Wednesday, June 11, 2014

I Am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith (4)

Ok, first off: I liked this book way more than I thought I would. I mean, the cover? First glance: it’s kind of mosaic-y with leaves falling on her face, kinda making her look all disheveled and lying there with her mouth slightly open. It SAYS it’s about one of the most powerful women in the history of Rome but….it looks like a romance novel. On closer inspection, she's standing there defiantly, wind whipping her hair, with her mouth parted in a provocative way...still looks like a romance novel, but one with a likable character. First glance at the cover was on my phone while I was getting ready to spend 30 minutes crimping my hair for a play. And it was the perfect book to read while crimping my stupid hair, except the one night I got too into the book and almost missed my entrance because I was super slow at getting my hair did.

What I Did For Love, indeed
photo cred: Jeff Carpenter Photography
It’s written as though Livia is writing her own memoir in her old age, and she starts by talking about how infamous she became, which is weird because I have no idea who she is. I don’t even recognize the guy that ends up being in charge of Rome, probably because he’s Julius Caesar’s heir – also called Caesar – which means I probably lumped their histories together into one story. This is why history is confusing: everyone has the same names.
Julius Caesar
Caesar, the adopted heir
The story begins with Livia, age 14, overhearing her beloved father discussing Julius Caesar’s assassination. Which we all know is going to happen. (I mean, even I remember that much of history class.) As part of the plot, her father marries Livia to one of this fellow senators. And blah, blah, blah…history. A lot of things happen. Read the book. Or be familiar with history. Eventually she meets Octavianus (Julius Caesar's heir, also called Caesar) and more things happen. And she meets him again, while pregnant with her husband's second child, and more things happen. Intrigue. Scandal. (Spoilers?)

I LOVE historical fiction when I can trust that it is remotely historically accurate. It helps me keep all the facts and players straight when I have a linear story with a hero I find relateable. It makes me feel smart and like I learned something. Plus, it helps to keep history in perspective, that all humans that live now and have lived in the past have possessed human emotions. And the #1 reason to read fiction is to cultivate your sense of empathy. (I’m not kidding, people study this: Scientific American, The GuardianScienceThe NewYorker.) And, as I’ve mentioned before, if there’s a good love story I am 95% more likely to like the book. We all have our weaknesses. This love story was very "aww" worthy.

Stick through it to the end, I know it gets a little lost, but I promise the end is worth the journey. I wasn’t wholly convinced that Rome found Livia as conniving and infamous as she started the book saying she was, BUT a book has to have a hook, so I’ll let that go. 


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