Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Historian Week 6 Questions and Discussion...

It is the last week of discussion -- and what a fantastic six weeks it has been -- we had such a big group reading along, and I appreciate everyone's participation!  If you're like me, you also  found many more blogs to follow in just our group...and hopefully a deeper appreciation for The Historian...

What an incredible conclusion to The Historian -- it's no doubt that there are a multitude of questions and thoughts that all of you may have.  I know that although this is the second time that I've read this since it was first published, it still felt like a new read to me, particularly the ending.

  1. Why did you think the author finished the story with the epilogue like she did?  
  2. Why do you think Kostova included the small part of the story involving Dracula at the very end of the book?
  3. Do you think she is setting up a sequel?  Would you like to see a sequel?  
  4. Who do you think gave the book to the narrator at the end of the story? 
  5. Were you satisfied with the book and the ending?  If anything, what would you have changed?
Click here to view an incredible travel portfolio of photographs from Vlad Tepes' birthplace, such as the one below.
Vlad Tepes' birthplace, Sighiosara
"The road from Plovdiv was narrow, and it curved along a rocky stream on one side and steep cliffs on the other.  We were making our way gradually into mountains again -- in Bulgaria, you could never be far from mountains.  I remarked on this to Helen, who was gazing out the opposite window in the backseat of Ranov's car, and she nodded.  'Balkan is a Turkish word for mountain.'" (Ch. 67)  Note:  Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria and the history spans some 6,000 years.


"The monastery had no grand entrance -- we simply pulled off the road into a dirt lot, and from there it was a short walk to the monastery gate.  Bachkovski manastir sat among high barren hills, partly forested and partly bare rock, close to the narrow river; even in early summer, the landscape was already dry, and I could easily imagine how the monks must have valued that nearby source of water.  The outer walls were the same dun-colored stone as the hills around them.  The monastery roofs were fluted red ceramic tile, like that I'd seen on Stoichev's old house and on hundreds of houses and churches along the roadsides.  The entrance to the monastery was a yawning archway, as perfectly dark as a hole in the ground." (Ch. 67)

Bachkovo Monastery from Mountains

Entrance to Bachkovo Monastery
"Ranov seemed to be holding back a triumphant smile. 'No,' he said.  'He has not seen any account of such pilgrims.  There were many pilgrims during that century.  Bachkovski manastir was very important then.  The patriarch of Bulgaria was exiled here from his office in Veliko Trnovo, the old capital, when the Ottomans captured the country." (Ch. 67)

A medieval stronghold in Velika Turnovo

Church in Velika Turnovo
"Ranov shook his head.  'He says he has heard this song before.  He collected it from an old woman in the village of Dimovo, Baba Yanka, who is a great singer there, where the river dried up long ago.  They have several festivals there where they sing these old songs, and she is the leader of the singers.  One of these will be in two days, the festival of Saint Petko, and you may wish to hear her." (Ch. 67)

St. Petka's Days
"One of them had the oddest instrument I had ever seen up close -- a bag made of cleaned white animal skin with wooden pipes sticking out of it.  It was clearly a bagpipe, and Ranov told us that it was an ancient instrument in Bulgaria, the gaida, made of the skin of a goat.  The old man who cradled it in his arms gradually blew it up like a great balloon; this process took a good ten minutes and he was bright red before he'd finished.  He nestled it under his arm and puffed into one of the pipes and everyone cheered and applauded.  It had the sound of an animal, too, a loud bleat, a shriek or squawk, and Helen laughed. 'You know,' she told me, 'there is a bagpipe in every herding culture in the world.'" (Ch. 69)

Gaida Player

"They go together into the tiny scriptorium, where three of the monks sit copying manuscripts, according to the old way, and one carves letters to print a page of the life of Saint Anthony.  The press itself stands in one corner.  It is the first printing press in Wallachia, and Dracula runs a proud hand over it, a heavy, square hand.  The oldest of the scriptorium monks stands at a table, near the press, chiseling a block of wood.  Dracula leans over it.
    'And what will the be, Father?'
    'Saint Mikhail slaying the dragon, Excellency," the old monk murmurs.
    'Rather have the Dragon slaying the infidel,' Dracula says, chuckling." (Epilogue)
St. Michael Fighting the Dragon by Albrecht Durer, 1498

Below is a video of an authentic Bulgarian folksinger -- haunting and beautiful, isn't it?

We have had an amazing time these past six weeks and want to thank you all for participating in this readalong!  Dare I say it but...I know that the reading of The Historian has sparked quite an interest in the Dracula/Vlad Tepes lore.  Wouldn't it be interesting to dive more into the folklore of all the many cultures throughout the centuries worldwide to see if maybe, just maybe...there's more to the legend than just...legend?

Yours in profoundest grief,
Coffee and a Book Chick
Tedious & Brief

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Little Insight on the Food in The Historian...

I don't know about you all, but as I read this book, I've noticed that food is mentioned a lot.  Rightfully so, I'd imagine, considering that when you travel to a country you've never been to before, not only do you come home with stories about all of the places that you've visited, but you also talk about everything you least I do...

I've been meaning to post this for quite some time now, and I also wanted to introduce everyone to Annette (Annie) with Buttery Books, who has been with our readalong since we started!  The site is so unique -- they pick a book and do a review, and then they also feature recipes that are inspired from the setting in the book.  They also provide handy tips for your own book clubs and how you can do a whole theme based around the book.  I love this site, and you will find tons of fantastic recipes on here.  They've already featured The Historian, which is how we stumbled across each other in preparing for the readalong.  Click here to visit their site and specifically to The Historian party -- their recipes are fabulous!  I'm now a follower of the site, and they just recently did a post for The Thirteenth Tale and The Heretic's Daughter (two more of my favorite books)!

The Historian includes so many interesting meals that (Paul and Helen especially) get a chance to eat -- who can forget Turgut's wife and all of the food that she overloaded them with?  Since food is mentioned in each location, I've picked just a few to feature.  Let me warn you that researching for these meals made me very, very hungry...

Palinka (Rakiya) -- "Aunt Eva ordered for all of us, as a matter of course, and when the first dishes came, they were accompanied by a strong liquor called palinka that Helen said was distilled from apricots."  (see below as it's mentioned again when they are with Stoichev, and it's called rakiya in that country.)

Hortobágyi Palacsinta -- 'Now we will have something very good with this,' Aunt Eva explained to me through Helen.  'We call these Hortobágyi palacsinta.  They are a kind of pancake filled with veal, a tradition with the shepherds in the lowlands of Hungary.  You will like them.' (Ch. 39)  picture from Habeas Brulee blog  The sauce on top is typically a cream made with paprika and sour cream.

And please check out Buttery Books' site -- yum on their version and recipe!!


 -- "Then she and Selim Aksoy served us coffee and something she explained was Börek, a roll of pastry with salty cheese inside..." (Ch. 50)

Börek is made with phyllo dough and can be filled with feta, meats or vegetables.  According to Wikipedia, "it was invented in Central Asia by Nomadic Turks, and became a popular element of Ottoman cuisine."

In Turkey, they also have something that translates to cigarette Börek because of the shape. (Sigara böreği )


Rakiya -- "Irina and Ranov came into the sitting room with a clash of plates, and Irina began setting out glasses and a bottle of amber liquid."

"But I returned the bow and downed my rakiya.  I decided there was no way to drink it except quickly, and the third-degree burn I received o the back of my throat was soon replaced by a pleasant glow.  Enough of this beverage, I thought, and I might be in danger of liking Ranov slightly."     (Ch. 57)

The fruit is fermented and distilled, and normally it's a colorless drink, but if herbs are included in the mixture, it can change colors, and of course, add to the flavor.  In Hungary, it's called palinka. The liquor itself can come from any type of fruit -- figs, apricots, quinces, peaches, etc.  It can be served as a standard drink, or can be used for ceremonies.  The drink can also be cooked and blended with sugar and honey to sweeten it up.  I'm thinking I might have to track this down and try it...although if it's homemade, it can be upwards of 50% to 60% alcohol content...!

What about you?  Have you had the good fortune to try these delectable treats, or had a sip of the strong drink?

Happy Reading Eating & Drinking!
Coffee and a Book Chick
Tedious & Brief

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Nosferatu & Shadow of theVampire

      As we approach the climax, you may remember early in The Historian a mention of the 1922 silent-film version of Dracula, Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens (usually known simply as Nosferatu).  Notably, as mentioned in The Historian, this film was the first appearance of the belief that vampires could be killed by exposure to sunlight. 

       Nosferatu was directed by one of the great silent film directors in early cinema, the Acadamy-Award winning  (Sunrise, 1927) German director F.W.Murnau.  Murnau hadn't received the rights to make a film adaption of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula.  To try getting around this, he changed some of the main character names and plot points, such as Count Dracula became Count Orlok and the previously mentioned idea that sunshine killed vampires.  The very term "vampire" didn't escape editing, as it became "nosferatu".
Vampire?  Nosferatu?  Either way, Max Shreck's Count Orlok is terrifying to look at.  photo source

       Even with these changes, Bram Stoker's estate didn't take kindly to the adaptation and sued, with the court ordering the destruction of the film.  However, the film had already been shipped and copies survived.  The film is in the public domain in the US, but can be seen in a number of different variations and editions, some of which change the character names to correspond back to Stoker's novel.

       Legends from the production of Nosferatu include that Max Shreck, who played Count Orlok in the film, was not an actor but instead an actual vampire.  Despite this of course not being true, these rumors lead to the creation of the film Shadow of the Vampire (2000). 

       The 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire, plays off the legend that Max Shreck, the actor portraying Count Orlok in Nosferatu, was an actual vampire rather than an actor playing a vampire.  In the film, director W. F. Murnau, portrayed by John Malkovich, finds a mysterious person who he calls Max Shreck to play the vampire Count Orlok.  Max Shreck/Orlok, portrayed by Willem  Dafoe, is not an actor or even a human at all: he is a vampire pretending to be a human actor playing a vampire.
The 2000 re-telling of the story behind the classic silent film Nosferatu (source)
       The film shows the fictional production of Nosferatu as the crew begins to have suspicions about the mysterious Shreck/Orlok, especially when it's discovered that Shreck remains in full costume and character at all times, even when they're done with filming for the day.  Shadow of the Vampire has great performances,  from the entire cast, especially from Malkovich's Murnau and Dafoe's Shreck/Orlok.

       Neither are perfect films, but for any fan of horror or silent cinema, Nosferatu is a must watch with the fictional retelling of the story behind the film, Shadow of the Vampire, if only for the acting and ingenuity, a great treat, especially for the Halloween season.

Yours in profoundest grief,

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Historian Week 5 Questions and Discussion...

After tonight, we have one week left in The Historian readalong -- I hope you've enjoyed this as much as we have! Only a couple questions this week...

Paul and Helen have had quite an incredible journey together, and in this short section, they are accompanied by the watchful Ranov as they tour Bulgaria and interact with Stoichev to learn more about the monks who have written about the transport of an incredible treasure, that could be Vlad Tepes' body or his head, and the hope that the two are reunited.  I was also incredibly saddened to hear about the "amnesia" that Professor Rossi also experienced, separating him from Helen's mother forever.
  1. We're getting closer to the truth...Last week, the general response was that it seemed to be a much slower point than the other sections.  What do you think of the story's momentum thus far in this week's section?
  2. What has jumped out at you that you'd like to discuss with the group?
"I am glad to have the chance to talk with anyone who is interested in our medieval history," Stoichev said to me.  "Perhaps it would be interesting for you and Miss Rossi to see a holiday that celebrates two of our great medieval figures.  Tomorrow is the day of Kiril and Methodii, creators of the great Slaonic alphabet.  In English you would say Cyril and Methodius -- you call it Cyrilic, do you not?  We say kirilitsa, for Kiril, the monk who invented it." (Ch. 57)

Kiril and Methodii, painted by Stanislav Dospavski
"After a moment, he went into one of the other rooms and came back carrying a paper-covered volume, which proved to be an old scholarly journal printed in German. 'I had a friend --" he stopped. 'If only he had lived to see this day!  I told you -- his name was Atanas Angelov -- yes, he was a Bulgarian historian and one of my first teachers.  In 1923 he was doing some researches in the library at Rila, which is one of our great treasure-houses of medieval documents."  (Ch. 58)

"If my first glimpse of Stoichev's house had filled me with sudden hopelessness, my first glimpse of Rila Monastery filled me with awe.  The monastery sat in a dramatically deep valley -- almost filling it, at that point -- and above its walls and domes rose the Rila Mountains, which are very steep and forested with tall spruces."  (Ch. 61)

Rila Monastery, from An American in Bulgaria
"The great wooden doors of the gate were open, and we went through them into a sight I can never forget.  Around us loomed the striped walls of the monastery fortress, with their alternating patterns of black and red on white plaster, hung with long wooden galleries.  Filling a third of the enormous courtyard was a church of exquisite proportions, its porch heavily frescoed, its pale green domes alight in the midday sun.  Beside it stood a muscular, square tower of gray stone, visibly older than everything else in sight.  Stoichev told us that this was Hrelyo's Tower, built by a medieval nobleman as a haven from his political enemies.  It was the only remaining part of the earliest monastery on the site, which had been burned by the Turks and rebuilt centuries later in this striped splendor."  (Ch. 61)

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery Courtyard, striped walls
Rila Monastery
Hrelyo's Tower, photo by Bojidar Hinkov
The "Chronicle" claims that they traveled only a short distance -- "not much farther" -- from the monastery at Bachkovo, located about thirty-five kilometers south of Asenovgrad on the Chepelarska River.  Clearly, Sveti Georgi was situated somewhere in south central Bulgaria.  This area, which includes much of the Rhodope Mountains, was among the last Bulgarian regions to be conquered by the Ottomans; some particularly rugged terrain inthe area was never brought under full Ottoman domination.  If Sveti Georgi was located in the mountains, this might have accounted in part for its selection as a relatively safe resting place for the remains of Vlad III."  (Ch. 59)

Ruins of Sveti Georgi
"Stefan reports through Zacharias that his friends were "interrogated" in the town of Haskovo before being tortured and killed, which suggests that Ottoman authorities believed they possessed politically sensitive information of some sort.  Haskovo is located in southeast Bulgaria, a region that was securely under Ottoman command by the fifteenth century." (Ch. 59)

Haskovo Ruins
Yours in profoundest grief,
Coffee and a Book Chick
Tedious & Brief

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Historian Week 4 Questions and Discussion...

We are past the halfway point of The Historian Readalong!  It's been wonderful to see everyone's thoughts and ideas, and particularly, the enjoyment that everyone is experiencing as they go on this journey with Rossi, the narrator, and Helen and Paul -- all in search of the truth of Dracula.

It would be great to hear what questions or thoughts you have for the portion of the book we've read thus far.  If you've blogged about it, let me know as well so that I can highlight your post on this site -- we'll be able to jump on and comment on your post and insights!
  1. In Chapter 44, Helen's mother begins to tell her story.  It starts, "When I was a girl, I lived in the tiny village of P-- in Transylvania, very close to the Arges River."  The town name is omitted -- why do you think this is done?
  2. In Chapter 45, Rossi meets up with Georgescu outside of the Snagov Monastery.  Upon being introduced to the abbot of the monastery, Paul cannot kiss his ring as Georgescu does.  "I caught my name in the introductions and bowed to the monk as gracefully as I could, though I couldn't bring myself to kiss his ring."  Why is that?
  3. What areas of the book intrigued you so much that you don't want to miss out on discussing with the group?
  4. Let me know if you've blogged about it so we can highlight it on this site and we can jump on to comment on your posts!
"The land was beautifully green and fresh, and yellow-leaved willows hung over the streams that wound through it.  From time to time we rode into a village; sometimes I could pick out the onion cupolas of an Orthodox church among the other church towers."  (Chapter 43)
From decafinata on Flickr and
"Helen leaned across me for a view, too. 'If we kept on this road, we'd reach Esztergom, the first capital of the Hungarian kings.  That's certainly worth seeing, if only we had the time.'"

Esztergom -- first capital of the Hungarian Kings from 10th to 13th centuries
"When you get to an opening in the forest -- we parked near a little restaurant of sorts with three boats drawn up behind it -- you look out across the lake to the island where the monastery lies, and there -- there at last -- you get a panorama that has surely changed little over centuries."  (Chapter 45)

Lake Snagov and Monastery
"The monastery was even lovelier up close, and rather forbidding, with its ancient walls and high cupolas, each crowned with an ornate seven-pointed cross."
Ed's Trip Site
Ed's Trip Site
"Dracula was not born here but in Transylvania, in a town called Sighisoara.  I won't have time to see it, but Georgescu has been there several time, and he told me that the house in which Dracula's father lived -- Vlad's birthplace -- still stands."  (Chapter 46)

Vlad's Birthplace in Sighisoara
"Turgut smiled.  'Excellent questions, as usual, my young doubter.  Let me try to answer them.  As I told you, Selim knows the city very well, and when he found this letter and understood enough of it to see that it might be useful, he took it to a friend of his who is the keeper of the ancient monastery library at Saint Irine, which still exists."

Saint Irine Monastery Gates

Interior of Saint Irine
"The most remarkable of many remarkable sights we saw here today, as we prowled the old streets and ruins, was Dracula's watchtower, or rather a handsome restoration of it done in the nineteenth century.  Georgescu, like a good archaeologist, turns up his Scotch-Romany nose at restorations, explaining that in this case the crenellations around the top aren't quite right; but what can you expect, he asked me tartly, when historians begin using their imaginations?  Whether or not the restoration is quite accurate, what Georgescu told me about that tower gave me a shiver.  It was used by Vlad Dracula not only as a lookout in that era of frequent Turkish invasions but also as a vantage point from which to view the impalements that were carried out in the court below."  (Chapter 46)

Vlad Dracula's Watchtower
Yours in Profoundest Grief,

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Historian Week 3 Questions and Discussion...

Ahh, Week 3 begins...questions first, pictures below...
  1. What do you think about Turgut's obsession with Dracula and the paintings that have been done?  How does his obsession compare to Paul's and Helen's?
  2. What are your thoughts on the "Dragon" book simply appearing for the characters in the story?  Why do you think these particular characters are the recipients of this book?
  3. There is a lot of discussion on the lack of freedom in Budapest and in Romania during the time that Helen and Paul enter, especially with Paul being an American.  How does this lack of freedom for the citizens affect or compare with the restricting search for Dracula?
  4. In Chapter 39, while in conversation with Helen's aunt, Eva, Paul state "I've always been interested in foreign relations.  It's my belief that the study of history should be our preparation for understanding the present, rather than escape from it."  The seekers of the book are constantly aware of the history being made in their own times and the history that came hundreds of years before their search.  What are some of these events, and why is it important?
  5. What is your FAVORITE part of the book, scene, feeling, etc., thus far?  For example, the majority of the book is told from a written letter format -- do you feel this is difficult to read from, or does it offer more creative flexibility?
Here are a couple of places that were visited throughout this section of the book!

"Turgut's apartment was located in another part of Istanbul, on the Sea of Marmara, and we took a ferry there from the busy port called Eminönü.  Helen stood at the rail, watching the seagulls that followed the boat, and looking back at the tremendous silhouette of the old city.  I went to stand next to her, and Turgu pointed out spires and domes for us, his voice booming above the rumble of the engines."  (Chapter 30)

"It seemed a good opportunity to see something else in Istanbul, so I made my way toward the mazelike, domed Topkapi Palace complex, commissioned by Sultan Mehmed as the new seat of his conquest.  It had drawn me both from a distance ad in my guidebook since our first afternoon in the city.  The Topkapi covers a large area on the headland of Istanbul and is guarded on three sides by water:  the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, and the Marmara.  I suspected that if I missed it, I would be missing the essence of Istanbul's Ottoman history."  (Chapter 37)
Harem in Topkapi Palace.

"Some communications between us needed no interpreter, anyway.  After another glorious ride along the river, we crossed what I later learned was Széchenyi Lánchid, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, a miracle of nineteenth-century engineering named for one of Budapest's great beautifiers, Count István Széchenyi.  As we turned onto the bridge, the full evening light, reflected off the Danube, flooded the whole scene, so that the exquisite mass of the castle and churches in Buda, where we were headed, was thrown into gold-and-brown relief.  The bridge itself was an elegant monolith, guarded at each end by lions, couchants, and supporting two huge triumphant arches."  (Chapter 39)
University of Budapest

"The next minute we were in sight of the Danube.  It was enormous -- I hadn't been prepared for its grandeur -- with three great bridges spanning it.  On our side of the river rose the incredible neo-Gothic spires and dome of the Parliament Buildings, and on the opposite side rose the immense tree-cushioned flanks of the royal palace and the spires of medieval churches."  (Chapter 38)

Budapest Parliament Building

Yours in profoundest grief,
Coffee and a Book Chick
Tedious & Brief

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