“My friend Pam recommended it. It is great historical fiction and delightful reading. I like her dog Rosie.”Phyllis M wrote this review Sunday, November 14, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Most of this novel is set during World War I and the 1920's. It encompasses quite a range of topics: the Great War, the Spanish influenza, Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, Lawrence of Arabia, Gertrude Bell, the Jazz Age, the rage for all things Egyptian in the 20's, the stock market crash and the Great Depression; and especially, the political intrigues that took place in the Middle East after WWI.
I especially enjoyed the main character's trip to Egypt. The trip is the primary axis around which the story revolves. At that time, Egypt wasn't just another tourist destination, but a true adventure doable by only a select few. It was a time when visiting the pyramids meant a long, uncomfortable trek by camel, an overnight camp-out, and gourmet dining under a tent set up on the sands, complete with candlelight, fine silver, and white linen tablecloths. I also really enjoyed the intimate depictions of Lawrence of Arabia and Gertrude Bell.
Some of the politics went over my head. Russell assumes that the reader has some prior knowledge of world history and politics - things not provided by my American public school education. I did learn a great deal, though. Who knew that Woodrow Wilson was the first (maybe the only?) American president who had a PhD and had previously been a professor? That, like Lincoln, he was not a member of a wealthy and privileged family? Or that his brilliant plan for the global next step as World War I drew to a close was never put into motion because of Wilson's serious illness at precisely the wrong time? Instead, the Cairo Peace Conference of 1921 made the decisions that resulted in the world as we know it today, a more acrimonious and unstable one than Wilson's plan might have accomplished.
Agnes, the main character, is endearing, a self-sufficient old maid with a positive attitude and a genuine love for others - particularly children and her dachshund Rosie. After a sheltered, claustrophobic early life, she still has a sense of adventure that inspires her to seize the one big opportunity of her life.
Another prominent theme is the afterlife, giving a paranormal aspect to the novel. The theory of afterlife here is similar to Kevin Brockmeier's in A Brief HIstory of the Dead. My jury is still out on how I feel about the afterlife section. On one hand, it feels tacked on, added after the story has come to a natural conclusion. But on the other hand, it illustrates a charming legend about the Nile River, and it allows Russell to explore opinions that historical movers-and-shakers such as Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte might have about political events of the 20th century.
The ending is satisfying, striking a note that is somewhat humorous and perfectly suited to Agnes' personality.
The only criticism I would have is that there are so many different elements that the book ends up as a kind of hodgepodge of the 20th century. However, the characters are so well-drawn, their relationships so complex and realistic, and the image of 1920's Egypt so lively, that this is a minor quibble. The book is so interesting that it can be read for its sheer entertainment value, with all the things the reader will learn from it as a bonus.
“Engaging story and interesting characters and narrative twist at the end. Some of the plot line was a bit unbelievable. Hard to imagine that Winston Churchill and Lawrence of Arabia would have taken an interest in the heroine. But it did inspire me to find books on both Churchill and Lof A. ”Jan W wrote this review Sunday, October 31, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Agnes Shanklin, 40 year old schoolteacher, decides to go to Egypt following the deaths of her mother and sister’s family from the influenza epidemic. Agnes who has been “good” all her life has decided that she will finally find some freedom and adventure. In 1921 Agnes arrives in Cairo just as the Peace Conference is to start. There she meets Lawrence of Arabia, Churchill, and Lady Gertrude Bell and becomes part of their story of the political formation of the Middle East following WWI. It is also a story of Agnes finding love and freedom and a philosophy of life. A wonderfully written historical fiction book.
“Agnes Shanklin is an "ugly duckling"; she is too thin, has a weak eye, and compares unfavorably to her attractive, bubbly sister, but this sister and her family, as well as Agnes' mother, die in the 1918 flu epidemic. Like the mythological Phoenix, Agnes recreates herself from the ashes of this tragedy; she travels to Egypt at the same time that Winston Churchill, Lawrence of Arabia, and other historic figures arrive in Egypt to attend the Peace Conference following World War I. Love and intrigue follow. It's not believable, but delightfully entertaining. ”LYNNETTE T wrote this review Tuesday, October 19, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“This is not Russell's best novel. The historical references were interesting.”Judy J wrote this review Saturday, September 25, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“A very good historical fiction read. It's the story of a fictional single woman, Agnes Shanklin, who travels from Ohio to Cairo during the Cairo Peace Conference in 1921. The central characters of that conference, T. E. Lawrence, Winston Churchill and Gertrude Bell are part of the story.
The history of the "re-design" of the Middle East is very informative and relevant to today's events. The worldwide indfluenza epidemic of 1919 is also a part of the story.
If you like world history, especially during the time between WWI and WWII, I recommend this book. I now want to read "A Thread of Grace", also by Mary Doria Russell.”
“I have enjoyed all of Russell's books but this one was my least favorite. Perhaps it was the narrative structure that caused me to not care for this book as much as some of her others. Certainly an enjoyable read and an interesting topic. I did not know much about the historical events discussed.”Jill M wrote this review Monday, September 6, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Agnes Shanklin, the protagonist of "Dreamers of the Day" begins her story by saying..."My little story has become your history. You won't really understand your times until you understand mine."
Agnes, a forty year old single school teacher, travels to Egypt at the time of the Cairo Peace Conference and is befriended by a number of it's participants, including T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), Winston Churchill and Gertrude Bell. It was during this conference that the English and French drew the map that created the modern Middle East. Lawrence and a mysterious German gentleman, who also befriends Agnes, help her to understand that the map drawn by the British and French is actually designed to serve their interests and will only lead to decades of turmoil and war for the region.
This book was the second that I've read by Mary Doria Russell. The first was, "A Thread of Grace" - a tough act to follow. At first, I felt that "Dreamers of the Day" was a bit contrived and wasn't liking it as much as "A Thread of Grace." But, by the time I finished, I found myself smiling at the author's ingenuity and appreciated the devices that she employed to tell the tale in the way that she wanted.
The personal growth of the protagonist and her very human struggle provided an 'up close' and unique window into the times. In addition to an understanding of the significance of the Cairo Peace Conference, the author also creates a very vivid portrayal of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.
The reader's guide at the end, which includes an interview with the author is quite fascinating and added a great deal to my appreciation of this book.”
“Fascinating history. The time is 1921 and our heroine is a survivor of the great influenza epidemic. She has lost her whole family but finds herself. The great men of the world are making decisions in the Mideast that are affecting our lives today. Interesting story and well researched. ”Kay C wrote this review Thursday, August 5, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No