Thursday, June 16, 2011
In all my years book clubbing, I think I've only failed to finish the book before the meeting twice, and Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra: A Life, which won the Pulitzer prize was one of those. The fact that I began it during my busy season (research paper grading, exams, final report cards) didn't help. The book, too, is so firmly researched that it often felt more like a text book reading that escape, which doesn't always hinder me.
I started with my electronic reader version, spinning away at the stationary bike or walking on the treadmill, and I got stuck. Then I borrowed a hardback copy from a friend and ventured a little further before stopping and moving on to more plot-driven books.
But I couldn't abandon the book altogether, so when I found the audio version at the library, I knew I was meant to finish, and so I did. Now admittedly, I was at a disadvantage in some parts listening, since the characters' names and many of the places in those parts of the world--from Rome to Egypt and all in between--aren't standard fare. On the other hand, I had at least passing familiarity with the stories involved via Hollywood and Mr. Shakespeare, as well as the many legends and myths floating around.
I also knew not to expect a happy ending, although I wasn't sure about the asp. Having visited Turkey, and Ephesus in particular, last summer, I was drawn in by the parts of the story that took place there. My familiarity with Herod, the Caesars, and even Caligula from Biblical accounts and from history lessons also drew me into the story.
By the time I reached the end, I realized that not only was I glad to have made my way through the sometimes dense text, but I had more threads I wanted to follow: What did happen to the library at Alexandria? When exactly did Latin become a dead language? How do writers such as Schiff have the stamina to pursue their research so completely and relentlessly?
I am ready to move on to fiction again (and already have), but for now, I'm glad to have spent this sojourn in that ancient world. I feel ready to travel now.