Historical Fiction


Squeezing in another novel before the year ends…

Author :  Arlene J. Chai

Date of  First Publication :   1995 (Hardcover)

Publisher of First Edition :  Random House Australia Pty Ltd.

This Edition’s Publication Date :  2008

ISBN : 978-0-345-50958-1

No. of pages : 350

The Story :

Caridad gets a cryptic letter from her mother in the Philippines, asking her to come home.  Since her mother never writes,  a worried Caridad rushes home to Manila.  As soon as she arrives, her mother bluntly reveals a lifelong secret that forces Caridad to come to know herself and her family.  And as she listens to the stories reliving the painful period of the Second World War in the Philippines, she is taken into a tale of family love, strength, human frailty, hope and forgiveness.

The Review :

Arlene J. Chai is a Filipino, born and raised in Manila; thus this novel is refreshingly very Filipino.  It is set in Manila and told from the perspective of a Filipino-Chinese family.  It isn’t often that  I get to read an internationally distributed book by a Filipino author so I was pleasantly surprised to be immersed in a well written fiction in the league of many good bestsellers.

Chai writes very simply, fluidly but with enough sensuousness to create a clearly palpable Philippines in the throes of World War II.  The vivid historical details provide a great backdrop and interest to the otherwise simple plot.  But, the best feature of this book is the author’s choice of telling the story with the voices of four principal women characters.  As each narrate their own side of the story, each character infuses her own perspectives, feelings, and humanity in slow layers that deliciously build the novel’s depth and richness.

Aside from events in Manila during the war, the story also takes the readers through a bit of contemporary Philippine history with mention of tidbits from the People’s Power Revolution, the Marcos’ regime, and the Aquino assassination.

The author also treats us to a lot of insights into the Filipino’s complex family life, psyche, and culture, along with a better understanding of  the  multi-faceted Filipino society which owes its character to social class factions subdivided further along racial lines.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Filipino readers will be happy to relate to a story along familiar contexts, nuances, and events.  However, this book’s appeal  sets no racial boundaries. This is first and foremost a story about familial love and relationships which do not differ among race, social status, or creed; hence, this book’s international success.  Anyone can relate to the story; one just gets the added bonus of learning much more about Filipino life.

My Mark :  Outstanding

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Christmas is almost right around the corner.  With the rush beginning to build, I felt it was good to touch base with Christmas’ origins — the story behind our gilt laden trees, the frenetic shopping, carols, and festively wrapped presents.  Should the Season start to get overwhelming, the story will be with me to sustain my perspective of joy and thanksgiving.

Author :  Angela Hunt

Publication Date :  October 25, 2006

Publisher :   Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

ISBN-10: 1414314620

ISBN-13: 978-1414314624

No. of pages:  224

The Story :

A young virgin, Mary, betrothed according to Jewish customs to a carpenter, Joseph, is blessed by the appearance of Angel Gabriel who tells her some extraordinary news.  She is chosen to bear the Messiah, the Son of God who shall be conceived by the Holy Ghost.  Mary accepts God’s will without question.  But, now she is faced with a dilemma: how to convince  Joseph and her family of this divine conception?

With understandable doubts and disappointment threatening to break his betrothal, Joseph is visited by an angel who tells him of God’s will for Mary.  Joseph embraces this revelation and takes her to wife unconditionally.  Despite the sardonic regard and the barely concealed distaste of the Jewish community for what it considers a blatant disregard of morals,  Joseph and Mary carve a life for themselves with a great and also anxious anticipation of the Miracle soon to be born to them.

As it was the time of Caesar Augustus, a Roman edict for a census was passed which forced everyone to travel to their place of birth.  Joseph had  no choice but to take Mary, who was close to her time, on a long, perilous journey to Bethlehem.

The couple arrived in Bethlehem at nightfall to find no accomodations available.   Because of the edict, every home and inn in Bethlehem were full to the rafters of travelers.   By this time, Mary was going into labor and Joseph had to find a place.  They were directed to the only space available, a holding pen for animals.  So, the couple settled there for the the Birth of the Messiah.  And the rest is Biblical history…

The Review :

Angela Hunt treats us to a more vibrant retelling of the otherwise bland Biblical rendition of the Birth of Christ.  This is a novelization of the movie of the same title by Mike Rich.

Hunt tries to recreate the Jewish lifestyle under Roman rule in the first century.  We read about the helplessness of Jews under Roman law and under their own  corrupt government, the stringent social rules governing male and female roles and behavior, the perils of travel in ancient times, and the wonderment of spiritual appearances that had to do perhaps with people’s total God-centric lives then (a life alien to most modern lifestyles).

The focus of this book is Mary and Joseph (whose contribution is often overlooked), as a couple who had to face social distancing from their community which considered an unmarried woman’s pregnancy as taboo, the gravity of which was perhaps akin to adultery.  The fact that Joseph was willing to wed Mary despite her condition only made them marginally socially tolerable to their Jewish community.

It is refreshing to know that a usually Biblically downplayed or  often ignored person such as Joseph is wonderfully characterized and given importance here.  He is depicted as a staunch, reliable, faithful, strong and patient man whose love for Mary is quite touching.  Hunt’s portrayal of Joseph will endear him to readers who will come to be more aware of the sacrifices this saint had to undergo as Jesus’ stepfather.

Hunt’s Mary is not the doormat she may be perceived to be.  Although always pure and good, she is courageous and has a stubborn streak in this book that serves her well when she needs to be firm about going away to visit her cousin Elizabeth or going through the rough journey to Bethlehem.  She is quiet and docile but  definitely not spineless, no siree!

Hunt’s writing style is simple, actually on the average, mundane level which however, makes for very fast, easy reading.  There isn’t any flair to her style but the book is still well-written and enjoyable.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Read the book, why not?  For Christians, it  will give you a better appreciation of the Christmas celebration. Although the personalities of the characters are enhanced, they all still remain true to their core characterizations in the Bible.

If you’re a non-Christian, this story will be another interesting one to add to your knowledge should you have a curiosity on the beginnings of  interesting Christmas symbols and traditions  like gift-giving, the star on the tree, the Christmas tree itself (which I think represents the triangular rays of the Star of Bethlehem shining down on Christ’s birthplace–hence the ubiquitous decorative star topper), etc.   You may or may not believe in the story; nonetheless, it is still a good story about great things starting from humble beginnings.

In A Nutshell :

The Nativity Story by Angela Hunt adds a new and delightful dimension to the famous Biblical First Christmas.  It does pique an interest in the movie as well.  But most importantly, this book will bring the essence of Christmas closer to our hearts.

As the author has succeeded in accomplishing this purpose, despite an ordinary, simplistic style, I give :

My Mark  :  Outstanding!

Finally, my last book for the Fall Into Reading Challenge 2009.  I made very good time despite adding two more books to the list.  But early as it is, I’ll have to wrap up as the Holidays draw near and my chances to read more books decrease as things are starting to get hectic.

I’ve wet my feet in breadmaking and I’m experimenting on perfecting scrumptious cinnamon rolls and ensaimadas (Filipino brioche) for gift-giving.    As I’ve never baked anything except for the occasional brownies, I forsee myself ambitiously wrestling with bread recipes, baking my day away, and snatching up my book only in between rising times.  So, let’s see how many more reviews I can dish out.

This book was a great finale to the challenge, albeit  a dark and brooding one.

Author :  Tobsha Learner

Publication Date :  January 2, 2007  (Mass Market Paperback)

Publisher :  Tor Books

ISBN-10: 0765350467

ISBN-13: 978-0765350466

No. of pages :  480

The Story :

Ruth bas Elazar Saul is daughter of the chief rabbi of the Jewish quarter of Cologne and a very good midwife with very unconventional methods.  Her  advanced  midwifery skills coupled with her studies in Kabbalah, taints Ruth’s reputation with suspicions of witchcraft in an era paranoid about heretics and devil worshippers.

She becomes the unfortunate target of the malevolent obsession of a Spanish friar and head of the Inquisition to Cologne.  Solitario takes his vengeance on an unknowing Ruth simply because she is the daughter of the woman who had jilted him and shredded his pride many years back.  Ruth is tried for witchcraft; but in the process gains the interest of the cleric, Detlef  von Tennen, cousin and close aide to the Archbishop of Cologne.

Detlef falls madly in love with Ruth and does everything in his power to avert her fate.  He succeeds and both start a love affair that in its time,  was unforgivable to both Jews and Catholics alike.  Amid this difficult union, Ruth and Detlef must struggle to live in a dangerous century at war with new philosophies threatening to overthrow its established beliefs, power and social structures.

The Review :

The book opens with “a woman writhing in labor”  which gave me the correct impression that I’d have a toe curling time with this one.

Learner is  an intense,  graphic writer who writes with a sensuality that is both raw and elegant.  Her torture scenes feel  horrendously realistic ; her descriptions of everyday life and her characterizations are rich and intimate, full of vivid details of seventeenth century Cologne, its lifestyle, its predominant psyche, and its prevailing social and religious atmosphere.

This novel is first and foremost a microcosmic representation of  a Europe inexorably marching toward the Age of Enlightenment, torn at one end by traditional society clinging tenaciously and fearfully to established institutions of power, thoughts, and morals and on the other, by radical philosophies and emerging new acceptances by free thinkers or the libertines of that time.

Solitario, the Spanish  Inquisitor, is the embodiment of the 17th century Roman Catholic Church, an institution reacting dangerously to threats to  its centuries-old European dominance by the emergence of new thoughts, values, mores and the new Protestant religion.  He is obsessed about bringing onto the Inquisition table  the Jewess, Ruth, and the breakaway cleric, Detlef, both of whom represent radical opposition to the faith which have begun to erode the Church’s right to absolute power.

Stories like these make me glad I was born in the 20th century, where we have education, modern conveniences, good medical knowledge and practices, and in most parts of the world, respect and freedom for all sorts of religions and ideas.  Imagine living in fear of torture and death because your ideas are heretically opposed to the prevailing beliefs of a Church which hold both  secular and spiritual domains in its grip.

It was also interesting for me to find out that Judaism has its own brand of occultism.  It has its own demons, grimoire, incantations, spells, and talismans.  The Kabbalah is practiced by a certain Jewish sect which does not find ready acceptance in the general Jewish populace; but nevertheless is a recognized albeit esoteric branch of the Jewish religion.

To Read Or Not To Read :

I have read reviews that slam this book for its love angle and gratuitous sex (which I didn’t find unwarranted at all).  The romance here is simply a support angle to the overall story of the book and is not the author’s point at all.  So if you are looking for a nice historical romance,  pass this up; this novel would be way out in left field.

However,  if you just want a well written story with a good historical background, The Witch of Cologne will be just the thing.  Although, be prepared for a very dark and somber tone (well matched with the era) throughout its entirety and for a substantial amount of graphic elements assiduously detailed in this book.

In A Nutshell :

Learner’s unconventional writing style marries quite well with her  objective of presenting a glimpse of medieval Europe in the cusp of social change, a dark and fearful transition for many,  when institutions of power, both political and religious, clawed desperately to maintain the status quo.  The story poses intelligent questions, some of which must have influenced how modern Europe evolved.

Don’t let the suggestive cover fool you into thinking this book is a shallow, sleazy read.  The book has the complexity and depth that makes it interesting and well worth your while — a perfect example  to heed the the adage:   “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

My Mark  :  Outstanding



This should be the last book in my list for the Fall Into Reading Challenge 2009.  I’ve finished the challenge but it’s a whole month earlier than the deadline, December 20.  So, I’ve decided to stretch my list.  See my additions here.

Author :  Anya Seton

Date of First Publication  :  1965

First Publisher :  Hodder and Stoughton

This Edition’s Publication Date :  May 1, 2006

This Edition’s Publisher :  Chicago Review Press

ISBN-10: 1556526008

ISBN-13: 978-1556526008

No. of pages :  448

The Story :

A young noble, Rumon, makes his way to England in his quest for Avalon when he is thrown into Merewyn’s way and through a deathbed promise  is forced to take responsibility for her.   Merewyn has been brought up to believe she is a descendant of the legendary King Arthur; but Rumon knows the truth of her barbaric and pagan bloodline.

In the course of their lives in England, Merewyn falls in love with him; but Rumon is oblivious as he gives his heart and soul to the beautiful Queen Alfrida.  After  his ill-fated affair with her, he slowly comes to love Merewyn as well.  But his love, just as hers before,  is thwarted by events.  And thus spins the saga of their love through their lives.

The Review :

There is something about old books and the way they are written that imbues them with  a charm all their own.  Avalon is such a book, first published in 1965.  I picked this up because the author, Anya Seton, was one I had admired after reading Katherine.

Both books showcase Seton’s style of romance which pits love against circumstance.  Her romance is more realistic and mature,  less involved with the fluff that makes for fairy tale finishes.  Love has to navigate through uncontrollable events life throws in the way.  Endings are poignant but not the totally happily-ever-after kind that rarely happens, if ever, in real life.   The feeling is satifsying, though,  in the sense that we get a better grip on how versatile and enduring true love can be.   In this particular novel, love for more than one person is possible although it exists in  different shades and gradations, dependent on character and chance.

Many readers  will enjoy the vivid backdrop of this story.  The 10th century comes alive with Seton’s characterization of real historical figures like Queen Alfrida, King Ethelred the Unready, Saint Dunstan, and with her accounts of how life was in a European era that saw Viking invasions and explorations.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Although not as good as “Katherine“, which was an outstanding read, “Avalon” is also a beautiful story in itself; but, it isn’t for every romance reader.  A mature reader would appreciate the emotions and the way the story unfolds rather than judge the characters’ likability quotient, as a younger reader would.  This is not a syrupy, shivery love story; but one that carries more depth as it plays out in the harsh circumstances of medieval life.

My Mark :  Very Good

A most appropriate read for my R.I.P. IV  Challenge and a great one for my and Fall Into Reading 2009 challenge.

Author :  Elizabeth Kostova

Date of First Publication :  June, 2005 (Hardcover)

Publisher of 1st Edition :  Little, Brown and Company

This Edition’s Publication Date :  January 2006 (Paperback)

This Edition’s Publisher : Back Bay Books

ISBN:  0-316-05788-6

No. of pages : 820  (Paperback)

The Story :

A young American girl stumbles upon an unusual book in her father’s library.  Its pages are empty except for a woodcut of a menacing dragon with the title, Drakulya, on it.  Along with it is a stash of old letters written by a her father’s favorite professor, Bartholomew Rossi, who mysteriously disappeared at the time when her father was still his student.

Her discovery reveals her family’s dark and dangerous quest for the continued existence of Vlad Tepes, the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula.  Slowly , drawn by her father’s accounts, she joins her family’s adventure of pursuing the undead through old letters and ancient texts, from libraries , aged monasteries and closed countries of Eastern Europe.

The Review :

You’ve got to be “in love at first read” with Elizabeth Kostova’s lush, vivid, elegant prose.  Her attention to detail is a constant that keeps the ambience of the book flowing, cloaking the reader with gothic creepiness that blends surprisingly well with romantic elements,  all throughout its eight hundred and so pages.  (By romantic elements I mean the sumptuous descriptions which enamor a reader to places, culture, people, etc. )  To read Kostova’s work is  to experience a story so intimately — you “see” the colorful pageantry of Byzantine culture, “taste”  delectable Turkish food, “smell” the smell of the undead, “feel” the anguish of the tortured.

If she fails to capture your interest in her first one or two hundred pages, chances are you simply cannot love this.  It’s one of those books that will either mesmerize you with its sensual vividness and alluring writing or because of these very qualities, tire you with its ponderous pace and lengthy minutiae.

For me, however, it is exactly Kostova’s way with language and her meticulous manner that are the charms of this novel.  It makes me wish I could absorb Kostova’s prose into my very pores in the hopes I would be able to write as eloquently and as gorgeously as she can.  Aside from being able to string words  so marvelously, she can switch the narrative perspective between a number of characters so effortlessly that the reader is hardly left wondering who is telling the story at certain points.

As a gothic novel, The Historian is superb.  It’s got all those dark elements, creepy atmosphere, but tempered so that it just falls short of being a horror novel.  The story moves like a slow crescendo,  building up bit by bit to a startling peak that gently tapers out toward the end. With all that, the reader is treated also to a well-researched history of Dracula, which makes reading all the more interesting.

In A Nutshell :

A horror novel, The Historian is not.  It may raise a few hairs, make your spine tingle, give you little shivers but it stops short of being truly terrifying.  It wasn’t written to be really such.  Yes, a chiller; but one laden with a lot more history and mystery than visceral terror.

This is a thick, page-laden novel .  But length becomes no object when you have totally immersed yourself in it.

Those who take to the novel quite early are more likely to appreciate this gem.  On the whole, it is worth the time.  To echo  a fellow blogger, KyusiReader, The Historian is indeed a very, very satisfying read.

My Mark :  Excellent

I wanted a respite from the dark-themed books I had been reading for the R.I.P. IV Challenge. Something opposite these, I thought.  My eye settled on this religious fiction by Rebecca Kohn which had been  forever in my TBR pile.

Author :  Rebecca Kohn

Date of Publication : 2005

Publisher : Penguin Books (mass paperback)

ISBN-10: 0143035339

No. of pages :  384

The Story :

This is a story of how a young Jewish orphan, Esther, became Queen to one of the most powerful rulers of the ancient world, King Xerxes. But her story is unique because she goes down in Biblical history as one of those really rare heroines in the Old Testament who succeeded in saving her people from annihilation.

Hadassah, for her own survival, embraces the name Esther and becomes a closet Jew when she is abducted to serve in Xerxes’ harem as part of a crop of young virgins from which he would choose his new bride. (Xerxes had banished his beautiful but cruel wife, Queen Vashti, in a drunken pique for her refusal to appear before his party guests on his command.)

Esther comes to live in the harem, doing the best she can to get along with everyone.   She learns that in such an autocratic and hierarchical-sensitive environment,  the virtues of obedience, submissiveness,  generosity, respect of and deference to authority make life tolerable and endows her with the ability to influence others.

Upon her first presentation to the King,  Esther captivates him and in one night, makes a meteoric rise to Queen.

But her new life is threatened when Xerxes’ issues an edict calling all Jews to be annihilated, as per Haman’s, his corrupt chief advisor’s, whim. Haman is incensed that the Jew, Mordechai, the treasury official and in secret, Esther’s cousin, refuses obeisance to him, and so extends his wrath to all Jews.

Queen Esther is faced with a dangerous dilemma :   save her people by exposing her true lineage and forcing an uninvited audience with the King (an unsummoned presence before the King can earn one the death penalty) to plead for her people’s lives or keep mum about her Jewish parentage to save her own life and her position as Queen.

And so goes one of the most romantic stories in the Old Testament.

My Review :

The tale of Esther is a very powerful and moving story of courage and selflessness.  It is a tale of  a woman’s style of patriotism that necessitated giving up her life for one’s country/people.  It also has very significant religious points that reinforces the belief in (1) God’s existence;  (2) His constant vigil over His Chosen People and (3) His divine will and purpose for each person’s existence.

Rebecca Kohn  tries to capture this with by sticking quite closely to Esther’s story,  narrating it in her florid, romantic style  that makes her descriptions so rich and vibrant:

” The eunuch stopped before the door to the harem court.  On the doorjambs before me, a molded relief of the king fought a rearing lion monster with no more than a dagger in his bare hands….the eunuch rasped,…’You will live here in great comfort until your breasts sag and your sweet honeycomb shrivels…’….I looked at the eunuch , my eyes wide with terror…The lion monster on the doorjamb lunged for me.  I fled from the creature’s wide mouth and sharp claws into the harem court.”   — p.43

Her character, Esther, is a refreshingly different take on the ideal of a strong woman. Here, we see a girl who was strong without having the usual feminist aggressive, adventurous, stubborn, iron-willed character that a lot of writers favor to make their heroine so interesting.  Instead, Esther’s subservience and obedience coupled with her grace and feminine charms realistically favors her successful adaptation  to a masculinely dominated world where women’s subjugation are part of  its culture.   She succeeds without having to be obvertly defiant or wilful;  she simply does what she morally thinks is right in her own firm, quiet, patient way.

However, as a whole, the novel just didn’t quite make it to my standards for an outstanding rating.  Somehow, it just fell a little flat for reasons I cannot really define.  Perhaps, it was the ending which I felt wasn’t quite satisfactorily resolved and  rather anticlimactic at that.

In A Nutshell :

As a debut novel though, “The Gilded Chamber” is a good first effort.  I’ve taken to her writing style so that I’m not put off  from reading other novels Kohn may have churned out by now.    Moreover, for those looking for a fast read, this novel is it.   Aside from being a light read,  it’s got much more intellectual “meat” than say, a vampire or chick-lit novel;  so a good choice for that next beach read.

My Mark :  Very Good

My knowledge of this book came from reading a blogger’s take on the movie, “300“.  I do not recall the site anymore but I do recall the blogger’s disappointment in the movie’s distance from historical facts. (As per another blog, “300” was supposed to be based on some comic book  and was meant to be more of a visual treat rather than a factual account on the Battle of Thermopylae.)  This book is one he expressly recommended as one of the best fiction novels on that famous battle as the events and descriptions thereof are well-researched and hold true to history.

Author  :  Steven Pressfield

First Publication Date :  October 20, 1998

First Publisher   :  Doubleday

This Edition’s Publication Date :  September 1999

This Edition’s Publisher :  Bantam Books

No. of Pages :  460

ISBN : 0-553-58053-I

The Story :

After the Persian’s victory at the pass of Thermopylae, a Greek soldier is discovered as the sole survivor of that horrendous battle.  At King Xerxes’ command, the man, Xeones, is spared and nursed as much as could be done for a man with grievous wounds.  It is Xerxes’ desire to know his enemies  whose paltry numbers have decimated a staggering multitude in his army.  As much as his desire is so,  it is also the Greek’s urgent need to tell the story to immortalize the men who valorously held the pass against insurmountable odds.

He begins his discourse with his life’s story, from a homeless boy of a conquered city to a helot in service to a Spartan master.  Of  Sparta he describes its military way of life, where self-discipline and subordination of the needs of one for the many are paramount virtues.  Boys, as young as 12, are subjected to military training, a way of life that would make them into formidable warriors and therefore, real men, ready to defend their state for honor.  Battle training does not merely mean molding superb physiques and extraordinary fighting prowess.  There also exists the Spartan psychology of war in which battle philosophies are inculcated to create a strong foundation of selflessness and a state of mind that renounces fear in the face of death.  This has made Sparta’s military might superior to all as their battle readiness is a product of complete physical, mental, and emotional endurance.  Even Spartan women are physically fit  and stoically ready to give up husbands and sons to defend Sparta.

Under the huge threat of the Persian invasion, Sparta rallies other Greek states to counter this dangerous intention.  The Spartan king, Leonidas, selects 300 soldiers to march to Thermopylae to defend this narrow pass into Greece.  These 300, along with their Greek allies totals a handful 7,000 against 2,000,000 Persian enemies.

Xeones’ narrative breathes life into the personalities behind this historically famous “last stand” and earns for the Hellenes, in particular Sparta, the respect of the enemy who are awed by Greek determination to defend their country to the last man.

The Review :

Few books on war may ever enthrall one as much as “Gates of Fire“, Steven Pressfield’s brilliantly executed story on the Battle of Thermopylae.  The story is done with great mastery for depicting human nature, Spartan culture and psychology, and ancient Greek warfare and battle tactics.

Although war and the violence of  hand-to-hand combat may be alien to most of us, Pressfield makes the sights, smells, sounds, and emotional experiences of the fight so palpable, it intrudes the comfort of one’s reading chair.  One can feel the grit, the determination, the almost inhuman physical and mental endurance, and the nobility of it all.

The characterization is very good.   His ancient warriors do put a new dimension on the concept of  “real men”.   Aside from pure brawn and unimaginable stamina, they are able to transcend basic human nature in the face of insuperable odds.  One may be drawn to how humanly vulnerable the characters are to many weaknessees, like fear, the desire for self preservation, etc. and be filled with admiration for their ability to rise above themselves for the good of the many.

Pressfield’s writing has a poetic quality, rich in metaphors  and analogy, which greatly enhances the descriptive style of his work.

“…Instead each warrior’s lungs pumped only for breath; chests heaved like foundry bellows, sweat coursed into the ground in runnels, while the sound which arose from the throats of the contending masses was like nothing so much as a myriad quarrymen, each harnessed to the twined rope of the sled, groaning and straining to drag some massive stone across the resisting earth. ” — p. 297

What may please one more is that although “Gates of Fire” is a fictional novel,  it is , I believe, laboriously researched and therefore historically accurate.  The author’s knowledge of the battle and characters seem so intimate as to make one believe he had been there himself.  What also makes the book more special is the fact that it also deals with interesting Spartan psychology and philosophy of war:

“War not peace, produces virtue.  War, not peace, purges vice.  War, and the preparation for war, call forth all that is noble and honorable in a man.  It unites him with his brothers and binds them in a selfless love, eradicating in the crucible all which is base and ignoble.  There in the holy mill of murder the meanest of men may seek and find that part of himself, concealed beneath the corrupt, which shines forth brilliant and virtuous, worthy of honor before the gods.   Do not despise war….do not delude yourself that mercy and compassion are virtues superior to andreia, to manly valor.” — p.157

How does one conquer fear of death, the most primordial of terrors….Dogs in a pack find courage to take on a lion.  Each hound knows its place.  He fears the dog ranked above and feeds off the fear of the dog below.  Fear conquers fear.  This is how we Spartans do it, counterpoising to fear of death a greater fear:  that of dishonor.  Of exclusion from the pack.”  — p.265

“Habit will be your champion.  When you train the mind to think one way and one way only, when you refuse to allow it to think in another, that will produce great strength in battle. — p. 159

The excerpts above may appear verbose or too lofty for some when taken as is, but as part of the book it doesn’t seem so.  Steven Pressfield manages to balance his writing to create a wonderful reading experience of a novel — a  remarkably inspirational gem I think few of its genre can equal.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Definitely, a must read!  I must say this is one of the best “battle books”  I’ve ever come across.  It’s a testosterone-laden narrative full of blood, guts, muscle, and masculine stoicism;  yet it is poignant too for the tremendous sacrifice, honor, and virtues  all upheld in this story as well.

For budding ancient war enthusiasts, you will be thrilled by the accurate depiction of battle techniques, strategies, rigorous training methods and the unwavering mindset one must have to become truly Spartan.

Somehow it is hard to believe that men with such physical and mental endurance such as these Spartan warriors ever existed.  But the  mind-boggling part is that they did!  The human mind and body is actually capable of so much more than what we believe so.

Imagine tearing your hamstring (agonizing enough in itself)  and still getting up to fight, using tremendous leg power to push against a human enemy wall, pushing back in return, all the while carrying a spear and a massive oak and bronze shield.   This you should do without surrendering to pain and self-pity, for hours on end with hardly a respite for food and water.   Sounds ridiculously incredible?  Yet this could have been what a warrior must have endured to keep the phalanx intact:

“…I could see the warrior’s feet, at first churning in disarray for purchase on the blood and gore-beslimed earth, now settle into a unison, a grinding relentless cadence….With a heave, the warriors’ shield-side foot pressed forward, bows-on to the enemy;  now the shield-side foot planted at a ninety-degree angle, dug into  the mud; the arch sank as every stone of the man’s weight found purchase upon the insole, and, with left shoulder planted into the inner bowl of the shield whose broad outer surface was  pressed into the back of  the comrade before him, he summoned all force of tissue and tendon to surge and heave upon the beat.  Like ranked oarsmen straining upon the shaft of a single oar, the unified push of the men’s exertions propelled the ship of the phalanx forward into the tide of the enemy. “— pp. 296 – 297

Well, if such “supermen”  existed before, one may come to think :  how come we don’t make many of them anymore?  Tee Hee! 😉

As An Aside :

It is interesting to note  : “‘Gates of Fire‘ is on the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Reading list. It is taught at West Point and Annapolis and at the Marine Corps Basic School at Quantico.”  — Wikipedia

It has been floating around that this movie will be adapted to cinema.  However, this project is still in development with no particular date in sight.  Don’t be lazy though and wait for the movie.  Pick up this book;  it’ll be well worth your time.

In A Nutshell :

Steven Pressfield is now on my personal list of fave authors for “Gates Of Fire“, a very beautifully written graphical novel which showcases the author’s superior writing talent.    This is one of those books you can read again and again through the years.  Definitely a keeper and a treasure on my shelf.

My Mark :  Excellent;  Superb!

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