05 January 2017

Excerpt Thursday: THE STONE CITY - A CAPTIVE'S LIFE IN ROME by Anna Lowenstein

This week, we're pleased to welcome author ANNA LOWENSTEIN with her latest release,  THE STONE CITY. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the storyBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win a FREE copy of the novel - this giveaway is open internationally, available in electronic or paperback format. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Snatched from her peaceful homestead in Celtic Britain, Bivana is transported to the legendary city of Rome. Struggling to come to terms with the loss of everyone and everything she has ever known, but determined to survive, she slowly adapts to a life of slavery and to the alien culture which surrounds her. Her relationship with another slave brings her into contact with the Nazarenes, activists in a fanatical new religious movement. She had hopes of making a fresh start, but what are her chances of surviving a clash with the authorities?

Since its first publication in 1999, The Stone City has become well known and loved in its Esperanto translation, and has been translated by fans into French and Hungarian. The revised 2016 edition includes several additional scenes.

**An Excerpt from The Stone City**

Morimanos was the best storyteller in the four villages. He didn’t often visit our homestead, but when he did, our hut was always packed. All my uncle’s family would crowd in to listen, and even some of my aunt’s people from the neighbouring homestead on the other side of the hill.
   I remember Morimanos coming to see us on one occasion when I was a small girl. It was a cold, dreary evening. It had been raining steadily for the past few days, and the two huts in our compound were hunched miserably beneath their round roofs of sodden thatch. We children were afraid that Morimanos would not turn up, but the rain eased off towards nightfall, and to our joy he arrived, picking his way across the muddy compound, which days of rain had churned into waterlogged ruts and holes.
   The air inside the hut was stuffy and smoky, apart from the biting draught from the door, which had been left open to let in what little moonlight there was. The cold air was cutting a swathe through the throng of people, who were huddled together in the warmer patches of the room, all except for my father who was sitting alone directly in the draught with his cloak tightly drawn around him. He never cared about the cold as long as he could breathe in good, fresh air. A moonbeam was shining onto the side of his face, and every movement of his head lit up a different feature: his bony nose at one moment, and next the long dangling end of his moustache.
   A hairy dog-skin had been spread out for Morimanos in the best spot, near the fire but out of the smoke, where everyone would be able to see him by the flickering light of the flames. Near him was my mother, outlined in black against the red glow of the fire. Most people were seated cross-legged on the ground, but she had chosen to sit on a low tree-stump so that she could get on with her spinning by firelight while she listened to the story. She was twirling the spindle and drawing out the thread with regular movements, pausing only to pull one of her long plaits back from her face or to attach my baby brother Tasgios more securely to the breast.
   I was lying on a pile of straw next to my favourite cousin Calliacos. We always chose one of the darker spots, well away from the open door, where we could play and whisper together under the low roof. Tonight, though, we were intent on Morimanos’s story. He was talking about Rome.
   The houses, he said, were as many and as numerous as the fish in the rivers, or the pebbles on the shore, or the waves of the sea, or the stars in the sky. They were taller than the treetops and so close together that if you were to see a pit full of grain, that grain would not be more tightly packed than those houses that were in Rome. The city stretched so far in every direction that if you took the whole of our people’s territory, it would not cover more than a single corner of the territory of Rome. And these houses had one great peculiarity: they had been built not only side by side but also one above the other, three or four deep in some places, so that the people in them were walking around over the heads of their neighbours.
   ‘And the fields, are they up in the air as well?’ asked my little sister Vinda. She was too young to know she shouldn’t interrupt the storyteller. Morimanos paused in his story. ‘There are no fields,’ he said. ‘The houses are pressed tighter together than the skin over your ribs, and not a single tree, not a twig, not a blade of grass can push its way up between them. There’s not a speck of green to be seen in all that city, even if it was only as big as your little fingernail. For in that city, everything is made of stone.’
   ‘But what do all the people eat?’ my sister persisted. My mother started to hush her, but Morimanos replied, ‘There are no fields in that city, and yet the Romans never go short of food. For they have buildings there so large that each one of them could cover the whole of this hillside from roots to hair. And every one of those buildings is filled with things to eat. The first contains nothing but grain, the second is full of meat, the third is stacked with pitchers of wine and ale. And there are other buildings as well, filled with all the things they might need. There is one full of buckets and pots and drinking vessels, another for all the precious jewels: rings and bracelets and golden treasures. But there are no torcs in that building, for no Roman, not even the king of all the Romans himself, wears a torc round his neck. Another building contains cloth, not just in short lengths, but in great rolls a hundred ells long. It comes in all colours: yellow, scarlet, bright green, purple, checked and striped and speckled. There are some types of cloth which are finer than a cobweb and shimmer when they catch the light, like the sun glinting on the tips of the waves. Then there is another type so thick and soft that the wearer of it will never feel the cold, even on days when the birds sit frozen to the branches, and the raindrops turn to ice before they touch the ground.’

About the author

Anna Lowenstein became interested in the Romans when she visited Italy over thirty years ago, and was awestruck by her first view of the Pantheon. She wondered what impression it must have made on a barbarian who had never seen a stone building before, let alone architecture as magnificent as the houses and temples of Rome. That was the moment when she had the idea for her first novel The Stone City. Not long afterwards she moved to Italy and came to live in the Roman countryside close to the ancient town of Palestrina, which appears in the novel under its Latin name Praeneste. Since then she has written a second novel, Death of an Artist, also set in Ancient Rome, and is now working on a third. Since 2015 she has been living in the UK.

Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_L%C3%B6wenstein