Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell
A Novel

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Synopsis

“I suppose I ought to warn you at the outset that my present circumstances are puzzling, even to me. Nevertheless, I am sure of this much: My little story has become your history. You won’t really understand your times until you understand mine.”

So begins the account of Agnes Shanklin, the charmingly diffident narrator of Mary Doria Russell’s compelling new novel, Dreamers of the Day. And what is Miss Shanklin’s “little story?” Nothing less than the creation of the modern Middle East at the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference, where Winston Churchill, T. E. Lawrence, and Lady Gertrude Bell met to decide the fate of the Arab world–and of our own.

A forty-year-old schoolteacher from Ohio still reeling from the tragedies of the Great War and the influenza epidemic, Agnes has come into a modest inheritance that allows her to take the trip of a lifetime to Egypt and the Holy Land. Arriving at the Semiramis Hotel just as the Peace Conference convenes, Agnes, with her plainspoken American opinions–and a small, noisy dachshund named Rosie–enters into the company of the historic luminaries who will, in the space of a few days at a hotel in Cairo, invent the nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan.

Neither a pawn nor a participant at the conference, Agnes is ostensibly insignificant, and that makes her a welcome sounding board for Churchill, Lawrence, and Bell. It also makes her unexpectedly attractive to the charismatic German spy Karl Weilbacher. As Agnes observes the tumultuous inner workings of nation-building, she is drawn more and more deeply into geopolitical intrigue and toward a personal awakening.

With prose as graceful and effortless as a seductive float down the Nile, Mary Doria Russell illuminates the long, rich history of the Middle East with a story that brilliantly elucidates today’s headlines. As enlightening as it is entertaining, Dreamers of the Day is a memorable, passionate, gorgeously written novel.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Mary Doria Russell

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Mary Doria Russell received her B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Illinois-Urbana, her M.A. in Social Anthropology from Northeastern University, and her Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. In the process of earning her degrees, Russell studied linguistics, genetics, anatomy, archaeology, and geology-all of which have found their way into her critically acclaimed debut novel. Prior to The Sparrow, Russell had only written scientific articles-on subjects ranging from bone biology to cannibalism-and technical manuals for medical equipment as complex as nuclear magnetic resonance scanners. In her own words, she admits, "I had a great time, published a lot of stuff, won a bunch of awards and grants, but eventually got fed up with academia and quit." Making the transition from scientific and technical writing to fiction wasn't easy. Russell estimates, however, that "only about twenty-two anthropologists, world-wide, read my academic publications and nobody reads computer manuals, so I figured that if even just my friends read my novel, I'd be way ahead in terms of readership because I have a lot of friends." A recent convert to Judaism, Russell has nevertheless maintained a strong connection with the Catholic education of her childhood. Asked why she created such a detailed look at faith in a higher power and religion in her debut novel, Russell explains, "I wanted to evaluate, as an adult, issues that had lain dormant for me since adolescence, to study the religion of my youth, to revisit the source of my values and ethics. That's why I chose to write about men who are collectively among the most admirable and best educated of Catholic priests, the Jesuits. Writing The Sparrow allowed me to weigh the risks and the benefits of a belief in God, to examine the role of religion in the lives of many people." Mary Doria Russell lives in Cleveland, Ohio, ("and likes it very much, thank you") with her husband, Don, and their son, Daniel. She is currently working on the sequel to The Sparrow, titled Children of God.
 
Published March 11, 2008 by Random House. 274 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Dreamers of the Day

Kirkus Reviews

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Russell triumphs on many levels: She crafts a solid interpretation of the event, creates in Agnes an engaging narrator and, in no small sense, offers a fine piece of travel writing as we follow Agnes down the Nile.

Jan 01 2008 | Read Full Review of Dreamers of the Day: A Novel

BC Books

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A fictional journey of self-discovery takes the reader inside the origins of modern Middle East.

Feb 22 2008 | Read Full Review of Dreamers of the Day: A Novel

BC Books

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(In fact, the title of the book comes from a passage in Lawrence's own Seven Pillars of Wisdom.) In the most significant of several timely coincidences, Lawrence was friends with Shanklin's sister.

Feb 22 2008 | Read Full Review of Dreamers of the Day: A Novel

Book Reporter

Lawrence ---.

Jan 21 2011 | Read Full Review of Dreamers of the Day: A Novel

The Bookbag

Summary: Agnes and her dog walk into the Cairo conference of 1921 which divided up the Middle East.

Oct 24 2009 | Read Full Review of Dreamers of the Day: A Novel

USA Today

But Russell's story of the 1921 Cairo Conference, during which Britain carved out the modern Middle East and sowed the seeds for decades of strife works less as a political primer and more as a travelogue of a bygone Egypt.

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Pajiba

I suppose if you’ve been raised in the cult of Winston Churchill, you might be a little uncomfortable with this vision of Churchill (greedy, selfish, paternalistic and unconcerned with the desires of the population whose fate he held in his hand), but I think an objective glance at what Churchill...

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Daily Kos

" - Doug Stanhope.

Jul 15 2009 | Read Full Review of Dreamers of the Day: A Novel

Bookmarks Magazine

Arriving at the Semiramis Hotel just as the Peace Conference convenes, Agnes, with her plainspoken American opinions–and a small, noisy dachshund named Rosie–enters into the company of the historic luminaries who will, in the space of a few days at a hotel in Cairo, invent the nations of Iraq, Sy...

Apr 10 2008 | Read Full Review of Dreamers of the Day: A Novel

Strange Horizons

Agnes's times are not for us to live in—they are for us to watch (as, later, our times are for her), and to read Dreamers of the Day is to take part in a game of knowingness with Agnes and her author: they know we know they know we know, and so on.

Jul 09 2008 | Read Full Review of Dreamers of the Day: A Novel

Marie Claire

There was never any real intimacy.YAEL: Well, guys, she was a 40-year-old virgin - the woman probably would've fallen in love with anybody who'd given her attention!

Dec 05 2008 | Read Full Review of Dreamers of the Day: A Novel

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