A Musing: The Historian


Last week, I had an overwhelming desire to re-read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. ‘Tis the season, yes?

I’ve spent the last few days clutching my throat, reading wide-eyed late into the night. Although I loved the book the first time I read it, I loved it even more after another read. It was just as eerie and chilling as my first time, but the element of surprise was replaced with a superior sensation: that of wrestling with Kostova’s overarching themes. History: what and who makes it? Power. And what about scholarship — this obsession with books and chasing ideas across countries and centuries, and how it intertwines with history and the present. Evil and Good (and the grey, the blur, between). East and West. What a heady, rich stew of ideas!

The characters and settings are so well-drawn. You smell each place. You eat there. You know the characters’ habits and clothing and quirks. They become very real, and very dear.

Without giving anything away — I think the next to last chapter is one of the most mysterious, spectacular, spine tingling things ever written! The part in the not called the Rosenbach museum in the book, but actually the Rosenbach in Philadelphia if you’ve read it – !!!

Although the book was written in 2005 and takes place mostly in the early to mid 20th century, it feels much older. That’s a compliment — and speaks to the characters’ world views as well as the style. That you believe the characters have a world view is also a compliment.

Gosh I think this is a fantastic book! A new entry on my special read again and again and again and again shelf.

image: Vlad Tepes. This drawing is said to be a copy of an original drawing of him done during his lifetime. Chills!



  1. chezjulie

    Oh, I loved The Historian! I read it some time ago, so I can’t remember most of the particulars. But I absolutely devoured it, and recommended it to several people. It was right up my alley.

    The library is the beginning of the book is Sterling Library at Yale. I recognized it from having been there before.

    What a perfect October re-read.

  2. KerryCan

    Hmmm . . . I thought I read this but I guess I haven’t–it doesn’t sounds at all familiar! It must’ve been something else by the author. So many books, so little time!

    • jackiemania

      She also wrote The Swan Thieves.

      When I read it the first time, it was a hunt for Dracula book — page turning and !!!! Maybe you read that book 😉 It does have this amazing subtext which I wrote about in the review that is hard to get into when you are so involved in the thrills and chills.

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