The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears

January 2006

After being rather underwhelmed by Pears' first book, An Instance of the Fingerpost, I wasn't holding out a tremendous amount of hope for The Dream of Scipio. The book was billed as being made of up of three intertwining love stories from three different eras: the end of the Roman Empire, the height of the Black Death, and World War II. The time periods certainly interested me, but the idea of "love stories" kind of put me off. I suppressed my misgivings, however, and took the book with me to Florida as a little light "beach reading". And to my astonishment, I found that after a somewhat slow start, I simply couldn't put the book down. There are love stories in here, it's true, but the real basis of the book is an exploration of ethics, morality, "civilization" and, most surprisingly, the history of anti-Semitism. The love stories serve to flesh out the characters enough so that you come to really care about them as you weave in and out of their lives and in and out of the different centuries. The book sweeps you up and whisks you through some of the darkest days of Western history, and as the stories charge towards their inevitable conclusions, you will probably find yourself both desperately wanting to know how it all ends, and desperately dreading it at the same time. I did, anyway. And while the ultimate conclusions aren't comfortable, they feel honest -which is an admirable thing. This is both an intelligent and an engaging book.

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