The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Submitted by: Joana Lucashuk
Overcast and cold outside, I lay inside on the couch with the cream blanket I have owned since high school thrown over my legs while I read Elizabeth Kostovaâ€™s The Historian in the dim light cast by the gold leaf lamps I inherited from my grandparents. Â T shouts from the kitchen table during a break from studying, â€śAre you really going to lie on the couch all weekend and read that book?â€ť to which I reply, â€śYes, I am really going to lie on the couch all weekend and read this book.â€ť
Â Â Â Â Three interweaving story lines detail the narratorsâ€™ search for Vlad the Impaler (a.k.a. Dracula) as they criss-cross Europe and the Ottoman Empire in this novel by Ms. Kostova.Â Through Amsterdam, Oxford, Budapest and Sofia, main characters Paul and Helen pursue Dracula.Â Their hunt also leads them to Istanbul, a Byzantine word that means â€śthe city,â€ť as Paul notes after examining his guidebook.Â
On a Saturday in February, in an apartment ten hours away from Istanbul by plane, The Historian teaches me that the Byzantine Empire lasted from 333 to 1453, and that the sea once lapped Istanbulâ€™s city walls, enabling the emperor to embark by boat from his palace.Â I also discover the Hagia Sophia, originally the Byzantine Church of Saint Sophia, with â€śits famous whirling domes and arches, its celestial light pouring in, the round shields covered with Arabic calligraphy in the upper corners, mosque overlaying church, church overlaying the ruins of the ancient world.â€ť
But more importantly, The Historian gives me a sense of Istanbulâ€™s culture as Paul and Helen experience it in 1954.Â From my couch I picture the â€śchunks of bread, a dish of smooth yogurt studded with slices of cucumber, and a strong fragrant tea in glass vases,â€ť which a waiter serves Paul and Helen in â€śa restaurant decorated inside with brass vases and fine tiles.â€ťÂ And I note the things familiar to Helen:Â the â€śTurkish place-names, a cucumber salad consumed in an outdoor restaurant, the pointed arch of a framed window,â€ť and observe through Paulâ€™s eyes the â€śmen in dark vests and small crocheted caps, women in brightly printed blouses with ballooning trousers underneath, their heads wound in scarves.â€ťÂ
Â As I lay on the couch all weekend reading The Historian with T in the kitchen studying, the cab drivers honking their horns outside, and the winter wind whipping through the city, I dream of minarets and mosques, crowded bazaars, and the city that is Istanbul.