08 January 2017

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Anna Lowenstein on THE STONE CITY - A CAPTIVE'S LIFE IN ROME

This week, we're pleased to welcome author ANNA LOWENSTEIN with her latest release,  THE STONE CITY. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today'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.

**Q&A with Anna Lowenstein**

What made you want to write your first novel The Stone City?

Rome in the 1st century was the New York of the ancient world, a gleaming city with temples, shops, bathhouses and bars, multi-storey buildings, paved streets and public fountains. It is thought to have had a million inhabitants from all over the empire, rivalling present-day cities like Birmingham (UK) or Rotterdam. What impression would this astonishing place have made on a barbarian newly arrived from the wilds of Britain or some equally remote part of the Roman empire? That was the question I wanted to explore when I started work on The Stone City. The novel tells the story of Bivana, who is captured during the conquest of Britain in AD 43 and brought to Rome as a slave.

So what impression does Rome make on Bivana when she arrives?

Bivana has come from the chalk downs and woodlands of southern Britain, where the largest buildings were wattle-and-daub thatched huts. She has rarely encountered a face that she did not recognize. But now she finds herself in a city surrounded by not only by countless strangers but by huge stone buildings, including apartment blocks several storeys high. She has never seen windows or stairs before, and the first time she is taken inside one of those gigantic buildings, she is confused to find herself in a small room instead of the vast hall she was expecting.
   Before I could understand how Bivana might have reacted to her new life in Rome, I needed to know where she was coming from. The first part of the book describes her life in a homestead in southern Britain. Although there is always a risk of raids by neighbouring tribes, her life is happy and relatively stable, and at the time of the Roman invasion she is looking forward to her marriage. To her, Rome is a mythical place, inconceivably distant. It seems impossible that the Roman army should ever cross the sea and attack her village.

Once she arrives in Rome, Bivana spends many years as a slave on a country estate. Slavery can’t be an easy thing to write about.

My aim in this novel was not to write about misery and suffering. I wanted Bivana to be able to look about her and to compare her new life and surroundings with those she knew before. She would not be able to do that if she was in fear and depression from constant mistreatment. For this reason I gave her to a family who treat their slaves reasonably well, and at least avoid deliberate cruelty. Even so, it is not easy for Bivana to adjust to this totally new setting and culture, the loss of her freedom, and the loss of everyone she knew and loved. The uglier face of slavery is shown indirectly through her occasional encounters with people who have been far less fortunate than she has.
Anna at the remains of the temple
in the ancient town of Palestrina,
which appears in her novel
under its Latin name Praeneste.

Through her relationship with one of the other slaves, Bivana comes into contact with the members of a new religious sect, the Nazarenes. Is this a religious book?

Bivana’s ideas are the ones she grew up with, and I can add that some aspects of ancient British religious life will be startling to modern readers! When she is transported to Rome, she finds it natural to seek help from the gods who reign in her new country. Like any good Roman, she is suspicious of the Nazarene’s rejection of all gods but their own.
   The Nazarenes are members of a young, idealistic sect, but as in all new movements people have different ideas about how to achieve their aims. This leads to disagreements and quarrels; this is a normal phase that every idealistic movement goes through at some point, whether its aims are religious, political or social. The Nazarenes are not saints but ordinary people, and that is how Bivana sees them.

Immediately after writing The Stone City you began to translate it into Esperanto – in fact the first editions of the book in English and Esperanto came out in the same year, 1999. What on earth gave you the idea of translating the book into Esperanto?

I learnt the international language Esperanto at the age of 13 from a book I borrowed from the library – it was far easier than French and Latin, which I was learning at school! Since then I have been active in the Esperanto movement and it is also the language I speak at home with my husband. So although I wrote my novel in English, it was a natural decision to translate it into Esperanto. The Esperanto version of the novel has been very successful, and has been translated into French and Hungarian. Bivana’s struggle to adapt to life in a different culture is just the sort of topic which appeals to Esperanto speakers – and of course, I hope it will also interest readers of Unusual Historicals!

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