Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell


The narrator of this book by odd circumstances lands in Cairo at the time of the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference.  Agnes is an unassuming 40ish woman from Cleveland who finds herself alone in the world, with some money, as a result of the influenza epidemic of 1918.  After a makeover by a kindly and stylish woman named Mildred in a downtown department store, our Agnes is dressed for the adventure of her life, and sails off to Egypt. 

She falls in with the principals of the conference, Gertrude Bell, Lawrence of Arabia and Churchill and we have a good history lesson about the compromises which resulted in the creation of Iraq, and other European arrangements for the Middle East.  Having recently read Georgina Howell's book about Gertrude Bell, I recognized some of the characters, including Bell's nemesis in Baghdad, Arnold Wilson, and her supporter, Lord Cox.  Agnes joins the group for a camel ride to see the sphinx and pyramids and it is explained she is in the famous picture of Churchill, Bell, and Lawrence on camels with monuments in the background, but she is off to the side!  Many of the minor characters in the book are based on actual people, including Churchill's bodyguard who wrote an apparently very appealing book about his assignment with Churchill. 

There actually was a Mildred of the Cleveland department store and she did, as she told Agnes, date a dancer name Les Hope who intended to changed his name to Bob!  "'He's a terrific dancer," Mildred said, and I didn't have the heart to point out that "terrific" means very frightening, not good." 

Dreamers of the Day is a wonderful read.  I bought it while I was in New York, carried it with me and anytime I sat down for a minute, was immediately engrossed in it. 


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