This three part historical novel, set in Provence at the end of the Roman Empire, during the Black Death and during WW II, debates the theme of honor through the actions of the 3 characters in each era who were confronted with catastrophic threat to their civilizations. Each was forced to compromise one or more of his cherished values in an attempt to save something he held dear. Sometimes doing the honorable thing may lead to disaster. Can one act bodly, sacrifice himself, knowing the consequences?
My favorite quote: "The evil done by men of good will is the worst of all." Interesting reading lead me to further read about Platonism, neoplatonism, gnosticism, Cathars and Avignon.
First of all, I am an avid reader with eclectic tastes. I read whatever I can get my hands on.
However, this book was so boring and tedious that I couldn't get much past the first chapter. I skimmed through, hoping the story got more interesting, but no such luck. The writer's style isn't bad, but there are just too many detailed descriptions, too many extra bits of information, none of which really moved the story along.
If you're bored already, this is absolutely not the book to read!
From Publishers Weekly: "Critic Harold Bloom once opined that literature is a series of misprisions, or misreadings, by writers of their predecessors. Although Pears might not have had Bloom in mind in his latest novel, the premise is an unlikely embodiment of Bloom's thesis. The story unfolds in three time frames, in each of which a man and a woman are in love, civilization itself is crumbling and Jews become the scapegoats for larger cultural anxieties. In the first scenario, Manlius is a wealthy Roman living in Provence in the empire's crepuscular 5th century. Although he has received the last echo of Hellenic wisdom, he is surrounded by believers in a nasty sect he despises Christianity but must find some means to protect Provence from the barbarians. In fighting for "civilization," he becomes a bishop and the promoter, almost accidentally, of one of the West's first pogroms. In the next narrative time period, a manuscript of Manlius's poem, "The Dream of Scipio," a neo-Platonic allegory, is discovered by Olivier de Noyen, a Provencal poet of the 14th century. As his 20th-century interpreter, Julien Barneuve, discovers in investigating his violent death, de Noyen was attacked because he got caught up in a political intrigue in Avignon while trying to save his love, Rebecca, from a pogrom unleashed by the Black Death. Barneuve, Pears's third protagonist, has a Jewish lover, too, but is enmeshed in the racist policies of Vichy France. Pears has a nice sense of what it means to live in a time when things fall apart, and not only the center but even the peripheries will not hold. But the readers who flocked to An Instance of the Fingerpost might not find the pages turning so fast in this less mystery-driven outing." Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Much more serious and much slower going than Pears art history mysteries; unlike those, this book definitely has literary aspirations. The Dream of Scipio actually tells three different stories, (slightly) intertwined by the device of a philosophical manuscript influenced by Cicero, and by the themes of love, political maneuvering, friendship, betrayal and Europes persistent anti-Semitism.
As Pears describes the titular document, the book is partly a discourse on love and friendship and the connection between those and the life of the soul and the exercise of virtue.
It repeatedly, from different angles, examines the questions of whether evil done by those with good intentions is a greater evil than others, or whether evil committed for a greater good can be justified.
The reader explores these themes through the stories of: Manlius, a powerful Roman at the age of the decline of the Empire, and his love/muse, the philosopher Sophia. Olivier, a medieval seeker after knowledge and the girl from the Jewish ghetto that he falls in love with Rebecca. Julien, a European at the outbreak of WWII and his love, Julia, also Jewish.
Not an easy or lighthearted book, but many may find it worth the time.
Gret book, second only to "Instance of the Fingerpost"
The Dream of Scipio is set in Provence at three different critical moments of Western civilization. It asks the question, Can you save something you value while at the same time compromising your values? "Power without wisdom is tyranny; wisdom without power is pointless," says one of the characters. This book is a thought-provoking meditation on philosophy, conducted through the ages.
If you like historical mysteries, this is for you. Kind of convoluted and difficult to follow.
Elavates the murder mystery to the category of high art.
n The Dream of Scipio, the acclaimed author of An Instance of the Fingerpost intertwines three intellectual mysteries, three love stories-and three of the darkest moments in human history. United by a classical text called "The Dream of Scipio," three men struggle to find refuge from the madness that surrounds them...in the final days of the Roman Empire, in the grim years of the Black Death, and in the direst hours of World War II.
In this book the author intertwines three intellectual mysteries, three love stories - and three of the darkest moments of human history. United by a classical text called "The Dream Of Scipio," three men struggle to find refuge for their hearts and minds from the madness that surrounds them....in the final days of the Roman Empire, in the grim years of the Black Death, and in the direst hourse of World War II/
an ALA Booklist Editor's Choice