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Edward Rutherfurd

Sarum: The Novel of England
Century/Crown, 1987

Reviews:

A masterpiece that is breathtaking in its scope, Sarum is an epic novel that traces the entire turbulent course of English history. This rich tapesty weaves a compelling saga of five families who preserve their own particular characteristics over the centuries, and offer a fascinating glimpse into the future. -Amazon.com

- Amazon.com, 12/19/2005


Until Sarum I never could figure out the Irish Catholic versus Protestant conflict. Couldn't intelligent people find compromises? There was much more involved than religious principles; and Sarum took the bits and pieces I've learned about history, politics, religion, and economics and packaged them into an enjoyable reading experience, though at several points, the writing and editing becomes sloppy, and the characters and events become confused and hard to follow. The style, also, may drive some folks insane. I don't mind jumping from historical framing to narrative, but some of my friends mind this style very much. I look forward to Rutherfurd's other works. (This review also appears on Amazon.com.) -Michael Loveland 10/99

- Michael Loveland, 10/1/1999


The Salisbury cathedral and Stonehenge. Ancient, worn, mysterious structures only hinting at their former dominance and glory. Yet despite the age of these monuments, they have withstood the withering destructive forces of a stormy history, and are standing as tall and proud as ever. OK, excuse me for overdoing the rhetoric. But I may as well be talking about the country of England itself. Clearly Rutherfurd meant the cathedral and the megaliths on Salisbury Plain to symbolize the durability and determination of the British people to survive the ravages of time. Of course, the reader also needs a little of that durability and determination to finish the book as it tends to drag on a little too much, especially in later chapters. But how can you fault a book for this when it dares to single-handedly tackle thousands of years of the nation's history. Rutherfurd's main theme is that heredity is something we have to struggle mightily to escape from, but perhaps it is so because we choose not to escape. A character living in the shadow of the glacier in Britain has descendants who have the same character traits in the modern age. One character in particular was an Ice Age thief and would-be rapist of another man's wife. Throughout the following millennia, his descendants continue his legacy, expanding it to cover the stealing of lands and even claims to nobility of their neighbors, all the way into the final chapter. I know many people may have a problem with this idea. Many feel that we are our own individual selves and not slaves to our ancestry, and I agree. But why then do we obsess over our heritage, our family trees? People cherish their link to the past. Now more than ever, people are exploring their heritage in order to define themselves, embracing the ways of their ancestors, even though they probably can't even point out what country they were from on a map. Accordingly, it seems that who our forefathers were is very important in shaping who we are. We model ourselves after our parents, who modeled themselves after their parents, who modeled themselves after theirs, and so on. So I can easily see how we in the modern age would be just like our ancestors, especially when we try so hard to be as much like them as we can. Compassion, fear, hatred, good and evil can indeed all be handed down from father to son. While these character traits continuing on for thousand of years may seem far-fetched, I understand the point Rutherfurd is trying to make. We all live today with the consequences of yesterday's actions. I also enjoyed the author's ironic treatment of his characters. People whose ancestors were noble Saxon thanes or mighty Norman knights end up nothing more than modest commoners, and cunning peasants use manipulation and crime along with the help of good luck to ensure that their spawn will be the lords, earls and other nobility of tomorrow (why am I reminded of Joe Kennedy, Sr. ?). Rutherfurd suggests that we must be on constant guard, because crooks are waiting in the shadows to get their hands on everything we have. Everyone who buys things from sweepstakes companies or sends money to televangelists should be forced to read this book. As time marches onward, many things in our lives are fleeting: our fame, social status, money, even our dignity. In the long run, all that will remain constant is our true nature. The nature of the English nation, the author implies, is to embrace the old ways in order to know how to handle the future. Good advice, I think. A positive way to use history. As for those of you who dislike Rutherfurd's assumption that we can't change who we are, I will just say that I believe he doesn't really suggest this. I think his lesson actually is that we can break from the bonds of our past and become something different, but not too many people are actually willing to do so. If you still disagree that people end up allowing an ancient past they had nothing to do with to shape their behavior today, what's that daily slaughter in Yugoslavia all about? Jim Lunsford 10/99

- Jim Lunsford, 10/1/1999

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