This novel about idealism and its attendant disappointments begins in the fifth century B.C.E., when a scholarly writer named Manlius devoted his life to upholding the ideals of civilization against creeping barbarism--a resolve that includes armed force. The story continues into the 14th century, during the time of the Black Plague, when an agent seeking out ancient manuscripts for Pope Clement VI (of the Avignon Papacy) comes across Manlius's Neoplatonist manuscript ("The Dream of Scipio"), and inspired by his own high ideals tries to circumvent another plague, that of anti-Semitism. Finally, a historian in occupied France during World War II who has studied Manlius's manuscript is forced to work as a censor for the Germans. Each of these three sections also includes a love story, and each is a subtle illustration of Plato's ideas about harmony and order.
An ancient manuscript called "The Dream of Scipio" that explores timeless philosophical questions links three separate centuries--the fifth, the end of the Roman Empire; the fourteenth, the time of the Black Death; and the twentieth during World War II--and three stories of love, all set in Provence. Reprint.
"[A] brilliantly constructed historical novel....This imposingly intricate novel begins slowly, makes heavy demands on the reader, and rises to a stunningly dramatic crescendo. Pears has leapt to a new level, creating a novel of ideas even more suspenseful and revelatory than his justly acclaimed mysteries." Kirkus Reviews (05/01/2002)
"The details and decor are wonderful, but what Evelyn Waugh would have called the architecture is all wrong....The structural weakness is compensated for by the beautiful writing, its unforced elegance and clarity, and its wry wit; by an imagination that ranges comfortably across fifteen centuries of European history; and by a judicious sprinkling of erudition....It is a testament to Iain Pears's seductive intelligence that the novel remains a thought-provoking meditation on transience and human fragility, even if not a compelling story." Literary Review - Christopher Hart (07/01/2002)