Archive for May, 2012

Edward Rutherfurd’s magical history tours

What I'm reading now: "Sarum" by Edward Rutherfurd, which spans 10,000 years of English history and has its setting in Salisbury.

In his approach to historical fiction, Edward Rutherfurd takes the long view.  His epic novels follow the lives of a few families through several centuries, and along the way, the characters encounter real-life historical figures such as Robert Emmett in the second volume of his Dublin saga, “The Rebels of Ireland,” or George Washington in his latest book, “New York.”

There is also some sort of talisman or ancient family heirloom that is handed down from one generation to the next, and which no one remembers of the origin of by the time it reaches the current generation. In “New York” it’s an Indian girl’s belt made of seashells. In the novel I’m reading now, “Sarum,” it’s a carved stone figurine of a prehistoric huntsman’s woman.

Sarum, with its setting in Rutherfurd’s childhood home of Salisbury, and the home of Stonehenge, was Rutherfurd’s first fictional-historical yarn. It spans the longest time of all, beginning in the Ice Age and ending in the age of Margaret Thatcher, when the book was published. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

The length of Rutherfurd’s novels at first intimidated me because, with few exceptions, I get bored with long books. But his are broken into manageable chapters of 50 to 100 pages so that are almost like novellas, linked together by bloodlines and heirlooms.

My friend Randy Norris convinced me to read “The Rebels of Ireland,” the second of Rutherfurd’s two-part Dublin Saga, before he and I went to Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains in 2010 for a historical tour that focused on the Easter Rising of 1916 and the Irish Civil War. I took the paperback on the trip with me and couldn’t put it down. I then went back and read the first volume, “The Princes of Ireland.” I had earlier that year read my first Rutherfurd book, “The Forest,” a companion volume of Sarum that is set in England’s New Forest. Last year I read “New York,” and now I’ve just started reading “Sarum.” The next one on my list is “London,” and I hope to finish both before a visit I hope to make to England and Scotland with Randy in September.

That would leave only one of Rutherfurd’s novels, “Russka,” which I recently found a hardback edition of in mint condition at Half Price Books.

Rutherfurd's "The Rebels of Ireland," which is set in Dublin, is the one paperback I took with me when I visited Dublin in 2010.

But what I’m wondering now is what’s next for Rutherfurd? The Englishman has in recent years made his home in New York and Dublin and written about where he lives. Since he’s living in Dublin now, Belfast, which is only a short train ride from the republic’s capital, would be a great choice, with its turbulent Irish and British history. Derry (or Londonderry), Europe’s greatest remaining medieval walled city, for similar reasons also would be a good choice.

I’ve loved Northern Ireland ever since visiting the last Irish province of the United Kingdom in 2000. But I’m also fascinated with my family’s probable ancestral home of Scotland, though I’ve never been there. So I’d love it if Rutherfurd would write a book about Edinburgh, the Venice of northern European culture.

If, however, Rutherfurd wants to follow “New York” with another American book, I would suggest one of the South’s iconic cities such as New Orleans, Savannah or Charleston, which is steeped in Southern history and contains British and Caribbean flavors.

I can hardly wait.

[To visit Edward Rutherfurd's website,  click on this link or go to]

May 2012
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