4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A serious and stimulating novel for our times.
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...
Published on June 9 2002 by Mary Whipple
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 follow. The overall tone is very dark. While the often inspiring themes of truth, beauty and love form an important part of this novel, the focus on evil and brutality prevails to the point that...
Published 7 months ago by Avid Reader
Most Helpful First | Newest First
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 follow. The overall tone is very dark. While the often inspiring themes of truth, beauty and love form an important part of this novel, the focus on evil and brutality prevails to the point that the joy of reading is replaced by effort.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A serious and stimulating novel for our times.,
This review is from: The Dream of Scipio (Hardcover)
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A philosophical and historical masterwork!,
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond words,
By A Customer
The book reaches such a highlight of beauty and wisdom that no words can give it justice.
4.0 out of 5 stars Deeply Thought-Provoking,
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.
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. It is not an easy read for it follows three different characters in three different timelines. But the characters are interrelated, and a common theme pervades the entire book. There is a symmetry, a beauty, and a message in this work. I strongly recommend it, not to the casual reader, but to the connoiseur of great literature. For this book truly qualifies as such. Enjoy!
5.0 out of 5 stars Do the Right Thing,
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.
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 lives of three different men who had to make difficult moral choices. It happens that each historical moment is one when civilization, the whole order of society, is about to crumble down in a great catastrophe, all of which makes the heroes' choices all the more painful and exasperating.
Pears skillfully interweaves the three stories: in the Fifth century, Manlius Hippomanes, a wealthy and educated Gallic Roman and a community leader, is faced with hard choices regarding the impending conquest of Rome by the Northern barbarians. What should he do? Fight a lost battle just for honor's sake, or negotiate with the oncoming forces to try to save what he can from Roman civilization? Not easy to decide.
In the Fourteenth century, Olivier de Noyen is a young man working for a Cardinal at the Papal court, then settled in Avignon. He has found Manlius's manuscript, "The Dream of Scipio" and is studying it with a wise Jew with whose servant he falls in love. As the great Plague sets in, political intrigues start boiling, with Olivier's master a prominent figure. At some point Olivier will have to decide between remaining loyal to his master and being a part in the unfair condemnation of Jews as the cause of the Plague, or changing his time's history for the sake of love and fairness, betraying his master.
And Julien Barneuve, a scholar, is forced after the Nazi invasion of France to decide between resisting the invaders by force with no chance of winning, or collaborate with them in order to civilize them and save French culture. It won't be easy as he is desperately in love with a Jewish woman.
I think Pears has done a very well rounded work, keeping the three stories different, but tied together by common themes and situations. Each one of the three main characters is different from the other two, all of them intelligent but with distinctive qualities and shortcomings, as well as with differing stances in life in terms of power, status and money. Each one of them has a love story with a woman with whom there is no chance of a normal loving relationship, for different reasons. In each story the Jews are threatened (while never degenerating into a simple pamphlet).
Each story is very beautiful, moving and exciting, and Pears manages to keep a near perfect symmetry between the three of them, in terms of space, tone, and quality of writing. Pears is also very good at depicting, in an economical yet rich way, landscapes, towns, garments and people. More than just a novel, I think this is one of the best books written in the last years, at least among those I have read. It is erudite yet never pedantic; complex but at the same time clear. But the bottom line is the stories are good and cleverly intertwined.
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 political chaos, to determine life's purpose. The initial slow read occasioned by the need to come to grips with the several different sets of characters proves well worth the effort.
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 should be interested in history, philosophy, and above all willing to think about how one discerns the right course of action when presented with a moral dilemma. If you're willing to take on the challenge, you're in for a treat!
Pears presents the story of three men in three different historical periods in Southern France. The paralells are eerie--in each case the world is sliding into chaos--the fall of the Roman Empire, the scourge of the Black Death, and the occupation of France by the Germans in WWII. Each man is presented with the same moral dilemmas--does one fight shoulder to shoulder with one's friends in a cause that is probably hopeless? should one betray a friend to save many others? is following our principles at all important when the world crumbles around us? is saving "civilization" the highest goal--or our our responsibilities less lofty--to our family and friends and those we love?
Each protagonist has a love in his life, a dark haired muse, and Pears weaves three unconventional but utterly believable love stories through the novel. That this is also a literary device to verbalize the moral issues presented doesn't ruin the portraits of these three independent, thoughtful, courageous women.
The role of the Jews in this story is also fascinating--in each case they are the pawns of history, as men of power exploit anti-Semitism for their own purposes, either persecuting or in one case protecting them, never out of moral conviction but rather to further other ends.
Our protagonists meet three different ends, and Pears leaves us to judge for ourselves who followed the right path. One achieves his goals--at great cost--and retires to live out his life. One recognizes he has been on the wrong path all along and dies a terrible death in a last grand gesture to redeem himself. One survives with his love, but also at great cost.
Each reader will reach their own conclusions--but Pears also invites us to look at how history judges these three. In the history books one man is a saint, one a traitor, one disappears without a trace. It's said history is written by the winners--if this is so what can we learn from it, other than how to "win?"
I hope one of my book clubs can be persuaded to read this--one could discuss it for hours!
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The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears (Paperback - May 13 2003)
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