Dreamers of the Day [NOOK Book]

Overview

“I suppose I ought to warn you at the outset that my present circumstances are puzzling, even to me. Nevertheless, I am sure of this much: My little story has become your history. You won’t really understand your times until you understand mine.”

So begins the account of Agnes Shanklin, the charmingly diffident narrator of Mary Doria Russell’s compelling new novel, Dreamers of the Day. And what is Miss Shanklin’s “little story?” Nothing less ...
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Dreamers of the Day

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Overview

“I suppose I ought to warn you at the outset that my present circumstances are puzzling, even to me. Nevertheless, I am sure of this much: My little story has become your history. You won’t really understand your times until you understand mine.”

So begins the account of Agnes Shanklin, the charmingly diffident narrator of Mary Doria Russell’s compelling new novel, Dreamers of the Day. And what is Miss Shanklin’s “little story?” Nothing less than the creation of the modern Middle East at the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference, where Winston Churchill, T. E. Lawrence, and Lady Gertrude Bell met to decide the fate of the Arab world–and of our own.

A forty-year-old schoolteacher from Ohio still reeling from the tragedies of the Great War and the influenza epidemic, Agnes has come into a modest inheritance that allows her to take the trip of a lifetime to Egypt and the Holy Land. Arriving at the Semiramis Hotel just as the Peace Conference convenes, Agnes, with her plainspoken American opinions–and a small, noisy dachshund named Rosie–enters into the company of the historic luminaries who will, in the space of a few days at a hotel in Cairo, invent the nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan.

Neither a pawn nor a participant at the conference, Agnes is ostensibly insignificant, and that makes her a welcome sounding board for Churchill, Lawrence, and Bell. It also makes her unexpectedly attractive to the charismatic German spy Karl Weilbacher. As Agnes observes the tumultuous inner workings of nation-building, she is drawn more and more deeply into geopolitical intrigue and toward a personal awakening.

With prose as graceful and effortless as a seductive float down the Nile, Mary Doria Russell illuminates the long, rich history of the Middle East with a story that brilliantly elucidates today’s headlines. As enlightening as it is entertaining, Dreamers of the Day is a memorable, passionate, gorgeously written novel.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Ron Charles
…a stirring story of personal awakening set against the background of a crucial moment of modern history…In this rewarding blend of personal and historical events, Russell has produced a novel bound to please a broad range of readers. From her vantage point in the afterlife, Agnes claims that "observing human history has turned out to be a terrible exercise in monotony," but for those of us still on this side, such tales as this make it fascinating.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

Russell's (A Thread of Grace) fourth novel, her second work of historical fiction, focuses on the years immediately following World War I. When narrator Agnes Shanklin, an Ohio schoolteacher, finds herself at 40 the sole surviving member of her family, she decides to take a trip to Egypt and the Middle East, where her beloved missionary sister once lived and worked. There, she is thrilled to be swept up into the company of several renowned statesmen, diplomats, and spies attending the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference. But she is disconcerted to learn that a man with whom she's become romantically involved may be using her to obtain inside political information. Listening for the first time to her own inner needs and wants, Agnes grows into an independent and far-thinking woman. Russell labors to provide insight into how the fate of the Middle East, including the entities of Iraq, Palestine, and Jordan, was drawn up at the time. While this aspect of the novel can sometimes be hard-going, she manages to make the characters, both real and imaginary, consistently captivating. Recommended for larger public and academic libraries' fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ11/1/07.]
—Maureen Neville

Kirkus Reviews
A remarkably vivid account of a woman's accidental witness to history as she encounters Churchill and T.E. Lawrence in Cairo, where in 1921 they redrew the map of the Middle East. Russell (Children of God, 1998, etc.) unites a dog-toting spinster touring the Holy Lands with a small but significant dot on history's timeline, creating an analysis of our current troubles in Iraq. Agnes Shanklin, long dead and narrating from a disappointingly dull afterlife, lived an unremarkable existence until her late 30s, when the great influenza epidemic killed her mother and siblings. Left alone with an inheritance, Agnes makes an uncharacteristically impulsive decision: She books a tour to Egypt and the Holy Lands. With newly bobbed hair and gauzy dropped-waist dresses, former ugly duckling Agnes leaves America a fashionable woman of means. On her first day in Cairo, she and her dachshund Rosie are banned from their hotel but are saved by a chance meeting with T.E. Lawrence and redirected to the more dog-friendly Continental. There she meets Karl Weilbacher, a German-Jewish spy who falls for Rosie and charms Agnes. Agnes spends her holiday in two camps: She's swept away on often dangerous excursions by Lawrence, Churchill and Gertrude Bell, and she engages in quiet, intelligent strolls with Karl the spy, eager to hear about Agnes's new friends. Agnes is no fool. She knows Karl has more than a passing interest in the goings on at the conference, but she's also a realist, and she sees no need to protect the interests of British imperialists. Anyway, this may be her last chance for love. At the end of the conference, arbitrary lines are drawn to create Iraq; Palestine is soon to be a Jewish homeland; andKarl rather presciently observes that "black seeds" are being sown. Russell triumphs on many levels: She crafts a solid interpretation of the event, creates in Agnes an engaging narrator and, in no small sense, offers a fine piece of travel writing as we follow Agnes down the Nile. An inspired fictional study of political folly. Agent: Jane Dystel/Dystel & Goderich Literary Management
The Barnes & Noble Review
Mary Doria Russell's fiction has always dealt with power and the search for elusive lands as a means to further it. In her novels The Sparrow and Children of God, a band of Jesuits in the future colonize a distant planet. In Dreamers of the Day, Russell shifts her gaze to the Middle East, specifically to the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference, where a group of high-profile Europeans met to decide the fate of the region in the aftermath of the First World War. Agnes Shanklin, a 40-year-old spinster whose staid schoolteacher's life is transformed by a sudden inheritance of riches, sets sail for Egypt just in time to mingle with the illustrious company gathered in Cairo: Winston Churchill, a hoity-toity colonial secretary; Gertrude Bell, the redoubtable British writer credited with drawing up the borders of Mesopotamia; and the swashbuckling, locally beloved T. E. Lawrence. Agnes's sojourn in the company of these power brokers is richly conjured by the author, drawing on meticulous research. You may not agree with her political message, but it is impossible to ignore her conviction, born of a deep humanity, that geopolitics does not sit well with hubris. As America grapples with the fruits of its actions in Iraq, Dreamers of the Day is a timely reminder of that classic dictum: those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. --Vikram Johri
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781588366757
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/11/2008
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 116,085
  • File size: 672 KB

Meet the Author

Mary Doria Russell
Mary Doria Russell is the author of The Sparrow, Children of God, and A Thread of Grace. Her novels have won nine national and international literary awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the James Tiptree Award, and the American Library Association Readers Choice Award. The Sparrow was selected as one of Entertainment Weekly’s ten best books of the year, and A Thread of Grace was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Russell lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Contact her at www.MaryDoriaRussell.info.


From the Hardcover edition.

Biography

Mary Doria Russell was born in suburban Chicago in 1950. Her mother was a U.S. Navy nurse and her father was a Marine Corps drill sergeant. She and her younger brother, Richard, consequently developed a dismaying vocabulary at an early age. Mary learned discretion at Sacred Heart Catholic elementary school and learned how to parse sentences at Glenbard East High; she moved on to study cultural anthropology at the University of Illinois, social anthropology at Northeastern University in Boston, and biological anthropology at the University of Michigan.

After earning a doctorate, Russell taught human gross anatomy at Case Western Reserve University in the 1980s but left the academic world to write fiction, which turned out to be a good career move. Her novels have struck a deep chord with readers for their respectful but unblinking consideration of fundamental religious questions. The Sparrow and Children of God remain steady sellers, translated into more than a dozen languages. Russell has received nine national and international literary awards and has been a finalist for a number of others. She and her family live in Cleveland, Ohio.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Russell:

"I honestly think getting up early gives you cancer. You should definitely sleep in as often as possible."

"Coffee is good for you. Don't believe anyone who says different. All research concluding that coffee is bad is seriously flawed in scientific design."

"Here's how you know when you're grown up: you decide if you get to have a pet. You don't have to ask anyone else's permission. I just got myself a 4-year-old miniature dachshund named Annie from Petfinder.com. She makes me laugh out loud first thing in the morning, and at least half a dozen times a day after that."

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    1. Hometown:
      Cleveland, Ohio
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 19, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      Elmhurst, Illinois
    1. Education:
      B.A., The University of Illinois; M.A., Northeastern University; Ph.D., The University of Michigan
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Dreamers of the Day
A Novel
By Mary Doria Russell
Random House
Copyright © 2008 Mary Doria Russell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781400064717


Chapter One

I suppose i ought to warn you at the outset that my present circumstances are puzzling, even to me. Nevertheless, I am sure of this much: my little story has become your history. You won’t really understand your times until you understand mine.

You must try to feel the hope and amazement of those years. Anything seemed possible—the end of ignorance, the end of disease, the end of poverty. Physics and chemistry, medicine and engineering were breaking through old boundaries. In the cities, skyscrapers shredded clouds. Trucks and automobiles were crowding out horse-drawn cabs and drays in the boulevards below. The pavement was clean: no stinking piles of dung, no buzz of flies.

In 1913, America had a professor-president in the White House—a man of intelligence and principle, elected to clean up the corruption that had flourished in the muck of politics for so long. Public health and public schools were beating back the darkness in slums and settlements. The poor were lifted up and the proud brought down as Progressives reined in the power of Big Money.

In the homes of the middle class, our lives ticked along like clocks, well regulated and precise. We had electric lights, electrictoasters, electric fans. On Sundays, there were newspaper advertisements for vacuum cleaners, wringer-washers, radios, and automobiles. Our bathrooms were clean, modern, and indoors. We believed that good nutrition and good moral hygiene would make us healthy, wealthy, and wise. We had every reason to think that tomorrow would be better than today. And the day after that? Better yet!

The Great War and the Great Influenza fell on our placid world almost without warning.

Imagine: around the world, millions and millions and millions vital and alive one day, slack-jawed dead the next. Imagine people dying in such numbers that they had to be buried in mass graves dug with steam shovels—dying not of some ancient plague or in some faraway land, but dying here and now, right in front of you. Imagine knowing that nothing could ensure your survival. Imagine that you know this not in theory, not from reading about it in books, but from how it feels to lift your own foot high and step wide over a corpse.

What would you do?

I’ll tell you what a lot of us did. We boozed and screwed like there was no tomorrow. We shed encumbrances and avoided entanglements.We were tough cookies, slim customers, swell guys, real dolls. We made our own fun and our own gin, drinking lakes of the stuff, drinking until we could Charleston on the graves. Life is for the living! Pooh, pooh, skiddoo! Drink up—the night is young!

“I don’t want children,” said one celebrated writer after an abortion. “We’d have nothing in common. Children don’t drink.”

Does such callousness shock you? But I suppose it does. You see, by that time the plain stale fact of mortality had become so commonplace, so tedious . . . Well, mourning simply went out of style.

And just between you and me? Even if you find yourself among illustrious souls, you can get awfully tired of the dead.

Let me count my own. Lillian and Douglas, and their two dear boys. Uncle John. And Mumma, of course. Six. No, wait! Seven. My brother, Ernest, was the first.

I last saw Ernest in September of 1918. Slim in khaki, a mustachioed captain in the Army Corps of Engineers, my brother waved from the window of a train packed three boys to every double seat. They were headed for Newport News, where the battalion would ship out for Europe.

By the time Ernest left for the coast, five million European soldiers had already disappeared into “the sausage machine.” That’s what their commanders called the Great War. To understand why, you must call to mind some modern war. Think of the casualties endured in a year’s time, or five years, or ten. Now imagine sixty thousand men killed in a single day of combat: meat fed to the guns. Imagine four years like that.

America stared, aghast and uncomprehending, while the Old World gorged on its young and smashed its civilization to pieces for reasons no one was able to explain. From the start, there was some war sentiment in America, but it was largely confined to those who knew there was money to be made selling weapons, uniforms, steel, and ships, should America join the fight.

Reelected, barely, on a peace platform, our professor-president remained steadfast even when he was called a coward for refusing to involve us in the madness of foreigners. Then, eight weeks after Woodrow Wilson’s second inaugural, a document was “captured” and made public. In it, the German foreign minister urged the Mexican government to join Germany in a war against the United States and, in so doing, to reclaim the lost lands of New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.

Call me cynical. I always thought that document was a fraud. And even if it was genuine, why send our boys to France if the threat was on our southern border?

Of course, I was just a schoolteacher—a woman without a vote of my own, or even a husband to persuade. The men all said that document changed everything. Certainly Mr. Wilson believed it did. When he turned the ship of state toward Europe, the nation cheered and felt gratified to have exciting newspaper stories to talk about at breakfast. Those of us who saw no need for war found the enthusiasm of our fellow citizens bewildering. I read all the papers, frantic to understand why this was happening to my country and the world. To me, Mr. Wilson’s conversion was so shocking, it seemed Saint Paul had renounced Christ to become Saul once more. But there you are: even if the reason for going to war was a shameless hoax, the war itself was real and, by God, America was in it!

In fact, Mr. Wilson informed the nation, the Almighty Himself no longer wanted America to stand aloof from the slaughter in the Old World. “America,” the president declared, “was born to exemplify devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture.”

By turning the other cheek? I wondered. Silly woman . . .

No, exemplifying righteousness required America to fight a war to end all wars, a war so brutal and ruthless that war would never be waged again. Mr. Wilson assured us that this crusade was God’s will and God’s work.

If Abraham Lincoln had erred in allowing the press to criticize the government during our Civil War, Woodrow Wilson vowed, “I won’t repeat his mistakes.” The president didn’t repeal the First Amendment; he had, after all, recently sworn to uphold the Constitution. The press could print what it liked, of course, but the post office didn’t have to deliver it. The Wilson administration ordered the confiscation of anything unpatriotic, which is to say anything critical of his administration. Total war demanded totalitarian power, Mr. Wilson told a compliant Congress. “There are citizens of the United States,” the president thundered, “who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life. Such creatures of passion, disloyalty and anarchy must be crushed.”

Anyone who protested, or even voiced reluctance, was called a traitor. Mr. Eugene Debs was sentenced to decades in prison. His crime? He said that a war abroad did not excuse tyranny at home.

Mexico was all but forgotten in the excitement.

That’s why, by the summer of 1918, a million American men had been mobilized to fight—from career officers like my brother, Ernest, to draftees straight off the farm. Ernest’s train left Cleveland carrying nearly 250 soldiers, including a boy from Wooster who seemed to have a dreadful cold. When the troops arrived on the Virginia coast two days later, more than 120 of the soldiers already had the flu. Sixty others were ill within a day or two.

In Ernest’s last letter home, he confessed that he was afraid he’d miss the war. He was so eager to embark! I doubt he mentioned his headache to anyone else. The next letter we received was from a friend of his. Ernest had been buried at sea before the boat was halfway to France. Later we learned that most of his battalion had sickened. Many died while standing on a French dock, awaiting orders in a chilly autumn rain.

In October, the military finally canceled leave and liberty, but it was too late to make a difference. Railways had distributed the influenza with the same swift efficiency that carried coal, wheat, and livestock to and from every corner of the continent. Within weeks, the flu was everywhere.

People spread the disease before they knew they had it, got sicker, brought it home, and died. Fiancées, parents, brothers, and sisters: kissed good-bye at train stations. Ambulance drivers, stretcher bearers, doctors, nurses: working until they died on their feet. Trolley conductors, shopkeepers. Teachers.

Waves of influenza broke across the nation and all the while, the war ground on in Europe. Cleveland sent forty-one thousand boys “over there.” One of my students came to see me before he left—a boy named for the great Italian patriot Garibaldi. Gary, we called him at school. He was a good student. Arithmetic was his best subject, as I recall. Off he went with the Fifth Regiment of the Ohio National Guard, to revenge bleeding Belgium and rescue poor brave France, to make the world safe for democracy and kill Huns for Mr. Wilson.

Gary visited me again after he got home, in 1919. “You were wrong, Miss Shanklin. The Grim Reaper isn’t a metaphor,” he told me. “The Reaper’s real. I saw him. We went over the top and machine guns mowed us down, like a scythe through weeds. Row after row of us. You can’t imagine, miss.”

No, not that, but I had seen men struck down in the streets of Cleveland. They’d leave for the office in the morning feeling fine. During the day, they’d complain of being hot and achy. By evening, waiting on the corner for a streetcar, they’d fall to the pavement, already dead or near to it. Gary soon became one of them. Poor boy. He had just married his sweetheart and found a job as a bank teller. He left work feeling woozy and never made it home for supper.

Even then, before the worst of it, I wanted to escape from the sadness. I was older than the lost generation of the Roaring Twenties. I began the decade too shy to dance, too homely to imagine myself of interest even to a maimed veteran, too timid to break the Prohibition laws and risk blindness drinking bathtub gin. But in the end? I was not so very different. I, too, yearned for new sights, new sounds, new people—and, yes: a new me. I wanted to believe again in peace, and progress, and prosperity.

Prosperity, at least, I would have and this one certainty: of all my natal family, I would be the last to die. My brief obituary would be written by a bored young newspaperman in 1957: “Agnes Shanklin, heiress, dead at 76, after a long illness.”

That’s what they called cancer then. “A long illness.” And don’t be fooled by that fancy word “heiress.” No single estate was all that much, but taken together and added to $1,000 of soldier’s insurance from Ernest, they totaled just enough to afford me a careful independence.

Frugality I had learned at my mother’s knee. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do.” That was Mumma’s motto, especially after the bankruptcy and Papa’s death.

In the beginning, I believe, my parents anticipated something close to the ideal marriage of the nineteenth century. They met and married late, both nearly thirty and too mature for silly romantic illusions about love. When they pledged their troth in the sight of God, they did so in the hope that theirs would be a union of souls. They understood that this would demand an equal sacrifice of personal interests. Papa would lose his place in the home; Mumma, her place in the world. He would strive for material sustenance and guard the family from the corruption of the marketplace. In return for cooking and needlework, the bearing and raising of children, she would receive shelter, food, and a clothing allowance.

Such marriages always ran the risk of becoming cold but practical business partnerships. In the case of my parents, mutual admiration rested upon an economic arrangement that seemed to suit them both. Mumma was a fine seamstress, Papa a mechanical engineer. You might not think they’d have had much in common, apart from their children, but together they reasoned out a design for a sewing machine foot that would make cording easy and automatic. In the tenth year of their marriage, walking home from church one Sunday, they hatched a plan. They would take all their savings and start a factory right in Cedar Glen, just east of Cleveland. The business could provide good, honest work for the sons of slaves who’d come north on the Underground Railway. Those men would demonstrate that Negroes were capable of skilled labor, and the business would benefit by undercutting the competition on wages.

Papa’s probity and Mumma’s piety were well known in Cedar Glen. Their good character convinced several members of their congregation that they could do well by doing good, and they agreed to invest in the venture. Papa took the idea to a banker, who steered him toward a partner said to be a person of energy and vision.

To our family’s misfortune, Papa was an honest man in a time when business was increasingly often conducted between strangers who recognized no good or god excepting only Profit. In Washington and Columbus, politicians wearing masks of unctuous respectability legislated mightily to outlaw private sin and enforce private virtue, all the while accepting money to overlook the public crimes of industrialists and financiers who made incalculable fortunes by exploiting workers and swindling investors. In that climate, Papa’s trustworthiness was the very hallmark of a “patsy.” He built the factory; his partner and the banker disappeared with the money.

For Papa, it was a matter of honor that he keep his employees working and make his creditors whole. That determination left hardly any time or money for his family. Mumma soon found it difficult to hide our circumstances from public view, but Papa steadfastly refused help from her brother, a bachelor attorney with money to spare.

“Foolish pride,” Mumma called that. “How am I to run a proper household with what you bring home?”

“Others are worse off,” Papa said, time and again. “We shall manage without charity.”

“Easy for you to say,” Mumma would mutter, and the household would go very quiet, unspoken accusations loud in our minds.

Continues...

Excerpted from Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell Copyright © 2008 by Mary Doria Russell. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Foreword

1. At age thirty-eight, Agnes Shanklin "believed that all the big questions of [her] life had been answered." If her family had not died during the influenza, do you think she would have gone on to the dismal future she imagined for herself? Are the opinions and expectations of others strong enough to determine a life?

2. Agnes begins to break the mold when she buys new clothes and gets her hair bobbed. Makeover shows are popular on television today, and people often say that "this has changed my life." Do you believe them? Are appearances really that powerful?

3. Clothing is mentioned a great deal in the novel. In what ways are the characters in Dreamers of the Day defined and/or influenced by their clothes? How do Agnes, Mumma, Gertrude Bell, and T. E. Lawrence use their fashion choices as indicators of their attitudes? Is your clothing a tool or a dis­guise or just something to cover your nakedness?

4. What does Rosie embody for Agnes? Is her attachment to her little dog "pathetic," as she suggests? How does Rosie’s existence color the novel and influence its chain of events?

5. Unlike Mumma and her devout sister, Lillie, Agnes struggles with her faith. Why are some people so at home in the religion they were born to, while others chafe at it? Does her trip to the Holy Land change Agnes’s philosophical framework, or is she left without a moral compass? Where is Agnes at the end of the novel? Is she a "soul who cannot find her way"?
6. Russell paints a vivid picture of America in the Roaring Twenties, and identifies a strong correlation between identity and consumption (with Freudand postwar advertising to thank). How has advertising changed since the 1920s? Do you recognize modern America in the descriptions?

7. Karl expounds on how it is "remarkable what people choose to do and then insist they had no choice." What does it mean when someone says, "You leave me no choice" or "I had no choice"? What does it mean when nations make this claim?

8. T. E. Lawrence, Karl Weilbacher, Gertrude Bell, Lord Cox, and Winston Churchill all have theories on imperial rule and how to best resolve the growing conßicts in the Middle East. What are their ideas and how do they hold up to hindsight and a modern historical perspective?

9. Agnes alludes to Shakespeare’s observation "conscience makes cowards of us all." Who is Agnes hearing when she listens to the voices of Mildred and Mumma (and Mark Twain)? What influences her life-changing decision to travel to Egypt? What resolution, if any, does Agnes reach through their competing voices?

10. Karl believes "to be enjoyed, life must be shared." This assessment is in sharp contrast to the independent and decidedly single Agnes, Gertrude Bell, and T. E. Lawrence. Bell dismissively maintains that "happy and contented people don’t make history." Who among them do you think is truly fulfilled?

11. Do you agree with Karl’s assessment that "[foreigners] cannot tolerate to feel ignorant long enough to understand [the Middle East]"? T. E. Lawrence advises Agnes upon her arrival in Cairo: "If you think you understand Middle Eastern politics, they haven’t been explained to you properly." After reading Dreamers of the Day, what about the Cairo Conference and the Middle East, if anything, has become clearer? More confusing?

12. When Osama bin Laden took "credit" for the events of 9/11, he said that the attacks in 2001 were, in part, revenge for "the catastrophe of eighty years ago." What "catastrophe" was he referring to? Why is it remembered in the Middle East, but forgotten in the West?

13. What advice could the British aristocracy take away from their camel ride through the desert?

14. Examine the characterization of the women in Dreamers of the Day: Agnes, Mumma, Lillie, Gertrude, and Clementine. What similarities do you find? What are their striking differ­ences? Generations later, do these women seem alien to you or familiar?

15. Agnes thinks that "every event is a reenactment" and that "observing human history has turned out to be a terrible exercise in monotony." Do you agree? Will we ever achieve Agnes’s dream of Òpeace, progress, and prosperity?"

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Reading Group Guide

1. At age thirty-eight, Agnes Shanklin "believed that all the big questions of [her] life had been answered." If her family had not died during the influenza, do you think she would have gone on to the dismal future she imagined for herself? Are the opinions and expectations of others strong enough to determine a life?

2. Agnes begins to break the mold when she buys new clothes and gets her hair bobbed. Makeover shows are popular on television today, and people often say that "this has changed my life." Do you believe them? Are appearances really that powerful?

3. Clothing is mentioned a great deal in the novel. In what ways are the characters in Dreamers of the Day defined and/or influenced by their clothes? How do Agnes, Mumma, Gertrude Bell, and T. E. Lawrence use their fashion choices as indicators of their attitudes? Is your clothing a tool or a dis­guise or just something to cover your nakedness?

4. What does Rosie embody for Agnes? Is her attachment to her little dog "pathetic," as she suggests? How does Rosie’s existence color the novel and influence its chain of events?

5. Unlike Mumma and her devout sister, Lillie, Agnes struggles with her faith. Why are some people so at home in the religion they were born to, while others chafe at it? Does her trip to the Holy Land change Agnes’s philosophical framework, or is she left without a moral compass? Where is Agnes at the end of the novel? Is she a "soul who cannot find her way"?
6. Russell paints a vivid picture of America in the Roaring Twenties, and identifies a strong correlation between identity and consumption (with Freud and postwar advertising to thank). How has advertising changed since the 1920s? Do you recognize modern America in the descriptions?

7. Karl expounds on how it is "remarkable what people choose to do and then insist they had no choice." What does it mean when someone says, "You leave me no choice" or "I had no choice"? What does it mean when nations make this claim?

8. T. E. Lawrence, Karl Weilbacher, Gertrude Bell, Lord Cox, and Winston Churchill all have theories on imperial rule and how to best resolve the growing conßicts in the Middle East. What are their ideas and how do they hold up to hindsight and a modern historical perspective?

9. Agnes alludes to Shakespeare’s observation "conscience makes cowards of us all." Who is Agnes hearing when she listens to the voices of Mildred and Mumma (and Mark Twain)? What influences her life-changing decision to travel to Egypt? What resolution, if any, does Agnes reach through their competing voices?

10. Karl believes "to be enjoyed, life must be shared." This assessment is in sharp contrast to the independent and decidedly single Agnes, Gertrude Bell, and T. E. Lawrence. Bell dismissively maintains that "happy and contented people don’t make history." Who among them do you think is truly fulfilled?

11. Do you agree with Karl’s assessment that "[foreigners] cannot tolerate to feel ignorant long enough to understand [the Middle East]"? T. E. Lawrence advises Agnes upon her arrival in Cairo: "If you think you understand Middle Eastern politics, they haven’t been explained to you properly." After reading Dreamers of the Day, what about the Cairo Conference and the Middle East, if anything, has become clearer? More confusing?

12. When Osama bin Laden took "credit" for the events of 9/11, he said that the attacks in 2001 were, in part, revenge for "the catastrophe of eighty years ago." What "catastrophe" was he referring to? Why is it remembered in the Middle East, but forgotten in the West?

13. What advice could the British aristocracy take away from their camel ride through the desert?

14. Examine the characterization of the women in Dreamers of the Day: Agnes, Mumma, Lillie, Gertrude, and Clementine. What similarities do you find? What are their striking differ­ences? Generations later, do these women seem alien to you or familiar?

15. Agnes thinks that "every event is a reenactment" and that "observing human history has turned out to be a terrible exercise in monotony." Do you agree? Will we ever achieve Agnes’s dream of Òpeace, progress, and prosperity?"

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2009

    Interesting and captivatingI

    I loved the mix of fiction with reality and the historical characters that made their appearance. It was interesting, captivating and a good read

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2008

    A reviewer

    Having begun her fiction career with two novels of science fiction, Mary Doria Russell now offers her second volume of historical fiction, Dreamers of the Day. The protagonist of our story, Agnes Shanklin, has lived through the Great War and the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918, although her family did not. Finding herself an unmarried heiress at 38 and unable to continue teaching because 'There were so many demobilized soldiers needing work that we ladies were often summarily dismissed from employment,¿ she remakes herself (with the help of Bob Hope¿s future wife, Millie) and takes a long dreamed of trip to Egypt and the Holy Lands. There she finds herself frequently in the company of Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell and the infamous T.E. Lawrence (not to mention a romantic liason with a German spy), all gathered for the Cairo Conference of 1921 at which decisions with far-reaching impact will be made regarding the post-World War I division of the Middle East. Taking her tale from the days of peace, progress and prosperity before the Great War through the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression, Agnes Shanklin remains a likable heroine you will want to stick with to the very end. Russell¿s usual strong characterizations, straight-forward writing and gift for telling a story are again strongly in evidence in Dreamers of the Day, a book I highly recommend.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2010

    Do Not Be Misled by the Paperback Cover Art or Title

    This was a very interesting book and the characters were engaging. I did find that it was heavy in politics which I had not expected. The title with the word "Dreamers" and the art work of a young woman and the pyramids did not lead me to believe it was a romance on the scale of the bodice rippers, but I did go into this thinking it was an adventure type of novel. The protagonist has a dry sense of humor, which I enjoyed. Just be warned that in with some travel and relationships is a lot of geopolitical coverage.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2009

    Dreamers of the Day

    Historically a very interesting book - and a clever easy-to-read history of a critical time in relatively recent middle eastern history. At times one wishes for a strong editor's hand, but just keep reading. It might be good as one way for young people (especially women) to learn history in a pleasant way. Well worth sharing with a friend.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2008

    Gives you a lot to talk about

    This is an easy to read historical novel. It describes life in the U.S. during the early 1900s plus it provides a birds-eye-view of an actual meeting in which the real people who redrew the map of the middle east after WWI heatedly debate their political motivations. In addition, there is a little makeover advice for the socially inhibited.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2011

    Recommend!

    Love Mary Doria Russell's narrative style of writing. This books historical accuracy was very interesting combined with the compelling fiction story of an unlikely single woman traveling in a time when most women, let alone single women, did not travel long distances. Excellent and enjoyable read!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2008

    Ending ruins whatever joy you found in the story...

    While reading this book was generally enjoyable, the ending makes it one of those books I just wouldn't recommend to anyone I know. Loved the dog. Hated the intrusion of current events.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted July 11, 2009

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    Posted November 11, 2009

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    Posted October 30, 2008

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    Posted July 17, 2011

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    Posted December 14, 2008

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    Posted October 29, 2008

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews

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