Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Great novels about British history

Without realizing it, I started reading a great many British historical novels this spring and summer.   I am fascinated by the history of words, and one way to study etymology is to trace the development of British literature through its historical novels.  I began with a rereading of Seamus Heaney's magnificent translation of Beowulf- might as well begin at the dawn of British literature and history.  Dear Reader, I loved it.  The author calls the ocean "the whale road" and the mountains are "eagle barriers."  The imagery, the ethics of the hero and the character of the villain and his monstrous mother are brilliantly depicted in Heaney's epic work.

Next, I tackled Chaucer's Canterbury Tales."  I had taken a course in college on the Tales and rereading them as a woman of a certain age (never mind what age) I appreciate Chaucer' s work so much more now.  I loved reading about the "very, parfait, gentile knight" and the "good Wife of Bathe" who was somdeel deef."   I especially enjoyed  this poem because I visited the site of the Tabard Inn in Southwerk many years ago and could imagine jolly Harry Bailey serving the pilgrims before they set out to Canterbury.

I then spent most of August reading The Norman Conquest by Mark Morr.  As I read it, the conflicts in the Middle East were and are still raging.  Incredibly, the  battles between the Normans, Saxons, and Vikings were more savage than the news from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  Beheadings, drawn and quartering, bubonic plague,  and brother killing brother,  father killing son, and wife killing husband, filled every gory page.  I came to the conclusion that the most inhumane animals on earth are humans.

It  was a relief to read The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal.  De Waal is an artist whose great uncle knew Monet, Degas, and Renoir and might have been the model for Marcel Proust's Swann in Proust's great work Remembrance of Things Past.  This book  traced the author's relatives from 18th century Ukraine to contemporary England.  One highlight of the book which astounded me detailed how his uncle became the Archbishop of Canterbury, yet he donned a yarmulke and said Kaddish, the traditional memorial prayer for the dead, in London's Main Synagogue for his Jewish mother at her funeral.  I was pleased to read that De Waal had an exhibition of his ceramic wares at the Metropolitan Museum of New York this summer.  The book is a very cerebral and amazing story of a family's history during many European conflicts.  The Hare with Amber Eyes is a little Japanese statue which symbolizes how De Waal's family survived these wars.  The language is almost as challenging as Chaucer's, and the book is just as entertaining.

Since I love history, my account of 3,000 years of  Middle East activity which culminates in a love affair between an Egyptian Military Intelligence Agent and a beautiful Israeli actress is detailed in my novel The Conspiracies of Dreams.  It is 90 per cent factual and depicts how the  people who live in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea are affected by conflicts, while ancient in origin, affect the contemporary lovers in a poignant and heartbreaking manner.
While the hare with amber eyes is central to De Waal's book, a donkey is key to mine.  In fact, many readers have told me that the donkey is their favorite character.
The book is available at  barnesandnoble.com/theconspiraciesofdreams
And independent book stores.

I also can provide signed copies.
My email address is didner16@hotmail.com