When Gore Vidal died a few months back I had to pause and allow that fact to sink in for a while. I devoted a huge chunk of my 20s to reading him, after all, and much of my knowledge of US history comes from his historical novels. I also loved his essays and admired his bitter exasperation with American empire and its two corporate parties pushing thinly disguised versions of the same agenda to two groups of befuddled and misled voters.
I decided I should re-read something following Vidal’s demise, and it took a while for me to chose Creation: A Novel. As much as I loved the US historical novels, I really enjoyed Creation and Julian the most–and these led to intense reading in ancient history and religion during my 30s.
So I just finished re-reading Creation. What prevents it being merely Vidal showing off his detailed knowledge of history is the fact that its narrator Cyrus Spitama is actually Gore Vidal thinly disguised. We get to be inside Cyrus’s (Gore’s) head as he meets and grapples with major historical figures like Confucius, Socrates, the Buddha, Master Li, Darius the Great, Xerxes the Great, Pericles, Thucydides, Aeschylus, and Democritus. Cyrus is the grandson of Zoroaster, raised in the harem of Darius, and a childhood friend of Xerxes. From these humble beginnings he ends up an ambassador for Persia to Cathay and India. As a result we get Gore Vidal’s snarky take on the workings of power in these regions, and on the beliefs and traditions of each culture. It’s great fun, and I think by the end of the year I’ll likely re-read more Vidal, perhaps Burr or Julian or Lincoln? Or maybe my fave, Live from Golgotha.
If you’ve never read Vidal’s historical novels, this is a great place to start. If you don’t like the narrator or presentation, you likely won’t enjoy any of them. Check it out.