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Three narratives, set in the fifth, fourteenth, and twentieth centuries, all revolving around an ancient text and each with a love story at its centre, are the elements of this brilliantly ingenious novel, a follow-up to the international bestseller An Instance of the Fingerpost. Now Ian Pears returns with a greatly anticipated novel, so expertly imagined and perfectly constructed the author himself describes it as “a complexity.” The centuries are the 5th (the final days of the Roman Empire); the 14th (the years of the Plague — the Black Death); and the 20th (World War II). The setting for each is the same — Provence — and each has at its heart a love story. The narratives intertwine seamlessly, and what joins them thematically is an ancient text — “The Dream of Scipio” — a work of neo-Platonism that poses timeless philosophical questions. What is the obligation of the individual in a society under siege? What is the role of learning when civilization itself is threatened, whether by acts of man or nature? Does virtue lie more in engagement or in neutrality? “Power without wisdom is tyranny; wisdom without power is pointless,” warns one of Pears’s characters. The Dream of Scipio is a bona fide novel of ideas, a dazzling feat of storytelling, fiction for our times.
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