Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Creation

Before I ended Spectral City, my protagonist had taken up reading Gore Vidal's novel Creation. I felt compelled to add that to the blog because I was reading it myself, and it's damn good. (The link to the Jerry Clower autobiography was entirely for humor).

Probably 20 or more years ago I'd bought it in a paperback swap store I was in while my mom was loading up on a new batch of Harlequin Romances. I never read it, but somehow it survived various purges until I was back in Birmingham and turned it up in a box. I read a few pages and was immediately hooked.

I started reading it before Logan was born, and it proved the perfect antidote to concerns and troubles about having a second child (and this was before we knew about his heart condition). I used to turn to comic books for escapism (having spent ten years in college, it's been a slow process to think of reading novels as something other than work), but the damn things have gotten too expensive to justify ten minutes of diversion. (Lileks has a good post today about comics (thanks for the heads-up, Will) that's similar to my sentiment, though I was always primarily a DC fan).

In some ways Creation reads like a fantasy novel (minus, or mostly minus, the magic), and anyone who enjoys that genre, especially those books with dozens of characters and events that basically require a photographic memory or an accompanying guide to keep track of everything, will feel right at home here. Personally, I don't read much of that stuff; LOTR and the DC and Marvel universes supplied quite enough useless information for me. But while the 5th century B.C. Persian Empire is sufficiently removed from my life as to evoke a fantasy world worthy of Tolkien, it also introduced or brought to life actual historical figures and concepts, and I personally find that far more interesting and rewarding than an entirely fabricated world.

The fictional narrator, Cyrus Spitama, is the grandson of Zoroaster, and when the novel opens he is an old blind man and Persian ambassador to Pericles' Athens. He recounts to Democrites his entire life, from witnessing his grandfather's death to his childhood in the Persian court and friendship with Xerxes, to his travels to India and Cathay, where he encounters, among others, Gautama Siddhartha and Confucius. Spitama is at times cynical and bitter (constantly criticizing the Greeks, which I found great fun), but always inquisitive, and his discussions with political and religious figures of the day are fascinating. Vidal may have fudged dates here and there to make it possible for Spitama to have encountered everyone, and many now think that Zoroaster may have lived as far back as 1000 B.C. rather than the 6th century, but this is fiction, not history.

It's not a perfect novel, but it was engrossing enough that I didn't care. I haven't enjoyed a book so much since . . . hell, I don't know when. War and Peace? (No, it's not as good as that). In any case, years. I was so distressed about finishing the book that I immediately when out and bought Julian (which I'll write about soon), and that also helped to keep me from obsessing every second about congenital heart defects. Creation is the very best kind of historical fiction: the kind that shows you history in a different way and encourages you to read more. If it sounds interesting, go pick up a copy. Me, I'm heading into Herodotus.

1 Comments:

Blogger David Baker said...

Thanks for the tip L. Do you by chance read to Logan? Would be interesting to see what he likes. My twin daughters were addicted to words as infants. Who knows what they think at that age. But Ella preferred, for some ungodly reason, As I Lay Dying. I must have read it to her thirteen times in her first six months. My first wife claimed that Faulkner messed with her wiring and helped render her a lesbian, though I lean toward the camp that it's nature over nurture. Billie, on the other hand, was soothed to slumber by a collection of Rilke's lyric poems. I read my mother's original German version, but there exist great translations, so this is what I recommend for little L. Billie turned out as sweet, gentle and big-hearted as Ella is sardonic, clever and determined like Cash Bundrun. In any case, they're both marvelous girls, and I urge you to find something to Logan's liking before he loses patience for books without pictures.

9:48 AM  

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