There have been very few serious modern American fiction writers who have successfully accomplished this feat -- that is, made novels about figures from the past, whether near or distant, who stay with us. It is a time when his powerful brothers and many brothers-in- arms still stood tall, and his dream of taking Rome and its tributaries and making the world an African possession still remained alive in his mind. Hannibal is a man apart, as Durham describes him, a military man showing "a clear conscience in the face of pain, torture, death This is the Hannibal whose campaigns we follow through Spain and across the Alps on that famous trek, with elephants and a huge army made up of Carthaginians, Libyans, Iberians and Gauls.
We go with him into Italy to the various battles -- on the lake at Trasimene and to the slaughter in one afternoon of 60, Roman soldiers at Cannae -- and all the way to the very gates of Rome, where, in a spectacular interface of cultures, bone whistles, hand rattles and African drums sounded in the ears of classical Europe.
And that all happens in just three-quarters of the story, which, because of the deft way Durham manages all of Hannibal's gargantuan military movements and how seriously he draws his main character, should be the envy of Oliver Stone, who spent millions of dollars failing to conjure even a fraction of the credibility in his embarrassing disaster "Alexander" that this gifted novelist creates throughout nearly pages. And it's not just Hannibal and his warrior family that Durham has given us; he has delivered some of the best battle scenes on the page since Michael Shaara's Civil War fiction.
His stage is broad and encompasses characters high and low, including several generations of Roman generals and politicians, North African kings and princes, foot soldiers and former slaves.
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And he can work effects as broad as some of those aforementioned battles and as intense and personal as the awkward correspondence between the great general and his illiterate wife back in Carthage. It took about 40 pages or so before I could feel at ease in the odd and unfamiliar time and setting of the Punic Wars. Flaubert tried it in "Salammbo" and made it arch. When a young American writer tries it you can only hold your breath and wish him well. But fairly soon I was breathing in concert with Durham's many characters and was immersed in his broad and measured scenes of war, in the spearing and hacking, the arrows flying, the elephants trumpeting and trampling, the gory and feverishly violent activity of ancient combat.
But even amid the savagery, some of the participants find a certain beauty. As when one of Hannibal's major opponents, the young Roman general Publius Scipio, finds himself at Cannae, where 90, Roman soldiers, soon to be reduced to only 30, living soldiers, are completely surrounded by Hannibal's lesser force in only a few hours.
As Durham tells it: "The late hours of the afternoon found him He had a notion that he would like to keep one of these tunics as a souvenir, a wall hanging to be viewed at leisure, a story to be read through close study. In David Anthony Durham's masterly rendering of antique Mediterranean -- and world -- history, that's exactly what we have, and a fine story it is. Shrewd and engaging, Durham brings humanity and great depth to one of the best historical novels of the decade! The brief prologue to David Durham's new novel inspires all the faith needed to march through the next pages.
We meet a reluctant young warrior whose division is laying siege to the city of Arbocala now Tordesillas, Spain in the 3rd century BC When the wall finally collapses, he mounts the rubble in time to take an arrow through his palm and get trampled by the soldiers following behind, but he survives. That evening, a humbly dressed officer enters the soldier's tent and commends his bravery with a lavish tribute. For one of ancient history's forgotten millions, it's a moment filled with awe. For us, it's an introduction to the benevolent side of the world's most formidable warrior: Hannibal.
Of course, the scene is pure speculation.
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What we do know about Hannibal is that he was born in Carthage, a vast power in northern Africa that challenged Rome's supremacy. Tradition has it that at 9, Hannibal swore to throw off Rome's oppression. At 26, he took control of the Carthaginian army and tried to fulfill that promise with a series of brilliant and brutal attacks that almost succeeded. The risks were formidable - for the general and the novelist. The logistics of both enterprises are staggering. Elephants resist crossing snowcapped mountains; readers balk at wading through ancient history.
But Hannibal and Durham are masters of persuasion and imagination. For the young commander, it was a matter of assembling a rainbow coalition of enemies against Rome. For the novelist, success rests on his ability to move from epic battles to private moments that capture the doubts and joys of individuals caught in this earth-changing clash.
Durham's Hannibal is a temperate man of strict self-denial. He sleeps on the ground with his troops and has no taste for the carnal excesses of the men he leads. Having come of age during his father's defeat, he's motivated by twin desires for justice and revenge.
Durham shows a commander who knows how to motivate his "African furies," how to enlist potential allies by sympathizing with their grievances, and how to demoralize enemies with tactical creativity that's as dazzling as it is deadly. Marching through Northern Africa, Iberia, and myriad Roman colonies, he collects strange, disparate armies by highlighting the contrast between his honor and Rome's perfidy.
Again and again, he countermands orders of more expedient generals who would win over opposing cities by skewering all their children. Oh, he's not above murdering recalcitrant populations, but he understands that the battle against Rome must also be a battle for the hearts of her oppressed subjects. Something for Americans to keep in mind. But how deadly he is! Hannibal's attacks on Roman forces twice the size of his own army are awesome and desperate, full of cries and fire; armor and limbs; elephants, horses, and dogs - oh my! But Durham is also remarkably attentive to individual lives and moments between heaves of battle.
Hannibal, "the child of a thunderbolt," is worn by doubts and melancholy, desperate for the company of his wife and baby.
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This fascinating exploration of the events leading up to the Third Crusade will satisfy any medieval nut. And the Mountains Echoed centers on two siblings, Abdullah and his much younger sister Pari. Pari is sold to a couple outside of the family, giving the two vastly different experiences of their home. A finalist for the National Book Award in , Pachinko is a sprawling family drama perfect for any historical fiction fan.
When young Sunja is impregnanted by an already-married man, a young missionary offers to marry her and take her from her native Korea to Japan. An underrecognized community, Korean citizens of Japan faced immense struggles.
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