Dreamers of the Day (CBR4 #24)

I picked this one up based on a review here in the Cannonball by meilufay.  I had never read a book by Mary Doria Russell and before this year’s Cannonball I hadn’t spent too much time in interwar Europe. Both of these things have now changed. I quite liked this story and was appreciative that it was a slim (249 page), quick read.

Dreamers of the Day is narrated by the disembodied voice of Agnes Shanklin who recounts to the reader the story of her time in Egypt during the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference. That conference went about hacking up the Middle East after the Great War. Agnes is an unlikely set of eyes from which to witness this piece of history, as she freely admits since she is a 40 year old spinster elementary school teacher from Ohio. During the Influenza outbreak of 1918-1919 Agnes loses her entire family and is therefore the sole inheritor of several estates, setting her up with enough money to live comfortably, but frugally, and splurge on a trip.

She does splurge, and decides to visit Egypt and the Holy Land as she promised her now deceased sister she would do. It is there that Agnes’ path crosses T.E. Lawrence, Winston Churchill, and Lady Gertrude Bell to name just a few. Russell does a fantastic job of using her research to build out the fictionalized versions of these characters and bring to life the behind the scenes work of bringing a great conflict to an imperfect conclusion. But this is not really where this book shines – it shines the careful illustration of Agnes’ life both pre- and post- adventure. I found the parts of the book describing the Influenza outbreak and the Great Depression a more grasping read as the middle of the book tends to get stuck in the hour by hour or minute by minute descriptions of events.

This book is full of well drawn characters and interesting story lines.  This is more than a good book, but less than a great book. I described it to a friend as wonderful.

Favorite quote (in a very quotable book): “Add water, and the soil is so fertile that you could plant a pencil and harvest a book” (Russell 211).

 

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About Katie

Museum educator, caffiene junkie, book lover, student of history, overall goofball.

5 thoughts on “Dreamers of the Day (CBR4 #24)

  1. […] Cannonball has given me many things this year (Ready Player One, The Fault in Our Stars, Dreamers of the Day) but I think introducing me to the character of Julian Kestrel and his mysteries is perhaps my […]

  2. […] Cannonball has given me many things this year (Ready Player One, The Fault in Our Stars, Dreamers of the Day) but I think introducing me to the character of Julian Kestrel and his mysteries is perhaps my […]

  3. […] moons ago I read Dreamers of the Day for CBR4. I loved the prose, and marveled at the rich character development even if my review […]

  4. […] was that I have read a lot of books set in 1930s/1940s Europe and wasn’t sure that I really wanted to spend more time there just now. As it turned out that wasn’t actually a problem and I devoured this masterly […]

  5. […] convinced that Russell is an innovative and philosophically provocative novelist. Her novels, the three which I have read, all make me think. I think long and hard about the themes, devices, and conversations she layers […]

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