Posts Tagged ‘Historical Fiction’

Today , I would like to  welcome Michelle Moran , the author of best-selling historical fiction  Nefertiti (my review ) and it’s  stand-alone sequel The Heretic Queen , who has graciously agreed to do a guest post on Shonas’ Book Shelves.

Her new book Cleopatra’s Daughter released on 15 th September 2009 is creating waves in the world of YA and historical fiction and her fourth novel based upon the life of  young Marie Tussaud will debut in March 2011.

Michelle is a self confessed  history buff and you will see enough proof of that on her blog . Today she is going to shed some light on the life and libraries in ancient Rome.

Over to you Michelle..

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Life and Libraries in the Ancient World

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked by readers is what life was like two thousand years ago when Julius Caesar walked the corridors of the Senate house and Cleopatra visited Rome. Surprisingly, life for the ancient Romans was not unbelievably different from today. The Romans had many of the little luxuries that we often associate exclusively with the modern world. For example, baths were to be found in every city, and public toilets were viewed as a necessity. The toilets depicted in HBO’s Rome Series are copies of those discovered in Pompeii, where those caught short could find a long stretch of latrines (much like a long bench with different sized holes) and relieve themselves next to their neighbor. Shops sold a variety of wigs, and women could buy irons to put curls their hair. For the rain, there were umbrellas, and for the sun, parasols. Houses for the wealthy were equipped with running water and were often decorated quite lavishly, with elaborate mosaics, painted ceilings, and plush carpets.

In the markets, the eager shopper could find a rich array of silks, along with linen and wool. You could also find slaves, and in this, Roman times certainly differ from our own. While some men spoke out against it, one in three people were enslaved. Most of these slaves came from Greece, or Gaul (an area roughly comprising modern France). Abuse was rampant, and the misery caused by this led desperate men like Spartacus to risk death for freedom.

For those few who were free and wealthy, however, life in Rome provided nearly endless entertainments. As a child, there were dolls and board games to be played with, and as an adult, there was every kind of amusement to be had, from the theatre to the chariot races. Even the poor could afford “bread and circuses,” which, according to Juvenal, was all the Romans were really interested in.

For those more academic minded, however, there were libraries. Although I don’t portray this in Cleopatra’s Daughter, libraries were incredibly noisy places. The male scholars and patrons read aloud to themselves and each other, for nothing was ever read silently (the Romans believed it was impossible!). Other cities were renowned for their learning, too: Pergamum (or Pergamon) was the largest and grandest library in the world. Built by the Greeks, Pergamum became Roman property when Greece was captured and many of its people enslaved. The library was said to be home to more than 200,000 volumes, and it is was in Pergamum that the history of writing was forever changed.

Built by Eumenes II, Pergamum inspired great jealousy in the Egyptian Ptolemies, who believed that their Library of Alexandria was superior. In order to cripple this Greek rival (and also because of crop shortages), Egypt ceased exporting papyrus, on which all manuscripts were written. Looking for an alternative solution, the Library of Pergamum began using parchment, or charta pergamena. For the first time, manuscripts were now being written on thin sheets of calf, sheep or goat’s skin. The result of this change from papyrus to parchment was significant. Now, knowledge could be saved by anyone with access to animal hide. Manuscripts (although still quite rare) were now available to more people. Alas, so impressive was this vast Pergamese library of parchment that Cleopatra asked Marc Antony to ship its entire contents to her as a wedding gift. This transfer marked the end of Pergamum’s scholarly dominance, and is the reason why, today, we remember Alexandria as possessing the ancient world’s greatest library.

Thank you Michelle. It was wonderful to have you here on my blog.

Having read Nefertiti (review ) , I can guess  how wonderful this book is going to be. I have just got Heretic Queen from the library and hope to finish reading it soon.

Giveaway:

A hardcover copy of Cleopatra’s Daughter as well as an ancient Roman coin complete with certificate of authenticity (like the one on Michelle’s website here) will go to one lucky winner.

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coin(That’s the authentic ancient Roman Coin you will be winning!!!)

How to enter the giveaway:

Very simple. Just leave a comment on this post along with your email address.

Plus

Tell me who is your favorite historical figure  and why ?

Remember this giveaway is open internationally , so feel free to enter.

The giveaway ends on  Nov 24th . I will  announce the winner on Nov 25th .

CLEOPATRA’S DAUGHTER: a novel
The death of Cleopatra was only the beginning…

Check out Michelle’s blog at michellemoran.blogspot.com for many fun contests and lots of historical information.

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Book: Girl With A Pearl Earring  by Tracy Chevalier

Category : Historical Fiction

Protagonist: Griet and Vermeer

Summary of the book : from author’s website

One of the best-loved paintings in the world is a mystery. Who is the model and why has she been painted? What is she thinking as she stares out at us? Are her wide eyes and enigmatic half-smile innocent or seductive? And why is she wearing a pearl earring?

Girl With a Pearl Earring tells the story of Griet, a 16-year-old Dutch girl who becomes a maid in the house of the painter Johannes Vermeer. Her calm and perceptive manner not only helps her in her household duties, but also attracts the painter’s attention. Though different in upbringing, education and social standing, they have a similar way of looking at things. Vermeer slowly draws her into the world of his paintings – the still, luminous images of solitary women in domestic settings.

In contrast to her work in her master’s studio, Griet must carve a place for herself in a chaotic Catholic household run by Vermeer’s volatile wife Catharina, his shrewd mother-in-law Maria Thins, and their fiercely loyal maid Tanneke. Six children (and counting) fill out the household, dominated by six-year-old Cornelia, a mischievous girl who sees more than she should.

On the verge of womanhood, Griet also contends with the growing attentions both from a local butcher and from Vermeer’s patron, the wealthy van Ruijven. And she has to find her way through this new and strange life outside the loving Protestant family she grew up in, now fragmented by accident and death.

As Griet becomes part of her master’s work, their growing intimacy spreads disruption and jealousy within the ordered household and even – as the scandal seeps out – ripples in the world beyond.

Things I liked about this book:

Reading about art has always fascinated me . Though it is  historical fiction set in the 17 th century  ,author has done full justice to Vermeer , his muse and his painting. I loved the way the story of the ‘girl’ was woven in to Vermeer’s life.

Griet , is a very sensitive person who gets pulled into Vermeer’s life and art  when he decides that she is going to be the subject of his painting. But as eccentric and self involved as artists can be , Vermeer does not realise that choosing this girl can lead to a upheaval in her already difficult life in his house dominated by his wife Cornelia and his tyrannical  mother in law who have no respect for servants .  As the book is from Griet’s point of view , we get to see the social stratification of the period , the prejudices based on religious beliefs  interwoven into the tale of one of Vermeer’s most famous painting.

Griet’s narration holds you from the first line and it does not stop being interesting at any point. Some really good description of the Dutch life  and Vermeer’s painting style makes it a must read book  for all art lovers.

A well researched and a well written book. Highly recommended.

Things I disliked about the book : None

On my rating scale : 4.5 out of 5

Challenges for which the book is listed : Centuries Challenge 2009

Source : Personal Copy

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Book: Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

Category : Historical Fiction

Protagonists : Nefertiti and Mutnodjmet (Mutny)

Summary of the book : from Good Reads

The sweeping story of a powerful Egyptian family, Nefertiti: A Novel tells the tale of two sisters, the first of whom is destined to rule as one of history’s most fascinating queens.

Beautiful Nefertiti and her sister, Mutnodjmet, have been raised far from the court of their aunt, the Queen of Egypt. But when the Pharaoh of Egypt dies, their father’s power play makes Nefertiti wife to the new and impetuous king. It is hoped she will temper King Amunhotep’s desire to overturn Egypt’s religion, but the ambitious Nefertiti encourages Amunhotep’s outrageous plans instead, winning the adoration of the people while making powerful enemies at court. Younger yet more prudent, Mutnodjmet is her sister’s sole confidant, and only she knows to what lengths Nefertiti will go for a child to replace the son of Amunhotep’s first wife.

As King Amunhotep’s commands become more extravagant, he and Nefertiti ostracize the army, clergy, and Egypt’s most powerful allies. Then, when Mutnodjmet begins a dangerous affair with a general, she sees how tenuous her situation is at her own sister’s court. An epic story that resurrects ancient Egypt in vivid detail, Nefertiti: A Novel:

Things I liked about this book:

Michelle Moran’s imaginative narrative is the best  part of the book. It is also good that she choses Mutny and not Nefertiti herself to tell the tale. As a silent onlooker of the troubled times of Egypt she is  very believable character and a vivid describer of events that unfold.

Secondly , the sisters characters are very well written. The sharp contrast among them is the highlight of the book. One wants immortal fame , power , supremacy while all the younger one needs  is a quite life and someone to love.  The Other Boleyn Girl do I hearing you saying that? 🙂  If you liked that one you will love Nefertiti.

Thirdly , in a book with such strong female presence Moran hasn’t forgotten to give us an insight into the mind of the Pharoah Amunhotep. We see a monarch with complex mental make up in matters of state as well as his family.

Things I disliked about the book : None

On my rating scale : 5 out of 5

I have read selected books in Historical Fiction genre and I know if there one author whom I would like to read again ,it would be Michelle Moran. I have her other book The Heretic Queen on hold in the library.

Challenges for which the book is listed : None

Source : Personal Copy