Trials and triumphs of historic Alexandria in: PEPPERY WINDS

Verdict: PEPPERY WINDS is more of a travelogue than an adventure novel, but as a travelogue, it succeeds beautifully in presenting the reader with a vibrant and diverse ancient world, a world populated not with marble statues or historical footnotes but living, breathing human beings.

IR Rating

 
 

4.5

IR Rating

Two young Alexandrians of different faiths seek to open a new trade route to India in the first century AD.

PEPPERY WINDS is an adventurous epic novel set in the first century AD, opening with the drama of terrifying and murderous anti-Semitic riots in Alexandria, where Jews and Greeks had lived in peace for generations following a delegation of Jewish leaders led by the scholar Philo to appeal to Emperor Caligula for protection, and culminating in an epic trade voyage to southern India, seeking a new route to bring back the pepper elite Romans crave, and for which they pay vast sums. Our heroes are Amram, a devout young Jewish man with an interest in surveying and no interest in his father’s banking business, and Aristides, a Greek sympathetic to the Jews, who seeks adventure and profit for his spice import business, but regrets leaving his dying mother behind.

The dramatic sweep of the novel covers a wide and colorful range of cultures, religions, practices and beliefs with vivid clarity and depth. Characters are fully human, fleshed out and real, reacting to each other with the startled surprise of people finding out that the way they have always done things is not the norm everywhere. From the Jewish Alexandrians trying to negotiate the conflicts between Jewish identity and the Greco-Roman world to the stoics, philosophers, politicians, schemers and social climbers in Rome, to the Buddhist Greeks, matrilineal Nayars, and the caste and purity-conscious Hindu court of the autocratic Rajah of Kerala, the author explores human interaction with an ethnographer’s zeal and a contagious sense of wonder and delight. The plot rambles quite as much as the characters do, and sometimes threats build up suspense only to fizzle out in the end, but that’s very forgiveable, given the rich novelty on the other side of every page. Unpredictable rulers, storms at sea, and pirates provide suspense and danger, gentle touches of romance and familial affection provide warmth, and the author’s deft descriptive ability presents a past both foreign and recognizable, immediately present and yet just a bit out of reach.

PEPPERY WINDS is more of a travelogue than an adventure novel, but as a travelogue, it succeeds beautifully in presenting the reader with a vibrant and diverse ancient world, a world populated not with marble statues or historical footnotes but living, breathing human beings.

Reviewed by Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader.