As I have written before I do enjoy fiction that takes place in ancient times. Into the Unbounded Night by James Mitchell Kaplan is a thinking man’s (woman’s) kind of tale. I thank Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for sending me a copy at no charge for my honest review.
About Into the Unbounded Night:
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
Regal House Publishing
Paperback & eBook; 231 Pages
When her village in Albion is sacked by the Roman general Vespasian, young Aislin is left without home and family. Determined to exact revenge, she travels to Rome, a sprawling city of wealth, decadence, and power. A “barbarian” in a “civilized” world, Aislin struggles to comprehend Roman ways. From a precarious hand-to-mouth existence on the streets, she becomes the mistress of a wealthy senator, but their child Faolan is born with a disability that renders him unworthy of life in the eyes of his father and other Romans.
Imprisoned for her efforts to topple the Roman regime, Aislin learns of an alternate philosophy from her cellmate, the Judean known today as the Apostle St. Paul. As the capital burns in the Great Fire of 64 AD, he bequeaths to her a mission that will take her to Jerusalem. There, Yohanan, son of Zakkai, has been striving to preserve the tradition of Hillel against the Zealots who advocate for a war of independence. Responding to the Judeans’ revolt, the Romans—again under the leadership of Vespasian—besiege Jerusalem, destroying the Second Temple and with it, the brand of Judean monotheism it represents. Yohanan takes on the mission of preserving what can be preserved, and of re-inventing what must be reinvented.
Throughout Into the Unbounded Night, Aislin’s, Faolan’s, Vespasian’s, and Yohanan’s lives intertwine in unexpected ways that shed light on colonization and its discontents, the relative values of dominant and tyrannized cultures, and the holiness of life itself—even the weakest of lives.
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About the Author:
Mitchell James Kaplan graduated with honors from Yale University, where he won the Paine Memorial Prize for Best Long-Form Senior Essay submitted to the English Department. His first mentor was the author William Styron.
After college, Kaplan lived in Paris, France, where he worked as a translator, then in Southern California, where he worked as a screenwriter and in film production.
He lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with his family and two cats.
Into the Unbounded Night takes place in three places; first in a place the people call Albion that is being destroyed by a marauding army that calls the island Brittania. There we meet Aislin, a young girl under the care of her aunt. We are also introduced to Vespasian, the Roman general in charge of one of the legions conquering the land that modern times will know as England. Vespasian is as cruel as they come and he destroys anything he comes in contact with – all to the glory of Rome, of course. Aislin manages to survive him and through her strength and some luck she finds herself in Rome where she is forced into a relationship with a rich Roman – but that does help her acclimate her to the ways of these people who destroyed all she knew.
But her life in Rome is not settled as the son she bears for her patron is disabled and he is most displeased. As she flees to save the life of her child, she is again in a perilous position – especially in a world that worships perfection. Caught up in the chaos as the great fire starts and rages, Aislin finds herself in prison shackled next to a man named Paul; a member of a new religion that has the Emporor all riled up. He has blamed them for all that ails Rome. As she listens to him she learns his story and he gives her a mission for after her release.
Aislin takes this mission very seriously and when reunited with her son she heads to Jeruslalem to do as Paul has asked. Along the way she meets a man named Yohanan, a teacher. The reader has learned a bit of his story already earlier in the book. These four people – Aislin, her son, Yohanan, and Vespasian will all play important roles in the story of Jerusalem and Rome.
I have to admit that it took me a little while to figure out how all of the players fit together in this tale. Rome, in it’s heyday ruled over a mindblowingly large part of the world and kept trying to conquer more peoples. And they weren’t exactly kind rulers – it was Rome’s way or good bye. I will also admit that like a lot of literary fiction sometimes things happen over my head. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy what I am reading, I just don’t always understand all of the nuances of what is going on.
Mr. Kaplan’s writing is just magical. Despite sometimes not completely understanding what was going on, I found myself lost in the world he created. This is a book I am going to have to read again to gather up all I missed the first time because I was so lost in the beautiful words. Then I might be able to sort out the parts that are smarter than I am – or maybe not. Some books are just like that. Doesn’t mean I don’t love them, just means I don’t fully understand them. I read the book in a day and it was a wonderful day of reading