Thursday, May 22, 2008

Of Sabbatini, Hugo...and Keith Hernandez?

Among the books read during my regrettable hiatus from The Book Den were two superb adventures that were part of the Notting Hill Napoleon schedule, Rafael Sabatini’s Bellarion The Fortunate and Victor Hugo’s Toilers of the Sea. Both were captivating, wonderfully written and inspirational. And though I should mention that you just might feel the same disappointment that I did about the very conclusion of Toilers of the Sea, I still recommend them both.

Toilers of the Sea is certainly a beautifully crafted novel and Hugo held my rapt attention through even unusually long descriptive passages. His breadth of vocabulary was remarkable. (Plenty of thanks on that score goes to the translator too, of course.) In addition, Hugo's novel was poetic, sensitive and imaginative. It is a fairly long book but I'm pretty sure you won't tire of it. The drama is intense; the philosophical considerations are profound; and the characters in the 18th Century Guernsey maritime culture Hugo portrays will stay with you – pleasantly and for a long time.

Toilers of the Sea came to our attention, by the way, through John Malek’s hearing a hearty recommendation of the book from none other than Keith Hernandez, the former National League MVP who is considered the best defensive first baseman to have ever played. Being a Yankee and Rockies fan (Hernandez was a Cardinal, Met and Pirate), I was a little skeptical at first. But "Mex" was right. Toilers of the Sea was a first-rate novel.

The other book I mentioned above, Rafael Sabbatini’s Bellarion The Fortunate, was also loved by the Napoleon’s when we read it in August. It is a stirring novel set amid the turbulence of Italy’s city-state wars of the early 15th Century.

Sabbatini has become a favorite of the ours (Claire’s and mine and now the entire the NHN company) and the reasons why are exhibited in plenty in Bellarion. The author effectively sets the stage for the most engaging of foreign adventures but he accomplishes much more than what usually goes for “escapist fiction.” Sabbatini teaches, stimulates and challenges the reader. He writes fine literature – and like the best of classic adventure writers (Dickens and Dumas are at the top of this list for me), he writes literature that’s an absolute blast to read!

So for religious and military history, for romance, for intrigue, for cultural and strategic comparisons, for a thrilling ride with a witty hero and, yes, for a whole lot of pure fun, put Rafael Sabbatini’s Bellarion The Fortunate on your list for summer reading.