Book review: Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell

dreamers-of-the-day.jpgMary Doria Russell visits The Seattle Public Library this Thursday (March 20) to introduce her new book, Dreamers of the Day, to the delight of her many Seattle fans. Mary’s first book, The Sparrow, won the James Tiptree award in 1996 and the Arthur C. Clarke award in 1998, and still is in constant demand by book groups and library patrons who are discovering her talent for the first time. The sequel, Children of God, continues this literary philosophical science fiction story, though it has not received due acclaim. A Thread of Grace (2005) captured the hearts of readers with a masterfully conceived historical novel set in World War II Italy.

Lit lovers have come to expect great things from Russell’s creative mind, and Dreamers of the Day delivers. We loved Father Emilio in The Sparrow and Renzo in A Thread of Grace, and we cannot help but be enchanted by Agnes Shanklin in this fourth novel by the virtuoso of characterization and surprising plot nuance. The only surviving member of her family after the Great Influenza, Agnes shakes off grief in an uncharacteristic visit to Cleveland’s shopping district. Hair bobbed and stylishly attired, the shy and unattractive 40-year-old spinster ignores her ghostly “mumma’s” cautionary voice and takes a cruise to Egypt in the company of her beloved dachshund, Rosie, one of the story’s most endearing characters. The dog’s presence precipitates unexpected introductions in Cairo — to Gertrude Bell, Winston Churchill, T. H. Lawrence and, best of all, a nice German spy named Karl. In this exalted and oddly inclusive company, Agnes learns about the dangerous dreamers whose decisions at the Cairo Conference of 1921 to create Iraq had consequences reaching far into the future — our present. Even in the space of what for Russell is a short novel (272 pages), the real and fictional characters take on their full personalities, and the exotic setting of hot dusty Egypt during the interwar period comes fully to life. Dreamers of the Day is a treat to read – an easy, gentle trip into a time when the pace was slow and the stakes high.

This Thursday’s event with Mary Doria Russell begins at 7 p.m. at the Central Library, downtown Seattle.

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