The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears is an Historical Fiction/Mystery novel that interweaves three distinct historical periods all set in the same locale: Avignon, France and its environs. The three periods share the confusion and anxiety that accompany major shifts in politics and culture: The Fall of the Roman Empire in Gaul, the arrival of the Black Death during Pope Clement VI’s reign in Avignon and the fall of France to the German occupying force in WWII.
Two main threads run through each story: questions of ethics and morals in the affairs of men and anti-Semitism. In the first, a Classical philosopher named Sophia becomes mentor to Manlius Hippocratus, who has been elected Bishop. He seeks to protect his region from invasion by Germanic tribes and to preserve some remnants of his beloved Rome. Sophia is a hard task master and deals in pure philosophy and ethics.
In the second story, a student and poet attached to a bishop in Clement’s Papal administration, Olivier, has been researching the history of Manlius’ Gaul and Sophia. He falls in love with another strong female, Rebecca, and is forced to deal with the weightiest questions of right and wrong.
Finally, Julian is also researching both Olivier’s poetry and Manlius philosophy during the advent of WWII and becomes enamored with an artist who is Jewish and must balance the competing demands of friendship, politics and loyalty.
It was difficult for me initially to get used to the author’s style, although the stories were fascinating, but I’m so glad that I kept on with it. Far more going here than I am describing. Highly recommended!
posted by Chuck