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richardderus

Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

The Dream of Scipio - Iain Pears The Book Report: Pears explores well-trodden ground here...what is love, how does love cause us to act outside our own best interests, what does loyalty mean in the end, what relationship does the world have to the divine...through the lives and acts of three men widely separated in time, though united by the existence of a manuscript called "The Dream of Scipio", written by one, and read by the other two. The writer is Manlius Hippomanes, Roman aristocrat and chaste lover of the Alexandrine philosopheress Sophia; the manuscript is his final love-offering to the goddess of his idolatry, given after his faux conversion to Christianity which he undertakes in order to organize the salvation of his beloved Provence. In the time of the Papal Babylonian Captivity, also that of the Black Death, poet Olivier de Noyes discovers this manuscript, reads and fails to understand it, and consults Jewish philosopher Levi ben Gershon to come to terms with the many subtelties lost between the Roman days and his own, degenerate Christian era; thus comes Olivier to his fatal love for Jew Rebecca. And in the modern age, Julien Barneuve, French flaneur and Vichy-government fonctionnaire, writes draft after draft of his response to Manlius's manuscript, thinking all the while that he's analyzing and understanding the life of Olivier de Noyes, the object of his studies.All ends badly for each of these men, their lives, their loves, their very cultural roots are torn up, and grosser and grosser perversions of right and good thinking and living, fueled explicitly by Christians and their revolting religion, take hold and choke reason.My Review: Well, no one can say it's not a subject I relate to and support. Too bad it's such a mess. The task of keeping three stories aloft while making sure that each is adding to the others is a daunting one. I don't think Pears did an especially good job of it. The transitions between narratives, all in third person limited PoV, are not keyed to anything that I can discern. I readily acknowledge that I could simply lack the cultural referents and/or the subtlety of mind to recognize them. I simply found the movement through time to be jarring and poorly handled.But overall, this cautionary tale is one well worth considering. The role of "faith" in the decline of common sense in the public discourse is readily seen in our own time, and the horrifying results...teenagers bullied to death, consenting adults prevented from exercising their civil rights because of some ancient and culture-specific "divine" law irrelevant to modern times...surround us daily. Human beings cannot be trusted with piety. It's not something that becomes us as a species. It's quite the opposite of its stated goal, is piety: Instead of creating peace and harmony, it creates hatred and judgment. It certainly does so in me. And I am not a remarkable human being, but pretty darned average in my responses: I don't like people who don't like me.Religion, sadly, in the hands of human beings, doesn't make that problem better, but rather creates a horrible echo chamber for the least worthy and most common feelings to be fed back upon themselves. Woe betide those who try to stand against this noisy tide...Pears points up the futility of this, while making sure we understand its absolute necessity.I wish I believed that reading this book would change hearts and minds, so I could yodel a call to read it NOW from the housetops. It's too rareified, too precious, to make a general audience sit up and take notice. And it's not well enough executed to become the coffee-table adornment of the socially pretentious reader, either, so...here it is. Read it if you agree already, if not don't bother.And isn't that the saddest sentence ever.