01 November 2010

Quite a recap to put together on this subject!  And many a shout out and picture to share...please enjoy...

Few books draw me in as The Historian did, by Elizabeth Kostova.  Without a doubt, it is on my list of favorite books.

I hosted The Historian readalong on my other site On the Ledge Readalongs with my FABULOUS co-host Tedious & Brief.  How did the site start?  Read it by clicking here, or click the tab at the top of this page.

Bloggers who commented were (check out their sites!)
Peppermint, Ph.D,
Age 30+...A Lifetime of Books
Buttery Books
Desktop Retreat
Tell Me a Story
Geranium Cat's Bookshelf
Under the Boardwalk
Care's Online Book Club
Polishing Mud Balls
A Library of My Own
A Reader's Respite

This is my second reading of The Historian, and I definitely know it will not be my last. Written in a mostly epistolary format of letters, its pace is very Victorian-esque -- slow-paced at times, and then speeds up with incredible intrigue and page-turning anxiety.

The narrator, whose name we never learn, is a young sixteen-year-old girl in 1972, living in Amsterdam with only her father.  Her mother is gone from their lives, and her father, Paul, travels on business frequently.  Late one night, the narrator uncovers a book of incredible interest -- the pages are blank yet for a woodcut image of a dragon.  When her father returns, he is resigned and saddened by her discovery, and there begins the unfolding of an adventure to uncover the location of Dracula, Vlad Tepes of Wallachian history, the Impaler.
_________________________________________________________________________________________ But this book is about so much more than Dracula.  In this story, vampires are not sexy young people that are dreamy and moral.  Dracula and his minions are truly evil. _________________________________________________________________________________________ 
Few things also creep me out as the sight of a drawing of thousands of people that Vlad impaled.  The images that swirled in my mind as I read this book were eerie, freaky, horrifying.  Elizabeth Kostova weaves an incredibly layered story of fear, horror, and most of all, history.  What follows is a journey to so many places within Europe, and discussions about food, local customs, and cultures.  Not to mention, more than likely you may feel a sudden urge to immediately schedule a trip overseas.

At On the Ledge Readalongs, we had quite a fabulous group of followers -- twenty-four brilliant bloggers joined the fray, reading and posting responses to questions when they could.  Since it's a fairly large book of almost 700 pages, each week was broken into 100 pages and subsequent questions and discussion occurred.  Now, I'm no professional readalong coach, and people either love or hate a readalong, but oh man, for me, it was fun to read about all of the different pieces that were brought up in the book, like the amulet to ward off the Evil Eye, the food from different cultures (check out the post by clicking here), and the places that the characters visited!

The site thus evolved into each post listing a few questions, and then moving into a passage from the book that was incredibly descriptive in the location that the characters were traveling to, or a particular saint that was mentioned, or a meal that sounded so amazing that it was bound to make the reader drool -- so pictures were added to each post to help diversify the experience even more so and bring in our other senses along this reading experience.  The monasteries and amazing locations that the characters visited were even more incredible to learn that the actual places were even more jaw-dropping.  Check out the pictures by clicking here.  Below are some of my favorites, and I added the passages from the book so that you could see the stunning visual descriptions and how they correspond to the actual places.


"Some communications between us needed no interpreter, anyway.  After another glorious ride along the river, we crossed what I later learned was Széchenyi Lánchid, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, a miracle of nineteenth-century engineering named for one of Budapest's great beautifiers, Count István Széchenyi.  As we turned onto the bridge, the full evening light, reflected off the Danube, flooded the whole scene, so that the exquisite mass of the castle and churches in Buda, where we were headed, was thrown into gold-and-brown relief.  The bridge itself was an elegant monolith, guarded at each end by lions, couchants, and supporting two huge triumphant arches."  (Chapter 39)

Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Guarding Lions at Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Topkapi Palace, Turkey 
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Interior of Saint Irine
"If my first glimpse of Stoichev's house had filled me with sudden hopelessness, my first glimpse of Rila Monastery filled me with awe.  The monastery sat in a dramatically deep valley -- almost filling it, at that point -- and above its walls and domes rose the Rila Mountains, which are very steep and forested with tall spruces."  (Ch. 61)
Rila Monastery, Bulgaria
"The great wooden doors of the gate were open, and we went through them into a sight I can never forget.  Around us loomed the striped walls of the monastery fortress, with their alternating patterns of black and red on white plaster, hung with long wooden galleries.  Filling a third of the enormous courtyard was a church of exquisite proportions, its porch heavily frescoed, its pale green domes alight in the midday sun.  Beside it stood a muscular, square tower of gray stone, visibly older than everything else in sight.  Stoichev told us that this was Hrelyo's Tower, built by a medieval nobleman as a haven from his political enemies.  It was the only remaining part of the earliest monastery on the site, which had been burned by the Turks and rebuilt centuries later in this striped splendor." (Ch. 61)
Rila Monastery Courtyard

I want to thank everyone who joined and participated ESPECIALLY Tedious & Brief!  If you haven't had a chance to visit his site, please do!!

Most of all, many had their first experience with this book -- and I encourage anyone who hasn't tried it to pick it up, and for those who tried and didn't like it -- give it another chance!  It might be even better by checking out the On the Ledge Readalongs site to help round out the experience!

And for those interested in another readalong -- hang tight, there might be another one around the corner...

Happy Reading!
Coffee and a Book Chick


  1. Love the photos you posted! I read this back when it first came out and it instantly became one of my favorite books. I think it's time I reread it :)

    This book is really what triggered my interest in Eastern European history-loved all the descriptions of the cities :)

  2. I'm ready for the next one too. :-)

    So many of the readalongs are the old classics, which is fine, but one of the things I liked about this one was that it wasn't - although I'm sure it will be. Nice to have something different.

  3. Ah, I so wish I'd had time to participate in this! Grad school is just taking up too much time right now!

  4. This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I enjoy seeing websites that understand the value of providing a prime resource for free. I truly loved reading your post. Thanks!

  5. I absolutely LOVED this book. There is nothing more perfect than a historical tale of Vlad through letters! It was the shortest 700 pages I've ever seen. I was delighted to see the pictures - it just brought everything to life! Nice job!

  6. Kelly -- Thanks so much, the photos were such a joy to find while reading this book! And I love Eastern European history and culture as well!

    Peppermint, Ph.D. -- I'm ready for the next one as well, what should it be?

    Cat -- I agree, sometimes it's nice to do a readalong that is a contemporary book versus a classic!

    Rebecca -- I am sure grad school is incredibly time consuming, but a much better reward!! Next time!

    Anonymous -- Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed your visit!

    Sandy -- I agree -- when I first opened this book 5 years ago, I just knew that it would be perfectly told to me! What is it about a story told letters that is just so fun to read?!

  7. What a lovely post. The Historian sounds wonderful with such beautifully written passages. I'll have to read this one day.

  8. Yes, I was completely drawn in to this story too! I loved the dark and gothic feel to it all - great for this time of year.

  9. The pictures are wonderful! I listened to this once and it seemed to drag, but I think maybe it's just one I needed to read the print copy. And the pictures would help too!

  10. The photos you posted are beautiful to look at, especially great if you loved the book.
    Unfortunately, I didn't.
    I was anticipating a great read when I first got this book several years ago, but after a few chapters I gave up. Very disappointing since I truly did expect to like it.

  11. Whitney -- Thanks -- do let me know what you think of it when you read it!!

    Trish -- Dark and Gothic, my favorite combinations for a book!!

    Shelley (book Clutter) -- Do pick it up again, I think you might like it; jump onto the On the Ledge Readalongs site, too the pictures may be fun and helpful!

    Yvette -- Oh, what a shame you didn't like it! :( I just love the sweeping Gotchic and haunting tale to it all, where it's at a slow pace and then really picks up -- not to mention I really wanted to visit all of these places, too! :) If you try it again, I think you might like it -- although I felt like it was a good read, I've heard that other readers felt that it really picked up for them as they got more into the book. Let me know what you think about it if you try again!

  12. I read this book such a long time ago, that I forget a lot of the pertinent information from it. I know that Kostova really knows how to set the scene, and has incredible ambiance in her writing though. I loved this post and was happy to see the pictures that you've included. I might just have to read this one again!

  13. Such great photos and what a great book for a readalong! The Historian is one of my favorite books too and its definitley one of those books that totally suprised me because I didn't think I would like and I ended up loving it!

  14. This sounds like it was such a fun reading experience! I love the pictures.

    Maybe I'll be able to participate for the next one!

  15. I tried to read The Historian but didn't get that far into it. I think I should give it another chance.

  16. Wow, I have always wanted to read this but now I am even more keen having seen those pictures

  17. Zibilee at Raging Bibliomania -- If you do read it again, please let me know what you think. I had such a fabulous time re-reading it, and the pictures helped me as well!

    Amused -- This was a fun book for a readalong! I loved seeing what everyone thought about it!

    alitareads -- I would love it if you could join the next one!!

    Mrs. Q: Book Addict -- Yes, do try it again! I've heard several readers remark that it took a little bit for it to pick up for them -- so do try again, take a look at the pictures at the On the Ledge Readalongs site, and maybe that will make the ride more enjoyable!

    Becky (Page Tuners) -- Ooh, yes! Do pick it up and read it - and Google along the way and check out the readalongs site! It make sit even more enjoyable to check out the photographs of the actual places! And then let me know what you think, to!! :)

  18. Great review Natalie! Thank you for all the hard work you and Tedious & Brief put into hosting the On the Ledge Readalong. It was a fun experience and I hope we do it again!

  19. I love your readalong series, what a great idea! not something i can actually participate in right now, but in the future, yes!

    also, all those photos take me back to my turkey trip and eastern european honeymoon last year. pretty awesome!

  20. I hate that I missed reading along. My job took over and I've been MIA. Oy! I really feel like I'm missing an arm or something when I'm not reading steadily, and this one has been taunting me from my shelves for years.

  21. So that is the Sophia Hague?!
    I read this book a few years ago and devoured it. I would stay up late at night to try and finish it. I should re-read it becuase I am sure I missed this thing s along the way. And then towards the end....my heart was racing.
    I will definitely check out your read-a-long site. Thanks and glad you enjoyed this one also.

  22. I bought it when it first came out an it is still on my TBR pile. It could be because my TBR pile is more like a mountain. I must get too it now.

  23. I love that you included all those pictures! The armchair travel aspect of this book was definitely one of my favourite things about it.

  24. I am very intrigued by this book! May have to give it a try.

  25. What a great post! I loved the pictures and interest you added! I put this on my wishlist!

    Julie @ Knitting and Sundries

  26. Glad you enjoyed it and love the idea of more modern book readalongs!
    The Historian had me on the edge of my seat for most of it and even though I read it a while ago, the memories remain very vivid.