“Dreamers of the Day
by Mary Doria Russell
After reading Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda, I became intrigued with T.E. Lawrence so I was quite pleased to pick up Mary Doria Russell’s Dreamers of the Day. Russell is one of my favorite authors and I have read all of her other books. She has a capacity for capturing an era and setting so that you feel part of it. I love her voice and her ability to develop characters.
Agnes Shanklin isn’t an entirely lovable character but one I found myself rooting for as she is forty years old and has lived under her mother’s thumb and her sister’s shadow. Agnes believes herself to be plain and has always although resentfully accepted her mother’s guidance. And then comes the flu of 1918 which wiped out whole families as it did Agnes’. So she found her alone with an inheritance. Like a butterfly coming out of it cocoon, Agnes discovers she isn’t entirely plain and decides to go on a voyage to the middle east and Egypt where he sister once resided as a missionary.
On Agnes’ first day in Egypt she meets T.E Lawrence, Gertrude Bell and Winston Churchill. Having read both Hero by Michael Korda and Janet Wallach’s excellent biography of Gertrude Bell Desert Queen, I was pleased to read Russell’s fictional interpretations of the negotiations which decided the boundaries of the modern Middle East and of the characters who shaped it.
One of the things which I truly loved about this book was Rosie, Agnes’ dachshund which she took with her on her journey. I have the feeling by Russell’s loving description of Rosie that she must have at one time owned a dachshund and made me long for one.
Some readers may be a bit put off by the perspective , which is told from the point of view of a Agnes who is dead. It was a bit jarring when I first realized it but I appreciated this unique view.
The title to the story is from a quote of Lawrence of Arabia used in the book:
“All men dream,” Colonel Lawrence wrote, “but not equally. Those who dream by night wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.”
While I didn’t love this book as much as some of Russell’s others. I appreciated the story and how it filled out a picture of the negotiations about the middle east which I had explored previously. I hope others will be as intrigued as I was by this book.”