Kostova, Elizabeth 1965(?)–
Kostova, Elizabeth 1965(?)–
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Little, Brown and Company, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: Writer. Has worked recording folk music in Bulgaria, mowing lawns, as a business writing teacher, and as a freelance magazine writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: Hopwood Award for novel-in-progress, for The Historian.
The Historian (novel), Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2005.
The Historian have been translated into twenty-eight languages.
ADAPTATIONS: The Historian was optioned for film by Sony Pictures, and has been adopted for audiocassette.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A second novel.
SIDELIGHTS: The idea at the center of Elizabeth Kostova's lengthy debut novel, The Historian, is that the legendary, dreaded Count Dracula still walks among mortals. The Dracula of Kostova's world, however, does not resemble the urbane but deadly charmer characterized by Bela Lugosi in film, nor does he share the wanton violence and feral characteristics of more recent vampires. Instead, Kostova's Dracula is himself an historian: He is an archivist, a dusty academic, a scholar more at home with crumbling books and historical documents than waiflike victims and flapping bats. The Historian "is a tale of such fiendish complication that while writing it, Kostova kept a chart on her wall tracing the narratives," noted Malcolm Jones in Newsweek."But it is a testament to her skill that, as you're reading, the book never feels complicated," Jones added. This Dracula has nothing to do with the version put forth by Stoker; Kostova's character is based on Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler, the sadistic prince of Wallachia who refined slow torture to its pinnacle using the blunt point of a stake in the ground.
The novel and its labyrinthine plot, occult conspiracies, and international academic mysteries have garnered comparisons to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, but Kostova started the novel eight years before Brown's book was published. The idea for The Historian occurred to Kostova more than a decade ago, while she was hiking through the Appalachian mountains with her husband. What if a father was telling stories about Dracula to his daughter, she thought, and what if Dracula himself was there to listen in on them?
The story begins when the novel's unnamed narrator, who is sixteen years old in 1972, finds an unusual book and a mysterious packet of letters in her father Paul's library in Amsterdam. The book is blank, except for an ominous center spread depicting a dragon holding a banner emblazoned with the word "Drakulya." The letters, alarming in themselves, are dated 1930 and addressed to "My dear and unfortunate successor." Initially hesitant to provide any information, Paul eventually relates a complicated tale of encounters with ancient evil. The book, Paul tells his daughter, mysteriously appeared on his desk when he was a graduate student and inspired him to undertake some research on the historical Dracula—a word that, in Romanian, means "Dragon." When Paul mentions the book to his professor, Bartholomew Rossi, he learns that Rossi also received a copy of the unusual tome. Rossi's research, however, convinced him that the historical Dracula was still alive. A few days later, Rossi disappeared from his blood-spattered office, and despite the unreality of the situation, Paul was convinced that his mentor was in the hands of Dracula and in deadly danger. Searching for the man, Paul encountered Helen Rossi, who said she was the professor's unknown daughter, but who bore the first name of the narrator's mother. Helen joined Paul on his unsuccessful search. A few days after telling his daughter this story, Paul also disappears, allegedly called away on business, but leaving a note imploring his daughter to start carrying garlic in her pockets and wearing a crucifix.
Kostova weaves together a sophisticated interconnected storyline that spansthe 1930s, 1950s, and 1970s, as the narrator searches for her father, Paul searches for Rossi, and Rossi makes his own investigation into relationships between the mysterious book, its recipients, and the uncanny truth about Tepes. Some reviewers have been critical of the novel's slow pace. "The characters wander from dusty old archive to archive, their pockets stuffed full of garlic, perusing crumbling volumes, analyzing creepy Balkan folk songs, and debriefing sage Eastern European elders who hoard ancestral secrets," commented Jennifer Reese in Entertainment Weekly. "Eventually, even the most patient reader may begin to tire of all this talking and touring."
Numerous other critics, however, found considerably more to like about Kostova's novel. "The writing is excellent, and the pace is brisk, although it sags a bit in the middle," noted Patricia Altner in Library Journal. "Blending history and myth, Kostova has fashioned a version so fresh that when a stake is finally driven through a heart, it inspires the tragic shock of something happening for the very first time," Jones remarked. Salon.com reviewer Laura Miller commented on the book's settings and atmosphere, stating that "Kostova has a genius for evoking places without making you wade through paragraphs of description."
Kostova has "done something quite extraordinary," concluded June Sawyers in a review for the San Francisco Chronicle. "She has refashioned the vampire myth into a compelling contemporary novel, a late-night page-turner that will be sure to make you lose some precious hours of sleep. It is a sprawling piece of work, the kind of novel that supposedly doesn't get published anymore."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bookseller, July 16, 2004, review of The Historian, p. 29.
Denver Post, June 12, 2005, Brian Richard Boylan, "A Thrill Ride through History," review of The Historian.
Entertainment Weekly, May 27, 2005, Karen Valby, "Creature Feature: Elizabeth Kostova Kicks off a Season of Must-Reads with Her Chilling New Dracula Thriller The Historian," p. 103; June 24, 2005, Jennifer Reese, "Neck at Night: Is Elizabeth Kostova's Vampire Thriller, The Historian a Book You Can Sink Your Teeth Into?," p. 166.
Guardian (London, England), July 18, 2005, Gary Younge, "Bigger than Dan Brown," profile of Elizabeth Kostova.
Houston Chronicle, July 15, 2005, Michael D. Clark," Creepy Secrets: Inventive, Best-Selling Page-Turner Lives up to the Hype," review of The Historian.
Library Journal, June 15, 2005, Patricia Altner, review of The Historian, p. 58.
Miami Herald, June 26, 2005, Connie Ogle, "Stake Out: With Scholarly Intrigue and Globetrotting Adventure, Intriguing Novel Delves Deep into the Myth of Dracula," review of The Historian.
Newsweek, June 13, 2005, Malcolm Jones, "A High-Stakes Debut, Elizabeth Kostova's Dracula Novel Drew an Unheard-of $2 Million Advance. Now for the Twist: It Was Worth It," review of The Historian, p. 74.
New York Daily News, June 12, 2005, Sherryl Connelly, "Vlad Chic: Sprawling Vampire History-Mystery Set to Spike Da Vinci Code Sales," review of The Historian.
New York Times, June 13, 2005, Janet Maslin, "Scholarship Trumps the Stake in Pursuit of Dracula," review of The Historian.
People, July 4, 2005, Jonathan Durbin, review of The Historian, p. 44.
Publishers Weekly, April 11, 2005, review of The Historian, p. 31; April 11, 2005, Anne Sanow, "Vivifying the Undead," interview with Elizabeth Kostova.
San Francisco Chronicle, June 12, 2005, June Sawyers, "Dracula Dead? Not Exactly …," review of The Historian.
San Jose Mercury News, June 19, 2005, Charles Matthews, "Putting the Bite On," review of The Historian.
Seattle Times, July 15, 2005, Deloris Tarzan Ament, "The Historian; Elegant Vampire Story Gets in Your Blood."
Time, June 20, 2005, Lev Grossman, review of The Historian, p. 70.
Times (London, England), July 16, 2005, Saffron Burrows, "The Tooth Is out There."
CollectedMiscellany.com, http://www.collectedmiscellany.com/ (July 8, 2005), review of The Historian.
January Online, http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (August 19, 2005), Tony Buschbaum, "Sucker Punch," review of The Historian.
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (June 6, 2005), Laura Miller, review of The Historian.