Today is the half way check point (through Chapter 40) for The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. You can see what everyone else makes of the book so far over at our host, The Estella Society. We have a few questions from The Estella Society and pretty much are turned loose to talk about whatever we like for the first half of the book. This read along is part of the reading event R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings. Make sure to drop by his place for more intense, spooky, thrilling reads and discussions.
Spoilers want to leap out an surprise the unwary – so avert your eyes if you haven’t read up through Chapter 40.
1. What do you think of the structure of the novel? It’s a story within a story (sort of within a story). We have Professor Rossi’s storyline, Paul’s reflections, and the daughter’s adventures. And letters. There’s a lot going on!
I really like this structure as it allows several point of views and also multiple time periods – and they all get to unfold at the same time. I really enjoy riding around in the daughter’s head (have we learned her name yet, did I miss it?) as her story unfolds, but also as she learns the story of Bartholomew Rossi, Helen Rossi and her father Paul. The transitions between the different POVs are smooth and I don’t experience any confusion. I do find the Rossi/Paul adventure more interesting at this point, though with the daughter running through France with Barley, that storyline will probably pick up.
2. What are your thoughts on Helen’s characterization? Have you warmed to her?
I definitely like Helen. She is very direct and also self-sufficient. She must be under quite a bit of stress – travel, missing father, reunited with her aunt and university colleagues, bitten by a vampire minion – and yet we haven’t seen her once falling into self-pity. For a few years, I worked with a Romanian woman and her personality was so very much like Helen’s that reading this book brings back fond memories of working with her.
3. What do you think of the peripheral characters? Are their motivations pure? I’m thinking of Turgut, Helen’s family members, etc.
This is a reread for me, though it has been some years since I read this book. I do remember the first time through being a bit suspicious of Turgut because it was so convenient that he showed up when he did and knows so much. I was of two minds – they could have met Turgut because he is searching for the same thing basically, so it would make sense for them to bump into one another sooner or later.
I like Helen’s aunt Eva, though I don’t fully understand the cultural/political need to avoid certain subjects and keep the American at arm’s length. I understand from the narrative that it is a necessity, but I have to wonder if there really are that many folks who would report a pleasant conversation as potentially being subverting the communist regime.
Then there is Professor Josef G. who Helen doesn’t like. I can’t remember why she doesn’t like him. But since she doesn’t like him, nor do I. I will be keeping my eye on that one.
4. Other thoughts on this book?
I want Hungarian food. I read Dracula last year and ended up cooking several Hungarian and Romanian dishes for my man. They were all very tasty. There was this particular dish with paprika and chicken that was especially good. Yum.
The daughter, even though she has traveled a bit through out Europe with her father, seems to be quite sheltered in many ways. I think this adventure with Barley will prove to be a growing-up event. Provided she isn’t killed or turned into a vampire, because those outcomes would put a damper on growing up.
I love the way Turgut gets one or two words wrong every 5th or 7th sentence. The first few times, I was stumbling over the word choices wondering why the editors didn’t catch them. Then I saw that this is Turgut speaking in his excellent, but not perfect, English. Very quaint.
I love the whole ambiance of the book: Vlad Tepes, AKA Dracula, and his history laid out in bits and pieces; Turgut’s multiple portraits of him; the travel to Istanbul; the ancient, small, and somewhat hidden libraries that have little deposits of documents that relate to Wallachia, Vlad, and the mysterious plague.