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Helga Haasse

Threshold of Fire, a Novel of 5th Century Rome (tr)
Academy, 1993
Barnes & Noble


Threshold Of Fire is a complex novel of Fifth Century Rome when that once powerful empire is in its death throes, split between East and West, menaced by barbarian hordes almost literally at its gates. Threshold Of Fire takes the reader through the streets and tenements of Rome which pulsate with life and with corruption, where we find the prostitute Urbanilla and the sinister, shoddy actor Pylades and his henchmen, the strong man and the dwarf. Ably translated by Anita Miller and Nini Blinstrub, Threshold Of Fire is a vibrant, electrifying novel, the kind that Hollywood movies and PBS mini-series are made of. -Amazon.com

- Amazon.com, 11/27/2005

You need to read the preface of this superb novel, which is in translation from the original Dutch. Turn directly to the story and you will be sucked right into the action, on a rollercoaster of vivid images, skillfully written either in the present tense or first person. The author assumes that you will already know that in 380 AD Christianity was enforced on the collapsing Roman empire in a last-ditch bid to hold it together. The traditional pagan gods were repressed, the temples fell into ruin. By 414 AD, politics and religion had merged and treason became heresy. The seeds of intolerance which would grow into the Inquisition and all subsequent religious wars, were deliberately sown. Against this dramatic background, the story is simple and effective. Half a dozen people are arrested on suspicion of taking part in a pagan ritual and taken before Prefect Hadrian. He is one of the new breed of fanatical career-Christians, a convert who has no problems punishing either heresy or treason. Among the group, however, he recognises an old friend banished from Rome ten years before. If Hadrian acknowledges him he will also have to order him to be burnt alive for returning to the city. How all this came about, who the other people are, and what Hadrian does about it, make up the 48 hours of the action of the novel. Some of the characters are historical, some fictional. The returned exile, Claudius Claudianus, is known as the last of the great Latin poets. He disappeared from the records around this time. The novel is a totally absorbing read - the whole teeming, noisy, corrupt, desperate city and its citizens hits you between the eyes. It's like reading in Cinemascope. Highly recommended. - Val Whitmarsh From The Historical Novel Review (December 1997), published by the Historical Novel Society.

- Val Whitmarsh, 12/1/1997

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