When you think of Provence you probably think of the region’s famous French scenery and wine. But when novelist Iain Pears thinks of Provence he thinks of its deep—and often dark—history.
His 2002 novel The Dream of Scipio weaves together three Provencal stories. One concerns a Gallic aristocrat obsessed with preserving Roman civilization in the midst of its fall. The next concerns a medieval poet involved in the Papal Court at Avignon during the Black Death. And the third, set during World War II, features a French scholar deciding whether to cooperate with the Vichy government. Linking these three men is their obsession with “The Dream of Scipio,” a classical text that poses philosophical questions as pertinent in the Middle Ages as they are today.
Though The Dream of Scipio does not seem primarily concerned with Jewish matters, Pears illustrates how anti-Semitism and Jewish scapegoating have, throughout history, been employed to solidify communities threatened by barbarian invasions, the Black Death, and economic decline. In each section, we, along with Pears’s characters, wonder at how often Jews become cast as a threat.