I recently reviewed Hannah Kent's debut novel, Burial Rites, on Goodreads. I was delighted to discover that my rather brief review was chosen as the top review of Kent's book by Newsweek in connection with their promotion of the finalists in the historical fiction category of the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2013. This young Australian author's writing is superb and I wish her luck in the competition. I'm also pleased to see that another author from the Antipodes is represented in the top ten as Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries is also nominated. Make sure you register your vote as well by visiting Goodreads. I guess you know who has my vote!
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is a stunning debut novel. Here's hoping Hannah Kent has other tales to tell. Her language is lyrical and the character of Agnes is complex and poignant. In a way, there is a cruelty in how Kent draws the reader into Agnes' soul when one knows the inevitable heartbreak that lies in store for her. The other characters' gradual affection for the doomed woman is also cleverly evoked. At first I found the interpolation of official records to be distracting but ultimately I found myself returning to them to fully understand the attitudes of the time. We may never really know what Agnes Magnusdottir was like, or whether she was complicit in the murders, but Kent is to be lauded for this beautiful rendering of a woman whose life was beleaguered from childhood and had to survive the cold, harsh world of Iceland's landscape, prejudices and law.
View all my reviews
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Sunday, October 20, 2013
The wonderful MK Tod from A Writer of History blog conducted a survey of historical fiction readers last year to ascertain just what readers exactly love about this genre. The survey uncovered insights about those who read historical fiction and those who do not - demographics, story preferences, favourite time periods, reasons for reading or not reading this genre, top authors, the different perspectives of men and women, sources of recommendations and so on. Here are some of the highlights of the 2012 survey.
The 2013 survey will augment these results with a broader focus on reading habits as well as social media’s role in enhancing the reading experience. Survey questions were developed in collaboration with Richard Lee, Founder of the Historical Novel Society.
Whether you read historical fiction or not, please take a few minutes to complete the survey. To add to the robustness of data collected, please pass the survey URL along to men and women of all ages and in any part of the world you can reach!
Aussie readers were only a small segment of responders last time so, all my compatriots, here's your chance to have your say :) I know Mary and Richard would be delighted to hear your opinion.
Click here to access the survey. Have fun!
Posted by Elisabeth Storrs at 10:28 PM
Monday, September 23, 2013
There is a tale told by Herodatus, the famous Greek historian, about a wily prince called Tyrrhenus who saved his people by encouraging gambling. The story goes like this. Once in the land of Lydia there came a time when the harvest could no longer fill the bellies of all. So the king cast half his subjects, led by his son Tyrrhenus, adrift upon the sea to find another realm or perish. The prince landed safely in Italy, but until crops could be sown and reaped the first survivors had to scrounge for food and shiver through winter. Yet not one person died. For Tyrrhenus commanded that half the people take it in turns to eat the supplies they had brought with them while the other half gambled until spring arrived. Thereafter he called his people the Tyrrhenians.
Greeks like Herodatus called these people Tyrrhenians but we know them today as the Etruscans. The land in which they settled was known as Etruria and was primarily located in the areas of Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany. However the Etruscan’s influence spread across Italy, north to the Po River and south to Campania.
The Etruscans features were very distinctive; their straight noses and almond shaped eyes distinguished them from other peoples living in Italy at the time. Their language and script was also markedly different. As a result, their origins have long been debated. Was Herodatus speaking the truth when he said the Etruscans came from Lydia? Or were they simply a people who were native to Italy?
Some modern historians contend the Etruscans were indigenous as did another ancient Greek historian, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who lived in imperial Roman times. And Livy, a Roman historian who lived in the Augustan age, believed the Etruscans came to Italy from the north, over the Alps. Some current day archaeologists give credence to Herodatus’ claim that the Etruscans migrated from Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) because he lived in the C5th BCE and had contemporary knowledge compared to Dionysius and Livy.
It is no wonder, then, that the Etruscans have been dubbed ‘mysterious.’ But where did they come from? Perhaps all three options are useful when researching the ethnicity of these people. Evidence from the Bronze Age (3300-1200 BCE) established their presence in Italy. By the end of the Iron Age (1200-550 BCE) their culture had flourished to such an extent they controlled a trading empire extending from France and the Black Sea throughout the Mediterranean, Near East and Egypt. Indeed, their sculpture, artwork, decorative furniture, gilded artefacts and jewellery were all heavily reminiscent of Assyrian and Phoenician culture. Consequently it appears Etruscan society could have been based on an existing Italian culture which was further developed with waves of migration over a considerable period of time.
What about genetic testing? Attempts have been made to establish ethnicity through DNA sampling. The result? Inconclusive. A sample taken from the bones found in tombs revealed affinities with European populations whereas genetic material taken from modern day Tuscan descendants shows Near Eastern markers.
And what do the Etruscans themselves say? For many years their language was considered indecipherable but the discovery of three thinly beaten sheets of gold known as the Pyrgi Tablets advanced efforts to decode Etruscan writing. The sheets were engraved with a dedication to the goddess Astarte in both Etruscan and Phoenician script. This bilingual text assisted archaeologists to decipher the Etruscan language just as the Rosetta Stone unlocked the mystery of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Unfortunately, though, understanding their words has not helped. Very little Etruscan literature remains other than inscriptions and the remnants of ritual texts. There are no works by Etruscan historians, poets or writers for us to translate. Instead we are left with the commentary of their victors, the Romans and Greeks.
Whoever the Etruscans were, one thing is certain – their culture fascinates me and has held my attention for over fifteen years of research. They afforded independence, education and sexual freedom to their women. And their religion developed the art of divination to a science. This liberal, mystical and cosmopolitan society inspired me to write the Tales of Ancient Rome series which chronicles the events of a ten year conflict between Republican Rome and Veii, a city described as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Etruscan world. It is the tale of two lovers who are blamed for starting a war, and the journey of three women to survive a siege.
This essay was first published as a guest post at HFeBooks.