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Dream Of Scipio [Paperback]

Iain Pears
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 1 2003
In 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 the final days of the Roman Empire, in the grim years of the Black Death, and in the direst hours of World War II.

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From Amazon

Like his elegant debut, An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears's The Dream of Scipio is an inventive, gloriously detailed historical novel told from multiple viewpoints. But Pears has set himself an additional challenge by spreading his narrators over several centuries: there's the fifth century French nobleman and bishop, Manlius, a civilized man who has embraced the uncouth Christian faith in order to protect what he holds dear; an 11th-century scholar and troubadour named Olivier de Noyen, the famously ill-fated admirer of a married girl; and Julien Barneuve, an early 20th-century scholar of de Noyen who discovers, through him, a magnificent manuscript of Manlius's called "The Dream of Scipio." Though all three men come from the same small Provençal town, it is this manuscript, derived from the teachings of a wise woman, that links the three narrative threads of Pears's story. At the heart of The Dream of Scipio and, one suspects, at the heart of its author, is the conflict between a classical ideal of learning and the contemplation of beauty, and the noisy, uncivilized, democratizing impulses of the Christian era. A novel of ideas like its predecessor, The Dream of Scipio is neither chilly nor didactic and doesn't shy away from depicting the costs of its narrators' unpopular devotions. --Regina Marler --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A serious and stimulating novel for our times. June 9 2002
In this remarkable and hugely conceived novel of ideas, Pears gives us three intense, emotionally gripping stories set in Provence during the fifth, fourteenth, and 20th centuries. In each of these, a sensitive and thoughtful man of letters faces not only a crisis of belief, but also of action, as outside forces threaten to destroy civilization as he knows it. As each man fights to save the values he finds important, Pears explores the ethical underpinnings of western thought and history, those ideas first proffered by Plato which continue to influence men and governments two thousand years later.
A mysterious 5th century manuscript by Manlius Hippomanes connects the parallel plots and eras: the waning days of the Roman Empire, as the barbarian hordes attack Gaul's borders and Manlius Hippomanes writes The Dream of Scipio; the 14th century in Avignon, when poet Olivier de Noyen discovers some of Manlius's writing and deals with papal intrigue, the Hundred Years War, and the Black Death; and the Vichy government in France during World War II, when Julien Barneuve, a scholar who has traced the Manlius manuscript, joins the Vichy government in an effort to "civilize" the German occupiers and prevent deportation of the Jews.
This is not a beach book--its excitement is far more thoughtful than sensational. Pears' characters are real, flawed people living and loving in times of crisis and experiencing conflicts with parents, teachers, friends, and mentors. These conflicts clearly parallel those in the wider world of their political alliances and governments, and ultimately affect their attitudes toward humankind in general. Beautiful love stories, which bring warmth to the narrative, are portrayed with the delicacy such fragile relationships deserve and the strength which allows them to endure. As we, too, face uncertain times and threats to our own civilization, Pears offers a reflective and thought-provoking framework for contemplating our own future.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A philosophical and historical masterwork! May 31 2004
I wasn't impressed with Iain Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost, but I was told that this novel was an outstanding work of fiction. I am glad I gave it a whirl. This is a wonderful and true work of historical fiction. What makes this novel all the more memorable to me is that it is philosophical as well. The Dream of Scipio is an extremely well done and beautiful novel -- a challenging read involving three different characters at three different points in history. All come from the same French town, and each one affects the subsequent character. The story flows in a marvelous and steady motion, moving seamlessly from one historical period to the next. The three main characters are concerned, perhaps obsessed, with making morally correct decisions in a seemingly immoral world. Each lives in a time when tremendous calamities of historical consequences were occurring around them and throughout the whole of Europe. The decisions they make are not easy and the latter characters look for guidance to the writing of the Manlius, the first character in the novel. The Dream of Scipio is a highly interesting read, one that enthralled me from beginning to end. I love historical fiction and this novel is one of the best I've read. If you are not afraid of a philosophical and somewhat complex novel, pick this one up. You won't regret it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Deeply Thought-Provoking March 16 2004
The jacket copy on this book is somewhat misleading, since it's billed as a mystery, which leads one to expect a more suspense-filled plot and also a story that moves quickly. This novel is neither, although it does contain a mystery of sorts. The question surrounds the identity and interactions between several historical figures in three different time periods -- the fall of Rome, the time of the Black Death in Europe and the fall of France during the Second World War.
The story contains many references to philosophy and religion, comparing characteristics among the three time periods and the people who lived through each. A key idea of the book is the question of personal choice during times of trouble. Does one hold fast to absolute principles, risking death and destruction, or is it better to go along with the opposition in hopes of ameliorating its brutality?
In the three cases described in the novel, the opposition is represented by the barbarians who sacked Rome, the oppressive Church of the Dark Ages and the invading Germans of 1942. In the first two instances, the heroes allow themselves to be co-opted by a barbarian king and the Church hierarchy, with mixed results. In the final instance, the hero teeters on the brink of choice, finally deciding to stick with his principles, even though in doing so he, his friends and his way of life are certain to be destroyed.
The book is exceptionally thought-provoking. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I read, going back and re-reading sections, and pondering what I might do in a similar situation. A bonus was that I learned a good deal about the Greek philosophers and about what life was like during times and in places that I don't know much about. This is a very good read that will challenge most readers and, in return, pay off in ways that the usual page-turners do not.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Do the Right Thing Jan. 29 2004
By L. Dann
This is a three dimensional weaving of exceptional characters in the worst of times. I was cautious reading due to the nature of the three eras and the gruesome realities of those times. The Black Plague, Vichy France and the Fall of the Roman Empire despite the lush south of France setting, tend to exhaust my tolerance for gore. Yet, Avignon could never be more enchanting and true love continues to spur humanity toward a higher good despite our base natures. The historical and artistic details are sublime, but it is as a writer that Pears captivates his audience. Through ingenious plotting with a superb timing and philosophical tension, I found that I was less concerned with the violence and more concerned with the struggle of the individual in time.
From Spike Lee to the Greek tragedians- it is about moral action- and if you are one of those who assume it is easier in these times or that we have advanced stop reading and turn on the TV. This book has wit and yet it requires some effort. If the reader dares, it is extraordinarily worthwhile.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Hard to Read, Harder to Enjoy
While this book has flashes of excellent writing, it fails to engage the reader in a sustained way. The frequent changes of setting are often so abrupt that the story is hard to... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Avid Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond words
The book reaches such a highlight of beauty and wisdom that no words can give it justice.
Published on May 10 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Dream
I rarely write reviews, although I read constantly. But I need to write a review of The Dream of Scipio. This book is one of the finest I've ever read. It is a work of art. Read more
Published on Feb. 14 2004 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars What would you do?: characters at the limit
Iain Pears uses a single region (Provence, around Avignon) and a common thread (a manuscript on philosophy)to illustrate three different moments in Western civlization and the... Read more
Published on Jan. 12 2004 by Guillermo Maynez
5.0 out of 5 stars One's View of Events Depends on One's Context
Apparantly inspired by a short story of Borges (on the rewriting of Don Quixote), we view the quest of four individuals living centuries apart, albiet each in a time of social and... Read more
Published on Dec 29 2003 by Phillip I. Good
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a beach book for sure!
"Scipio" is one of the best novels I've read in years, and I read a lot! Be forewarned by the few negative reviews here on Amazon--to fully appreciate this book you... Read more
Published on Dec 28 2003 by J. Marren
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and thought provoking
The central conflict at the heart of "The Dream of Scipio" is whether a civilisation should be defended with force, or whether it can absorb its enemies and convert them to its... Read more
Published on Dec 23 2003 by Paul Donovan
4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and thought provoking
The central conflict at the heart of "The Dream of Scipio" is whether a civilisation should be defended with force, or whether it can absorb its enemies and convert them to its... Read more
Published on Dec 22 2003 by Paul Donovan
4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and thought provoking
The central conflict at the heart of "The Dream of Scipio" is whether a civilisation should be defended with force, or whether it can absorb its enemies and convert them to its... Read more
Published on Dec 22 2003 by Paul Donovan
2.0 out of 5 stars Didn't finish
Gave up at around 150 pages. I received a copy of Christopher Moore's "Island of the Sequined Love Nun" that I ordered from Amazon. Read more
Published on Nov. 25 2003 by Richard Steixner
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