This is an unlikely candidate to be on my list of the 5 best books I've ever read. But it is near the top of that list. An "autobiographical" account of a long-dead Roman emperor (not even one of the glamorous, or truly depraved ones), written by a 20th century Frenchwoman - who'd have thunk it?
Other reviews here pay tribute to the depth of scholarship underpinning this book, as well as to Yourcenar's brilliant writing. But it would be wrong to pigeonhole the book as catering only to those interested in the history of the Roman Empire. That's what's so stunning about the book - it has a universal wisdom that should appeal to any reader. The journey with Hadrian as he revisits his life in memory is remarkably moving.
I beg, I implore you - buy, steal, or borrow a copy of this book. It will draw you in. It may not change your life, but it will definitely make you think. All I know is that I find myself re-reading it every three to four years. Why? Because each time I learn something more about what it is to be human.* And come away reinvigorated to face the questions in my own life. I find this book far more spiritually inspiring than any of the more overtly spiritual books I've read.
An extraordinary book. 5 stars, only because it's not possible to give it more than 5.
* A *sodden* cliché, but I don't know how else to put it.
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Aug 25, 2010
Apr 27, 2012 06:44 PM UTC
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"In her brilliant 'psychological novel and meditation on history,' Marguerite Yourcenar has written an imaginatively daring and artistically persuasive 'self-portrait' of Hadrian."--Orville Prescott --Review
Historical novel by Marguerite Yourcenar, published in 1951 as Memoires d'Hadrien. In the book, Yourcenar creates a vivid and historically accurate portrait of the 2nd-century Roman Empire under Hadrian's rule. The work is a fictional first-person narrative in the form of Hadrian's letters--mostly to his nephew Marcus Aurelius--written shortly before his death. Contemplative and analytical recollections of his accomplishments, his hopes for Rome, and his personal relationships, the letters reveal Hadrian to be a highly intelligent, often wise man, conscious of the great power he wields. --The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.