Historical Fiction in the Middle East

Dreamers of the Day

By Mary Doria Russell

Published 2008

Read July 2017

I saw this book on display in my local library.  I previously had read Russell’s first two novels,  The Sparrow and Children of God so picked this up to see what it was about.  She has an engaging starting line “My little story has become your history.  You won’t really understand your times until you understand mine.” As I have been doing a little studying of Churchill this summer and since understanding a bit about the origins of the modern political geography, I checked out this historical fiction book to see what it would reveal.

The story is told by a spinster schoolteacher from Ohio.  She loses to the Great Influenza of 1919 her entire family, including sister and brother-in-law who had done missionary work in Cario, Egypt, and long-widowed and domineering mother who left her a small inheritance.   Agnes decides to these funds to book passage to Egypt in 1921 and walk where her sister and brother-in-law had walked.  She booked a room at the Semiramis Hotel in Cairo, conveniently at the same time the “Cairo Conference” was to be held at that hotel.  While being denied her reservation there as they would not accept her pet dachshund as a guest she begins her encounters with Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell, who were important figures at this Middle East Conference called by young Churchill to discuss the Middle East problems of the time, as well as a fictional German spy who befriends Agnes and takes care of her dog while she enjoys her interesting times with the historical figures he’s interested it tracking a bit.

Russell does a nice job of balancing the historical figures and fictional characters.   Agnes’ sister’s connections get Agnes into various actual scenes with the historical figures including Winston Churchill’s painting the pyramids and the demonstration that met Churchill and the delegation when it arrived in Jerusalem, which  T.E . Lawrence quells.  Russell has done her homework on the conference well and gives some information about the outcome of the conference, which set into motion creation of Iraq, the eventual creation of a Jewish state, and lots of turmoil that continues until today.  There is enough information about this to whet the appetite for more reading of the history.   Russell maintains nice focus on her fictional character, Agnes, and the story of her journey to become her own woman, no longer under the domineering influence of her mother and pulls off this story in an interesting and reasonably believable manner.





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