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Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

Similar to Black Ships (review), Lavinia comes to light through Virgil’s Aeneid. But it picks up the story where Black Ships ends – with Aeneas’s marriage to King Latinus’s daughter, Lavinia, after defeating the enemies of Latium.

Lavinia, who never speaks in the original Aeneid, visits a sacred cave where she meets the shade of the dying Virgil. He tells her of what is to come – of Aeneas, the coming battles, her future child and more. You know the end of the story – or you think you do – before Aeneas arrives. But you don’t know how it ends.

Even though the story isn’t new, I found it compelling. Le Guin’s style of writing sucked me in and I put the book down only twice before finishing it. I wonder, though, if I had read the Aeneid and knew the story well, if I would have found it as compelling. I think so, especially since Le Guin gives voice to Lavinia, but I’ll never know for certain.

I especially appreciate the author’s end note, which is more of a historical essay. Here, Le Guin explains why she chose to re-tell the last part of the Aeneid. She talks about the geography of the region and the sources she used to pinpoint the locations in Lavinia. She also discusses what parts – or rather, what emphasis of the original Aeneid – she minimized and why.

While both Lavinia and Black Ships are great reads, perhaps especially for people like me who never had the opportunity to read the Latin Aeneid, I enjoyed Lavinia a bit more. Perhaps it’s just the romance of Lavinia’s story; perhaps it’s the writing of a more seasoned author. I don’t know. But I simply did not want this book to end. Rating: Very Good+ (Click the image above to purchase the novel from Amazon. Fuzzy History receives a small commission for the referral.)

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Introduction to Fuzzy History

29 June 2008 — fuzzyhistory

I started reading historical fiction in college. I was a dual history-Spanish major (later changed to American Studies-Spanish) and a number of my professors sought to capture students’ interests through assigning readings that included novels. I read Kenneth Roberts, John Steinbeck, John Dos Passos, Lillian Hellman, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dashiell Hammett, William Faulkner, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev and Nikolai Gogol, amongst others. Many of these authors, of course, did not write historical fiction. Their subjects were contemporary. But because the books capture the times so well, many now (and when I read them) serve as historical fiction.

While I read historical fiction off-and-on for years after leaving college, I didn’t pick it up again regularly until about 2 years ago. Now it’s as if I’m trying to make up for lost time. I’ve kept notes on what I’ve read during the this time. I’ve also written numerous book reviews as a consumer at sites, such as Amazon and HistoricalFiction.org. I’ve participated in relevant discussion forums at these sites as well as at LibraryThing and PaperbackSwap.

To say I enjoy talking about historical fiction is, well, obvious. This, then, is one reason for launching the blog. My other reasons include:

  • To maintain a better organized and searchable record of what I’ve read and what I thought of it.
  • To prepare what librarians call a pathfinder to novels about specific events, places or people in history. In libraryland, a pathfinder is a guide to a topic, typically limited to resources within the library’s collection. Today, they often include resources, such as specialized databases and Web sites, outside the collection.
  • To share my knowledge of research and the used book trade to help others find good historical fiction as well as scarce out-of-print titles.

Finally, by way of introduction, I’d like to explain the title I choose for this blog. Those familiar with fuzzy logic may already have guessed. History depicted in a novel may be true, false or somewhere in between. This theme of historical accuracy will appear time and again in my blog posts; hence, the title Fuzzy History.

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