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Found 2 results

  1. Creation by Gore Vidal is set in the 5th century bc and is a first person narrative by Cyrus Spitama, the grandson of the Persian prophet Zoroaster, which is dictated to his nephew Democritus when Cyrus is blind, and near death in his mid 70s. As the half Greek grandson of the Persian monotheist Zoroaster, Cyrus enjoys certain privileges in the court of the king of Persia. Because of these privileges he is educated with the noblemen's children and becomes friends with the King's son Xerxes. Through this friendship with Xerxes Cyrus is privy to information and adventures unavailable to other persons,even though Cyrus is not himself noble born. So in the first part of the book we hear much about the intrigues of the Persian court. Then in response to the machinations of Atossa , King Darius's chief consort and mother of Xerxes, who wants Cyrus to become chief priest of Zoroastrianism for her own twisted purposes, Darius makes Cyrus the ambassador to India and sends him there to find out about the country and spy on its leaders. Whilst in India Cyrus learns much about Indian customs and about the court intrigues of the various warring Indian states. He also meets and has discussions with several historical religious figures among them Gosala of the Jains and the Buddha. He also acquires a wife given to him for political purposes by a man with designs on being the universal king of India. With her he fathers two children before being recalled to Persia to talk about his embassy to India. Leaving his wife and children behind he returns to Persia and more of the wars and intrigues of the Persian court, particularly as they pertain to the Greeks. Many years later he is sent on another trade/ambassadorial mission to Cathay or what we think of as China and spends many years as a captive/slave ( though euphemistically called an 'honored guest') there after being captured by soldiers. Having served Baron K'ang faithfully for several years he is granted freedom and travels torturously back to India and a long overdue reunion with his first wife and grown sons, who , while apparently glad to see him, have no interest in following him back to Persia. Not that Vidal dwells on this aspect of Cyrus' life much. He is, as usual, much more interested in Cyrus' father-in-law, who has become the latest brutal dictator of India. And so on... On balance I am glad I read this. Although it was a bit of a slog. All of the Machiavellian gamesmanship started to wear me out after a while. When I was in the right mood it was fascinating but when I wasn't in the right mood it just felt like I was being bludgeoned. I was very glad for all of the philosophical talk and spiritual discussions that Cyrus had on his trips to India and Cathay. The description of the culture and the cultural practices in the 'East of east' were fascinating to me and I really enjoyed his fishing trips with Confucius. This was a very straightforward narrative and the prose was very clear. This somewhat surprised me since my only previous experience with Vidal was in his books Myra Breckenridge, Myron and Duluth, none of which were straightforward at all. But this wasn't a very personal book. You never really get a deep sense of what Cyrus is going through. It mostly felt like a history book talking about the culture and the politics of the fifth century world. This book felt simultaneously way too short, because of the scope of history he was attempting to encompass,(even though it was 592 pages) and way too long because of the fact that all of the battles and machination of the various greedy, power hungry, psychopathic ruler types started to seem all the same. Vidal obviously did a tremendous amount of research before he wrote this book and I tend to believe that Cyrus could be viewed as a reliable narrator. For anyone interested in those times and places this book would be a gold mine. And I really enjoyed the "comparative religions and philosophies of the Ancient World" aspects. My only real problem with this book was that it felt much less like a novel detailing the life and times and travels of a real human being, and much more like a lecture given on the customs, mores, culture, and politics of the ancient world. But as a treatise on that subject it is well done. 3.5 stars
  2. A look at the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, starting ten days before his inauguration and ending shortly after his death, as told from the points of view of several people around him. Gore Vidal offers some wonderful insights into the sixteenth President of the United States—a man whom everyone expected to control and manipulate for their own ends, but who, surprisingly, managed to turn the tables on them, unite a divided party, put down dissension, rally the people, and change the course of a nation. It also offers some brief highlights of the American Civil War, and the successes, failures and strategies of both sides. However, the war is secondary to the man, whom Vidal describes vividly, sympathetically, and realistically: not even Lincoln's shortcomings are overlooked. It's also a very witty novel, both the character of Lincoln and Vidal's prose. Some places are extremely funny, others amusing, but it's all laced with undeniable insightfulness. As with all historical fiction, the reader often wonders how much is true. I'm not American, nor am I a history expert, so I have to honestly say that I don't know. The novel can easily be read as one hundred percent fiction and still offer a great deal of value, particularly regarding leadership and power struggles. However, I'd be interested to know if any of Vidal's opinions have been proved inaccurate. It isn't a fast-paced novel, and I savored every word of it. I never found it boring, yet I never stayed up late to finish the part that I was on. It's the kind of novel you read for the history, language, and insight.
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