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The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears

The Dream of Scipio (original 2002; edition 2003)

by Iain Pears

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1,880445,259 (3.71)79
Title:The Dream of Scipio
Authors:Iain Pears
Info:Riverhead Trade (2003), Paperback, 416 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Tags:trade paperback, fiction

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The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears (2002)

  1. 00
    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 79 mentions

English (42)  French (2)  All languages (44)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
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 |
Much more serious – and much slower going than Pears' art history mysteries; unlike those, this book definitely has literary aspirations. The Dream of Scipio actually tells three different stories, (slightly) intertwined by the device of a philosophical manuscript influenced by Cicero, and by the themes of love, political maneuvering, friendship, betrayal – and Europe's persistent anti-Semitism.
As Pears describes the titular document, the book is "partly... a discourse on love and friendship and the connection between those and the life of the soul and the exercise of virtue."
It repeatedly, from different angles, examines the questions of whether evil done by those with good intentions is a greater evil than others, or whether evil committed for a greater good can be justified.
The reader explores these themes through the stories of: Manlius, a powerful Roman at the age of the decline of the Empire, and his love/muse, the philosopher Sophia. Olivier, a medieval seeker after knowledge and the girl from the Jewish ghetto that he falls in love with Rebecca. Julien, a European at the outbreak of WWII and his love, Julia, also Jewish.
Not an easy or lighthearted book, but many may find it worth the time. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (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.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Iain Pearsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cerutti Pini, DonatellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Julien Barneuve died at 3.28 on the afternoon of 18 August 1943.
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Book description
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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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 157322202X, Hardcover)

Like his elegant debut, An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears's The Dream of Scipio is an inventive, gloriously detailed historical novel told from multiple viewpoints. But Pears has set himself an additional challenge by spreading his narrators over several centuries: there's the fifth century French nobleman and bishop, Manlius, a civilized man who has embraced the uncouth Christian faith in order to protect what he holds dear; an 11th-century scholar and troubadour named Olivier de Noyen, the famously ill-fated admirer of a married girl; and Julien Barneuve, an early 20th-century scholar of de Noyen who discovers, through him, a magnificent manuscript of Manlius's called "The Dream of Scipio." Though all three men come from the same small Provençal town, it is this manuscript, derived from the teachings of a wise woman, that links the three narrative threads of Pears's story. At the heart of The Dream of Scipio and, one suspects, at the heart of its author, is the conflict between a classical ideal of learning and the contemplation of beauty, and the noisy, uncivilized, democratizing impulses of the Christian era. A novel of ideas like its predecessor, The Dream of Scipio is neither chilly nor didactic and doesn't shy away from depicting the costs of its narrators' unpopular devotions. --Regina Marler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:50 -0400)

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Set in Provence at three critical moments of Western civilisation and follows the fortunes of three men.

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