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Veils of Silk by Mary Joe Putney
Description: 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

Literary Fiction: 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.

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