Saturday, February 09, 2008

Dreamers and the late Friday Shuffle

Dreamers of the Day: Mary Doria Russell: Have you ever read a book and become so immersed in that world that when you finish, it's hard to pick up another book? That's the case with me right now. I was so thrilled when I heard this book was coming out -- I could barely wait for it. The Sparrow, Children of God, and A Thread of Grace are three of my favorite books. Then it turned out I didn't have to wait; I got an advance reader copy when I was at ALA. Then I was nervous about it -- what if I didn't like it as much as the other three? After all, the subject matter was something I knew nothing about -- the Cairo Peace Conference that established Iraq as a country. While Dreamers did not turn out to be my favorite Russell novel, it was still brilliant. She has a way of creating characters and making them memorable. Here, Agnes Shanklin is a woman who has always followed her mother's wishes for her and believed the things her mother has said about her -- she's mousy and uninteresting. When her family dies in the 1918 influenza epidemic, Agnes is left alone with money and the opportunity to redefine herself out of her mother's shadow. Her decision to follow her sister's footsteps and take a trip to Egypt is fateful for both her and for us. In Egypt she meets her sister's friend, T. E. Lawrence -- that Lawrence -- Lawrence of Arabia. In doing so, she falls into a social circle with Gertrude Bell and a youngish Winston Churchill and becomes privy to the events and arguments that end in the creation of Iraq. In the hands of Russell, these huge historic figures become human -- Lawrence, with his giggle, and Gertrude Bell, with her disdain for other women, and finally Winston Churchill, charging about the Middle East, annoying his bodyguard. All of this history takes place around Agnes' more everyday romance with a man she meets at her hotel. Agnes tells us we cannot understand our current story unless we understand her history, and she is right. Her story, taking place on the periphery of historic events, helped me understand more about some of the current tensions in the Middle East than any history book could have. Like I still miss Emilio Sandoz, I will miss Agnes as well. This is a novel that stays with you. It is also the only novel where I saw the sense of humor that Russell displayed in her speech at ALA; there are some genuinely funny sections in this book.

Friday Shuffle
  1. Thread: k.d. lang from Watershed
  2. Square One: Coldplay from X & Y
  3. International Echo: Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello from The River in Reverse
  4. Little Bird: Emmylou Harris from Stumble into Grace
  5. Foolin' Around: Patsy Cline from The Patsy Cline Story
  6. Cross My Fingers: John Hiatt from Perfectly Good Guitar
  7. Lubbock or Leave It: The Dixie Chicks from Taking the Long Way
  8. I Really Hope: The Cranberries from Wake Up and Smell the Coffee
  9. Last Good Time in Town: The Eagles from Long Road Out of Eden
  10. From My Own True Love (Lost at Sea) : The Decemberists from Picaresque


BabelBabe said...

oh my god,

due out in march.
by which time my brain may be alive enough again to get it.

thx for the review!!

Katya said...

Yes, it should be alive enough then. I'm so glad you introduced me to her -- there's not one single book of hers that I have not loved. Did you read Les' review at

Les said...

Sounds like you enjoyed it! :) My husband just finished and said Russell is a brilliant writer. It's not really his type of book (he prefers to read nonfiction history rather than historical fiction), but he still enjoyed it.

I remember Russell's humor when I met her back in 1998. She cracked us up with her anecdotes. Lucky you to see her at ALA!

BTW, I see you have John Hiatt on your Friday Shuffle list. I love him! Have all of his albums. Saw him in Omaha last summer (or was it two summers ago??) and it was a fabulous concert.

Katya said...

Oh, I like John Hiatt too! I took my daughter to see him last year or the year before. We had a great time and she loved it.

My husband didn't think he'd like Russell either but he's read all of her books and loved them. He usually reads nonfiction science.

nutmeg said...

Oh Katya - you lucky thing! I have this book listed in my notebook and highlighted. I hope some copies end up over at The Book Depository otherwise will be the go. I really enjoyed reading your review - makes me think I should read Thread of Grace first.

Also can't wait to get a copy of the new KD Lang - I am still playing her last one over and over again.

Katya said...

The new k.d. lang is wonderful -- I love her voice.

Thread of Grace was the first Russell novel I read and it fits into your Holocaust reading interest -- it's about Jews who escape Germany by going to Italy. I loved it.

sari said...

Sounds like a great book, thanks for the tip!