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The Dream of Scipio (2002)

by Iain Pears

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,994455,828 (3.72)80
Set in Provence at three diffrent critical moments of Western Civilization - the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the Black Death in the 14th, and World War II, this novel follows the fortunes of three men: a Gallic aristocrat, a poet and an intellectual.
  1. 00
    The Fencing Master by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (sturlington)
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    The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Each explores individual morality, justice, and Jewish identity in France during different eras. The Paris Architect offers a linear narrative of French and Jewish resistance in World War II; the denser, more complex Dream of Scipio treats 4th-20th century events.… (more)

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» See also 80 mentions

English (43)  French (2)  All languages (45)
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
I suppress a wince any time someone recommends historical fiction to me. For the most part the genre is cluttered with loud, earnest characters talking about that fine young Mr. Lincoln with all those ideas! From the books aimed at children and young adults, to those door-stoppers for beach vacations it is rare for me to get into any book of the genre without any grief.

You can tell these books are traumatic for me.

Thankfully, 'The Dream of Scipio' skirts between scylla and charybdis and offers an engrossing, lushly described romance. There are three plot-lines at different eras in Provence: the troubled choices of a nobleman at the end of the Western Roman Empire, a poet and minor clerk in Papal Avignon during the Black Death, and a government official of Vichy France. The three are tired together by the dire circumstances of their times and their study of philosophy to greater or lesser degrees of success.

Manlius, the nobleman, writes down his "Dream of Scipio" as an expression of his understanding and tribute to his teacher; Olivier de Noyes, the poet, uncovers the manuscript and preserves it and reaches his own conclusions through the lens of Christianity; Julien Barneuve, the bureaucrat, attempting to better understand de Noyes' work reads the "Dream" and can't grasp it either. Ideas, as well as everything else is filtered and polluted with time and current prejudices. Pears underlines this with Manlius' initial anathema towards Christianity, Olivier's unthinking prejudice against Jews, and the practices of Julien's Nazi toady government.

Can it get muddled at times? Sure, but I didn't mind that as the novel's themes are ones I can return to endlessly. Having to go back over pages already read wasn't a drawback in this case. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
All the blurbs on the back cover of the edition I read are for An Instance of the Fingerpost. That is a much more readable work, unreliable narrators and all. This story is a chopped salad of three historical crisis in Provence, 5th century goth invasion, 14th century plague in Avignon, and the Nazi invasion of France. A manuscript written by the Bishop Manlius in the 5th century is read by the poet secretary Olivier who discovers and transcribes a manuscript and 20th century scholar Julian who studies both Manlius and Olivier trying to delve to the truth behind their writings and legends. As important as an individual woman is to each of these men, Pears really doesn't make them convincing, and his construction either continually gets in the way of his story or is there to obfuscate it's lacks. I really don't like Vichy France as a story setting, but if you are going to pull 3 'end of civil life as we know it' periods from French history, it does limit your choices. I was considerably more interested in the 5th and 14th cent. sections, but felt the 5th was given a bit of a short shrift. ( )
  quondame | Jun 10, 2018 |
Agree with the last reviewers, 3.5 stars. Couldn't finish it, too bored after the first two parts, i.e. 300 pages. The writing is excellent and allows for an easy read but the intertwining of three stories each of which jump back and forth in time causes each of the narratives to progress too slowly. Also, the choice of the author to emphasize the analogies between the stories and their characters makes it difficult to keep them apart. There just isn't enough spice to keep the reader going. ( )
  stef7sa | Jan 5, 2017 |
Everything a good historical novel should be. Ideas clothed in real people, real people clothed in the ideas of ancient Rome as perceived by three men who live at different times in Provence. Manlius is the 6th century heir of the dying Roman empire, Olivier a 14th century poet during the time of the plague, Julien an historian living under the Vichy government, who discovers the truth about Olivier's death and the key to his poetry. It's all strung together by a manuscript of Cicero's Dream of Scipio that Manlius copied, then is discovered by Olivier many centuries later, and by Julien in the papal archives in the 20th century. The book explores the question of what is the right thing to do in dangerous times. Each man choses a different way to try and preserve the civilization and people he loves. ( )
  seschanfield | Mar 7, 2016 |
This was a difficult and sometimes confusing book. However, the effort to complete it was well worth it. The linking of the 3 story lines is clever and effective. It provides a perfect canvas for examining the questions of civilization vs barbarism. I felt very moved after finishing this work. Several random reading choices lately have each brought me to occupied France in the 1940s. ( )
  rosiezbanks | Mar 6, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
... the plot is certainly dense, if not at times impenetrable. The real benefit and the satisfactions of the book lie not so much in its impressively complex design, but rather in its neat set-piece scenes. ...

Civilisation is what The Dream of Scipio and Pears are really all about. Pears is undoubtedly a writer of peculiarly refined sensibilities, and the book is studded with aphorisms. In the end, though, it all boils down to this: "Do we use the barbarians to control barbarism? Can we exploit them so that they preserve civilised values rather than destroy them?" It's a good question. The Dream of Scipio is one answer.

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Iain Pearsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cerutti Pini, DonatellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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TEAdue Tea (1223)
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Julien Barneuve died at 3.28 on the afternoon of 18 August 1943.
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Set in Provence at three diffrent critical moments of Western Civilization - the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the Black Death in the 14th, and World War II, this novel follows the fortunes of three men: a Gallic aristocrat, a poet and an intellectual.

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In "The Dream of Scipio, "Pears finest book yet" the acclaimed author of "An Instance of the Fingerpost" intertwines three intellectual mysteries, three love stories - and three of the darkest moments of human history. United by a classical text called "The Dream of Scipio," three men struggle to find refuge for their hearts and minds from the madness that surrounds them...in the final days of the Roman Empire, in the grim years of the Black Death, and in the direst hours of WWII. (1-57322-986-5)
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