Sunday, March 22, 2009

Book 32: Dreamers of the Day

Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell

Of all of Russell's novels so far, this one is probably my least favorite. It's also the first of hers that's had a first person narrator. It was still a very enjoyable novel but given the author I just had incredibly high expectations. Also, this one was less epic than her other novels, and focused on a much smaller canvas. It's mainly the story of Agnes Shanklin who after being the lone survivor of the flu epidemic following World War I decides to go on a trip to Egypt. While there, she somehow becomes temporarily part of the circle of people that are deciding the fate of the Middle East region: T.E. Lawrence, Churchill and a few others. While there are significant historical actions going on and Agnes is aware of them, it is just as much if not more about Agnes's coming of age and liberation from conventions.

Agnes, the narrator, is actually dead and tells her story from the afterlife. In the last part of the story, she explains a bit more about her afterlife and the other dead people she's been interacting with, some of which is rather entertaining (I especially enjoyed an exchange between Napoleon and McClellan). While Agnes had suggested in life that perhaps Churchill and his colleagues should ask the natives of the countries they were creating what they wanted, it is only in the afterlife that she really notices how much of a backdrop the locals were during her visit to the area. It was their country, and yet the whites and Westerners treated them as local scenery rather than real humans with desires and motivations.

In the attached interview, Russell said that she is working on a novel about Doc Holliday which should be incredibly interesting. Unfortunately, Russell seems to take her time between novels since she does so much research. Of course this is part of the reason they are so good, but I don't want to wait that long for her next one.

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