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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dreamers of the Day

Dreamers of the Day
Maria Doria Russell
Random House, 2008

Agnes Shanklin is a forty-year-old schoolteacher from Ohio who is still reeling from the tragedies of the Great War and the influenza epidemic. This middle aged spinster comes into a modest inheritance that allows her to take the trip of a lifetime to Egypt and the Holy Land. Arriving at the Semiramis Hotel, site of the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference, she meets Winston Churchill, T. E. Lawrence, and Lady Gertrude Bell. Agnes doesn’t mince words or strong opinions, but her outspoken ways are embraced by the others, especially a German spy who pays special attention to her. As the historic political events occur that create the nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, Agnes finds herself somehow in the middle of the political intrigue surrounding the conference. Even more surprising to Agnes, her German spy is interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with her despite her advanced age and lack of romantic experience. Even though Agnes suspects he is more interested in the intelligence that her friends may provide him, she decides to go forward with the romance, however brief it may be. This may be her last and only chance to experience one of life’s basic pleasures.

I am particularly fascinated with historical fiction set during World War I, which is what attracted me to this novel. I am also a big fan of Maria Doria Russell. Her science fiction book, The Sparrow, is one of my all-time favorites, and I loved Doc, which was previously reviewed on this blog. The first problem I had with this novel is that the narrator is already dead and refers to her upcoming demise several times throughout the novel. I hate reading first person accounts in which the narrator is dead. It’s just not natural. I mean, how could a dead person be describing her own life if she is already dead? So I was not into the novel much since I knew the person narrating the events would die by the end of the novel, and I have to admit this was the big reason I didn’t finish the book. Plus, I didn’t really care much for the events surrounding the action and I was, frankly, bored by the detailed descriptions of the politics of that time. AND, the war was already over, which obviously meant my fascination was done, too.

All in all, this was a big disappointment from one of my favorite authors. (Sigh.)


Other novels by this author:
The Sparrow (1996)
Children of God (1998)
Thread of Grace (2005)
Doc (2011)

Other titles you may enjoy:

The Linen Queen by Patricia Falvey (2011)
Abandoned by her father and neglected by her self-centered, unstable mother, Sheila McGee cannot wait to escape the drudgery of her mill village life in Northern Ireland. Her classic Irish beauty helps her win the 1941 Linen Queen competition, and the prize money that goes with it finally gives her the opportunity she's been dreaming of. But Sheila does not count on the impact of the Belfast blitz which brings World War II to her doorstep. Now even her good looks are useless in the face of travel restrictions. When American troops set up base in her village, some see them as occupiers but Sheila sees them as saviors--one of them may be her ticket out.

Lady of the Butterflies by Fiona Mountain (2010)
Scandalizing her seventeenth-century Puritan community with her scientific experiments with butterflies that are believed by others to be the souls of the dead, Eleanor Glanville pursues a passionate desire to find an all-consuming love and sense of self-worth.

Daughter of the Sun by Barbara Wood (2007)
Living in prehistoric New Mexico, seventeen-year-old Hoshi-tiwa, the daughter of a corn grower and betrothed to a storyteller's apprentice, finds her life thrown into turmoil when she is captured by the powerful and violent ruler of Center Place.

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