Thursday, January 12, 2012

Loving history

 I just read a novel called "The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova.  It was a conflicting read for me.  I didn't want to read it and at the same time, I couldn't put it down.  The plot was utterly fascinating...and completely creepy.  The title thrilled me...and yet the subject matter (vampires generally, Dracula specifically) frightened me.  History and horror...all in the same book.  One thing that I was not at all conflicted about, the writing was absolutely phenomenal.  The details, details, details.  Oh, the descriptive details!  Each country visited was described in all its senses...colors and tastes and smells.  The culture, the people, the panoramic views...and most importantly, to me anyhow, the history of it all.  Elizabeth Kostova brought it to life for me and I was in heaven.

The book revolves around academia, the main characters being historians and anthropologists.  Professors and students.  A lot of descriptions of studying, researching and writing thesis papers.  Libraries and archives...detailed descriptions of incredibly old and incredibly valuable books and papers.  (Even Dracula himself, quite the intellectual, loved books so much that he had a super-secret, underground library that he prized highly...enough to brutally kidnap one of our main historian heroes to make him the official librarian of his collection.)  And maybe this makes me seem dusty, old and boring myself...depending on how you view history...but I reveled in it.  Though it has been nearly 15 years since I graduated with that history degree from the University of Utah, I was reminded and buoyed once again in the knowledge that I chose the right path of study.  This book made me want to be in college again, made me want to study and research and write papers again.  (Crazy as that sounds, right?)  It also made me want to read about ancient history and cultures more thoroughly.  My historical study tended to be more recent.  American history was a particular fascination for me and let's face it, America is an infant in comparison to other countries, peoples, cultures, empires.  Bryan once called my historical interests morbid, and rightly so...because other than American history, I tended to gravitate towards studying wars and shipwrecks.  (I was a Titanic buff long before the movie came out and it became popular to be so.)  My final 20 page research paper was on the French Revolution (Madame Guillotine was rather morbid as well).  So though I have a smattering of knowledge about the Ottoman Empire and Byzantium...it's only rudimentary.  I'd like to change that. 

I tell you what, though....I doubt I'll do much research into Dracula.  He was a real person, you realize?  Vlad Tepes, Prince of Wallachia.  You've heard of Vlad the Impaler, yes?  Dubbed thus for his propensity to impale people on spikes, among other such horrific methods for killing.  The name Dracula comes from being the son of Vlad II, Dracul....who was a member of The Order of the Dragon.  The vampire stuff was all myth, Bram Stoker's classic novel, and Hollywood.  However, in this novel "The Historian" the main characters discover that in fact, the undead/vampire myth was actually not a myth at all.  And whenever any of these historians tried to research Dracula in an attempt to find his tomb...awful, horrible and creepy things started happening.  It was so unsettling (1st class chicken, me...remember?) that I actually started worrying about the fact that by reading the book, now I KNEW too much information.  Seriously, I had to keep reminding myself that THIS IS A NOVEL!  All the same, I think I'll leave that historical figure and his subsequent fame and myth alone for awhile until I can sleep again.... 

2 comments:

Melissa said...

History is such a compelling subject. I find it funny though that your favorites (American, Wars, and Tragedies) were always my least favorite, and Byzantine art was my favorite section of Art History, along with the crusades, and religious movements being my favorites of European History. The book sounds pretty interesting. I think it's going on my post-graduation list.

MELISSA said...

like I've told you, I listened to this one rather than read it. Really liked it. and after reading your review, I'd like to actually "read" it again.