Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Historian Week 2 Questions and Discussion...

Another week has gone by and another section reviewed.  How do you feel the story has gone thus far?  Are you more drawn into the Victorian-esque telling of the story?  And is it becoming a little more spooky for you? Feel free to post updates on your blog as well of the story! (Note:  Several pictures are in today's post -- Week 2 Questions are at the very end)

Have you been Googling as you go on the locations that have come up, or the many books that are referenced?  I'm sure you may have wondered how much is real history and how much is the author's imagination to help shape the story...

In discussion with Tedious & Brief, he reflected that it would be wonderful to have The Historian reprinted with pictures along the way of the art and buildings, along with maps, of artifacts and places that are mentioned throughout the book, almost similar to what was done for The Da Vinci Code many years back.

At this point in the story, Paul, the father of our young narrator, has met young Helen Rossi, the daughter of Professor Rossi.  They begin to work together to understand more of Rossi's disappearance.  It's also in this section that we get an actual acknowledgement of Dracula, much more than just the feeling of a presence, of that tension and dread experienced while studying in the late hours when the spying librarian admits to Helen and Paul that he "should have been the one to go" instead of Rossi.

It's also the first time that an attack occurs to a primary character, as Helen receives two punctures on her neck from him before he runs into the street to escape and is killed when he runs in front of a car.

Paul and Helen are searching for many things, including information on a bibliography of the Order of the Dragon. Take a look at the below -- two emblems of the Order of the Dragon, the secret society formed to battle back against the Ottoman Empire.


Last week's questions brought about some wonderful insight from the group!  Amanda from A Library of My Own and Nisè from Under the Boardwalk noticed that swans were something that were mentioned and feared in this novel -- great catch, since as you mentioned, Kostova's next book was The Swan Thieves!  Along that same vein, several artistic references are mentioned throughout this next section -- did you notice that Rembrandt is mentioned multiple times?  Not only as the name of Paul's cat that is brutally murdered, but also even in Barley identifying a Rembrandt-esque inspiration on the street where the narrator's house is.

It's clear at this point in the story that we're diving deeper into the mystery, although we don't yet know, as the characters don't, what the true nature of it is, other than what can be seen on the surface.  What we know still is that Professor Rossi has disappeared, and in order to find him, they must find Dracula as well, and uncover if it is true that he still lives amongst us today.

Paul and Helen travel to Istanbul to start their research and quest.  Sultan Mehmed II plays a critical piece in this section as well -- a quick historical check identified that Mehmed did partner with Vlad Tepes' brother, Radu, shortly after the year 1463 to fight Vlad and avenge the losses of the Ottoman soldiers, and Vlad had to escape to save his life.

Have you wondered what the places look like?

Lake Snagov, the reputed location of Vlad Tepes' resting place. 

Interior of monastery

Reputed resting place of Vlad Tepes


The Radcliffe Camera in Oxford is also identified as the place where the narrator and Barley go for additional research.

And the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul...

And the interior of the Hagia Sophia.

Incredible, isn't it?

And now for the questions!  Remember, you don't have to answer all the questions, and if you've read ahead, be mindful to not include any spoilers in your thoughts.  You can also copy and paste the question into your comment, and don't forget to click the box to be notified of any new comments!




Questions

  1. On p. 105 of the hardcover edition, it is written on the map, "In this spot, he is housed in evil.  Reader, unbury him with a word."  It is also read aloud by Turgut, professor of Shakespeare in Instanbul.  What do you feel is needed to unbury him?  Do you feel Turgut is trustworthy?
  2. When the narrator's train pulls into the station, she shrinks back to Barley when she sees a woman on the platform who strikes her as looking different, both in her manner and in her dress, than everyone else around her.  Who do you think this woman is?
  3. Historical references are discussed throughout the entire novel that help set the stage and paint the literary atmosphere of the story.  Although Helen and Paul are extremely passionate about history, they each have had a very different upbringing.  How do each of their backgrounds shape them to be who they are?
  4. How, and why, does religion seem to play such a consistent part in the legend of vampires and of Dracula?
Yours in profoundest grief,



15 comments:

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

This is the part when I feel it starts to get really good! It's a slowly told tale, but I think it's one that I takes you on this incredible journey. I remember being spooked out so much about this when I first read this back in 2005. I noticed the date of 2008 in the note to the reader and I initially was confused. I felt that the author was trying to give you a sense that the story was very true, but then the 2008 reference almost gave it a bit of kick that it coudn't be. Or maybe it is? :)

1. "In this spot, he is housed in evil. Reader, unbury him with a word." It is also read aloud by Turgut, professor of Shakespeare in Instanbul. What do you feel is needed to unbury him? Do you feel Turgut is trustworthy? I'm still questioning what the "word" is that needs to be spoken aloud as well! I do feel that Turgut is trustworthy. I do think it's incredibly odd that he is also in possession of the same type of book that Rossi and Paul have, and then Turgut somehow meets up with Paul and Helen, but so much about that odd antique book has a magical presence that I'm not surprised thus far that it's brought people together.

2. When the narrator's train pulls into the station, she shrinks back to Barley when she sees a woman on the platform who strikes her as looking different, both in her manner and in her dress, than everyone else around her. Who do you think this woman is? I started to think it was a Gypsy, someone who could sense vampire danger. But then I also started to wonder if the narrator finally got to see in person the shadow or presence that she was feeling throughout the trips that she would take with her father. I remember in the first section, the artist painted her father and her in a cafe, and there was a dark figure at the table across from them. But the narrator remembers that there wasn't anyone sitting there...probably henchmans of Dracula?

3. Historical references are discussed throughout the entire novel that help set the stage and paint the literary atmosphere of the story. Although Helen and Paul are extremely passionate about history, they each have had a very different upbringing. How do each of their backgrounds shape them to be who they are? Helen's upbringing in Cold War Romania has obviously made her to doubt anything that's told to her -- she doesn't seem to trust anyone! But, Paul's not had to move up out of a village in Eastern Europe and try to get the schooling necessary to be able to come over to America for graduate school. Paul trusts more, while Helen... Helen's had a tougher upbringing in not being acknowledged by her father and going to college. No wonder she's tough! So much history plays throughout the story, not just in the intertwining of Dracula's notorious exploits, but also in just the life and times of Rossi's experiences in the 1930s, Paul's 1950s life, and the narrator dressed in the 1970s. They each are very aware of the events that are creating history during their own time.

4. How, and why, does religion seem to play such a consistent part in the legend of vampires and of Dracula? Those who follow their religion choose to do so sometimes to feel that there is a higher purpose. A reason for why things happen that we can't understand. And religion provided the feeling of safety and protection -- so no wonder during prior eras, religion became the mainstay of how to protect yourself against all evil, including a vampire. Combined with peasant legend and folklore, people had to have something to believe in that could battle evil and win. And if people could be taught to protect themselves with our own human defenses, then we used those implements of attack that we thought made sense -- crosses and garlic and holy water.

Beachreader said...

#1 – I haven’t decided how I feel about Turgut. It seems to coincidental that they met, or maybe there are many historians who are on the same quest and are being pulled together. I'm not sure what the "word" is.

#2 Since we know know that her mother may be “alive” maybe it’s her mother?

#3 During the time of Dracula when the world was filled with superstition and people were fearful of what they didn’t understand religion played a role in helping the common man make sense of the world around them. And if I lived then and my world was filled with Draculas and vampires I would seek out who I trusted to keep me safe - my religious leaders.

Elisabeth said...

I am still on the fence about Turgut. I would really like to trust him but something tells me all is not what it seems.

Paul and Helen's upbringings are as CAABC says very different and yet they have a common interest. It made me think of how opposites attract, and how this will work well for them in solving the mysteries.

Heather J. said...

Just some random thoughts:

- thanks for posting all the pictures - they are a great addition to the book!

- I'm really enjoying this book and loving the slow pace of the story and the increasing suspense

- at the same time I feel like it is somehow predictable ... of course, what I'm predicting could be totally off and then this point wouldn't be valid

- the end of ch 28 was a huge cliffhanger and I can't WAIT to pick the book back up tonight!

GeraniumCat said...

I really enjoyed this second part, I thought the pace really picked up and I started to feel really involved. I haven't been googling much, though (slow internet connection) so I was glad to see the pictures, especially the Lake Snagov ones - thanks!

I have a couple of grouches with the Oxford section - most come be overcome by allowing Kostova artistic licence, but the one that really irritates is "Master James", the title just isn't used like that! Never mind, on to the questions.

1. I keep wondering if there's a meaning there that I haven't grasped - that the word is implicit in the statement. Wasn't Rossi very uncomfortable when Paul read it aloud? Or did I imagine that bit? I can't find it in the text. I'm not sure that Turgut is trustworthy, although he seems okay at the moment. It was a bit of a coincidence that they met, wasn't it? Or were they drawn together - the book does seem to have the power to do that. (Oh dear, I seem to be answering questions with more of them).

2. I'm convinced that the woman is Helen - no real evidence for it, but if there is a shadowy presence following the narrator and her father, it might well be Helen, mightn't it? What we've seen of her so far suggests that she would take an interest in her daughter. But then, I'm making an assumption there, too!

3. The contrast between Paul and Helen is interesting - Paul is almost too trusting, I think - look how ready he is to like and confide in Turgut. Helen's wariness is a good check on him. I think Elisabeth's right about opposites attracting, too - they make a convincing couple, somehow.

4. The vampire legends feed off religion in the same way that vampires feed off humans, but I wonder if one of their successes is that they don't subvert it? They share elements with black magic (the pre-eminence of blood, for instance) but remain ostensibly within the framework of the Christian church. The iconography is shared, not subverted as in is in Satanism/black magic. So the church is still very much there to turn to when people are afraid.

tediousandbrief said...

1. I had originally taken that just reading that part of the map aloud would let Dracula know that someone was searching for him, though I could be wrong. I'm still on the fence as to whether I feel Turgut is trustworthy...it seems too much a coincidence how they met up with Helen and Paul.

2. I originally thought it was Helen due to the way she was dressed. Possibly, a minion of Dracula looking for the narrator.

4. With Dracula and vampires having come from Europe (via Stoker) and Christianity having been for a long time something used by peoples to protect themselves from evil, I think it's pretty natural how the two of them go together. The garlic as a ward for keeping evil/vampires away....that part I'm not sure of.

Annie @ButteryBooks said...

Sorry I didn't comment last night.. a bit of an emergency came up, but all is better today...

The pictures are great! Thanks for posting!

The passage "In this spot, he is housed in evil. Reader, unbury him with a word." gave me the willies. I took it as invocation of maybe his name (something along the lines of candyman, candyman, candyman ... ) *shiver* Say his name and unbury him... I do believe the people delving into Dracula's legend are opening themselves to his influence.
I like Turget and so far I trust him.

When the narrator saw the woman on the platform, I immediately thought Helen.

I loved the contrast between Paul and Helen. Paul very western, Helen very Eastern.

Great comments Coffee and a Book Chick and Beachreader on the religion question. I was thinking more along the lines of contrasting the evil of Dracula and the horrific evils committed by man in the name of religion.

Heather J. said...

I just noticed that in both dragon images the tail is wrapped arond the neck ... any idea why that is, of us it is significant?

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Hi, Heather! Great question!

I've been looking up a couple of things about this -- apparently, it's very similar to something called the ouroboros, which is a single circle of a serpent eating its own tail. Apparently, that's supposed to signify the ability to regenerate oneself and to never be extinguished and I guess, in my own interpretation, that it would mean to continue living. Which is interesting that it would be something associated with Dracula, who has the ability to live on! The Order of the Dragon was created to ensure that the order would always continue to fight against the Ottoman empire which Vlad Tepes II (Dracula's father) was a member of. It's incredibly interesting that the symbol means to continue on, to regenerate, live on - which is what a vampire does!

GREAT QUESTION!!

Cat said...

I'm loving the googling and looking at the pics of places I'm reading about. I picked up on the dragon/ourobouros connection too.
I don't actually feel spooked but more a sense of something dark and sinister lurking and that there's a whole lot I don't know and need to find out. Which is I suppose exactly what the narrator feels.
It is like the quest tales except this more seeking an unholy grail.
The word - no idea yet.

1. Turgut seems ok to me. One does get a feeling that there is a purpose for them coming together.


2.I have no idea who the woman is.It did bring to mind the time she saw the figure at the cafe. I wonder if it a supernatural presence that only the narrator can see.

3. Helen's upbringing would definitely make her more reticent and distrustful of others.

4. The battle between good and evil. Dracul means devil. To combat the evil people turn to the good , the protection of religious faith and its power to ward off the evil influence.

Nise' said...

I am a little bit behind and hope to catch up this week. I feel the story is beginning to "take off". I love the pictures, thanks for including them.

ibeeeg said...

Sorry that I have not particpated in the discussion until now. I have been unable to get myself into gear.

I am glad that photos of locations are on this post. The photos certainly show some magnificant sites, and are adding to my reading experience.

Like several other comments, I think the woman on the platform is Helen. The contrast between Helen and Paul is striking. Overall, this story has totally taken off for by this point.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I have managed to get myself a week behind. Oy! But, I will be caught up by the end of this week. I'm loving this book...have caught myself on several occasions reading it aloud just because I love to hear the author's descriptions. It is a slow read but that's why I think it is a perfect pick for a read along :) And, it is definitely getting spookier...becoming more realistic and believable by the minute.

Here are my questions and answers:


On p. 105 of the hardcover edition, it is written on the map, "In this spot, he is housed in evil. Reader, unbury him with a word." It is also read aloud by Turgut, professor of Shakespeare in Instanbul. What do you feel is needed to unbury him? Do you feel Turgut is trustworthy?

It may be a little simplistic of an explanation but Paul's response to Turgut's reading aloud makes me wonder if there is some ancient chant or "spell" that has been placed to keep Dracula in...possibly the code breaker's last challenge will be to somehow keep Dracula in his tomb forever without accidently setting him free?


When the narrator's train pulls into the station, she shrinks back to Barley when she sees a woman on the platform who strikes her as looking different, both in her manner and in her dress, than everyone else around her. Who do you think this woman is?

I immediately felt like this would be her mother...I hope it is





Historical references are discussed throughout the entire novel that help set the stage and paint the literary atmosphere of the story. Although Helen and Paul are extremely passionate about history, they each have had a very different upbringing. How do each of their backgrounds shape them to be who they are?


I actually think this is a very interesting part of the book..."Westerners" tend to forget very easily that the rest of the world exists...that other authentic perspectives exist...I see this ignorance in my students every single day...and they seem to be more and more closed minded to anything unfamiliar to them. Between Paul and Helen are differences in perspective on the same points in history with logical explanations for those different perspectives. It reminds me of the Christian symbol, the cross...to many it is a symbol of all that is Christianity and is hung all over people's homes, worn on their bodies, etc. But, throughout history the cross was also used as a symbol of heinous crimes against groups of people who did not believe or for political gain...two very true symbolic meanings but from two very different perspectives...very interesting stuff to me




How, and why, does religion seem to play such a consistent part in the legend of vampires and of Dracula?


I'm not sure it would be possible to have a book about the dead or undead without some concept of religion discussed...I am certainly not a scholar of religion but of the ones I'm fairly familiar with, there is always discussion of death and the afterlife in some form or fashion.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heather J. said...

Thanks for the follow up on the serpent-eating-its-own-tail image. I'm very familiar with that motif (esp. from reading Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books!) but I didn't put it together with the dragon-grasping-its-own-tail image. But it does make a lot of sense, now that I think about it.

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