#54 ~ Dreamers of the Day

December 31, 2007 at 11:21 am | Posted in Books, Brain Food for Thought, Culture, Family, Historical Fiction, LibraryThing, LIfe, Reading, Secrets and Lies | Leave a comment
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Dreamers of the Day: A Novel by Mary Doria Russell

This novel tells the story of Agnes Shanklin, a dowdy, severely skeptical 40-year-old spinster who still needs the reassurance of her mother’s approval before making any decision. When Mumma and the rest of her family dies during the influenza epidemic, Agnes inherits a small fortune. Despite the nagging voice of Mumma in her head, she begins to dress in a way that flatters her figure and decides to follow in the footsteps of her deceased sister Lillian, the woman through whom she’s lived vicariously since their days in college. She takes a trip to Egypt, the land of Lawrence of Arabia and her trip happens to coincide with Churchill’s Cairo Conference.

Agnes is an intelligent woman who feels she knows the true inner workings of American domestic and foreign policy and how it was that United States got involved in WWI. Very near to the beginning of her dialog with the reader, she explains how it was the use of marketing language and lies involving Mexico that got this nation fired up to fight. I found it interesting that the narrator handily denounces such strategies near the beginning of her story while using the rest of her story to dish out her own propaganda.

It must be as frustrating to live a life full of self-righteous skepticism as it is at times to read Agnes’ story. Here she is a woman who takes a huge leap of faith in herself and, as a result of a connection made by her sister, happens upon Lawrence of Arabia, Gertrude Bell, and Winston Churchill in Cairo, Egypt at a most decisive time in history. Simply because of Lawrence’s affection for Lillian, Agnes is given the opportunity to take part in important discussions with some of the most important political leaders of her lifetime. Even while she feels as though she is looked down upon for being a woman and an American, she was constantly critical of their manners and their convictions. Their real-life experiences mattered not. She knew better than they did.

Separating myself from Agnes’ intellect, I enjoyed reading this book. I identified with Agnes’ inner relationship with her mother a great deal. As the oldest child, you sometimes feel the need to not go after what you want in order to lighten the burden on your parent(s). My parents did not expect this of me the way that Agnes’ mother seemed to, but I believe that we both operated from the same mindset. I very much appreciated Agnes’ mistrust in herself, her body, and male attention. I also enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the landscape, culture, and people of the Middle East. The description of the day that Agnes spent with Churchill and company riding camels to see the pyramids captured the experience perfectly.

In the end, I was disappointed with the literary device the author used to turn Agnes’ story into her own morality lesson about American politics today. It would have been much more beautiful and moving had she painted the story as it was in watercolor.

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To buy this novel, click here.

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