Wow. This is kind of a terrible book. And by kind of, I mean it really was.
I started reading it for the premise...ancient archaeology, travel, mysteri...moreWow. This is kind of a terrible book. And by kind of, I mean it really was.
I started reading it for the premise...ancient archaeology, travel, mysterious rites, etc. I listen to a lot of "airport reads" on audiobook as an entertaining distraction while I work freelance, so even though I have a background in ancient art and museums, I still enjoy a good page turner every now and then. This book, however, was really poorly done.
From other historical fiction/mystery/thriller type books I've read along similar lines, I know that it is possible to write such a book without completely disrespecting the actual events and stories behind whatever historical thing the author had taken as their backdrop. All fiction takes some license of course, but the most successful books in this genre are the ones that are able to successfully weave together fact and fiction in an intriguing and seamless way. I don't think this book was successful at that at all. Perhaps it would be if you had no familiarity with the ancient world and archaeology (for instance, if you are like the author...), but if you do, prepare to feel like fingers are scratching on a chalkboard every couple paragraphs when characters and events unfold so outside the lines of truth within these fields that you will not want to read anymore and save yourself the pain. I mean, after all, some of the joy of reading books like this is to live a bit vicariously within an at least somewhat plausible world, no?
There are a few key reasons why the plausibility of this book was ruined for me: 1. For starters, if you are a scholar and go on a dig or project overseas, the whole team does not just sit around all day eating and swimming, just waiting for one or two people to translate the findings. Point me in the direction of that funding and the humanities would be a very different place to work in! I mean, think of all the fascinating, challenging things they could be doing instead that would move the plot along! 2. The type of writing contained in these fictional scrolls they are studying is not even remotely the kind of thing one would ever find. If it was just this, I would gladly suspend my disbelief, but it was far from an isolated thing. I understand the appeal of such a fiction and "dumbing things down" as an entrance point for the reader unaquainted with such things, but this is just plain old dumb. The type of alluring mysteries to be found in a more realistic find would be so much more appealing and well, mysterious. 3. The characters start out interesting enough but quickly become vapid and stereotypical. The main female professor just seems like a slightly older version of her star student and, apparently, is a classics scholar without a fluency in Italian...whaaa? Why, given the clear opportunity for a strong and smart female character, would you then make her so bad at her job and so clueless of her own field? Why is she constantly shocked at the supposedly offensive erotic art? I think this may have been the most infuriating aspect of this book for me since it feels dishonest, disrespectful, lazy, and downright false to judge the ancient world by modern standards. Better research on the subject could have made this a lot better and actually heightened the thrill. 4. The plot rests along these all too coincidental and completely unbelievable pivot points that only served to alienate me instead of drawing me in.
I love this genre and I appreciate that such a book does not need to be overly complex or artistic to be worth reading. It can and should be a whole lot better than this one though.
Whether you are familiar with the Praying Indian towns of pre-colonial Massachusetts and early Harvard or not, this is a deftly nuan...moreI loved this book.
Whether you are familiar with the Praying Indian towns of pre-colonial Massachusetts and early Harvard or not, this is a deftly nuanced, beautiful, and well-researched story of Native Americans and English colonists learning to live together in the 1600's. The story is told from the vantage point of a fictional young girl who is at once able to impart an insider's view of the English as well as an outsider's sympathies and keen inferences as a female and friend of the Native Americans.
I've been leading field trips around Natick, MA, the first Praying Indian town established by John Eliot for the past couple years. I've also researched archival materials on the Indian College and colonial campus foodways on the campus as a student at Harvard so the lines of history pulled together in this story really hit home for me. I was impressed with how Brooks was able to (quite successfully in my view) intertwine a fictional narrative with historical fact and individuals. She really hits all the right notes and in a respectful, vibrant, and engaging manner. Though the title refers to Caleb, telling this story from another voice allows for fact and fiction to be woven together in such a way as to create an incredibly real and reliable account of this incredible period and place in history without putting too many imagined words in the mouth of actual persons. If only more works of historical fiction were as well researched and written as this!(less)