"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Household Gods (book review)

Household Gods by Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove (2000)

Nicole Gunther-Perrin, divorced mother of two preschoolers, works in a mediocre Los Angeles law firm. After a particularly bad day, and feeling overwhelmed by problems familiar to many modern women, she makes a heartfelt wish to Liber and Libera (Roman gods on a plaque she had brought back from Europe as a souvenir) that she could live in their simpler time.

The gods grant her wish, sending her back in time and into the body of one of her ancestors--Umma, a widow who runs a tavern in Roman-occupied Austria. She wakes the next morning to the all-too-real squalor of Umma's existence. And she must cope somehow.

Retaining her memories of her 20th-century life while masquerading as Umma, Nicole needs all of her wits and wisdom to negotiate such daily circumstances as public baths, haggling in the market, poor sanitation, and helplessly witnessing the abuse of children and animals. Gradually her problems escalate until, in the end, she has experienced nothing less than a personal apocalypse: plague, war, starvation, and rape. But I was so engaged by fine writing, sly humor, wonderful period detail, and above all Nicole's ingenuity and will to survive, that I was glad to stick with her through it all. She does not disappoint.

Nicole might seem at first to be merely a vehicle for the authors to satirize contemporary attitudes, but as her trials become more extreme her character deepens. Ultimately, she achieves a powerful synthesis between her own modern life and the perspective she brings back to it from the past. Elements of science fiction, fantasy, history, and social commentary make this fresh and original tale accessible to many readers; at nearly 700 pages, it's both fast moving and engrossing. I didn't want it to end. This is that perfect kind of escapist reading that leaves you with more substance than you were looking for, and you're glad of it.

(adapted from my review in SLJ)


I found the illo of the book cover, above, at a neat blog all about time-travel fiction called Andy's Anacronisms. He writes, and I agree, that this book "is not a story centred on any innovative or unique ideas, but rather relies on the strength of its characters and their development at its heart." Read the rest here.

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