Title: The Dream of Scipio
Publisher: Putnam Publishing Group, The, New York, NY, U.S.A.
Publication Date: 2002
Binding: Hard Cover
Book Condition: Fine
Dust Jacket Condition: Fine
Edition: First Edition.
FINE/FINE copy protected by Archival Brodart cover. Size: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Bookseller Inventory # 000622
Synopsis: "May well be the best historical mystery ever written," proclaimed The Sunday Boston Globe about Iain Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost, while Booklist called its publication "a major literary event." Iain Pears's international bestseller was greeted with front-page reviews ("A crafty, utterly mesmerizing intellectual thriller"-The Washington Post Book World), named a New York Times Notable Book, and hailed as a Book to Remember by the New York Public Library. Now he returns with a greatly anticipated novel that is so brilliantly constructed, the author himself describes it as "a complexity."
The centuries are the fifth (the final days of the Roman Empire); the fourteenth (the years of the Black Death); and the twentieth (World War II). The setting for each is the same-Provence-and each has at its heart a love story. The narratives intertwine seamlessly, but what joins them thematically is an ancient text-"The Dream of Scipio"-a work of neo-Platonism that poses timeless philosophical questions. What is the obligation of the individual in a society under siege? What is the role of learning when civilization itself is threatened, whether by acts of man or nature? Does virtue lie more in engagement or in neutrality? "Power without wisdom is tyranny; wisdom without power is pointless," warns one of Pears's characters.
Review: 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 Provenšal 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
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