Thursday, April 03, 2008

Dreamers of the Day

Local author Mary Doria Russell has built up quite a following since her tremendous debut with The Sparrow. I was eager to read her newest, but once again was disappointed. Even though the heroine American Agnes Shanklin is over 40 as the novel opens, this is the story of her (delayed) coming-of-age on a trip to Egypt in 1921 with her dachshund Rosie, at the precise moment of the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference. Agnes arrives at her hotel just as Lawrence of Arabia, Winston Churchill and Gertrude Bell have gathered in the lobby, and the luminaries (especially the men) pick her out and include her on their tours, parties and official meetings for the next several weeks. During this time, Agnes moves from a dowdy maiden teacher to "experienced" lady of fashion, from abused mama's girl to an independent and outspoken woman who throws convention to the wind, and from a wobbly Christian to scoffing skeptic. This book brings to mind a cross between Bridges of Madison County and A Brief History of the Dead: Agnes is long dead as she relates her tale. If one makes it through Dreamers of the Day, he will pick up a fair amount of interesting history, but may have to hold his nose a few times along the way.


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