I've been wanting to read this book, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, for quite awhile. Alas, my library didn't have a copy of it, and as I have banned myself from shopping at Amazon, I had to keep waiting. But then I found myself in possession of a Border's gift certificate and I could finally get my hands on it. Deliciously thick, this book; 642 pages of little type.
You could say this book is about vampires, Dracula in particular. I never knew that the legend of Dracula was based on an actual man, Vlad the Impaler, who fought to keep his little country, Wallachia, out of the hands of the Ottomans. He was a horrible man, a cruelty artist as likely to torture his own people as he was the unlucky Ottomans who crossed him. It is also about scholars who are tracking down this ellusive historical character. It's a love story as well as a father/daughter story, not to mention the relationship between mentor and mentoree. The story itself is intriguing, interesting, informative and, despite the length, face paced.
But what intrigued me more than the story was the method the historians used to track down the legend. Letters, unknown books, secrets, folk songs, relics, maps, oral history, crazy old monks. Those ancient documents---one letter in Istanbul, for example, and its companion in Bulgaria---steeped in the scent of centuries, stained, torn, yet held at one time by a real, breathing person. It has made me think, ever since finishing, how difficult it is to piece together any history, and how histories are made up of many, many voices. I thought about one of my literary theory classes in college, when we discussed new historicism. The professor (my favorite one!) said something that I continue to think about: history is told by the conquerers. The conquered don't get to tell their stories because they are lost in ruin, or destroyed, or subjugated. All of the small little stories about Dracula had to be linked together, and that linking was made much more difficult by politics and dictators.
All of which has made me think about my own history. I mean, not that I am important enough for someone to need to uncover my history. But if someone wanted to, how would they do it? What, for example, will happen to my journals and notebooks when I die? What about my scrapbooks? In, say, 100 years, how might a person learn more about me? And what unwitting clues am I leaving? Someone could learn a lot about me just by reading the comments I've made in the books I read---unless all my books are given to charity once I die, like my grandma's were. And which ancestor left clues for me to follow, back to her story, and how could I find them?
I'm left, having finished this book, thinking about the very nature of time, of death and of archives and of the written word. I think The HIstorian's version of Dracula might like this thought I am left with. He thought that by gathering history together, he could control the future. Is that possible? What impact does history have on us, on my life right NOW? How much of the person I am is based on ME, how much on the people who sired me through all the preceeding generations? In the end, I think I like this book so much because it makes me ask myself those questions but it doesn't give an answer; they are inherently unaswerable, I think. Unless you can stumble across a Draculian archive of your own.