Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Historian

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The Historian

by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2005, 656 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2006, 688 pages

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Elizabeth Kostova (née Johnson) was born in New London, Connecticut in 1964, and now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  She graduated from Yale and holds an MFA from the University of Michigan where she won the Hopwood Award for the Novel-in-Progress.  The Historian took her ten years to write, and was inspired by the vampire stories told to her by her father, a professor of urban planning, during the year they spent in Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia (where her father taught at the university) when she was seven, and as they traveled through Europe.

She says, "I wondered whether this would make a good structure for a novel .... At the end of each of these tales, the young listener realizes that Dracula himself is listening to the story. Then I got the chills and immediately began working on the book." When asked about her personal beliefs she confirms that she does not believe in vampires and has a very scientific outlook on life,  However, she does believe in the power of myth in the human psyche.

Much of the book is based in Bulgaria because her husband, Georgi Kostov, is Bulgarian.  She met Georgi in 1989 while on a fellowship from Yale to study village music in Eastern Europe. She arrived in Bulgaria at a time of great change - only seven days after Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov had been placed under house arrest;  Georgi was one of the first 100 Bulgarians to be granted a passport.  She traveled to isolated villages in Bulgaria, Bosnia and south-west Russia, not only recording traditional music but also witnessing rituals dating back to the Middle Ages.

She says "Those journeys gave me a sense of a world that's closer to a European past and was preserved by the creation of the Iron Curtain.  It preserved the mystery of Eastern Europe for the rest of us. I tried to express that as a love story, the bridging of these two worlds, east and west. I've realized that there is, of course, a certain autobiographical flavor to it."

Another inspiration for her were the lectures she attended at Yale by Professor Vincent Scully, "one of the great professors of the twentieth century".  Kostova says "his ardor up on the stage about some of the great architectural and art sights of Western Europe made me go to those places as soon as I could save money from my bookstore job or mowing lawns or whatever I was doing."

The USA book rights for The Historian were sold for $2 million, and it has been or will be published in at least 37 different languages.  Movie rights sold for $1.5 million - the movie, produced by Douglas Wick (Memoirs of a Geisha, Gladiator etc) is currently in production and scheduled for release in 2007.

Little is known about her next project, other than that she says it is very different to The Historian and "not Gothic".

Interesting Links
Brief video footage of Kostova talking about The Historian.

Kostova talking about The Historian on NPR.

This article was originally published in June 2005, and has been updated for the October 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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