Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book Review: The Abyssinian

AbyssinianAbyssinian by Jean-Christophe Rufin




Borrowed from the Library.

The writing of this book is really quite lovely, particularly when considering that I read it in translation from the French.  The word choice and syntax are delightful, and I was surprised by the number of words I had to look up.

I appreciate an author who can use seemingly meaningless earlier plot points and draw them back in showing them to be important in the character development or eventual working out of the story. 

This book has a lot going for it: political, social, and religious intrigue during the court of Louis XIV in France, a love story or two, kings, priests, and commoners.  Unfortunately, the story lulls, and I'm not certain I ever really cared what happened to the main characters ... which caused a little reading here and there (particularly before bed), but no "I can't stop reading this right now" mania.  (Which could be good or bad based on your perspective [grin])

Jean-Baptiste Poncet is a successful, practicing, if not licensed, apothecary based in Cairo, Egypt.  A Doctor is needed in Abyssinia, the Christian modern-day Ethiopia.  The Jesuits and Capuchin priests desperately want to get into Abyssinia to "correct" their theological understanding.  They've convinced King Louis to try and send an embassy to the Abyssinian King.  The Ambassador, Monsieur le Maillet, in Cairo must gather this emissary, and choses Poncet.  Poncet, unsurprisingly, falls desperately in love with the ambassador's daughter Alix and agrees, reluctantly, to be the emissary in the hopes of achieving a commendation which will convince le Maillet to give his daughter's hand.

Poncet's plan goes awry.  He "realizes" that all was wrong because he denied his "freedom" by bowing the knee to le Maillet, that he should have married Alix with or without her father's consent.  Poncet's nature was to be free, and that he was denying his nature by submitting to some other authority.

And, here, I suppose is where I'm frustrated by the book.  Clearly, Rufin's view of "freedom" has more relation to license than liberty.  The dust jacket says, "... Rufin yokes the elegant language of the French enlightenment with the storytelling of Alexandre Dumas to bring us a splendid parable of liberty, religious fanaticism, and the possibility of happiness."  I'm just pretty sure I don't agree with his conclusions about those things.



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