The Saracen Blade is dull and dumb

Frank Yerby’s speciality is novels about men and women who rise from poverty to wealth, fame, and marital bliss through their brilliance, loyalty, and sexual prowess.

Yerby sets The Saracen Blade in the 13th century. Pietro di Donati, a blacksmith’s son, is born on the same day and in same town as the baby who will become Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire.

In that era, the aristocracy ruled by violence, usually having become aristocrats by violence. Though slightly built, inclined to intellectual rather than physical pursuits, Pietro becomes part of the violent world in which kingdoms clash, religions compete, and the poor suffer the consequences.

Pietro seeks his fortune in the only way boys of his era know: attaching himself to powerful knight and hoping to rise with him. For 30 years, he trudges around Europe, North Africa, and Asia as squire, knight, Crusader and trader. He pauses occasionally to admire the women and to retch when someone other than himself inflicts mayhem.

When Pietro finally gets back home, his childhood sweetheart is waiting. By that time, I was ready to retch.

I recommend reading the appendix. Yerby’s notes are better than his novel.

The Saracen Blade
Frank Yerby
Dial Press (book club edition), 1952
1952 Bestseller #9
295 pages + notes
My grade: C
©2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Big Fisherman, Big Disappointment.

In The Big Fisherman, Lloyd C. Douglas explores the rise of Christianity in a complicated story tangled around the figure of Simon Peter.

I learned lots of trivia, like the fact that multinational crowds came to Jerusalem for a big, annual Pentecost camel auction, but I didn’t enjoy the novel in which Douglas package it.

Douglas gets his characters out of central casting. He runs them around to show the human side of historical events.

But when Douglas tries to transform Peter from impetuous braggart to martyred saint, he makes the apostle seem hokey.

Unfortunately, that’s not all that seems hokey.

There’s a love story that reads like a patchwork of scenes from bad movies. The girl, known as Fara or Esther, is an Arab Jew who vows to kill her father, Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee. To get to him, she disguises herself a boy.

Fara’s boyfriend, Volti, follows her to Judea to assassinate Antipas himself. The Romans get suspicious and lock him up. But Volti is such a gallant guy, they let him out so he can kill Antipas, who in their view needs killing.

I kept reading to see what happens to Fara and Volti — but nothing does.

If you’ll excuse the pun, The Big Fisherman just peters out.

The Big Fisherman
By Lloyd C. Douglas
Houghton Mifflin, 1948
581 pages
Bestseller # 1 for 1948
My Grade: C

© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni