Monday, January 11, 2016

Review of Gore Vidal's epic novel "Creation"

I really like reading historical novels (fictions) especially those which re-interpret past events and provide different point of views. When I came across this book I was intrigued by its title image depicting a famous image of Achaemenid Persian Emperor Darius III (~332 b.c.) as known to us from Alexander the Great campaign.  

I was also intrigued by its title "Creation". Too grandiose. But surprisingly, in goodreads review it had more than 4 points that indicated good quality consensus. So I decided to read it.

It really starts extremely interesting. It is narrated in first person by Cyrus Spitama, a fictional "grandson" of Zoroaster, a founder of Zoroastrian religion in ancient Persia. As a child he is accepted in the Court of then Persian Emperor Darius I the Great and grows up alongside with Xerxes I, future Emperor. In general, novel covers the world period between ~500 b.c. and 450 b.c., so I have no idea why title image depicts Darius III who lived almost 150 years later and had nothing to do with any part of novel.

The novel itself follows Cyrus Spitama's upbringing and then travels as a Persian ambassador to India's gangetic kingdoms and China's warring states and later to ancient Athens. During his travel, Cyrus Spitama meets founders of Buddhism, Jainism and Confucianism. Novel is filled with discussions regarding various philosophies about religion, purpose of life and afterlife and their interpretations. 

Beyond religious concept, novel is interesting from historical point of view as well. It provides some detailed knowledge related to ancient customs practiced in ancient Persia, Greece, India and China. I really liked reading those details (of course, I can't be sure that all of the author's claims are historically accurate. For example, references to Aryan invasion is problematic since now we know that these events were a myth created by British to gain support of Indian aristocracy in 19th century). Besides this, very interesting were those parts of novel where Persian invasion of Greece were detailed. The novel mocks Greek version of events that transpired during those Persian invasions and provides alternative Persian view points.

In summary, I would recommend this book for a reading. If you can find it in local library, yes go ahead and read it. First half is really excellent. Second half is a little monotonous. Part of the novel about China is less well developed and feels more artificial.   

posted by David Usharauli       

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