Readers' Favorite

August 12, 2020

The Historian - and more about audiobooks

by Alison DeLuca

After listening to Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell from Audible, I queued up The Historian by Elisabeth Kostova. Like Strange and Norrell, it's another long filled promising hours of storytelling. 
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The Historian's narrator is a nameless young girl and her father. He's a historian, and she travels with him across Europe as he moves between research jobs.  The girl discovers in her father's library a strange book with one single illustration of a dragon and packet of letters headed, "My dear and unfortunate successor..." 

She demands the story of the book and letters from her father, and a long voyage of discovery begins. Her father's tale centers on his investigations into the Dracula myth and what happened to a friend of his, Professor Rossi, who disappeared. 

This sets off an investigation that sweeps father and daughter to different destinations: in his case to the Eastern Block with a woman called Helen. As for the girl, she escapes her governess and hops a train to the south of France, accompanied by a dashing English student called Barley. 

cover of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
cover of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Throughout the book, there are many descriptions of different European towns. Some of them, like Amsterdam and Istanbul, are described with name and street map in place, including the Hagia Sophia. Others are disguised, like "Imona' so, the anonymous narrator explains, no one will follow her in a sinister, dark tour of the nightmarish events that follow.

As I listened to the book, those descriptions let me escape quarantine and transport me into a new world. There I could pretend to be sitting on the dock in a cafe, sipping strong coffee and eating torte as train whistles sounded in the distance. 

Kostova has a gift for making such places come alive. She describes the smell of coffee, the sound of water, and how it feels for an innocent girl to be noticed by a young man for the first time. 

Bran Castle
Bran Castle, courtesy of WikiCommons 

I'm not sure that reading the book would have the same effect as listening to it. The two narrators, Justine Eyre and Paul Michael, do a wonderful job of voicing the narrator and her father as well as the many people they run into: Barley, Helen, and others. Not only do the two voice actors have to make their characters come alive; they also have to voice Romanian, Turkish, English, and Dutch accents. To my untutored ears, they succeeded.

But it is a slow-moving novel with plenty of side-trips down those descriptive back alleys. For my tastes, this made The Historian a perfect Audible read. 

I'll confess that I downloaded the longest books I could find on Audible. Next up is A Little Life, followed by Luminaries and The Infinite Jest (!) I can't wait to hear how those books come to life for each, I see now, is a different entity with different voice requirements and stylistics.

What are your favorite audiobooks?

Buy The Historian at Amazon

Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.


Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

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  1. Wow that's a Long book to listen to on audio: I did like The Historian which I recall reading long ago ... though it could've been edited (much) shorter! I love audiobooks but I usually like normal length ones .... though I did recently listen to The Great Believers on audio and it's nearly 500 pages and I enjoyed it. Interestingly only one actor does all the parts of that book & it still works.