In honor of the late Eugene Luther Gore Vidal Jr., 1925-2012, a writer you may love or hate but must admire, I offer this review that I wrote 9 years ago:
Creation by Gore Vidal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A 600-page travelogue on a long-gone world. Cyrus Spitama, half-Greek, half-Persian grandson of Zoroaster, boyhood friend of Xerxes, travels across the vast Persian Empire of the 5th c. BC, to India — where he marries a king's daughter and converses with holy men of various persuasions, most memorably with Gautama Buddha himself — and thence on to Cathay (China), where he becomes the prized slave of an impoverished duke, listens to Lao-Tze, and comes to know the aged Confucius intimately (they go fishing together). Finally he manages to return to Persia, in time for Xerxes' assassination and the ascension of his crippled son Artaxerxes, who sends him on as ambassador to Athens, where he hears Thucydides' distorted pro-Greek version of the Persian wars, chats with the young Pericles, and dictates his memoirs to his grandson Democritus. Lots of action, even more philosophical discussion, but only sporadic, unsustained narrative tension — ideas, rather than characters, are Vidal's main concerns here. Cyrus, one of the few purely fictional characters to appear, is seeking to solve the riddle of creation, a paradox for Zoroastrians, solved by reincarnation for Buddha, an event that never occurred for Lao-Tze, and an issue beyond human knowing and thus not worth exploring for Confucius. In an epilogue, Cyrus' grandson Democritus sums up his famous solution to the problem — all is matter, made up of "atoms," ceaselessly recombining to create new things. Fascinating as popular history of philosophy, but lacking the sustained, complex character development that Vidal achieves brilliantly in Burr. We get intriguing glimpses of Pericles, Xerxes and the others, but the only truly complex and fascinating characters are Atosa (Darius the Great's wife and mother of Xerxes) and Confucius.
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