I’ve never read Gore Vidal before. As a cultural figure he always struck me as a long-winded curmudgeon. Before the Thanksgiving break, however, I was wanting something EPIC and Vidal popped into my head. I started with Creation because I wasn’t sure in what order to read the American history books and because it was the smallest paperback of the bunch at the library. Ah, convenience.
To be perfectly honest, this is an amazing book. It is historical fiction as it should be and as I have always wanted to read it. I was in love with the story and language from the moment I started reading. I am being a bit effusive but this is the truth. You should read it.
Set in the fifth century BCE, we follow the adventures of Cyrus Spitama, the grandson of the prophet Zoroaster and a leading figure in the Persian court (during the reigns of Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes). In addition to providing the Persian version of the Greek wars as told by Herodotus, he narrates his travels through India and China where he meets Buddha, Confucius, and more querying them on the meaning of creation and heaven. Vidal has said that he wanted to write a novel that included Sophocles, Buddha, and Confucius, and he wrote a splendid one.
The only part I found slow was when he firsts visits China, but it picks up when he meets Confucius. I especially loved this part:
Confucius smiled. “I should think so. It has always seemed to me clear that the spirit which animates the human body is bound to return at death to the primal unity from which it came.”
“To be reborn? Or judged?”
Confucius shrugged. “Whatever. But one thing is certain. You cannot rekindle a fire that has burned out. While you burn with life, your seed can make a new human being but when your fire is out, no one can bring you back to life again. The dead, dear friend, are cold ashes. They have no consciousness. But that is no reason not to honor their memory, and ourselves, and our descendants.”
The biggest criticism of Vidal is that he likes to bend history to fit his novels and he does that quite a bit in this book. But honestly he bends to make a much better novel and in the end tells a better story than most historical fiction out there that tries to retain the truth and ends up feeling false. Gore Vidal in death has a new fan.
If you are looking for a well-written, complex story with dialogue that isn’t painful to read, then this is the historical fiction for you. Having some interest in ancient history is a plus but not necessary to enjoy the story.