I finished this book a month or so ago, but I find myself thinking about the storyline over and over again.
If you’ve ever read any books by Elizabeth Peters, like Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody #1), you may find this one a little bit similar. Set in the same time period – the 1920’s – and in the same area – Egypt – I found it reminding me in some ways of Peters’ novels. But other than the era and the geography, they are nowhere near the same novels.
Dreamers of the Day: A Novel features a young woman who has always been the “ugly duckling” in her family. Never smart enough, beautiful enough or anything enough for her mother, she is forever in her sister’s shadow. Agnes is a dutiful girl and cares for her nagging, overbearing mother while teaching school throughout the Great War.
As she loses family to influenza and wartime, Agnes suddenly finds herself completely alone – without the responsibilities of caring for others and a nice little nest egg. She decides, after attending a session about Egypt, to take off to explore and learn more.
She prepares for the trip and meets a few memorable characters along the way, including Mildred a shop girl at a department store (whose boyfriend, I suspect, was the comedian Bob Hope). Mildred helps Agnes begin to come out of her shell, in spite of her mother’s voice ringing her unworthiness in her mind.
Agnes is ready to leave. Ready to learn more about the world beyond Cleveland, Ohio.
What she learns more about, however, is herself – and how to be herself. She arrives at the Semiramis Hotel in Cairo just as the Peace Talks of 1921 are beginning. She becomes enmeshed with the dignitaries and powers-that-be who are carving up the spoils of war, befriending none other than Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence and, somewhat, Lady Gertrude Bell.
As she hovers around the periphery of these world-altering talks, Agnes befriends Karl Weilbacher, a German spy. She struggles with deciding whether he wants to be with her for her or whether he is using her to gather information about the Peace Talks – and whether or not she really cares.
Rosie, her faithful dachshund keeps her company, and Agnes forever hears the warring voices of Mildred and her mother as her “voices on her shoulder.”
The story is engrossing and colorful, full of rich details that take you right into Egypt in the 1920’s. It is interesting to watch Agnes blossom as she tells her story – learning how to become her own person, think her own thoughts, and make up her own mind.
As I finished the book, I just had to research further the history – to know how things wound up with the Peace Talks and what happened to Lawrence of Arabia. As I re-read my history, the characters seemed that much more realistic, thanks to Russell’s characterizations and storytelling.
I’ve been reading another of her books and hope to share that one with you, too, soon.
As for the bottom line here, I’d most definitely recommend this story to you. It’s a great read and one that will definitely keep you entertained throughout. It’s not a vapid, cotton-candy kind of book, but rather one that makes you think and engages your mind as it whisks you away to another time and place.
- Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (librarygirlreads.blogspot.com)