of Silk by Mary Joe Putney
An excellent example of how I learned most of my history from romance novels.
Oh, and a darn fine romance as well.
Once more we venture into
Crystal’s favorite kind of fiction, messed up people who have been injured
by life (in this case literally – the hero has just been busted out of
an 1840s Afgan prison) learning to heal as they learn to love.
Well, actually the biggest
love affair in this book is the country. Our hero and heroine Ian and Laura
(Lara – she’s Russian) travel across India in 1841 in search of…oh, a maguffin
from her uncle. It’s all an excuse to see India. To talk about the tensions
between Russia and England in India in the 1800s. And all of a sudden the
Crimean war makes sense. Of course, they fight the Russians in the 1850s,
they’ve just spent decades playing a complex game of intrigue in Northern
India and Afghanistan. And now I know that the first time the Brits got
their butts kicked by the Afgani’s was in the 1840s.
It’s a love affair that pays
off in romantic backgrounds and my God the scene with the rose petals.
Sometimes it’s good to have an army of servants.
The Biographer's Tale
by A.S. Byatt
A young man who is fed up with his life as a post-modern literary theorist
decides to write a biography of a famous biographer. It doesn't go well,
but in his quest for things instead of ideas, he finds a new job, some
notecards, love, and eventually himself.
Reading a book by A.S. Byatt always makes me want to write. I think
it is her comibnation of lyrical, descriptive storytelling with the analytic
language and thoughts of literary theory. In other words, two of my favorite
things - the books I love to read and the academic world of criticism I
spent a happy four years of college in.
The hero of this story has spent way too much time in that academic
world - he is fed up and resolved to escape. In talking to a professor,
he is pointed towards the biographical work of Scholes Destry-Scholes.
The biographical focus on facts and things facinates him and he decides
to write a biography on the biographer. He finds however that Destry-Scholes
has left little or no trace of himself. His biggest jackpots are a bunch
of notes left with his publisher which form three biographical sketches
and an old suitcase found in the attic of the biographer's niece. In trying
to make sense of the notes and the flotsam in the suitcase, our hero (named
Phineas - how cool is that?) meets a pair of eccentric travel agents, a
radiologist, and a bee taxonimist who all change his life and ultimately
his understanding of himself.
The narrative is rambling and sometimes disjointed - full of quotations
and bizarre facts like Byatt's other books, but it still beautifully portraying
the journey of self-discovery even as the hero is adamant that this story
is not about him. In the end, he finds that it is his story and that he
has found a new place in the world that fits him perfectly despite it's
surface appearance of dicotomy. It's always hard for me to dive into a
Byatt novel, but once I come out the other side I fell enlightened and
very proud to be an English major.