A God Strolling in the Cool of the Evening
Lucius Valerius Quincius looks back at his reign as duumvir of Tarcisis--a second-century Roman city in what is now Portugal--in this fictitious memoir of a Stoic disturbed and tempted by the creed of the early Christians. The Roman Empire is fading, and Tarcisis is no exception: invasion seems imminent as the Moors pillage the countryside and draw closer to the city walls; a political uprising from the lower classes upsets the established hierarchy; and Tarcinians seem unusually prone to superstition, including such barbaric Eastern cults as Christianity. Thrown into power by a leader's unexpected death, Lucius relies on the philosophical teachings of his hero, Marcus Aurelius, and his own ""liberal"" sense of justice to try and hold the city together. A Portuguese bestseller, de Carvalho's novel gives a satisfyingly intimate look at a man torn between tradition and open-minded curiosity. Not all the characters make such an impression. The leader of the Christian sect, Iunia Cantaber, is a surprisingly uncomplicated figure, and (without recourse to hindsight) it is difficult to understand what allure her religion holds for the cultured Lucius. Despite its shortcomings, this Portuguese Marius the Epicurean--which, the author insists, ""is not a historical novel""--paints a sympathetic, penetrating allegory of the humanist at bay. (Oct.) FYI: The novel won the 1996 Pegasus Prize for Literature.