The Historian

Published in Books & Authors (Daily Dawn) on December 18, 2005

Original Link: http://www.dawn.com/weekly/books/archive/051218/books11.htm
Details:
By Elizabeth Kostova
Little, Brown. Available with Liberty Books, Park Towers, Clifton, Karachi.
Tel: 021-5832525 (Ext: 111)
Website: http://www.libertybooks.com
ISBN 0-316-73030-0
642pp. Rs595

A “must-read”, as they say, for lovers of history, facts, and cultures, The Historian is about several places and people. Putting together all the details certainly must have been an arduous task for the author. They say the more facts there are in fiction, the story becomes all the more believable and this is true for Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel.

The autobiographical narrative makes use of two popular characters of the 15th century — Sultan Mehmed II and Vlad Tepes Dracula, the first of which was a sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1444 to 1446 and from 1451 to 1481. Vlad Tepes was born in November or December 1431, in the fortress of Sighisoara, Romania. He was the prince of one of the three states in Romania — Wallachia — and was taken prisoner by the Turks when he was very young. Later, Tepes was released after his father’s assassination. This led to enmity between Turkey and Romania and Dracula’s actions were affected by the time he spent in the Ottoman Empire.

However, Dracula’s character has been developed rather negatively over the centuries, owing to the myriad cruelties that are associated with him. Saying that he was a sadist is an understatement. As opposed to this, Dracula in Elizabeth Kostova’s book is also a lover of knowledge, history and old manuscripts. He is deeply influenced by scholars and makes an effort to save documents which have been forgotten by the world.

Elizabeth Kostova won the Hopwood Award for “novel-in-progress”, at the University of Michigan, USA, where she got her M.FA degree after graduating from Yale. Not only is her book very informative, but it also lives up to the expectations of readers of suspense. The novel, launched in July 2005, was expected to be an instant best seller.

The pace of the novel, however, is rather slow. But it is certainly a different approach to writing. The use of first person helps the story. Still, one cannot read the book in one go. For those who are not really interested in details, one can skip several parts, but then that is the real essence of the book.

The novel covers people from three different generations in relation to Dracula (Vlad, The Impaler, as he is called). The book mentions some crimes committed by Dracula but is not morbid which, perhaps, takes away a little impact in terms of horror. The story evolves from the myth of Dracula and how a young girl suddenly finds she is connected to it through her parents. Thus begins her quest to discover the truth. The story seems to lack a few things with regard to the girl’s reactions, especially when she comes face to face with Dracula. However, her predecessors’ accounts are very well written.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction with such books. Still, the book is particularly intriguing because it will urge readers to delve into the subject and, thus, learn more about it in the process. — Ayesha Hoda