I am reading along in an interesting UK Guardian article tagged 'history.' El V calls out, "I'm reading a Guardian article that I bet you'd like." I say, "I bet I'm reading it right now." He says, "About the end of the Roman empire an the rise of Islam?" I say, "Ay-up." By Tom Holland, others might find it of interest too, so here it is. The article focuses on several writers: Ibin Hisham, Nennius, Asimov, Herbert, J.R.R. Tolkien.
I don't know about anyone else but I "hear" these words in the voice of the fellow who narrates the BBC's A History of the World in One Hundred Objects.
Yet it is a curious feature of the transformation of the Roman world into something recognisably medieval that it bred extraordinary tales even as it impoverished the ability of contemporaries to keep a record of them. "The greatest, perhaps, and most awful scene, in the history of mankind": so Gibbon described his theme. He was hardly exaggerating: the decline and fall of the Roman empire was a convulsion so momentous that even today its influence on stories with an abiding popular purchase remains greater, perhaps, than that of any other episode in history. It can take an effort, though, to recognise this. In most of the narratives informed by the world of late antiquity, from world religions to recent science-fiction and fantasy novels, the context provided by the fall of Rome's empire has tended to be disguised or occluded.
Vita Sackville West wrote Grand Canyon, a speculative novel, during World War II. After having watched the Island at War series, reading about this novel's supposition makes me flush with trepidation. What a juxtaposition it must be to read Grand Canyon right before or right after the author's Orlando. It has been re-released as an e-book.
I was intrigued this month by a strange and striking novel from Vita Sackville-West, coming from digital imprint Bello. Grand Canyon (£7.99), first published in 1942, opens in misleadingly sedate form with an encounter between two middle-aged English guests, a woman and a man, strangers to one another, and both staying at a hotel by Arizona's Grand Canyon. But from this unremarkable beginning, the book develops not into a novel of social observation but into a startling piece of speculative fiction, in which the Germans have won the second world war in Europe and the continent is now in Nazi hands. The two middle-aged hotel guests are exiles from a country to which they can never return, while America itself is poised for attack from Nazi forces, with the Grand Canyon a nexus for the opening battle. The second half of the novel takes another major twist that pushes the story further still into the realms of the fantastical. It's a curious read, written with the urgency and pain of wartime, and it fired me with a fresh interest.
New Orleans, another great city that cyclically falls and rises, always in mind, past and present, tonight. Dr. John at BAM, performing with the NOLA greats, and performing the NOLA greats -- Louis Armstrong. It's gonna be a gathering of the tribes.