Wednesday, December 10, 2014

POMPEII by Robert Harris

Attilius is the new engineer in charge of the aqueduct for the towns at the base of Vesuvius in 79 A.D.  When the water suddenly stops flowing, he sets out to make the repairs, north of Pompeii.  There’s a simple but handy map at the beginning of the book, and I flipped back to it repeatedly to get the lay of the land.  Also, the author prefaces each chapter with an appropriate quote from an authoritative text about the behavior of an erupting volcano.  Anyway, an aqueduct engineer seems to be an unlikely hero for an adventure/disaster/love story, but he has intellect and integrity, and he’s right in the thick of things.  He makes some unsettling discoveries about his predecessor, who mysteriously vanished, and knowledge can be a dangerous thing.  The author paints such a vivid picture of Pompeii at the time, with all its decadence and barbarism, in what passed for civilization at the time.  If a natural disaster of this magnitude happened in this country today, I would expect there to be just as much panic and poor decision-making.  I don’t know if any political corruption would creep to the surface here, but this is fiction after all.  I’m sure scientists can draw some reasonably accurate conclusions about what happened in Pompeii as far as the physical destruction of the city, but I don’t think we can really know how the residents responded.  This book made up for what it lacked in character development by providing a captivating plot in a historical setting.  I can see why it was chosen for a recent study of fiction readers, proving once again how we can submerse ourselves in a story and come out with a greater understanding of ourselves and our fellow human beings.  Here’s a link to an article about that study: 

A movie entitled Pompeii came out last year, and I just watched that, but it is not based on this novel, unfortunately.

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