Saturday, November 01, 2008

Book Comment: Remembering Hypatia

Remembering Hypatia, by Brian Trent, was entertaining and easy to read, but I find it difficult to classify it as historical fiction. It is loosely based on an historical person and historical events, but that is where all semblances of historicity end. Upon finishing this book, it would be a grave error for the reader to assume that his or her understanding of Hypatia, the significance of Alexandria's famed library, or the religious and political currents that were current in the late fourth and early fifth centuries has been enhanced. That's okay. Reading does not always have to be for functional or informational purposes; it is an activity that one should do, whether occasionally or often, just for the sheer joy, pleasure and fun that reading can bring to one's life.

I appreciate this book's focus on an historical woman whose scholarly achievements have received far too little attention through the ages. I'm ashamed to say that I don't recall ever learning about Hypatia, or even hearing or reading her name, until I read Jennifer Hecht's fine book, Doubt (which I highly recommend to all readers who are looking for a book that is both historically sound and a pleasure to read). On the other hand, I disliked the fact that the characters were either Good Guys Wearing White Hats or Bad Guys Wearing Black Hats. I get frustrated, sometimes to the point of rage, when people of a particular faith tradition, and even those of no faith tradition, portray people who don't adhere to their particular beliefs as thoroughly amoral, immoral, opportunistic sleaze bags. Trent's lopsided portraits of his characters filled me with a strong desire to encounter people that seemed less like comic book heroes and more like human beings.

Having read this novelization of Hypatia's life, I may turn my attention to a more scholarly examination next time around. Michael Deakin's book looks like it may be a good place to start.