Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Historian

by Elizabeth Kostova
909 pages

*** About the Book ***
The Historian
In the 1930s Bartolomeo Rossi comes across an antique book, blank inside except for the image of a horrible dragon. This book leads him on a journey across Eastern Europe and Western Asia in search of the true history of Vlad Tepes, otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler, or Dracula. Twenty years later Rossi’s graduate student, Paul, discovers another dragon book. When Rossi disappears shortly after this discovery, Paul sets out on his a journey to find his friend and mentor. Then in the 1970s Paul’s daughter ventures out on her own to find her father who left her alone under mysterious circumstances.

These three stories, along with the history of Vlad Tepes, combine in anything but chronological order to create a complicated and fascinating tale.

*** Why I Read It ***

I’ve owned this book for a long time. In fact, I think it was Bermudaonion who sent me her copy last year when I mentioned on Twitter that I wanted to read it. It was just so huge that I kept putting off reading it, even though it was on my list for the TBR 2010 Challenge.  Then I heard about the On the Ledge Readalong and decided that was the perfect excuse to dive into this book. 

*** My Thoughts ***

When I started reading this book I was sucked in right away. The story moves slowly but each page brings a slight increase in the spookiness factor; there is definitely a gothic feel to this tale! It is very atmospheric throughout and I really loved that aspect of the book.

The middle section includes many, MANY detours in the plot and a whole ton of historical detail. This section was both fascinating and frustrating. I loved learning about the various cities and I thought the context of the “history lessons” made a lot of sense, but I also wanted to get on with the Dracula-centric portion of the plot.

The last several chapters moved at a much quicker pace and brought the various storylines together in a compelling conclusion.

Part of me is complaining because I didn't "believe" some parts of the story.  Things seemed to just happen and people seemed to just appear, always at the perfect time; it was too coincidental for me.  Yet at the same time those "coincidences" were a huge part of the story weren't necessarily meant to be coincidences at all. (Does that even make sense?!)

Here’s my dilemma:

Although I really enjoyed the book I thought it was rather slow. BUT that could very likely be because I split it up over so many weeks so I could keep pace with the readalong. There were times – even in the middle of the book – when I didn’t want to stop reading but I'd stop anyway just so I wouldn’t get ahead of the group. I think that, for me, stopping and starting really destroyed the momentum of the story and the mood of the book.

As I said in my review of Bleak House, if I’m reading a book for a readalong and I’m really into the story, I should just go ahead and read at my own pace – I think I’ll be happier in the end.

*** Thoughts on the Read-a-long ***

I don’t know if Coffee and a Book Chick and Tedious and Brief plan to host read-a-longs in the future but if so I highly recommend that you check them out over at On The Ledge Readalongs. They did a FANTASTIC job of providing pictures (!!!) and background to enhance each week’s reading. I don't ever take the time to look up things as I read so this was a real treat for me. I was amazed as some of the things they posted – it really made the experience of reading the book better.

*** Your Thoughts ***

What did you think of The Historian? Were you sucked into the story or did it drag for you? How does this book compare to Kostova’s newer novel, The Swan Thieves? (Honestly I have not a bit of interest in the subject of that one … am I doing it a disservice by passing on it?)


Trisha said...

I've owned this one for quite some time, but I can't seem to crack that spine. Personally, I never split up my reading. I read the book at my own pace (usually much much faster than the readalong) and write up my posts in advance. Then I edit closer to the appropriate time to fit in with everyone else. :)

Trish said...

Great review! I agree the pacing is rather slow for all the jumping around decades and narratives that goes on. But I was sucked into it from the beginning and once I started I kept wanting to know what happens next. I liked it enough to give Swan Thieves a try.

And, yes, the readalong was fun too. I'll be looking out for any future reads over there on On The Ledge.

Heather J. said...

Trisha - That's a good idea! It wouldn't have worked in this case though, b/c the hosts put up questions each week for discussion - I'd never have been able to answer them without spoilers if I'd read ahead. But still, next time I WILL read ahead if I feel the book requires it. After all, I'm reading to ENJOY the book! :)

Trish - There was a LOT going on in this book but (most of) it came together in the end and made sense. There are a few things I want to discuss over at the readalong blog - hopefully I'll get my thoughts posted there soon.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I'm so excited that you joined the readalong!! I had an absolute blast with it and am so happy that you loved the pictures!! Don't you wish that they published a book in that format? I know they do it with Dan Brown's books, and I wish they would do it more with other books that involve so much history and travel!

I noticed that it was tougher at times to stop and read sections of the book and not move forward also -- what I noticed too was that I very distinctly felt the slower section of the book as did everyone else. But what was interesting is that the first time I read it five years ago, I didn't notice that slower section! Plow ahead!

I think the next readalong that's done, there probably won't be as many questions, but more like "What did you think?" etc. That would definitely be easier! :)

Ultimately, the goal was to make sure everyone had a good time and got a chance to read this fantastic story -- which it sounds like everyone did!! YAY!!

And thanks for the compliments!! *blushes*

Heather J. said...

Coffee and a Book Chick - You did a FANTASTIC job hosting! And yes, I agree that books should be published with ancillary photos included; I know that this is a new trend with some ebooks - I'm looking forward to seeing how that works out! As for the readalong itself, I realize that if I'm into the story I just need to keep reading even if I get ahead of the group - I'll just have to be fine with that. ;)

Miri said...

I read this book a few years was recommended (and loaned) to me by my son who bought it on the recommendation of his SIL (who had read it in translation to Hebrew!)

We had good discussions about it as you can imagine. It really did suck me in although at one point I put it down for a while because it really was too creepy but I just had to go back and finish it.

I felt the coincidences were part of the supernaturalness (if that is a word)- and that was part of the creepiness.

Heather J. said...

Miri - I know what you mean about the coincidences - I think I'd have believed them more if I'd just kept reading and kept the creepiness factor going! I'm glad you had people to discuss this book with - it really benefits from being talked about.

Yvette said...

I hate to be a downer, but I disliked this book and never did get into it. I will tell you that I was very surprised by this since, at the time, it was highly recommended. So I went into it, very eagerly. It seemed like my sort of thing.

But, after a few chapters, I gave up. I never finish books I don't like and I didn't finish this one.

As Emerson said: No two people read the same book. :)

Andi said...

This is one of those books I really want to read, but I also keep putting it off because of the size. At this point I think it's made its way into storage, and now I miss seeing it on my shelves. Fickle is me. :)

Beth F said...

This is a fabulous audiobook -- and I just couldn't stop listening. I really loved it. I find the pace of readalongs doesn't always suit me. I generally just go ahead and read on my own, otherwise I begin to lose interest in the book.

Heather J. said...

Yvette - "No two people read the same book." Well said! I'm sorry this one wasn't a good fit for you but I can understand why (even though I did enjoy it for the most part).

Andi - See, now you need to unpack it and have it stare at you from you shelf again - that way you can feel better about ignoring it! :)

Beth F - I can see how this could be a very good audiobook - I think I'll download it to listen to next Halloween!

Chris said...

This is one of my favorite books EVER so I'm a bit biased :p for me, it was a bit slow, but I thought it was perfectly slow...I loved the bits of history and all just added to the atmosphere for me and made me want to visit Romania so BAD!! You made me want to read this one again!!

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I have this book but haven't read it. Daunted by the size and slowness factor. You really should keep reading if you are enjoying a book and I am glad that you are going to go for it next time.

Alyce said...

I had that happen to me during the readalong of The Handmaid's Tale. After a couple of weeks I just decided to read ahead because I didn't want to wait to find out what happened (or break up the flow of the story).

Ryan G said...

I loved this book, read it years ago before I started blogging but since I own it I'll probably end up reviewing it some time in the future. I started Swan Thief and enjoyed what I read but I got distracted with other books and haven't picked it back up yet. I guess I'll finish it, well restart it, someday.

bermudaonion said...

I ended up with 2 copies of this book and sent the extra to you and you beat me to reading it! I enjoyed The Swan Thieves so I'm looking forward to this one.

Heather J. said...

Chris - It's definitely a book that can stand up to a 2nd (or 3rd) reading! I'm planning to listen to the audio next year.

Nicole - I think you'll really like it - hope you do pick it up at some point!

Alyce - That's what I'm going to do from now on.

Ryan G - Glad to know TST is good too - not sure I want to read it, but MAYBE ...

bermudaonion - Thanks so much for sending it to me! I'm planning to pass it on my cousin next. :)

Erin said...

The Historian and Swan Thieves are both waiting for me on my shelves. I'm a bit miffed at myself for not realizing The Historian would be a good Halloween read! I've heard several people mention the problem with "coincidences" in The Historian. That sort of thing does bug me, but I think I'll give The Historian a shot anyway.

I have trouble drawing a book out once I get into it. I've not yet done a readalong with check-ins at specific points; not sure how I'll handle it if I ever do!

Heather J. said...

Erin - Do you do the RIP Challenge? If so you should add The Historian to your list for next year! Regardless, definitely plan ahead and pick it up next Fall - it is PERFECT for Halloween.

Annie @ButteryBooks said...

I have heard from several that the audio version (unabridged, of course) of The Historian is fantastic! I may have to do that one day... maybe next Halloween.
Great review Heather!

Dreamybee said...

I read this a few years ago for a book club and really enjoyed reading it; unfortunately I was the only one-everyone else thought it was too long and tedious. I definitely know what you mean about not stopping when you're into the story. At first I was reading this in bits and pieces and just couldn't get into it at all, but when I finally sat down and allowed myself time to actually get into the story, it was much easier going.

I'm looking forward to giving The Swan Thieves a chance.

Heather J. said...

Annie - I really enjoy listening to books on audio that I have read (on paper) previously. This will definitely be on my list for next Halloween!

Dreamybee - I can completely understand that not everyone will enjoy this book. My sister asked me about it but I told her not to read it - she'd be too impatient for "something" to happen.

Rebecca Reid said...

I've heard a lot about this book. Sounds like one you just have to keep reading -- I don't try to follow readalong schedules, it just doesn't work. I read at my own pace but enjoy having company :)

Heather J. said...

Rebecca - See, THAT'S why I join read-a-longs, for the company! I'll just have to read at my own pace and chat with everyone when I can.

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