The Greek Treasure: A biographical novel

The Greek Treasure is biographical novel* by the 20th century’s master of that form, Irving Stone, whose books on Freud, Michelangelo, and Mary Todd Lincoln were top-10 bestsellers.

Photo of circular stone on The Greek Treasuredustjacket
The Greek Treasure lies under a dull lid.

In Greek Treasure, Stone tackles a less familiar subject: 19th century amateur archaeologists Heinrich and Sophia Schliemann.

Sophia has just graduated high school in Athens when her Uncle Vimpos recommends her as wife to a divorced, self-made millionaire twice her age.

Henry Schliemann says he wants a poor but well-educated woman who loves Homer and will assist him in digging with pick and shovel to prove that Homer’s Troy was a real place.

Sophia is young, flattered, and willing to marry her family’s choice, sure she will learn to love him after they’re married.

Greek Treasure suffers from the perennial problems of Stone’s extensively-researched novels: Much of the source material is dry-as-dust.

Readers get very few glimpses into the inner lives of the characters that little comes mainly from self-edited documents.

Stone is a skillful writer, but this particular book is probably not one that will attract many 21st century readers. Baby Boomers were the last generation to know where the Dardanelles are, and millennials know Homer only as a character on The Simpsons.

The Greek Treasure by Irving Stone
A Biographical Novel of Henry and Sophia Schliemann
Doubleday [1975] Book Club Edition 470 p.
1975 bestseller #7. My grade: B

*Stone used the term “bio-histories” instead of the publishers’ term “biographical novels.”

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Source: Jewish Roots and Contemporary Conflicts

To say James A. Michener’s whopping 1965 bestseller The Source is an historical novel both understates and misleads.

Into a narrative about a contemporary archaeological dig at Makor, a man-made mound in Israel, Michener weaves a chronological series of short stories about key people and events in Makor’s history. Through this complex literary device, Michener traces unravels the history of Makor from its earliest human occupation up to 1964.

photo of James A Michener at ruins of Tell Beth-Sham

The Source: A Novel by James A. Michener

New York: Random House, 1965. 909 pages. 1965 bestseller #1. My grade: A

The short stories explore the character of the various peoples who came to Makor—from the Canaanites to the British—with particular focus on the Jews.

Michener makes the characters increasingly complex as centuries pass, giving a sense of the progress of civilization.

Michener connects historical events in Israel and the Middle East with happenings in distant places like Rome and Mexico. He shows, for example, that the Crusades were part of Renaissance colonialism in which Europeans carved out city-states in the Holy Land.

The characters in the excavation narrative form a kind of Greek chorus to comment on and interpret the significance of the history of the Holy Land for the post-World War II world.

As America’s ties to Israel are tested by events in Syria, Iraq and Iran, The Source is worth reading once more.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni