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The Dream of Scipio

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In national bestseller The Dream of Scipio, acclaimed author Iain Pears intertwines three intellectual mysteries, three love stories, and three of the darkest moments in human history. United by a... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A serious and stimulating novel for our times.

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. Beautiful love stories, which bring warmth to the narrative, are portrayed with the delicacy such fragile relationships deserve and the strength which allows them to endure. As we, too, face uncertain times and threats to our own civilization, Pears offers a reflective and thought-provoking framework for contemplating our own future. Mary Whipple

An Absolute Masterpiece

The Dream of Scipio is one of the smartest, powerful, and stimulating novels I have ever read. It's hard to describe what a good book this is. There's such a profound message in the writing that I can't believe Pears managed to fit it into 400 pages. To accomplish this feat, Pears entwines three separate story lines, in three different historical settings. These backdrops, and the three main characters that inhabit them make this book a real testament to Pears skill and knowledge.The first story, chronologically speaking, centers around Manlius Hippomanes, a prominent landlord of Roman Gaul in the last 5th century. The Empire is collapsing as Gothic hordes pour down from the north. Manlius, a cultured man, intensely proud of his Roman heritage, watches as a civilization he believes superior (and it is) dies around him. He is a man lost to the chaos, until he becomes aquainted with Sophia, the brilliant daughter of a prominent Roman scholar. He quickly falls into love with her, more for her mind than her body. Their learned conversations are fascinating, definitly applicable to modern times. She convinces him to join the new order in Western Europe, the Catholic Church. Manlius becomes a Bishop. He is faced with problems unimaginable, invading armies, internal strife and decay. His transformation is fascinating to follow.Roughly ten centuries later, a young poet and scholar Olivier de Noyen, begins to study the writings of Manlius. Noyen also lives in times of trouble, with the Catholic Church absolutely corrupt and the Black Death sweeping through Europe. Noyen gets swept up in a plot to move the papacy back to Rome from its position in France, giving power back to the Italian church officials. During his travels, Noyen falls in love with the servant girl of his Jewish teacher. He falls absolutely in love with her, but he can never have her because of her religion. As the plague sweeps through Europe, many in the church urge the mass slaughter of the Jews of Europe. Noyen must see to it that this does not happen, while continuing an academic tradition that is quickly dying.The last story center around Julien Barneuve, a 20th century scholar from France. Julien is a student of Oliviers writing, and begins to understand the dedication of the man and his campaign to preserve knowledge. Julien's Europe is one of trouble, with the Nazi's ascendent and many in France, including the "learned" class, encouraging new forms of government, i.e Fascism or Communism. Freedom is old, a failure. As the Nazi's invade, Julien becomes a censor for the Vichy government. He too falls in love with a Jew, who he hides desperately from the authorities. He is forced to examine his own actions and his personal philosophy as civilization, again, seems to be quickly dying.The Dream of Scipio's central point, to me, is that when the world fails, that when people forget themselves and give in to the easy comfort of ignorance and hate, it's up to a fe

A multidimensional, open ended morality tale

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. There are elaborate compositional patterns to be noted, and a good deal of real history to be learned, but no "Name of the Rose" style conumdrums to be unravelled. Nevertheless, you'll be left bristling with questions - not the kind of questions that make you instantly begin rereading in order to collect clues, but the kind that make you hungry for a book club so the questions can be thought through in company: What is civilization, really, and why should we value it? What is and is not worth sacrificing in order to preserve it? What makes an act virtuous, its intents or its effects? Unlike most "idea" books, this one doesn't push one set of answers on you, rather it sets out the dilemmas, through concrete hard cases, in all their painful unresolvability.Four and a half stars, highly recommended, but be aware of what you're getting into.

An Unforgettable Achievement

The novel begins, "Julien Barneuve died at 3:28 on the afternoon of August 18, 1943. It had taken him twenty-three minutes exactly to die..." From that moment on I found this one of the unforgettable novels I've ever read. I, too, delighted in "An Instance of the Fingerpost," although its mysteries were, I thought, resolved in a manner I could not believe. This novel is yet more sophisticated and with a surer touch as well as a darker vision. It is certainly not for those who want a fun beach read but the thoughtful reader will delight in it.Earlier reviewers have noted the strengths of the novel, its three-level plot structure in which what Manlius Hippomanes and his inspiration, Sophia, do in Gaul as the Roman Empire dies around them is inextricably linked to a romantic medieval poet in Avignon and a cynical intellectual in post-WWI France who is coaxed into joining the Vichy regime. All three stories are tied by strong threads of continuity - the most important being a work by Manlius in which he attempts philosophically to resolve questions between neoplatonic vision and Christian dogma. 800 years later, Olivier de Noyen will try to understand it, as will the modern character, Julien, as war breaks out with Germany in 1940. It may sound dull - trust me, it is not. What I know about neoplatonic thought could be written on a finger's end. What is required is journey for the reader into ancient and modern life when one way of life is dying about you and a violent new one is being born, and the kinds of choices you make to survive. All this is exemplified by very real characters confronting real crises and what happens to them - and those around them - because of the kinds of decisions they make. I can't give away the ending but I found the last paragraph almost unbearably poignant and in tune with the symphony Pears' has composed. Each character has a woman - perhaps the same woman, there are threads hinting this playfully - who inspire them to examine themselves. The novel's theme again and again, whether shown in art, literature or life, is the blind man, seeking . . . whether love, truth, or honor is deliberately ambiguous. Each man loses what he loves through the choice he makes. I suspect this book might be harder for those who know or care nothing for history; if you knew nothing about the slow decline of the Roman Empire, the Black Death and early Christianity, or the collaborators in France who worked with the Nazis, you might lose a lot of the resonance Pears imparts. But many people loved "Fingerpost" without being experts in that arcane time either, and I like to think this book will be even more highly praised. Personally, I found it superior.A wonderful experience.

A serious and stimulating novel for our times.

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. Beautiful love stories, which bring warmth to the narrative, are portrayed with the delicacy such fragile relationships deserve and the strength which allows them to endure. As we, too, face uncertain times and threats to our own civilization, Pears offers a reflective and thought-provoking framework for contemplating our own future. Mary Whipple
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