~by Mary Doria Russell
Dreamers of the Day is the second book I have received through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program. I was extraordinarily excited to see Mary Doria Russell's newest work being offered by Random House, and was even more excited to be chosen to receive and review an advance reader's edition. Russell is one of my favorite authors; she is also a wonderful person and (at least from my experience) always responds to fan mail. And I'll finally get a chance to meet her in person on this book tour!
Agnes Shanklin is a forty or so school teacher from Cleveland, Ohio in the late 1910s. When her family dies from the Great Influenza, she finds herself an heiress of sorts. After recovering from the illness herself, and with a new-found freedom from her manipulative and overbearing mother (although, not from her memory), she begins life anew--transforming herself from a timid, self-deprecating old maid to a stylish, sophisticated and confident woman. As part of this metamorphosis she plans a trip to the Holy Land and Egypt. There she meets such luminaries as T. E. Lawrence (more commonly known as Lawrence of Arabia), Lady Gertrude Bell, and Winston Churchill when he was serving as the Secretary of State for Air as well as for the Colonies. In addition to being privileged to see the Cairo Conference from behind the scenes, she also discovers more about herself, and a bit of romance, during her travels.
Dreamers of the Day seems to be much lighter reading than her previous work, even when the subjects it is dealing with are quite substantial (the beginnings of the modern Middle East, for example). I did particularly appreciate her acknowledgments where she discusses some of the materials that were particularly useful to her when researching this book. I certainly learned some history while reading the book, and am interested in learning more about certain aspects of the story, although Russell does hit the reader with some pretty heavy-handed (and not at all masked) political opinions, especially at the end. Overall however, Agnes made a delightful narrator. While the novel might not have had as much depth as I had expected, the story-telling and the story itself was still enjoyable to read.