The Historian A Note to the Reader


The story that follows is one I never intended to commit to paper. Recently, however, a shock of sorts has prompted me to look back over the most troubling episodes of my life and of the lives of the several people I loved best. This is the story of how as a girl of sixteen I went in search of my father and his past, and of how he went in search of his beloved mentor and his mentor's own history, and of how we all found ourselves on one of the darkest pathways into history. It is the story of who survived that search and who did not, and why. As a historian, I have learned that, in fact, not everyone who reaches back into history can survive it. And it is not only reaching back that endangers us; sometimes history itself reaches inexorably forward for us with its shadowy claw.

In the thirty-six years since these events transpired, my life has been relatively quiet. I have devoted my time to research and uneventful travel, to my students and friends, to the writing of books of a historical and mainly impersonal nature, and to the affairs of the university in which I have ultimately taken shelter. In reviewing the past, I've been fortunate in having access to most of the personal documents in question, because they have been in my possession for many years. Where I felt it appropriate, I've stitched them together to make a continuous narrative, which I have occasionally had to supplement from my own reminiscences. Although I have presented my father's first stories to me as they were told aloud, I've also drawn heavily on his letters, some of which duplicated his oral accounts.

In addition to reproducing these sources almost in their entirety, I've tried every possible avenue of recollection and research, sometimes revisiting a place in order to brighten the faded areas of my memory. One of the greatest pleasures of this undertaking has been the interviews - in some cases, the correspondences - I have conducted with the few remaining scholars who were involved in the events related here. Their memories have provided an invaluable supplement to my other sources. My text has also benefited from consultations with younger scholars in several fields.

There is a final resource to which I've resorted when necessary - the imagination. I have done this with judicious care, imagining for my reader only what I already know is very likely, and even then only when an informed speculation can set these documents into their proper context. Where I have been unable to explain events or motives, I have left them unexplained, out of respect for their hidden realities. The more distant history within this story I have researched as carefully as I would any academic text. The glimpses of religious and territorial conflict between an Islamic East and a Judeo-Christian West will be painfully familiar to a modern reader.

It would be difficult for me to adequately thank all those who have helped me with this project, but I would like to name at least a few. My profound gratitude goes to the following, among many others: Dr. Radu Georgescu of the University of Bucharest's Archaeological Museum, Dr. Ivanka Lazarova of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Dr. Petar Stoichev of the University of Michigan, the tireless staff of the British Library, the librarians at the Rutherford Literary Museum and Library of Philadelphia, Father Vasil of Zographou Monastery on Mount Athos, and Dr. Turgut Bora of Istanbul University.

My great hope in making this story public is that it may find at least one reader who will understand it for what it actually is: a cri de coeur. To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history.

Oxford, England

January 15, 2008

Next page