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The Dream of Scipio (2002)

by Iain Pears

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,023476,031 (3.73)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)
  2. 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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English (44)  French (3)  All languages (47)
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
An intellectual, elegant, philosophical novel that nevertheless is deeply touching. It tells the stories of three men, each devoted to a particular idealized woman, at three different points in human history: near the end of the Roman Empire, in the Middle Ages, and during World War II. The thread that connects the three is the eponymous philosophical manuscript. ( )
  Charon07 | Jul 16, 2021 |
This is my second time reading Dream of Scipio. I warded 5 stars the first time, but this time I came close to lowering to 4 starts. What seemed as enlightened erudition the first time, sounded a bit pompous this time around. Did I change or did the book?
Yet, I am keeping the 5 starts.
Ian Pears is not Umberto Eco, as the blurb on the book jacket suggests, but this is still a thought provoking book (and it does remind me in some ways of The Name of the Rose by Eco). Three men in three different eras, linked by the search of philosophical truths – and love - while civilization as each one knows it crumbles around each one of them. The collapse of the Roman Empire, the Black Death in the Middle Ages and WWII, all against the same geographic scenario of Southern France and united by the political persecution of Jews – the eternal scapegoats of history. Truly, this story is quite an undertaking.
Ian Pears seems at times to be holding it all together too neatly though. The narrator’ voice is too knowledgeable and overbearing. The reading tired me at times, requiring a mental effort I was not ready to give to it. And the endless jumping from era to era did not allow me to feel a strong connection with any of the characters.
Yet, I am keeping the 5 starts.
Because there are moments of brilliance in this book. One of my favorite passages is the “Last Supper” Claude Bronsen gives to his friends as the Germans are invading France. Another is Lucien’s thoughts on the holocaust towards the end of the book. And overall the question posed: What is civilization, and what human costs should we be willing to sacrifice to preserve it?
This is not a book that I would recommend indiscriminately. Do not read it if you are not drawn to philosophical questionings. But don’t be afraid of its erudition either, because it is quite accessible, in language and ideas. The 5 stars stays, at the end, because this is a book that is not easy forgotten, even if I wonder what a writer as Umberto Eco, or Salman Rushdie, or yet Ohram Pamuck could have accomplished with such a story.

( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (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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