Stephen Pressfield, the author of Gates of Fire, The Afghan Campaign and Tides of War, about the Spartans, Alexander the Great and Alcibiades, respectively, returns to ancient history with his latest effort, A Man at Arms.
Teleman of Arcadia is a Greek mercenary who once served in the Roman army’s famous Tenth Fretensis Legion. He is dispatched by the Roman consul in Palestine to intercept and stop by any means a dangerous insurgent, said to be carrying a letter that could cause the downfall of the Empire.
When Teleman becomes allied with the man and his daughter, a mute, the mercenary and his little band of unlikely heroes must defend themselves against bandits, Arab mercenaries and The Roman army itself to deliver the letter, which is a missive from the Apostle Paul to the Greek city of Corinth.
Pressfield’s book The War of Art about overcoming “resistance” has nearly taken on the lofty status of Natalie Goldberg’s classic Writing down the Bones or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I have always thought his books about writing to be better than his stories. This book is no exception.
His prose is hard to take sometimes, as his motto seems to be to never use a one or two syllable word when a three or four syllable word is available. I have nothing against what Hemingway called “ten-dollar words” back when that was a lot of money. As a writer of fiction myself, I can sympathize with trying to come up with a word that will evoke the exact meaning or feeling one is looking for, but in an action novel, multisyllabic utterances decelerate the deciphering of the manuscript. It’s sort of like trying to run through ankle deep mud. There are also a few escapes and close calls that stretch credulity.
The book’s saving graces are Pressfield’s insistence on historically accurate portrayals of characters and setting, the many surprising plot twists, the riveting action sequences, and the insight into what it must have been like for the early Christians as they faced seemingly overwhelming odds to keep their nascent religion alive. Though perhaps not Pressfield’s best effort, A Man at Arms is still an entertaining read.
Jack is in trouble for being really late this week – –
I have a second cousin who has become the historian of the family and has been writing stories going back generations and putting them up on FaceBook.
The first few were so far back that I had to dig deep to recognize the people he was referencing. Of course that was partly because they existed on the periphery of my direct forebears. Nevertheless, some names were familiar, including my grandfather on my dad’s side after whom I was named.
I read recently that if you go back ten generations you have over a thousand direct ancestors that have contributed to or share your DNA.
But as Donald began to get up to date, more and more familiar names emerged. People I remembered from when I was a child and we would go on trips to visit them over in the west of Scotland. This was often quite an adventure in our unreliable pre-war and second hand Hillman Minx. There were no modern roads and we would meander slowly through towns and villages until we arrived.
Cousins, Aunts and Uncles and friends of theirs (many long gone) have emerged into the light through Donald’s stories which are amazing and a mixture of remembered family memories and research through on-line databases. He always manages to work in a connection between the family story and what’s happening in the wider world at the same time
A recent one concerned the marriage of his parents – John and Sheila Adamson (Sheila was my dad’s niece, the daughter of his sister).
The photograph he posted of the wedding was a real time-warp. A mixture of folk that teased back through various family strands and forward to my own life now. My sister Margaret and cousin Pat were bridesmaids and I seem to remember the occasion although I was only seven.
When Wendy first came over to Scotland she was able to record family stories from my mother and these add another dimension that is more immediate, but also adds another layer in her own words.
I’m sure Donald would say this is just a hobby for him and that may be, but I know that these stories, written from a family perspective, but placed in that wider context are important and I hope he is archiving them safely!
Much kudos to Donald Adamson for taking on this time consuming task!!