Wednesday, June 8, 2016

the historian

i can't remember when i bought this book. but it was one of those solo trips to bonifacio high street's fully booked. i wanted to challenge myself. i told myself that i'm going to pick up a really thick one, story of which is far from the usual fare. something that would drive me to google some more because of some terms used or places that i haven't heard of. oh and one more thing, i didn't want a fiction-fiction one, i wanted a book that touches on history or a book based on one of history's famed (or infamous) characters. so off i browsed. and voila, the historian presented itself.

but when i got home, i didn't touch it immediately. maybe because i was actually daunted by its thickness, haha! i completely forgot about it and it laid forgotten at the bottom of my desk pile. i have read some other books such as maria ressa's 10 years 10 months and thomas friedman's the world is flat. i finished and enjoyed the unlikely pilgrimage of harold fry by rachel joyce, as well as some other books. this was a total of more than a year (super slow reader me)! and then, i found it (or re-found) and started flipping thru its first few pages. and didn't let it go… until i finished it just this last month.

and what a ride it was. others who said that it's a great late night page turner were spot on. i enjoyed reading a story within a story and no less a story about the real dracula himself, vlad tepes or vlad the impaler. of course there have been countless versions about him but the historian focused on the original dracula, the undead in this book. the book jumps from one setting to another and from another point of view to another. at the center of which, are letters written by the central characters such as helen, paul, elena and professor rossi.

what i liked about the historian is its thorough historical, almost textbook manner, way of presenting  the story. i like history and anything that carefully looks into the past and how it was told would get merit points from me. while kostova chose to keep with the terrifying characterization of vlad the impaler, a much-maligned character, thanks to the hollywood cult that perpetrated it, the historian painted another different side to this bloodsucking monster. vlad tepes, in kostova's imagination, is also a sucker for knowledge and information. he wants to keep things in order, through a library, that would open up different views on many personalities and events that were twisted as time went by. i particularly liked its constant alternating setting between 70s amsterdam to 1950s budapest, while also bringing us to vlad tepes' time. it talked about the cold war era and life's challenges in countries that belonged to the eastern bloc, while also loading us with tabs of orthodox church politics, bulgarian folksongs, european pagan traditions and even talking about peculiar differences between ancient territories now part of a single country (walachia and transylvania in romania).kostova stressed the importance of history in understanding the way people are. the historian also put the significance of library and books to the fore.
the historian also gave me a detailed glimpse of byzantine europe and the ottoman corridor. it gave me a nighttime trip to the dark ages, just before renaissance when the byzantine kings ruled the land, and beyond when the ottomans have yet to conquer much of europe. i like to travel, see new places and walk on familiar territories and this book just made me want to see the places described by kostova in detail. a very good travelogue, the historian would get anyone excited to see ancient places, from the untouched by modernity, such as the rural villages of romania, bulgaria and turkey, to the well-preserved much-loved european romantic cities such as amsterdam, budapest, sofia and istanbul.

the novel from time to time gave glints of horror and suspense. but much of its pages were on letters written by paul, elena and professor rossi. of course, i already had some reservations about the scale of these and how on earth could a man being hunted by a swooping and all-too powerful undead can write in great detail. because of these letters, the novel was a tad slow for me. while the research that went with it was good and the details were there, these were just too protracted. when paul and helen were closing in on vlad himself, the novel hit its highest note. but sadly, the novel's ending was not a good one. paul's death was a lazy one. it all seemed to be an afterthought or kostova did not really care or was told to cut it since the novel was already a lengthy one. after finishing the book, i wished that kostova actually found the right balance between the historical research and the excitement that could have been had she wrote more on dracula and not put him only in the fringes. while there were fiend's army here and there, dracula figured in the book just way too minimal. i would have even liked it if kostova gave a sense of a sequel coming up.

others have also noted that kostova's characters were not written well and just too similar with each other. i agree. they never seemed to be different from each other. they seemed to lack the depth and react in the same manner as the others. aside from dracula himself, the only other interesting characters were helen's aunt and the folksong singer in bulgaria.

but since i'm a history buff, i still liked the historian despite its shortcomings. for readers hoping to get engrossed with the hollywood-styledracula, this is not the book for you. if you like historiography, research and its methodologies and to read on an uber-detailed historical travelogue, this is a good option.

No comments: