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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

On A Different Italian Note...

I can't help but take a moment to acknowledge the earthquake in Italy. When I was writing Pride of Carthage, I had the great pleasure of taking several trips to the Mediterranean, including a long driving and camping tour of Italy. I loved it, of course, and have great memories of it. I fondly remember hilltop villages like the one in this BBC story. My heart goes out to those dealing with the destruction and loss of life.

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Sir, You Are A Liar!

I got an... uh... interesting email a few weeks back. I get these every now and then: fuming attacks by people that are sure they hate me and my novel about Hannibal, Pride of Carthage. Thing is, they rarely stay on topic that long. They quickly make it clear that they haven't even read my book. They don't seem to know that the book has been published in nine languages, read by many intelligent folks around the world, and that it did quite well in... well, Italy, for example. And, try as they might, they can't help but reveal their true colors (so to speak).

Here's an example of what I mean, unedited in any way - except that I've removed his name:

Sir, you are a liar. Truth always matters. I have studied Hannibal and war all my life and the idea of Hannibal being of southern African appearance is a re-write of history, just as it was wrong to depict the flag raising by the fireman at ground zero of the 911 incident as having a black in the group of three men who did so. When lies are perpetrated upon a people for what ever dreamed up noble reason it tends to lead to rebellion and the rejection of the values of those who perpetrated the lie by future generations. The reliefs of Hannibal and other Phoenician’s that we have closest to the time of his life depict him and they as (Caucasoid) and you know it.

Could there and was there mixing of the blood, possibly but we also know from history that ethnicity and nationalism mattered much more in history than it does today and among the elite classes it would matter even more. These same stupid arguments are made concerning the Pharaohs and Jesus as well.

Jesus was a Jew, a Semite (Caucasoid). While he came for everyone and all races are equally precious in God's site it just so happens that the Jews were Caucasoid. He blended in to the normal Jewish society so well that Judas had to kiss him on the cheek for them to know who to nab in the Garden of Gethsemane. I guess you believe the Pharaohs were from the southern African tribes as well and that they used to fly above the Pyramids. Alexander the Great, Salah a-Din, Gen. Washington , Gen Patton, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, and many other very famous people were Caucasoid.

Genghis Khan, Confucius, Admiral Yamamoto, Mao and many other famous people were Mongoloid. Shaka Zulu, the Queen of Sheba, Mandela, Martin Luther King, and many other famous people from history were/are Negroid. When writing history and making points to touch the minds and hearts of future generations let us always strive for the truth and never settle for the lies or political agendas of convenience. It is sad that touchy/feely emotions are more important to you than truth.

Vr,

B.

First off, Pride of Carthage "touchy/feely"? That makes me chuckle.

Second, this left me wondering what "Vr" means. Could be Velvet Revolver. Or Voltage Regulator. Variable Resistor. Valve-Regulated. Vacuum Residue. Voltage Rectifier. Vehicle Representative. Visa Revocation. The possibilities are endless. It's possible it means Very Respectfully, but I'm not sure I buy that...

More seriously, I've never claimed - in fiction or otherwise - that Hannibal was a "southern African". I assume the author meant Sub-Saharan African. If he had read my book he'd find that my descriptions of Hannibal and his family are specific in ways that allow the reader to interpret that specificity as suits them. To me Carthage was an interesting, complex fusion of Phoenician and North African influences. The cultures mixed and mingled in many ways, and there are plenty of historical examples of intermarriage (often to solidify political unions) between Carthaginians and the various tribal powers of North Africa. I didn't have to look any further than Livy or Polybius for examples. All of this is why the root word for Punic was coined to describe them, and it's why Publius Scipio was called the Conqueror of Africa after defeating Hannibal - as opposed to Conqueror of the Phoenicians.

All of these are details that you'll see in any non-fiction work on Hannibal or Carthage. In many ways my version of things is fairly traditional. The difference, to me, is that I didn't want to whitewash the realities the moment I began writing creatively about this material - which I think we often do when visualizing the ancient world. (Friends, honestly, there's really no reason to think that ancient Romans and Greeks were Anglos that spoke with lovely British accents, but that's the norm of recent movies set in the period. It's silly. Though I like a British accent as much as the next person.) I wanted to keep the racial complexity in the book, and to keep it in without most of our Twenty-First Century, post Atlantic Slave trade baggage. That, inherently, means a colorful cast of characters that in all likelihood would not please B. Again, he probably wouldn't like my book if he read it, but my point is just that he didn't attack me for what was in the book; he attacked things he assumed were in the book. I'd argue he brought those assumptions with him, and pounced on me the moment he got me in his sights.

If he wants to base his argument on the use of the term Caucasoid he won't find my book in disagreement with that. But how many people know what the term Caucasoid really means anymore? (Here's the Wikipedia definition.) In its broadest sense it refers to the indigenous populations of Europe, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, West Asia, Central Asia and India. That territory includes peoples of so many different skin tones and cultures that I'm confident B doesn't actually mean it.

For example, how would B feel about Hannibal looking like someone from Somalia, or Ethiopia, or India? I don't think that Caucasian is what he means at all. He means white, which is a selective, very limited usage of an old term that's no longer in scientific usage. He means white, which has very little to do with the classifications he uses, but has everything to do with our lingering modern hangups.

But what about those "reliefs of Hannibal" closest to his time? Two things. First, almost none of those images/bust/statues are really from the ancient world. Two of the most famous statues, for example, were from Sebastien Slodtz (1655-1726) and Francois Girardou (1628-1715). We're talking thousands of years removed from Hannibal's life. Second, none of the coins/busts from the ancient period are certifiably authentic images. Sometimes books that show these images mention this fact. Sometimes they don't.

The bust here is from the 2nd Century AD. So it's about 300 years after Hannibal's death. That's a lot of years. But from a modern perspective it's damn old and therefore has a feel of authenticity. Only problem is that it may not be Hannibal at all. It's not like there's a carving in the back that says "This is Hannibal Barca". Sorry. There's just not. I took this image from the Wikipedia page on Hannibal. If you look at the text below the image you'll note that it says "This image may not be authentic". Exactly. The more you look up images like this and cross reference them, the more it becomes clear that none of the images we have of Hannibal were made during his life by someone that saw him in the flesh. For me, it's not wishful thinking to question the authenticity of any one image; it's just the opposite.

But, anyway, did I say somewhere that Hannibal was black? No. I've spent a lot of time talking up that Phoenicians and North African mix, and arguing that I can't really know exactly where he'd sit on the complexion spectrum. I've argued that instead of black and white the truth is some shade of brown or tan or copper. I've said that I can imagine Hannibal being considered black if he was somehow transported to the modern era and dropped down on some city street - but that's only because we've defined black so very, very broadly in America. I wrote: I think that because we'd see a brown-skinned man with curly hair, burnished by the Mediterranean sun. That's not exactly a fanatical position. It's filled with possibility, not limitations. That's the way I'll always think of Hannibal, because we're never going to know anything more definite for sure.

How did I respond to B's letter? Well, I wanted to respond with a level head, based on the facts in question and how they relate to my book. I think there are likely a whole lot of ways B and I don't see the world the same way, but I neither felt a need to try and change that with my response nor to use it to vent. Here's what I wrote back:

B,

I never said or wrote that Hannibal was of "southern African appearance". I can understand how you would find that frustrating, and I certainly know that lots of people use figures like him for their own political/social agendas.

About as far as I ever went with Hannibal was to say he and Carthage were the product of an interesting mix of Phoenician and North African influences. That's all. I was always specific about the region being North Africa. And no, I don't have any reason to believe the pharaohs were from Southern tribes or that they flew above the pyramids. That last would be silly.

I can see that these issues frustrate you quite a bit. Personally, though, I've not proposed most of the things you seem to think I have. It seems clear to me that you have not read my book. If you had, I don't think you would have felt the need to write to me as you did. I'm not saying you would have loved everything about it. That seems unlikely. But you'd at least know that I'm not driven by "touchy/feely emotions".

David.


As of yet, I haven't received a response. Thinking maybe I won't. And that's just fine.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Hannibal Marches On Romania?

It pays to look over your royalty statements from time to time. I feel like each time I do I discover something new...

Something prompted me to take a look at the last statement for Pride of Carthagerecently, and guess what I noticed?

Unless I'm reading the thing wrong, Pride of Carthage has been published (or will be published) in Romanian! The publisher is the RAO Publishing Group. I can find little info about them on the internet, but...

I think this is them.

Beyond that, no, I can't actually prove to you that I'm big in Romania. You'll have to use your imagination.

How could I not know this already? Uh... Well, I don't know. Doubleday is part of Random House. Random House is huge. Some things just sort of slip through the cracks in terms of somebody at my publisher realizing they have or haven't told me about something. I guess this was one of those cases. Also, the advance wasn't... uh... much. Not enough to really attract anyone's attention.

But, hey, who cares how many lei I'm raking in? (That's Romanian for money, by the way.) The point is my characters are getting to have a Romanian life! That's fun.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Hannibal Goes to Rome...

I got a nice email the other day from a comic author named Brendan McGinley. He wrote to say that he enjoyed Pride of Carthage, and that it was the only fictional source about Hannibal that he consulted (along with many non-fiction sources) when he was researching Hannibal for a comic project. He gave me a link to sample the comic, and I'm going to do the same for you....

It's kind of fun. Informative but certainly comical as well. I liked it. You can sample it here yourself if you're interested. Go to Shadowline Web Comics and then pick "Hannibal Goes to Rome" from the Web Comics Menu. It's not complete, but it's a nice taster. Methinks it could be a book... Worthy topic, and all.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

A Few Foreign Friends...

I just noticed this post on the Italian version of Pride of Carthage on the blog È TEMPO DI SCRIVERE: blog di sopravvivenza mentale. I could be wrong, but it sounds like he liked the book and mostly described what it's about - including thematically. Nice to know it's still being read, even in Italy!

Also, Liath, who was nice enough to comment on my last post, has written a review on Fantasy Faszination. It's in German, and from what I can gather some very nice things get said!

One of the most interesting things I've done recently was a video interview for my French publisher, Le Pre Aux Clercs. The book comes out there next month, and they're continuing to build for what looks like a really wonderful launch. For this interview, I had to get my Skype account all up and running. I set up my desk in the backyard, took the call and spent about 45 minutes speaking to a gentleman from Paris, Jean-Christophe. It was great fun. We even talked politics and the coming US election, although he assured me that won't be used in the final video. Once they edit it and put if French subtitles, they'll embed it on the French website for the book, which should be going online soon. I'll let you when it does. And, yes, that will be a first for me. A foreign language website devoted to my work! I'm thrilled.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On Not Taking It For Granted

Hiya. Yes, the weekend at Big Sur was awesome. Great camping, lovely weather, ocean and river swimming, hiking, the pleasure of my family's company... Good stuff. I would bombard you with photos, but I haven't quite slipped this into being a personal blog that way, so I won't inflict them on you. Perhaps in the future, when we're doing really interesting stuff, then I'll detail it here...

Right now, though, I want to mention something that happened when I got home from the trip. There was a box waiting for me. Inside it: the paperback version of Annibale, the Italian edition of Pride of Carthage. I opened it, plucked one out, looked at it for about four seconds, and then waved it at my wife as she passed by bringing in gear from the car. She said something like, "Cool" (with a Scottish accent, mind you, so it sounds... um... especially cool). And that was it. I shoved the box to the side and went out to help unload.

It was only later - when I noticed the dejected box of books on the floor in my office - that it occurred to me that it remains a special thing to get a new edition of published book. Why was I being so blase about it? It's another book! It's another example of a collective effort to get my words to readers. It's my work, and the work of translators, editors, publishers, designers and publicists, etc, most of whom live in that lovely Mediterranean country. It's kinda huge, really. If I'd never had another book published I'd be overjoyed at the arrival of this one, with it's dark cover and massive elephant. And since that's true it should also be true that I take a moment and enjoy and be thankful for this one.

So that's what I'm doing here. I'm not taking such things for granted. I'm taking a moment to be pleased. It won't be a long moment, because I've got work to do. I've got another novel to finish. There's stuff pulling on me that won't let me bask in any sense of achievement for too long. That's as it should be. It's humbling. But it also feels important to respect each success - if not for myself then for the other people that were kind enough to share it with me.

So thank you, Piemme! Thank you Italian readers that made the hardback a success. Thank you to the new readers that I hope will pick this version of the book up. Thank you for accepting my fictional take on your history.

And thanks for getting my son interested in reading Italian...

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Creating History?

I'm always a little surprised when I get comments on posts that are several years old. I guess I shouldn't be, though. The posts live on, and they can be discovered by anybody at anytime. This is never more true in my case than with anything to do with Hannibal and Pride of Carthage. Way back when, I posted About Hannibal's Race. It's sort of ancient history to me (pun intended, kinda), but I just had an interesting exchange. It started like this...
Anonymous said...

Well, I dont think he was black, probably some Semitic type. We shouldnt forget that his mother was an Iberian noble and his wife too, so I dont think that he looked that much different from them. But mingling of Barca family with some sub-saharan Africans is also possible...
Well, pretty strange arguing about the identity of man so long dead :)
I slightly shortened that, but didn't change any of the substance. I responded thusly...

Hello Anonymous,

(This thread has more "anonymous" posters than any other thread.)


Personally, I'm not arguing with anyone. I agree that it's ancient history, and no matter how hard we try to believe absolutes we're not going to be right about it. The truth - whatever it really was - is long gone.


I don't recall coming across anything that said Hannibal's mother was Iberian. If I had I would've been happy to include that, but I mostly recall his mother being a blank. Since he was born in Carthage and since his father had not yet headed for Spain I thought it reasonable that Hamilcar's wife be North African.


Hannibal's wife, on the other hand, was said to have been Iberian. That's exactly what she is in my novel. She's an important character in the book, really, with her own scenes.


I've said it before - and people that have read my book know it to be true - but part of what I love about the Punic Wars is the multi-ethnic/polyglot character of it. It included so many peoples, and so much crossing of cultural boundaries. I think our perceptions of race have very little to do with that ancient reality.


That said, I'm living now, so our hangups can't entirely be ignored...


Anonymous came back promptly with...

Hi, its me again. Wow, now I noticed you are a well known writer, interesting.

So first I would like to take back claim that Didobal was Iberian. I did read on wiki and few forums that she was a daughter of Iberian king, but I wasnt able to find any quotation of the source. Except of that that name sound quite Phoenician - I think Dido was founder of Carthage, right? What did you use as a source for Hamilcars biography?


So its pretty hard to tell how he really looked like, probably some mix.


I have to admit being surprised that anyone reading my blog doesn't know I'm a writer, but I guess he could come across that post in purely Hannibal terms. So I get it. There was something in that response that I didn't get, though. Here's how I explained it to him...

I was struck by your use of Didobal's name. I may be wrong about this - and if you can find any documentation of it let me know - but as far as I can remember I MADE THAT NAME UP!

There was always a little bit of info on Hasdrubal in any bio of Hannibal, but not much. I don't recall ever reading an account of who Hannibal's mother had been, other than a vague mention that the Barcas were an established aristocratic Carthaginian family. When I did have names I'd use them, even if - as in the case of Hannibal's sister Sapanibal - they were only mentioned once. But this mother figure was a blank. I combined the "bal" structure at the end of so many Carthaginian names with Dido, but... that's my authorial license at play also. Dido is the name given to Carthage's mythical founder by Romans - as in the Aeneid. In Carthaginian lore the same character is call Elissa. In my book I use Elissa as the founding queen, but as a bit of play with the fact that so much Carthaginian history came to us via Roman sources I combined their version with a Carthaginian name and come up with Didobal. If I got that name from any other source I don't recall doing so. I'm pretty sure the name is mine.


I just Googled the name and found mostly references to my own work/comments. I didn't see any mention of that name on Wikipedia. I did see that a person on some forum about Hannibal's race mentioned Didobal and that she was Iberian, and that amuses me greatly. In my novel Didobal is not Iberian. But I also don't think Didobal exists anywhere but within my fictional pages. Whomever that person was has some garbled version of this stuff - a version that includes a fictional character that wasn't even depicted in the way he thinks!


Classic.


That discussion board that Anonymous must have come across is HERE. I'll quote the relevant portion. Somebody wrote:

Hannibal was 25% phoenicians (caucasian race, not black) and 75% iberian (ancient spaniard). His father was the great general Hamilcar Barca (50% phoenician 50% iberian). HAnnibal's mother was Didobal, a iberian. Hannibal's wife was too iberian (Himilce).

That's it. No mention of where he got this two thousand year old info. It's unforunate that Hannibal's wife was "too iberian". (When can you ever be too Iberian, I wanna know? But anyway...) What can I say in the face of such numeric certainty?...

I haven't heard back from Anonymous yet, but I was amused enough by this to post about it. On one hand, I'm... well, "amused" is the word, by the fact that a name of a fictional character of mine could become someone's staunch argument about an historical personage, and further amused that the character in question has already gone through "historical" morphing. I'm not in the least surprised at this because the people that have the strongest opinions on Hannibal often seem to know the least about him. Strange, that...

On the other hand, should I be troubled? Am I putting false information out in the world? Need I track down future Didobal references and set the record straight? Or will I soon find that she's worked her way into historical books? I should do a search for Imco Vaca. Tusselo. Aradna... Who knows what I'll find about these "historical" figures?

Ah, the perils - and the power - of the historical novelist...

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

100+ Amazon Reviews, a Look at the Numbers...

I had this idea a while back that it would be incredible when I reached 100 reader reviews on Amazon.com. I don't mean 100 reviews for a particular book (although that's going to be cool, too). I just mean when the total number of reviews for my four books added up to a century. I know, those reviews can be joy. They can be pain. They can be gushing missives from friends or hatchet jobs by enemies... But no matter what, as an author, it's hard not to keep an eye on them...

Well, I wasn't paying attention when the number turned, but it has! Actually, I only noticed when I was at 106 reviews. 106! Do you realize that there was once a time I had exactly 0 Amazon reader reviews? Crazy.

Okay, but how's the math look? Have things gone well? Positives above the negatives? Let's take a look...

For Acacia, it looks like this: (34 total)
20 Five Star
10 Four Star
0 Three Star
3 Two Star
1 One Star

For Pride of Carthage, it looks like this: (40 total)
18 Five Star
9 Four Star
5 Three Star
5 Two Star
3 One Star

For Walk Through Darkness, it looks like this: (14 total)
10 Five Star
4 Four Star
0 Three Star
0 Two Star
0 One Star

For Gabriel's Story, it looks like this: (18 total)
16 Five Star
1 Four Star
0 Three Star
1 Two Star
0 One Star

Adding those all up by Star rating: (106 total)

64 Five Star
24 Four Star
5 Three Star
9 Two Star
4 One Star

So that's the way the numbers fall. I'm happy with that. The stinker reviews are always disappointing, but they're also a sign that the books are getting read by a wider range of people - and by more people, which is important. I'm not saying I'd encourage you to go and write me a one starred "I don't like this book cause it sucks!" review, but there's a place for them...

Wait... What am I doing? It didn't really take me that long to put this post together, but still it's been 26 minutes of my life that I won't have back again to write meaningful fiction! Why didn't you stop me? My apologies. Man, Resistance can be devious. It can even get me doing math. Enough!

I'm going to write now...

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Shame...

I've sat on this post for a little while, but I'll put it out there now. Awhile back I got a rather nasty response to my post on Meeting Hannibal. This was actually my first blog post ever, but I guess people still come across it. The response reminded me a lot of a few "reviews" I've received for the book on Amazon. I use those quotation marks because I question whether some of these "reviewers" ever read my book before forming their negative opinions of it. I don't like to respond to such reviews, but when somebody comes to me and makes the comments, I do feel free to dialog with them. So, let me give you an example of the type of thing I mean and the way I respond to it (when I get the chance).

So, here's what Mario said, unedited in any way...

Sir,

As an historian I am amazed at your irresponsibility in portraying this subject that you bill as a "European and African struggle". Firstly, it was a clash between two of the greatest powers of antiquity, driven by the usual motive, greed! Secondly, Hannibal was not black; he was a Carthaginian, therefore a Phoenician, therefore a Semite. There is ample documentation available that attests to this, up to and including DNA evidence that clearly links the Carthaginians to the modern inhabitants of present day Lebanon.


I for one do not doubt that Hannibal very likely had African troops in his army, but all historical accounts that I can personally think of are quite clear in describing his army as polyglot and largely mercenary in nature; it is a testament to Hannibal's genius as a military leader that he was able to turn so many different nationalities into an effective fighting force. It is in this respect that your depiction is largely off the mark.

Nonetheless, my biggest problem with your book is that you insist in portraying the Punic Wars as a racial struggle, and for that you should be ashamed of yourself. Whatever foibles the ancient Romans may have had, race based bigotry was not one of them. One of the biggest reasons why they were as successful as they were was because, generally speaking, when they did conquer a territory, they respected local customs and placed the locals in charge.

If your objective is to re-write history to further your own political agenda, I will personally thank you to avoid historical subject in the future.

Oh, yikes, scathing, huh? The shame. I should just hang my head and walk meekly into obscurity, having been unmasked... And I would if what Mario said was true. But it's not, neither in terms of the things he claims I included in the book or in terms of the things he thinks I overlooked.

I appreciated that he came to me personally, because it opened the door for me to respond. This is what I posted...

Mario,

Thanks for writing. I'm inclined to believe that your response here is based more on what you might think I've written in the book than what is actually in the book. I say that because you seem to think that I've asserted things in the book that I haven't. You seem to think that I disagree with you on things that I don't. Perhaps, also, some of the terminology I use troubles you. Let me clarify a few things.

When I say European and African I don't necessarily define African as black. I use the term more broadly, simply referring to the fact that Carthage was based in North Africa and had considerable support from other North African powers. I surely know that Carthage had Phoenician roots (and that's mentioned plenty in the book), but there is also a clear history of intermarriage (often political) with North African tribes. None of this converts Carthage to black African, but I do believe it mixed into their culture elements that complicated Carthage. After all, when Scipio conquered Carthage his honorific title was Africanus, conquerer of Africa. The ancients were okay with using this terminology. So am I.

You also seem to think that I make some strong case for Hannibal being black. I don't, though. I make a case, as mentioned above, that there was an Africanness in Carthagian culture, but I don't seek for that to replace the Phoenician or Semitic influences. I include them all. My Hannibal is brown skinned, but so are many, many people still living in the region. "Brown" is a wide category.

My book is all about how Hannibal managed his polyglot international and multi-ethnic army. It's about the issues he had dealing with his North African troops, and even more about the difficulties he had securing allies (and mercenaries) among the Iberians, Celts, Gauls and Latins once he's in Italy. I give a lot of detail to all of this. So I'm in complete agreement with your comment that it is "a testament to Hannibal's genius as a military leader that he was able to turn so many different nationalities into an effective fighting force". Absolutely. That's what my novel is about. When you follow it with "It is in this respect that your depiction is largely off the mark" I start to suspect that you haven't read my book at all. If you had you simply would not say that.

I continue to wonder when you write "my biggest problem with your book is that you insist in portraying the Punic Wars as a racial struggle, and for that you should be ashamed of yourself." If I HAD done that I would be ashamed of myself. I'd also be a bit confused, because all of my work (all of my work, sir!) is about looking at the complexities beyond our simplification of racial struggles.

Pride of Carthage is very much a novel about greed, pride, about defending your nation, about the toll of war and the damage it does to both sides. It's about ambition and large personalities and the callousness of fate. It is NOT about a racial struggle. No where in my book does Hannibal hate anybody for their race. He hates them for their nationality, you bet, but not because he has some modern conception of our racial biases. Also, no where in my book do any of the European powers look down on North African peoples for their race. This simply was NOT a dynamic in the book.

Mario, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to you. Next time, though, read the book that you're attacking first. I'm happy to say that a lot of people have. Including a lot of Italians. The Italian language edition of the book did very well in hardback, enough so that my publisher negotiated a nice contract to publish a mass-market paperback version as well.

At the moment I'm engaged in other projects, but it's quite possible I will return to historical subjects in the future. It's been rewarding for me so far, with three award-winning historical novels published in eight languages...

As for my "agenda"... I won't encourage you to read my work. Don't worry about it. That's fine. If you do read it, though, I believe you'll find it's pretty hard to put your finger on what my agenda is. In fact, I have considerably less of an "agenda" than most people. Strangely, I think that befuddles people with agendas somewhat...

Best,

David.

So that's what I said. I wasn't at all sure if I'd get any response. I didn't have to wait long. Mario came back later that day. This is what he said...

David,

I will take the time to read your novel, thoroughly, and I appreciate you taking the time to clear up some points. Having grown up in Italy, and being a product of their school system, albeit an older product, I must confess that I never had much love for Hannibal or Carthage, when I was growing up they were the enemy. Interestingly Italy and Tunisia actually signed a peace treaty formally ending the Punic Wars only about ten years ago as I recall.

I still get the impression however that you are looking at the subject a bit too much from a modern point of view. What the Romans did to Carthage and the Carthaginians may be horrific by our standards, but not terribly unusual in antiquity. The ancient Assyrians were by and far a far more blood thirsty lot than the Romans were, just witness their bas-reliefs depicting impaled prisoners on display in front of cities under siege, not to mention one of Genghis Khan's favorite hobbies was building pyramids with severed heads.

The one comment that I found particularly troubling on your web site was that the Punic Wars were a "struggle between European and African" civilizations; troubling because as you may be aware of from some of the blogs discussing the possible production of a Hannibal movie, a number of extremists from both sides of the color line are rearing their ugly heads.

I frankly have to say that comment leaves a great deal to be desired; a more correct and less inflammatory description of those horrible wars would have called them a gargantuan struggle between the two pre-eminent Mediterranean powers of the time, as both countries were along the Mediterranean coast.

With all of that being said, I must apologize to you for letting my hot Sicilian temper get the best of me, and not considering some of my comments a bit more carefully myself; as I was taught by the Ursuline nuns in my childhood, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Best regards,

Mario

Right. Okay. Well... When I showed my wife that she responded with disgust. How, she essentially asked, could anyone have the gall to attack you when they admit they haven't read the book (or read it "thoroughly")? How irresponsible! How annoying! How idiotic!

I don't disagree with any of that, but I'm a pretty easy going guy. I'm happy for that significant raising of the civility of the tone, and this is how I responded.

Mario,

Well, thanks for that. It's great, actually, that with just a little bit of dialog we can get a lot closer to understanding each other. Ideally, I'd hope that people taking me to task for things would do so after having read what they're taking me to task for, but moreover I appreciate the tone of your response and your willingness to give the book a shot. Thank you for that.

As for my looking at the conflict from too modern a perspective... Well, that's hard not to do. I am living now, and I am writing for readers living now, and those readers are sifting through the material from a modern perspective. I surely try to present things in context, but that's only ever going to be an attempt. I'll never get it exactly right. Nobody else will either.

I know the ancient world was a bloody place. My book never suggests otherwise, or gives any one side a higher measure of barbarity. All the salient plot points (at least in terms of the events of the war) I gathered from the ancient sources. Within that, there are plenty of instances of Roman treachery (as in instances when they violated their own conceptions of honor). There are plenty of instances of Carthaginian cruelty as well, and often Hannibal's success springs from his doing things that the Romans simply would not have considered accepted battle tactics. It's all in the book.

I don't imagine you'll love every aspect of it. At times you may disagree wholeheartedly with me. At other times you may just be skeptical. At others you may roll your eyes. But I think most of the time you'll find a good deal of balanced detail in the book. I've no doubt, having read your response to my response, that you will find things of worth in the book.

As for that line about the Punic Wars being a "struggle between European and African powers..." You make a good point. When I wrote that I defined both those categories in ways both more liberal and more specific than I imagine most readers will take them. By that I mean that statement doesn't equal the contemporary racial frictions that are part of our more recent history. I think people that read the book understand that, but the statement has to work for people that have not read the book also. With that in mind I think a revision is in order.

How about if I use some of your words and some of mine...

"a titanic clash of the two pre-eminent Mediterranean powers of the time".

That sounds good to me. I'll edit the original post.

I do think there are ways that the war and its results were shaped by (and then further shaped) the fates of European and African cultures, but I admit that's a much more subtle and complicated matter than our modern rhetoric acknowledges. It can't be explained in a sentence, that's for sure.

Oh, and I agree that the "debates" around whom should be cast in a Hannibal movie often show people at their worst. Very little of the strident arguments people have are really based on those distant historical times. Most of it is about our contemporary hangups, and it can get pretty ugly to listen to. In most cases, I find arguments on both sides based on limited and selective information - so limited and selective, in fact, that it hardly counts as information.

For my part, I've never offered a casting choice, except to say I'd hope they would find an actor that really had the gravitas to embody such a complicated character. Actually, I've mentioned the Japanese actor Ken Watanabe (from The Last Samurai) - not because I think he should be cast, but because he's the TYPE of actor they should be looking for, one that can contain the intelligence and cruelty, vision and perseverance and suffering of a figure like Hannibal. It's an amazing conflict that could merit an amazing film. I doubt we're going to get one, though.

Anyway, Mario, I do appreciate having this back and forth with you. It's easy to hot under the collar and shout at each other. It's a lot more substantive to talk things through a bit. Glad we got to do that.

Best,

David.

ps - Do you still read Italian? There is that Italian version of the book (Annibale), published by Piemme, if you're interested... The paperback version, by the way, went out with a first printing of 45,000. Which, ironically, is the largest first printing I've had anywhere...

I didn't get a response from this post, but that's alright. What do you think? Am I too nice? Too amenable? Sometimes I feel that way, but it's true to my nature. (My wife, on the other hand... She's got a temper. Man, you should have heard the way she tore into the gardeners the other day for blowing dust on the laundry...)

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Babel...

Every now and then I remember that Pride of Carthage lives out in the world in various translations. I get to wondering what people in those foreign countries think of it, so I go a looking online. Thing is, of course, I'm a typical American in that I don't speak any second language that well. I find pages and pages in Polish, Swedish, Italian, etc... but I can't read a word of it - other than my name as it pops up. What to do?

Babel Fish Translations! Or any of the many online translation machines out there. Figuring it's worth a try, I culled some chunks of review text in various languages and gave these linguistic machines a try. Here are a few examples of what I got for my efforts...

A chunk of text originally in Polish regarding Duma Kartaginy...

As we observe most slight details of (particularities of) events how (as) on great screens by microscope. And Rome, on fields Kannów and Zamy. Intimate contrast with this picturesque fresco, portraits to details (particularities) rich Hannibala and family, allies and enemies. We learn psychological portraits excellently zarysowane wodzów and slaves, priests and plunderers of corpses, beautiful (fine) women and vacant nobilów. We are witness of triumphs and disasters, determination and weakness, love and hate of people forming contemporary history.

Okay, now that I recognize as a bit of jacket copy. Not exactly a review. Makes me wonder, though, if the original Polish really did put extra emphasis on the beautiful (fine!) women? Maybe they sexed it up a bit...

Okay, here's one that was originally in Swedish, regarding Hannibal Karthagos Stolthet...

Can I type that the book is good only in order to it might myself that nörda away to the library after maps over ancient Iberien? Both Antiquity's fabler and means time even riddarromaner was of course in highest degree note renown spirit and I requires that such a book that has something to learn out can is considered that "better” than it that provides purely nonsense. If I count with the interest that Durham's book arouses at me, I must acknowledge that it is really good.

Hmmm. I think there's a compliment in there, although my reading of that is that what he liked most about the book was that it sent him out the library to do some real research. I can live with that, I guess.

And from the Italian about Annibale...

Lofty. In premising that I have read it in language originates them English, I think that this text merits without doubt a place of first relief in Mount Olympus of contemporary historical novels... Nicholas Guild, Allan Massie, Gore Vidal (giuliano) I interlace brilliant of history parallels that ruotano around to that great condottiero that was Hannibal I fresco of the ancient world with palpitanti personages. Never banal, never retorico, always deep and winning. The novel makes from inspired contour the historical events that have contraddistinto the tragic one rivalita' between two piu' high power of the Mediterranean. One chicca for the lovers of the ancient history, absolutely not to lose. One reading for all.

Okay, this one had some lovely bits to sink my teeth into. Mount Olympus of contemporary historical novels? Nice! Makes me want to shout, "One reading for all!"

I mucked about for a bit longer and pulled up a lot of completely garbled stuff. I think it's fair to say we have a ways to go in perfecting computerized translations. That said, once Acacia starts appearing the around world I'll be back at the Babel Fish again, regardless. Sometimes, one does come across some gems. Like this one originally written on somebody's blog in Spanish...

The thing is that, approximately 3 months ago, I began to read a called book "Anibal, the pride of Carthage" of Anthony David Durham and like the afternoons them step a little put in blogs, and sharpening details of the guideline, cost much to finish to me reading it. Not because it was not entertained, but that but that nothing by lack of time. I must say that at the end of the book, you complete pages have a so enviciante rate, that those 100 or 200 pages, I could not loosen them. In fact a day was walking and I had to stop under a little tree to finish to me reading.

Awesome. I love that. Somewhere out there in the Spanish speaking world a guy had to sit down under a little tree to enjoy the final chapters of my book. As the author, what more could I ask for?

Or, was that translated right?...

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Friday, August 24, 2007

A Mexican Bestseller?

Nobody ever tells me anything...

Okay, that's not true. My wife tells me things. La Gringa tells me things. The good people that write in here tell me things. So, more specifically... Nobody ever tells me when I make international bestseller lists!

I've got to find these things out myself every time. I've just discovered, belatedly, that the Spanish Language Pride of Carthage (Anibal, el orgullo de Cartago) made a cheeky, short-lived appearance on the Associated Press' Mexican Bestseller list. Thing is, it happened a few weeks ago, and the list is dated for the 10 of August. Proof here.

Cool. It seems like it was a one week blip, though. That got me wondering just how many books I might have sold in that week. Thought about it. Got no clue. Won't know anything about it for, oh... like nine months or so. For the record, it takes forever for the whole accounting of sales to get back to the lowly author. One must be patient. Still, I wondered. So I looked up Mexican book sales online...

Maybe shouldn't have done that. I came across this report on the subject by Senator Alfredo Ling Altamirano. Among other things, he said...

"The demand for books is directly related to the economic development of countries, if we consider book consumption per inhabitant. Annually, in the USA it is 89 U$S, in Germany 102 U$S, in Austria 95 U$S and Denmark 92 U$S. If, as the National Chamber of Mexican Publishing Industry (CANIEM) shows, Mexicans read 2.8 volumes per year, consumption per capita would be 8 U$S, which is pathetic. In Mexico 12 new books are produced daily. In the world, 4 thousand books are published daily. This means that Mexicans read little. In 1997, out of 93 million Mexicans, around 79 million had not been to a library in the previous year."

Oh. I see. So I won't be placing an order for that new Prius after all...

It's funny being an international bestseller. Feels a lot like not being an international bestseller, which, perhaps, is why nobody on the team has yet to draw my attention to it...

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

How do you say Acacia in Italian?

I'm not sure, but I'll be finding out soon. Piemme, the Italian publisher of Pride of Carthage, has decided to stick with me for Acacia: The War with the Mein also. They'll be publishing it in hardback, in a two volume set. I guess the length of an Italian translation is such that the two volume thing seems necessary. Fine with me. I'm not sure where they're going to cut it, though...

With the German edition, that makes two translations for Acacia. Still hoping that's just the start.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Smithsonian... Not!

I was supposed to be in Washington DC today, giving a presentation at the Smithsonian for their Historical Fiction Writers' series, focussing on Pride of Carthage and Hannibal. I was chuffed to have been invited and really looking forward to it. Even made up a wee slide show to get a multi-media thing going. Didn't happen, though. Close. Close, but didn't happen.

The reason? Weather. From the start my flight out of Colorado Springs was canceled, and then when I did get on a plane the engines iced up while it was being de-iced. Pilot said this was weird, never happened to him before, but it made for a delay of about an hour and a half, which meant I missed my next flight. I then got booked on another flight out of Denver to Dulles. I got on the plane with the other hopeful passengers, only to told, sorry, we're not flying after all. Now the issue was the storm sweeping across the East Coast... I spent the night in Denver (about sixty miles from home), hoping to get on to a 5am flight the next morning. But, no, that didn't happen either. Dulles and National airports were both closed! So instead I came home. 28 hours away and nothing to show for it. On top of that, my luggage got lost...

Anyway, I'm still smiling. I think the Smithsonian folks want to reschedule for next month, and that's fine by me. I do want to thank the 100+ people that bought tickets for the evening. My travel difficulties aside, I do hope to be able to connect with you all in the near future.
Now, I've got some work to do...

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Three Amazon Milestones

Well, I noticed a few new things happened in Durham's Amazon life yesterday. One is that Pride of Carthage got it's 30th Amazon.com reader review! That's cool. Although, judging by the low star count, it wasn't a very nice one. But that leads to the second milestone...

For the first time ever I had no interest in reading the review. I noted it's existence and that was it. This is strange to me because I've always read all my reviews before - professional or amateur, good or bad. I didn't decide that I wasn't going to be as bothered about negative ones anymore. It just happened. I guess there have been enough good ones over the years that I finally reached a point of some equilibrium with the whole thing. The few bad reviews need not occupy my mental space anymore. Right? I've got too much work to do writing the next book, and then the next after that... That's what matters.

And the third thing is that somebody bought the first Amazon copy of Acacia! I know this because the book's sales ranking suddenly switched from None to #4,892,226. Yes, that means I'm almost five million slots away from the number one spot. But hey, the book is like six months away from publication. At least it's gotten a start. Thank you, whomever bought that first copy.

Oh, and if you click on that Acacia link anytime soon you may notice that the cover displayed isn't my book. I've been assured that'll change soon.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Katrineholms-Kuriren

A swedish journalist named Niclas Karlsson was kind enough to alert me to a review he wrote of the Swedish version of Pride of Carthage (Hannibal Karthagos stolthet). It's published in Katrineholms-Kuriren. Of course, I can't read a word of it, but I'm hoping that he had kind things to say. You could check it out at the above link and if you know any Swedish fill me in on the details...

It includes an illustration of Hannibal. I think it's quite good.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Hannibal Karthagos stolthet

Always a treat to out of the blue get a box of books that I appear to have written except for the fact that I can't read a word of them because they're in some foreign language. I'm not kidding, either; I have so little to do with the foreign editions that it's always a surprise when I actually get my hands on one.

The latest is the Swedish edition, published by Norstedts. It came at a good time for me, also. I'd just had a conversation with a white librarian here in Colorado Springs. She was very nice, but as soon as she found out I was an author she began to bemoan how black people in the city don't use the library enough. She was clearly saying that it was too bad that my people weren't readers, and assuming that my career and fortunes must be suffering for it.

Now, I certainly wish that African-Americans were reading more and reading better, but what bothered me about this interaction was that she assumed - without any knowledge of what my books were about - that my work would only be of interest to black readers. That assumption, unfortunately, is made all too often in publishing. Without a doubt, I want as many black readers as I can get. I want them to know that I'm writing for them, both when I'm writing novels about African-Americans and when I'm writing about the ancient Mediterranean or about a completely imagined world. But I'm also writing for a world audience, and fervently hope that it's possible to have both.

Getting this book from Sweden seems to suggest it is possible. Not a whole lot of black folks there, right? Or in Poland. Or Russia...

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

My run in Chile has officially ended

I was bumped off the bestseller list. I don't know how much sales have actually changed, but Isabel Allende swooped in to land the number one spot. Perhaps she bumped me into the obscurity of #11. Who knows? I'm delighted it ever happened, though. That's what I'm left with.

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Friday, August 04, 2006

I need to go to Chile


Chile, Chile, Chile... A grand country. I was ready to fade, but they were kind to me yet again. Number 7 last week, between Amy Tan and Dan Brown. How very weird. Sort of mixed company, but I'll be polite and grateful. And then I'm number 7 again this week. This time I'm between Laura Esquivel and Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Interesting.

Los 10 libros mas vendidos en las Americas - 28 July

Los 10 libros mas vendidos en las Americas - 4 August

By the way, I have been doing things other than following the Chilean bestseller lists. I've finished the revisions to Acacia, and sent them to my editor a few days ago. He should like it, I think. I deferred to his wisdom on 99% of things.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

I'll assume this is the last week of this bestseller stuff... for a while, I mean.

For the week ending the 21st of July Anibal still made the AP list in Chile. This time it just scraped in, though, in the number 10 slot. I think this makes it a five week run. I'm expecting to drop off the list next week. That'll be fine by me, though. Five weeks selling that well in any country in the world is a thrill.

Here's the link... Los 10 libros mas vendidos en las Americas

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Another Week Doing Well in Chile

Anibal is still on the AP list of Latin American bestsellers. For the week ending July 14 it came in at number Five. I'm starting to feel this whole thing wasn't a complete fluke.

Here's the link... Los 10 libros mas vendidos en las Americas

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Still a bestseller?

Well, Anibal is still on that AP bestseller list a week later. I've moved down to number 8 in Chile, but I'm still on there! I'm sitting right behind Eldest, by Christopher Paolini.

Here's the link... Los 10 libros mas vendidos en las Americas

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

International Bestseller?

Okay, this is kinda strange. I can't say I entirely believe it, but according to the Associated Press the Spanish version of Pride of Carthage (Anibal: El Orgullo De Cartago) is a bestseller in Chile. During the week ending June 23 the book ranked #3, just between Dan Brown's La fortaleza digital and JK Rowling's Harry Potter y el misterio del príncipe.

Here's a link... Los 10 libros mss vendidos en las Americas

Weird. I'm not entirely sure I believe it, or have any faith that it'll keep selling at that rate, but I'm thrilled. Yeah, Chile. I'll now know who to support next World Cup!

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Italian Cover of Annibale

Hello. Well, I like to post the good newsy type stuff. I just got another box with another foreign edition of Pride of Carthage in it. It's the Italian hardcover, published by Piemme and called Annibale. They went for the BIG elephant again on the cover, but made it even darker and more menacing. Here's the image...

I guess I'm easy, but this one is fine by me also. I'm very happy that a good Italian publisher liked the book that this American wrote about their history enough to do the translation.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The UK Paperback

Hello. I opened a plain brown envelope and found inside a couple of copies of the UK Massmarket paperback version of Pride of Carthage. It looks like this...

More of a swords and sandals look than the US editions. But I like the way the book looks and feels in the hand. It's thick, over six hundred pages, with a larger font. I may like it just because it's different on every page and feels new because of it. Hopefully, though, some UK buyers will like the look of it enough to take it off the shelves.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

El Orgullo De Cartago - Spanish Pride of Carthage


Got my hands on the Spanish edition of Pride of Carthage. It's called Anibal: El Orgullo De Cartago, and it's published in hardcover by Ediciones B. I dig it. It's decidely strange to flip through a foreign language edition, seeing your story, your characters, your scenes rendered in another language. I'm pleased.

They used an illustration that I've seen before. It's a dramatic, sort of surreal image, really. It doesn't quite jive with the depiction of the use of elephants I have in the book. Namely, I went with the notion that Hannibal used a variety of North African elephant that was smaller than either Bush Elephants or Indian Elephants. The drivers rode behind the elephants' heads, mounted as a single person on a living bulldozer. Ediciones B went with an image of enormous elephants carrying towers in which multiple archers rode. Very different. But I'm not bothered. It's well out of my hands, and it does make for a dramatic image.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

First Paperback Tour

I just got back from an exhausting week of book promotion stuff. It was, as ever, a mixed experience, but I'm always glad to say yes whenever someplace is good enough to ask for me. This one was my first tour for a paperback, the Anchor edition of Pride of Carthage.

Enjoyed my visit to Elliott Bay Book Co in Seattle. Great bookstore, stellar staff and atmosphere and stacks of good books.

I stopped in LA, but can't say that much came of that. It wasn't a literary night in Hollywood, or maybe everyone interested in books went to see somebody else. I won't mention the bookstore because it was so dissapointing... But, anyway...

The best stop was in Iowa City. I read at Prairie Light Books, as part of their live broadcast and interview session on the local NPR station. And then the next day I spent an hour as the "Talk of Iowa". Another fun time, hanging out in a coffee shop, with a live audience and sharing the hour with a great local jazz band. That's the best sort of literary entertainment - when it's smart, but also light and lively.

Madison, Wisconsin, was also a good stop, although I had a small audience at the Borders there. It snowed that night, so that didn't help. But the people who were there were great fun - and they bought books!

But, I'm glad it's over now. I have a few more readings in Massachusetts, but those are things I can drive to, very different than the trans-continental shuffle. I'll be at Newtownville Books in Newton, MA on Jan 24th. Then I'll be at Jabberwocky Bookshop and Cafe in Newburyport on February 3rd. And then I'll finish up at a local stop, Food For Thought in Amherst, MA on March 3rd.

But in the meantime, I am decidedly back to work on Book Number Four. It's in the final stages, and I should wrap it up in a few more weeks!

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Monday, January 09, 2006

About Hannibal's Race...

What an issue! There are two decidedly staunch camps that I've become very familiar with as I worked on and then publicized Pride of Carthage. One camp says that Hannibal was black, an African, and should therefore be considered an African hero. He was based in Africa; therefore he is of Africa. These folks would say that it's our continuing racist society that either wants to 1) deny that Hannibal was African or 2) choose to accept it, but then go on to demonize him because of it.

The other camp says that Hannibal wasn't black. They argue that he and his people were Phoenicians. They might've had a colony based in North Africa, but that doesn't mean they mixed with the locals. And even if they did mix with the locals the North Africans weren't really "black", so African-Americans have no reason to claim him as their own. Folks from this camp are inclined to 1) be real Hannibal fans or 2) still choose to demonize Hannibal, because even if he was Phoenician he was still not European, more a threat to Western Civilization than a participant in its growth.

My book does not enter this debate with hard and fast agenda. At least, that's the way I see it. I'm not sure that all the interest in this really has much to do with who Hannibal truly was. It's about the myriad ways we're still hung up on race in the Twenty-First Century. I mention these two "camps", but I should also point out that I'm not talking about scholars and academics here. These vocal proponents on either side are mostly just folks from the general public. This is, in many regards, a popular debate, not an academic one. If I have an agenda it's to render on the page the true racial complexity of the Second Punic Wars, including - but not limited to - highlighting Carthage's African characteristics.

In most regards I take the original sources at face value. It's these old dead guys that I base my story on because they're the best sources we have and because their version is filled with racial/ethnic complexity. Carthage did have a Phoenician element, sure. This can be seen in their earlier naval and trading prowess, and in their religious pantheon. But Carthaginians also intermarried with North Africans, and had been doing so for hundreds of years. The ancients, like Livy and Polybius, point out many marriages at the highest level of Carthaginian society. These were often arrangements meant to strengthen ties with Numidian and Libyan allies. If the Carthaginian aristocracy was doing it why would anybody claim the lower classes weren't mixing and mingling freely? And, significantly, the Romans themselves called the Carthaginians by a name from which we derive the term Punic. It's a word coined to name the particular combination of Phoenician and African cultures that Carthage was. It doesn't mean Carthage was completely either. But it certainly names it as indelibly both. Remember also that when Publius Scipio triumphed over Hannibal he was given an honorific name that essentially meant "Conqueror of Africa". So, in many ways, the Romans themselves had no qualms about acknowledging Carthage's African identity.

So what do I think personally? I think that Carthage (and Hannibal) was a child of two nations. There is an undeniable Phoenician influence. But there is also a foundation in African soil, blood and customs that is at least equally important, maybe more. I say maybe more because throughout the Second Punic War many African tribes joined Hannibal in his fight. I don't recall any mention of other Phoenician states having much of anything to do with it. So my answer is one based in the complexity of the situation. I'm content with embracing the uncertainty inherent in that, and I think it's more than a bit unfortunate that more people in our society can't do the same. Black and white. Conservative and Liberal. Good and evil... It seems we're trained to think only in absolutes. The world, however, never works in absolute terms; that's part of why we're always handicapped in trying to make sense of it from within our ideological boxes.

But the question people really have and often ask me is more mundane... They want to know whether I'd prefer a Vin Diesel or Denzel Washington a Hannibal movie? Honestly, I don't think either is perfect. I'm not sure that Vin Diesel could pull it off because of the complexity inherent in bringing such a dynamic figure to the screen. Maybe he could, but only if he majorly ups his game. And Denzel, although I believe he has the gravitas, is too old to play the twenty and thirty-something general Hannibal was through the war. Both these things come to mind for me before we even get to the race question.

Usually this answer doesn't satisfy people. It's not really what they were asking. What they really want to know is do I support a black or white Hannibal? The answer is "No". No, I don't support a "black or white" Hannibal. I don't see Wesley Snipes as Hannibal in the same way I don't see Brad Pitt. (I don't think Brad Pitt should be playing a Greek hero either. Believe me, my indignation at racial misrepresentation is multi-faceted.) Either extreme is misguided. As with so much around Hannibal the truth is somewhere in between. It's gray. It's brown. It could even be tan, but the truth isn't black or white. The person who could best bring Hannibal to the screen must first have the charisma, the strength, the intelligence, the skills to embody his arrogance and his brilliance and portray with empathy a man blessed and cursed by his own destiny. Such an actor isn't easy to find, and shouldn't be searched for only after passing a complexion test.

On the issue of a complexion test... I do believe that people who want to deny Hannibal blackness are being unfairly selective in their use of this racial terminology. No matter what Hannibal was he was a man with brown skin. The ancients make it entirely clear how strange and barbaric white-skinned, blond haired people were considered. The Celts and Gauls from Northern Italy northward were spoken of disparagingly by Romans and Greeks in part because of their unnatural whiteness. White, blond, tall: these were the characteristics of barbarians. So Hannibal, being south of Rome and from African soil, was at the very least a brown-skinned man, much more familiar and respected in the ancient world.

Now, I am also a brown skinned man. (I'm actually sadly pale right now, it being a New England winter and all that. But still, you can tell.) I'm of mixed blood, black and white and with other indeterminate influences thrown in. But few people would call me anything but black if they saw me walking down an American street. As has often been stated, a drop of African - a drop of black - makes you all black. I do think it's too precious, then, for people to call a person of any and all shades of brown a Black Person here in America, but then to deny other brown, African people a claim to blackness when it suits them.

I'm quite sure that if Hannibal dropped down on to the streets of any American city, put on modern clothes and walked the sidewalk... He might well look like somebody that our culture would most readily define as a black man. I think that because we'd see a brown-skinned man with curly hair, burnished by the Mediterranean sun. Remember, we tend to have a very wide spectrum in terms of what we call black in America. It doesn't matter where along that spectrum he ultimately sits. If he's on it at all that man walking down the street would be defined by one or two words, labeled, identified, preliminary judged. That, unfortunately, is what all the debate is about. It's not about the Hannibal of more than two thousand years ago. It's about us, right here and right now.

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Friday, December 16, 2005

UK Covers for Pride of Carthage


First up is the hardback version, which is published by Transworld. I thought it was quite nice.

The first attempt at the paperback is below. I wouldn't have complained about this one, but I'm decidedly not a good judge of these things. The publisher didn't feel this one would jump off the shelves. They even thought the bookstores weren't ordering it in the quantities they wanted to see. So what to do? Just change the cover. Same book inside, but wearing a new suit. You can click on either of them to see them in larger versions.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Pride of Carthage Sources

People have been asking me what sources I looked to while writing Pride of Carthage. There were a lot, actually, but there were some I used more than others. Below are the ones I mention in the back of the book. They're all titles I'd recommend for anybody wanting to do more research on Hannibal...

For those interested in an historian's take there are many sources to consult, beginning with the ancient’s themselves: Polybius and Livy. Among the many more recent texts I considered I wore a few thin and ragged: Lesley and Roy A. Adkins' Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome, Nigel Bagnall's The Punic Wars, Ernle Bradford's Hannibal, Brian Caven's The Punic Wars, Leonard Cottrell's Hannibal: Enemy of Rome, Gregory Daly's Cannae, Theodore Ayrault Dodge's Hannibal, Florence Dupont's Daily Life in Ancient Rome, Peter Berresford Ellis' The Celtic Empire, J. F. Lazenby's The First Punic War and Hannibal's War: A Military History of the Second Punic War, Adrian Goldsworthy's Cannae, Victor Hanson's Carnage and Culture, B.H. Liddell Hart's Scipio Africanus, Serge Lancel's Hannibal, John Peddie's Hannibal’s War, John Prevas' Hannibal Crosses the Alps, John Gibson Warry's Warfare in the Classical World, and Terrence Wise's Armies of the Carthaginian Wars 265-146 BC.

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Friday, February 18, 2005

Booklist Review - Starred!

Booklist has also been kind to me. This makes three starred reviews for Pride of Carthage (out of a possible four) from the industry magazines. Kirkus actually gave me the best review, although they held back the star. No worries, though. I'm more than happy. This also means that I've gotten seven starred reviews for my first three novels. Very happy about that.

*Starred Review* Durham, the author of Gabriel's Story (2001), has crafted a grand recounting of the second Punic War. Fresh off a victory in Arbocala, Hannibal Barca, the great Carthaginian warrior, has set his sights on Saguntum, an ally of the growing Roman Empire. An attack on Saguntum will ultimately bring on a war with Rome, but this is what Hannibal longs for. Aided by his brothers, envious Hanno, pleasure-loving Hasdrubal, and shrewd Mago, Hannibal manages to sack the impenetrable city and with the blessing of Carthage begins the long march to Rome that will take him past treacherous Gauls, forbidding mountains, and inhospitable marshes. Durham depicts the great general as a fully rounded, complicated man: he's both a larger-than-life hero, propelled by his great ambition, and an ordinary man, who longs to be by his wife's side and regrets missing his beloved son's childhood. To give the reader a fuller picture of the war from all sides, Durham does not shortchange the lesser players in this great war: he develops characters such as Imco Vaca, a young man in Hannibal's army, who is ill-equipped for war; maimed Tusselo, seeking revenge against the Romans who enslaved him; and Aradna, a much-abused young woman who shadows the army. Durham's epic is truly a big, magnificent, sprawling story complete with a sizable cast of compelling characters, intricately drawn battle scenes, and fluid, graceful prose.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

My Library Journal... Starred!

Library Journal was good to Pride of Carthage. Here's what they said...

The name Hannibal evokes ancient Rome, elephants crossing the Alps, and, ultimately, tragedy. In a dramatic change from the 19th-century American settings of his previous novels (e.g., Gabriel's Story), Durham's latest offers a rich, exciting, and panoramic view of the legendary Carthaginian general who almost conquered Rome. Hannibal is portrayed as heroically devoted to the North African city of Carthage, Rome's biggest rival, yet also as a man with human weaknesses. Life was brutal and bloody, and the novel does not gloss over the savage side of Hannibal and his peers. Along with detailing various members of Hannibal's large family, Durham also depicts ordinary soldiers and does not forget the Roman perspective. An epic tale well told, this will be easily understood even by those with limited knowledge of the period and may conjure thoughts of Robert E. Lee's battles against the Union in the Civil War. Highly recommended for most historical fiction collections.

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Saturday, January 22, 2005

Misunderstanding Hannibal

A quick search for information on Hannibal on the internet provides an array of perspectives on his character and legacy, many of them negative. It never takes long to come across the declaration that Hannibal was driven only by hatred, or that he sacrificed children, or that he wanted to destroy Rome completely. He was a brute, a barbarian, an ogre that we should be thankful Rome saved civilization from. Quite often I've heard his accomplishments belittled by those who wish to point beyond all his successes to highlight his ultimate defeat and promote his victor, Publius Scipio, as his superior.

As I began the research that led to my novel, Pride of Carthage, I didn't have definitive refutations of these claims. Hannibal simply drew me toward his story, and I assumed telling it would require a sometimes uncomfortable partnership with a man of considerable ill-repute. During the course of my readings, however, I found none of these negative claims to have much validity. I found him to be a nobler character than I expected, grander of vision, driven by complex emotions, often exceeding the norm in terms of acts of benevolence. And I was not looking outside the traditional sources on the subject: the ancients Polybius and Livy, and the many contemporary scholars working comfortably within the academy. Why then does the understanding of Hannibal that I reached seem to differ so greatly from much of the popular, censorious rhetoric surrounding him? I think the answer lies firmly on one particular factor: the effective use of propaganda. (I also think that the lingering Western desire to simultaneously fear and denigrate opponents of other, often darker, races and cultures also has something to do with it, but that's a topic for another discussion.)

Almost everything we know about Hannibal and Carthage comes either from Roman historians or from Greeks writing under the sway of Roman authority. These scholars had the unenviable task of explaining why their patrons eventually sieged, overran and sacked Carthage in a door to door killing spree that left only fifty thousand survivors out of an estimated population of seven hundred thousand. They went to great pains to wipe out all trace of Carthage, of the people, the architecture and all the components that make up a culture. Rome did this years after Hannibal's death, when they were under no direct military threat from Carthage, when Carthage was certainly not the aggressor. It's this' act of genocide that the historians had to grapple with, to contextualize and offer to the world. The way they do so is clear. The Carthage they present is a barbaric, child-sacrificing, bloodthirsty-god worshiping culture, one that had to be extinguished for the betterment of the world. Hannibal is the prime symbol of their avarice, duplicity and menace. This is the story the ancients present, and to us they have the hallowed authority of thousands of years of seniority. But did Hannibal and Carthage become monsters before or after their defeat? As the reason for their extermination, or as the excuse proffered to explain it? Is there any real reason we should trust these long departed scholars?

I believe the answer to the last question is twofold, and that its within the duality of the answer that the overarching thematic base of my portrait of Hannibal finds its purchase. No, the Roman and Greek sources were not - by any modern standard - reliable. They certainly weren't fair and balanced. They didn't have cable news networks, NPR, BBC or Al Jazeera to deal with. Yet they are the only source through which the identity of Carthage and its heroes was passed to the world. There's no reason not to believe that they altered the history in ways favorable to themselves. Why wouldn't they?

But after making that point I'd actually offer that _ to their credit - they are often surprisingly even handed with their presentation of the facts. Enough so that I was utterly content to trust and to seek to convey accurately into fiction the details of the war that they provide. It's in their unsubstantiated rhetoric that they cater to their patrons. For example, Livy, the Roman historian who penned an enthusiastic history of the Roman state, when writing about Hannibal's character gets carried away in describing his virtues. Livy paints a picture of a leader loved by his troops, a man who would cast himself down to lie on the hard ground next to them, who was the first to enter battle and the last to leave it. But immediately after this Livy turns to a host of what he claims are Hannibal's negative traits. We learn that he was inhumanly cruel, a liar with no fear of the gods, no reverence for an oath, "no religious scruples". He paints a convincing portrait of a man blessed and cursed in equal measure. The problem with this is that the virtues as described are again and again evidenced in the pages to follow; the vices simply do not appear even within the historical record of events.

The historian Ernle Bradford writes in his Wordsworth Military Library work on Hannibal "...these major charges cannot be substantiated and there is no evidence - even within Livy's own account - of any of them". No evidence of any of them? As improbable as that sounds I do have to concur. I also find it interesting that Bradford writes that "the writers of antiquity... who managed to find some more or less scandalous anecdote about nearly all the great men in their history, found themselves baffled when it came to Hannibal." This is not, actually, an uncommon view. Again and again I found that the contemporary writers of detailed works on Hannibal came to respect him. It's primarily the ill-informed and the partially-informed who hold on to truly negative perceptions of Hannibal.

He was, of course, a man of his times. And a warrior. As such it goes without saying that he orchestrated the deaths of a great many people. In this he's no different than any of the historical figures of the period. But what truly fascinated me - and what informs the novel -was my discovery of a great many virtues in this often demonized man. To name a few of the many details the public may find surprising about Hannibal...

1). Hannibal did not declare war on or preemptively attack Rome. (He tricked Rome into declaring war on him in a manner that betrayed their imperialist aspirations.)

2). Hannibal did not seek to destroy Rome the way Rome eventually destroyed Carthage. (In fact, he didn't even march on Rome until he'd already been on Italian soil several years. His intent was clearly to defeat Rome's troops on the field of battle, to convince the cities allies to abandon her, and then to answer Rome's eventual pleas for peace with harsh measures that would curtail her expansion.)

3). Hannibal's army was not made up solely of mercenaries drawn from North African tribes. (In addition he brought with him Celtic Iberians, Gauls from Southern France and Northern Italy, and he all but completed a treaty that would have brought the Greek kingdom of Macedon into the war on his side. Many Greek city-states declared for Hannibal and tried to throw off Roman authority. In truth, Hannibal convinced vastly different groups from among Africans and Europeans that Rome was a threat to them all.)

4). Hannibal did not sacrifice children. (Most historians agree that if Carthage did practice infanticide - and there's growing debate on whether they even did - they'd stopped doing so before Hannibal's time. On the other hand, Livy is forced to mention that the Romans publicly and officially sacrificed humans as they grew more desperate and confused by their inability to defeat Hannibal.)

5.) Hannibal's eventual loss to Scipio does not in any way detract from the stunning record of victories he had up until then. (Scipio is also one of antiquities greatest generals. It's clear that he learned a great deal from Hannibal himself, and it was an inspired decision to take the battle back to Africa, where he triumphed. But this was the final stroke against a tree that for all intents and purposes was already leaning to fall. Scipio defeated Hannibal when he was weakened in every way possible, in troop numbers and training, in the pitiful support he received from his nation, in that he had no trusted siblings or generals left to aide him. On the other hand Hannibal had defeated the Romans time and again on occasions when they outnumbered him and when they were at their strongest, most confident, most prepared.)

Such are just some of the details I discovered in the process of writing about this remarkable figure. It still surprises me that there have been so few fictional treatments of Hannibal, and that those there are have often reaffirmed old prejudices while selectively ignoring aspects of the historical record that suggests he was so much more. Pride of Carthage is not an attempt to turn/revise Hannibal into a hero. The novel is, however, an effort to bring to life a man who has been both seen and unseen, spoken of and misunderstood for two thousand years. I'm hoping the book will help, in a small way at least, to kindle a debate about this man and the history he influenced, a discussion that any desire for a fair understanding of Western civilization demands that we undertake.

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