Sunday, November 21, 2010


Lustrum is a novelized version of Tiro's biography of his master, Cicero, which, along with much of Tiro's writing, is now lost. Robert Harris built his novel around what is know of Cicero's time in the Roman senate around 60 BCE, just before Caesar came to power.

As far as historic novels go, Lustrum was a pleasure to read, and I ended up feeling like I knew more about the great orator, his slave, scribe and friend Tiro, and the politics and maneuverings that led to Gaius Julius Caesar's rise to rule the Roman empire.

Lots of other characters play parts in this tale, which spans a lustrum--a five year period--from 63 to 58 BCE. Harris deals with this large cast of characters, and their legalese, by providing a descriptive cast of characters and a glossary at the back of the book. A map of ancient Rome is also provided to help orient the reader, although it would be more useful had it contained more information.

I especially enjoyed reading about these characters after our trip to Rome last year, which included a visit to the new museum Museo dell'Ara Pacis, which houses the reconstructed l'Ara Pacis (Alter of Peace) from 9 BCE, 50 years or so after this story takes place. The alter is the center piece of the museum, but exhibits also include busts of Caesar, Clodia and other characters from the story, a family tree of the leaders of Rome, and diorama map of Rome from that era (which corresponds very closely to the map in the book). These memories of Rome took on another aspect in light of what I read in Lustrum. I actually bought this book in Italy, but didn't get to it while I was there. I wish I had.

Ara Pacis Bookmarker, note busts at far left, temple beyond

This is one of those books that I found myself spending extra time with to find out what happens next. Harris did a great job weaving the senatorial intrigue into an exciting novel. This is the second in a series of three apparently. As I mentioned, I bought this paperback in Italy, but I don't know if its available in the US yet. I think the first one is tho.

[EDIT: Lustrum is available is the US under a different title: Conspirata.]

What the hell, lets just all go to Italy!

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