Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Historical Fiction Enticements 9/4

The Source
James A. Michener
by Jim Susky

I’ve read but a few of James Michener's novels, his  memoir, and his travelogue “Iberia”. That said, “The  Source” presents such a stunning vision with such an immense historical sweep that it must be his Magnum Opus.

The book is door-stopper, comprised of over 500,000 words,  it occupies 1200+ pages in fine print, “pocket paper” format (just try fitting it in most pockets!) and covers  pre-Judaic, proto-Judaic/Hebrew, and Judaic history going back to about 10,000 BC.

The story opens at an early-60s archaeological dig at "tell" Makor (Hebrew for “source”) - an  ancient, long abandoned city in Israel. It looks like a  mound, since the ancient city (town, actually,  since the  mound measures 1000' x 1000') was built upon the  rubble left by generations of  inhabitants. What remains is a rich collection of artifacts, buildings, granaries, temples, stables, amongst the accouterments of civilization.

Fifteen artifacts are found in a test trench extending from the top layer seventy feet down to bedrock. The deepest object is an obsidian hand tool. The shallowest is a coin.

Michener tells a story involving each artifact and its corresponding time in history. Sandwiched  between the  historical tales is a running tale, mostly set in the dig. The historical tales explore early  monotheism, the Talmud, the mystics, and Zionism.

You will first become familiar with pre-Hebrew religions, early Christianity, and Roman rule followed by the Crusades, Muslim culture, and early rabbinical attempts to interpret the Torah. Michener even inserts Josephus into one of the stories.

The modern story explores Jewish culture in detail. Michener contrasts the Ashkenazim with the Sephardim, the still-unresolved conflict between non-believing Israelis and Orthodox Jews. He explains why those non-believers nonetheless still study the Torah in Hebrew. He outlines the
long tension between Arabs and Jews.

What made this a best-seller and not a long-forgotten academic treatise are Michener’s vivid plots involving timeless family conflicts set amongst innumerable invasions and defenses of Makor. It even has a love-story – no longer will you wonder why archeologists marry archeologists.

The novel concludes with the defense of nascent Israel that rivals any account of heroism-in-warfare.

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Work of Art
Ginger Myrick

Work of Art: Love and Murder in 19th Century New York is a Cinderella story with a violent twist set 139 years in the past. From the mean streets of Five Points to carriage rides in the park and lunch at Delmonico’s, it evokes all of the extravagance of the age along with the stark disparity between classes.

Every girl dreams of a handsome Prince Charming to whisk her away to a fairytale ending. For Del Ryan it seemed unlikely, but that’s exactly what happened.

In 1874, New York booms with prosperity and conspicuous consumption with a clear social divide between classes. Families have lost their men to the Civil War and do what they can to get by. Del Ryan, an intelligent and talented Irish immigrant, works as a lady’s maid for a society matron to support her invalid mother. Although plain and unassuming, she is an accomplished artist with the gift of clairvoyance. She meets Killian Arthur, a golden god from a privileged New York family. He is flawlessly handsome with impeccable manners and a penchant for bare-knuckle boxing. Fascinated by her, Killian transforms Del into a fine lady, the toast of her new class of friends.

But things are not always what they seem. Rough Jimmy Sheehan is from the same Irish community and has always thought of Del as his own. He has known Del her entire life and has a keen understanding of her plight. Hot-tempered and hard drinking, he is Killian’s polar opposite in form and deed. Jimmy has seen enough of the world to know that there is something not quite right about Del’s suitor and warns her to that effect. Is he simply jealous, or does he want the best for the woman he loves?

The fairytale takes a violent turn when girls from the neighborhood start turning up dead. Del witnesses the murders through her disturbing visions and documents them in startlingly accurate detail with her artistic talent. She realizes that with each new victim, the killer is getting closer. Will his identity be revealed before he comes for her?

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Sarah's Special Gift
Linda Weaver Clarke

Scotland has the Lock Ness Monster and Bear Lake Valley has theirs. Do they really exist? "Sarah's Special Gift" focuses on deep-rooted legends, a few mysterious events, and a tender love story.

Sarah is a beautiful and successful dance teacher. She is deaf, but this does not stop her from living life to its fullest. While visiting the Roberts family, David finds himself entranced with this very special lady and ends up defending her honor several times. He finds that Sarah has gone through many trials as she teaches him the importance of not dwelling on the past and how to love life. Meanwhile, David learns about the legend of the Bear Lake Monster and wonders why the community believes in such a thing. He is determined to prove there is no Bear Lake Monster.

"The romantic friction between David and Sarah is central to a story that will have you cheering for them to get together!" wrote Allison King, Allison's Attic. "The fun part is wondering if there is truly a monster in the lake. It makes for an interesting adventure, with a surprise ending to the 'tale' of the monster. I love that the author based the monster on a local folklore in Idaho. This is a heart-warming story of finding that right person to live the rest of your life with. It teaches us that people with disabilities are just like any other person who has dreams for their life. So, if you want to laugh, learn and live in the life of some wonderful this book and enjoy the journey!!!"

After a few teases, tricks, and mischievous deeds, David begins to overcome his troubles. As time passes, he realizes he must now face the dilemma of choosing between his career and matters of the heart.

Midwest Book Review wrote: "Love is never easy, and David must overcome many obstacles to finally claim his beloved. This is another fine entry into Clarke's work, highly recommended."

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Sons of the Wolf
Paula Lofting

On the battlefield, Wulfhere fights for his life but elsewhere the enemy is closer to home, sinister and shadowy and far more dangerous than any war.

1054, pious King Edward sits on the throne, spending his days hunting, sleeping and praying, leaving the security of his kingdom to his more capable brother-in-law Harold Godwinson, the powerful Earl of Wessex. Against this backdrop we meet Wulfhere, a Sussex thegn who, as the sun sets over the wild forest of Andredesweald, is returning home victoriously from a great battle in the north. Holding his lands directly from the King, his position demands loyalty to Edward himself, but Wulfhere is duty-bound to also serve Harold, a bond forged within Wulfhere's family heritage and borne of the ancient Teutonic ideology of honour and loyalty.

Wulfhere is a man with the strength and courage of a bear, a warrior whose loyalty to his lord and king is unquestionable. He is also a man who holds his family dear and would do anything to protect them. So when Harold demands that he wed his daughter to the son of Helghi, his sworn enemy, Wulfhere has to find a way to save his daughter from a life of certain misery in the household of the cruel and resentful Helghi without comprising his honour and loyalty to his lord, Harold.

Sons of the Wolf is a panoramic snapshot of medieval life and politics as the events that lead to the downfall of Anglo Saxon England play out, immersing the reader in the tapestry of life as it was before the Doomsday Book. With depictions of everyday life experienced through the minds of the peoples of the time; of feasts in the Great Halls to battles fought in the countryside, it cannot help but enlighten, educate and entertain.

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