To those of you who read and enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, Valerio Massimo Manfredi’s The Oracle is a must-read. And to those of you who couldn’t care less about the Dan Brown school of writing, this is a book well worth its price.
The Oracle is the story of a young Greek idealist, Heleni, whose rape and murder in the student revolt of 17 November, 1973, a real and still very emotional moment in modern Greek history, sparks a series of brutal killings ten years later. Heleni’s death changed the lives of three young men – her Italian lover, Claudio, who can never forget the circumstances of her gruesome death; his French friend Michel, who betrays Heleni under torture; and his English friend Norman, who fails to save them from arrest and its grisly consequences.
Connected to their story is that of a ancient golden vase inscribed with Tiresias’ prophecy of Ulysses’ death, and a mysterious stranger who will stop at nothing to fulfill his own ends. It is now May of 1983 and by the time the 17th of November dawns, all their lives will once again be transformed.
This is Manfredi’s first contemporary novel but in it he draws upon his experience as a writer of historical fiction. His first claim to international fame was a trilogy based on the life of Alexander the Great. Alexander was a stupendous effort, even if Baz Luhrman keeps threatening to make a movie out of it, and later books such as Empire of the Dragons (Roman soldiers fleeing vengeful Zoroastrians end up in China as mercenaries) only strengthened his credentials as a writer able to seamlessly weave fact and fiction into eloquent prose.
While comparisons are odious, they remain inevitable in this genre, thanks in no small measure to the efforts of publishing houses eager to find The New Dan Brown. But Manfredi’s novels are in no way part of that legion of knockoffs spawned by The Da Vinci Code. Instead, The Oracle brings back memories of the excellent writing style of bestsellers dating from the early to mid-20th century with a current flavor. Of course, the quality of the English translations by Christine Feddersen-Manfredi (Manfredi himself writes in Italian) helps quite a bit.
Read The Oracle – it’s good.