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The Dream of Scipio Paperback – June 3, 2003

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The Dream of Scipio + Stone's Fall: A Novel + An Instance of the Fingerpost
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books (June 3, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573229865
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573229869
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #414,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

154 of 164 people found the following review helpful By Royce E. Buehler on July 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Your reaction to Iain Pears' new novel is likely to depend on what you liked about "Instance of the Fingerpost." If it was the Chinese puzzle box of its plot within a plot within a plot, you won't find that here. "The Dream of Scipio" places its bets on depth rather than cleverness. Was it the colorful, cunning, swaggering characters, telling their stories in memorably distinct voices? Calm, third person narrative is the rule this time. Our three main characters - the gregarious aristocrat Manlius Hippomanes, in the final months of the Roman Empire; the impetuous itinerant poet Olivier de Noyen, caught up in papal politics as the Black Death descends on Avignon; and the reclusive historian Julien Barneuve, coping with the demands of the Vichy regime during the Nazi hegemony - are all restrained and bookish men who aspire to live above the storms of passion. Many readers will find them disappointingly bloodless, but I'm not sure this is a flaw. Despite the three peculiar, parallel love stories at the center of the plot, this work intends to be classical rather than romantic in spirit.
But if you are the sort of person who dips into Gibbon's Decline and Fall for pleasure; if what attracted you to "Fingerpost" was the way it made bygone, alien ways of being human palpable; or the subtlety of its characters' intrigues and political calculations; or its philosophical sophistication; or its grasp of both the moral ambiguity of the human situation, and the imperative to behave morally in the face of that ambiguity - then "The Dream of Scipio" will give you at least the same level of satisfaction as the last book.
Be warned that there are murders here (what is human history if not a catalogue of murders?), but no murder mystery.
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114 of 121 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 9, 2002
Format: 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.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book is excellent. For the first time for any novel, I actually started re-reading it the same day I finished it. Like some other reviews say, if you are expecting "Fingerpost 2", this is not it.

This story is not about events that need to be solved, but is about the motives of the people, what they believed, when, why, and how their actions changed. It is a well-balanced blend of history, philosophy, some romance (not as much as the jacket cover implies), and the choices that individuals can make. And, interestly, even though it is fairly clear where Pears comes out on the choices, the presentations of the characters were not basic black-n-white. Each character has some good reasons for what they did. And, each choice has some abiguity to it. No choice yields a 100% balance on the scales of justice.

From this standpoint, this is what I like best about Pears's writing. He is able to create a story that comes close to feeling real because events do not seem force-fitted to make things come out "right". Plus, he apparently does quite a bit of research to get the feel of the time right.

His choices of time were also fascinating. The end of the Roman empire because it was clear that it was the end and this impacted how people reacted. The period of the Black Death when there really could be no sense of historical trend because the plague was a random occurrence, not from the actions of men. And, the German occupation of France where, in general, it was clear the Germans would lose so people could make choices toward an expected result. Each context makes certain choices potentially more reasonable than others. No free lunches on exactly what the right answers are.

I plan on re-reading this again after I get through some other books that have been waiting while I spent my time with this one.
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