History – What Is It?

20 08 2007


kostova.jpgI’ve been working my way through Chandler’s Campaigns of Napoleon (described here).  It’s slow going.  Sometimes when I find myself stalling out in a book, I break it up with a novel.  While I move ponderously through non-fiction, I can usually blow though a novel pretty quickly.  I was intrigued by a snippet posted on Kevin Levin’s blog from Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian.  On a whim, I went to Barnes & Noble and bought a copy – paperback, for $15.99.  Very odd for me, since I rarely pay retail for any book, let alone a novel.  (A few days later I saw that B&N had the hardcover edition on sale for $8.50, which really hacked me off.)  Even though a 700 page novel is not the ideal break from a 1,100 page history, I’ve been pleased with my choice here.  

kostova2.jpgWhile Ms. Kostova is a novelist, it seems to me that if she is not also a professionally trained historian (and I don’t know that she isn’t), she has a good grasp of the process of historical research.  But more important, it’s clear she “gets it.”  At one point one of her characters realizes, while reading some 16th century documents:

This corner of history was as real as the tiled floor under our feet or the wooden tabletop under our fingers.  The people to whom it happened had actually lived and breathed and felt and thought and then died, as we did – as we would.

You can read an interview with Ms. Kostova here.  The Historian is her first novel.