“Agnes Shanklin, a forty-year-old schoolteacher from Ohio, comes into an inheritance allowing her to take the trip to Egypt and the Holy Land. Arriving in Egypt as the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference convenes, she is freed for the first time from her mother’s influence and finds herself wooed by a mysterious German. At the same time, Agnes is drawn into the company of Winston Churchill, T. E. Lawrence, and Lady Gertrude Bell, who will, in the space of a few days, redraw the world map to create the modern Middle East. As they change history, Agnes too will find her own life transformed forever. An interesting book with a surprising ending.”Bev wrote this review Saturday, August 31, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Wonderful fiction of Agnes Shanklin, a 40 year-old schoolteacher from Ohio who uses part of her inheritance to travel to Egypt and the Holy Land. She is wonderfully naive about the area and meets Lawrence of Arabia, Churchill, Gertrude Bell and German spy Karl Weilbacher. Post WWI observation by Agnes of nation building and personal interaction with Pre WWII Churchill is particularly interesting. Agnes has a personal awakening and finds herself as an independent and free thinking woman. Picture of Egypt and the Nile is well done, as well as the fleecing of gullible tourists to the Holy Land. I loved the ending as Agnes speaks to us beyond the grave, residing with others who drank from the waters of the Nile-Napoleon, McClellan and Francis of Assisi. Thank you, Diane, for posting this book on Shelfari! Also loved the discussion on p. 102-103 of the advantages of oils over watercolor painting.”Sue M wrote this review Wednesday, August 21, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“It's been a while since i was able to finish a book in a day but this was a good day. I've been reading a lot about the reconfiguration of the middle east immediately following the 1st WW. This novel brought that time to life incorporating many of the characters of the time. It was an easy read but full of facts and fun.”Helen D wrote this review Friday, July 5, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Very unusual book about a period in history I know little about - the middle east after the first world war. The writing style is very unusual as well. It reads like a travelogue with historical figures thrown in. It sounds boring but I couldn't put it down. There is also an unusual end to the story which I don't want to say anything about other than it is unusual and totally unexpected on my part. There are some religious undertones to the book which could put off some but I just loved this book.”Michele S wrote this review Wednesday, June 12, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Agnes Shanklin, a fictional American school teacher in her early 40's, travels to Egypt after losing her family in WWI and the influenza epidemic. She happens to be visiting at the time of the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference. Agnes is drawn into the company of Lawrence of Arabia (a friend of her dead sister), Winston Churchill, and Gertrude Bell. That is a bit of a far-fetched premise, but it works. I was fascinated by the way the diplomats went about divvying up the Middle Eastern countries and making new boundaries.
I knew nothing about the Cairo Peace Conference, so I was captivated about how the decision made in 1921 effects our foreign policy today in the MIddle East. It was all about the oil! As the author says in her interview - "The diplomats at the Cairo Convention were not trying to be moral or ethical ... Their goal was undisputed imperial domination of resource-rich colonies, guarded by military might and fueled by oil. You can see how well that worked for everyone."”
““Or simply look at a globe, and weep. Despite it all, there was still a chance for peace, even then, in some few places. If no single person could make things right after the Great Way, young Neddy Lawrence still hoped to make them less wrong in one corner of the world. The rest of my story is a small part of his, and a large part of yours, I’m afraid.”
Speaking from the grave, Agnes Shanklin, relates the events of her life beginning with WWI though the Great Depression. Agnes, who has grown up in the shadow of her beautiful, younger sister and under the thumb of an oppressive mother. As a result, she has developed an inferior complex. When she comes into an inheritance, Agnes travels to Egypt and inadvertently becomes an eyewitness to the events that would lead to the creation of the modern-day Middle East.
I think Russell uses fiction as an excellent tool for relating history. This work is no exception. While I would caution the reader against comparing it to her other work like Doc, I think as a stand alone work it does a very good job of recounting the important, and complex issues of this time. I've seen a lot of criticism of Russell's work. It is an unusual perspective with the narrator talking to us from the grave. But, I rather enjoyed that aspect. I would also agree that the reader must be willing to take suspension of disbelief to its greatest extent to accept that Churchill, TE Lawrence, and Gertrude Bell would welcome a 5th grade teacher into their circle at this point in history. But, if the reader can get past that conundrum, there are some real gems within the work.
A couple of favorite passages:
“Foreigners nearly always wish to simplify the Middle East, Agnes. They cannot tolerate to feel ignorant long enough to understand it.” (pg 130)
“Humiliation is not the same as embarrassment, I realized. If you know yourself to be clumsy and never pretend otherwise, you might well be embarrassed when you trip over your own feet upon entering a room, but you won’t be ashamed. You can laugh at yourself and shrug the embarrassment off. Humiliation, by contrast, does not merely require open recognition of an acknowledged foible. Humiliation is public exposure of some secret vanity.” (pg 67)
As Mark Twain observed long ago, there’s hardly a square yard of land anywhere on earth that’s in the possession of its original owners” (pg 241)
All men dream…but not equally. Those who dream by night wake in the day to find that it was in vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.” (pg 243)
In my own personal opinion, the lives of Gertrude Bell and Lawrence are intriguing enough that non-fiction work far surpasses any fictional work. But, if you are person that gains more insight from a historical fiction work, this is certainly worth a read to understand the issues of this time.”
“It took a while for the story to get going but it was eventually engaging and worthwhile. I liked The Sparrow and A Thread of Grace by Ms. Russell and recommend both of them.”TechWriter wrote this review Tuesday, January 22, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“I read this for a book group. It just didn't hold my interest, not the type of book that I would choose.”Linda S wrote this review Thursday, January 17, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“I wanted to enjoy this so much more than I did. An Amrican women, losing her family to World War 1 and influenza has an adventure (with her deeply annoying dog) in the middle east at the same that Churchill and Lawrence are mobbing the results of the war. Interesting but I wanted the writing and the story telling to be better.”Ann T wrote this review Friday, September 14, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“I loved this story of an Ohio schoolteacher who, in the 1920s, embarked for Egypt with her pet dachshund, Rosie, in tow. Agnes is a wonderful character – a sad, sweet realist who indulges her the romantic within even as she exercises her Midwestern common sense. Agnes meets Lawrence of Arabia and Winston Churchill and Gertrude Bell and holds her own with all of them. The book has a bit of a didactic flavor – Middle Eastern history lessons included at no extra charge – which some may not like but I enjoyed that aspect as well. And then there's Rosie – a dynamic little canine character impossible not to like. :) ”Marjorie Kehe wrote this review Monday, July 16, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No