led him to his academic adviser, Barthlomew Rossi, who infact had the same book! Rossi’s curiosity and his own book had led him deeper into a mystery of vampires, of Vlad Dracul, the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s novel, ‘Dracula.’ Rossi’s disappearance, soon after this meeting plunges Paul into a wild goose chase across most of Europe where he is being watched and followed by either vampires or communist party members. The story keeps shifting from past to present as and when Paul narrates. In the present, Paul’s daughter, after Paul is finished narrating his story, sets out to find more of this intriguing brutal, medieval legacy.
Firstly, the book’s exploration into history is brilliant. It is obviously well researched. Of course, not all of it is true. But simply the fact that Elizabeth Kostova has put history in the forefront of a way to delve into past mysteries makes the subject, often hailed as redundant, quite relevant. This historical aspect that suffuses the book is superb. One of the few good points of this novel.
The negative points however are a long list. Firstly, the story is rather slow paced. For a thriller, such a pace can do nothing but disappoint the reader. The pace picks up only after 200 pages or so and then slows down again.
Secondly, the book seems more like a tourist magazine in the initial pages. Kostova spends many pages describing each place that Paul goes to in great, rich detail. While there is nothing immediately wrong with this, it however does hamper the story’s pace.
Kostova tries hard to use shock tactics to enchant the reader. They do work initially but later on she reiterates the same tactics- like ending the chapter with an appearance of a man who looks gaunt, scary with fangs or having Dracula’s or the dragon’s image at the end of the chapter. These do elicit shock in the beginning but they soon become monotonous and the shock wears off. The reader can even easily predict when she will use those same tactics.
Another disappointment was the discrepancy in the simultaneous narration of the father and daughter’s story. Kostova tends to run away with the former’s story as if she has forgotten about the latter completely. She also seems to have a penchant for libraries and librarians because there are descriptions of several of them and form a major part of the story but somehow it seems a bit inappropriate. The book should have been called ‘The Librarian’ instead of ‘The Historian.’
To conclude, ‘The Historian‘ is not a completely pathetic or ridiculous book. It is worth reading once. It has a unique scholarly touch to it, a great historical novel but in terms of literature or writing skills, ‘The Historian‘ could be a great disappointment. It is also not exactly a thriller, does not pump the reader with jabs of excitement. It is a rather careful narration of a different perspective on one of the most cruelest rulers of the middle ages and his alluring legends that draws writers to pen down stories about him!