Book Blurb and Editorial Review:
Unlike any historical fiction out there, Starlight in the Dawn takes the reader on a journey back to the ancient city of Ur along the banks of the Euphrates, the Sumerian region located between modern-day Iran and Iraq, in 2300 B.C.E. - a time period not often delved into in historical literature. From the outset as Ninlil, a young teenage girl who works at her uncle’s pottery shop and helps at the Temple of Inanna, begins the story when the political manoeuvrings of those wanting power seek to level her uncle’s shop and create a thoroughfare straight to the temple. But there is a deeper hidden agenda within the political arena here, and stretches into the story as conflicts between “church” and state, between religion and government find its earliest kindling in this ancient civilization.
At the heart of the religious order is the high priestess, Enheduanna (Hedu), whose claim to fame in history is being the ‘first literary person’, a priestess poetess whose strong relationship and love for her religion and the Gods is displayed in full force, especially when she explains much of the symbolism to young Ninlil. With her extraordinary deep vat of knowledge and the strength she displays as a very independent woman of her time, she comes into her own as the beautiful daughter of Sargon the Great as she takes on the political figures of Lugalanne, the king of Urak, whose agenda is revealed when he decides that he will become a King-Priest, challenging Sargon’s authority and taking Enheduanna captive.
In the midst and muddle of the politics and religion, this story offers the reader an intimate glimpse into the lives of people who very much resemble our own lives today, showing how history repeats itself again and again, and how if a civilization does not learn from their past, they are doomed to repeat it. It also offers a reader the subtleties of love, trust, and faith, not only between men and women, but between humans and their objects of veneration. In Enheduanna’s case, it is Inanna, the moon goddess – and if I have one slight critique, the episodes of instruction from Hedu as she versed Ninlil in the religion of the goddess leaned more towards a non-fiction dissertation about ancient pagan religions rather than fitting into the storyline... at least, I understood Hedu’s need to relay the information, but the lengthy speeches felt more educational textbook than fictional prose.
“Gods are not imprisoned in the temple. God is all powerful and present everywhere, present in the woods, the water, the objects around us, and even in thin air. God is manifest in the stars, the sky, the earth, and the trees, in you and in me. God is in nature, God is nature. That means God is everywhere and not somewhere far away beyond the sky and beyond matter. As God remains beyond our grasp, we imagine divinity in the form of individual gods with functions and even with a residence in abodes we call temples. To perceive or realize divine power, you only have to observe its manifestation in nature, all that you perceive, all that you experience. God is nature and the universe and does not need idols and temples. We need them.”
The relationships appear to be the thread binding this story, as you meet several people throughout, hearing their thoughts and voices, and very often I wasn’t sure if this story was Hedu’s story or if this book was just the story of the city of Ur as the main character. Love stories develop, lives and livelihoods are threatened, and greed and power runs rampant, all beneath the towering ziggurat of the temple.
I think for the most part the astounding amount of research the author did is simple amazing – to be able to recreate a history of a time period that little is known about and to build a world that is believable, entertaining, with fully fleshed-out characters, and educational to boot is worth a round of applause.
And then, another addition to the story is the obvious challenge to the current way of life and of the belief system and values of each an every character. Hedu, herself, is used to a certain way, her way of doing things, of the day-to-day activities and rituals before the goddess, but when she is taken away from that service, how those rituals change and others take up the slack in a different way. Damkina, another one of the helpers at the temple, who often felt overlooked is thrust into taking on more responsibility and blossoms in the task.
Three women with whom he had worked together in the recent past: Hedu, Ashnan, and Damkina. Three different personalities. All remarkable in their own way. Three faces of Inanna?
This is definitely Enheduanna’s story, but as she is the high priestess of Inanna, the head goddess of the city of Ur, her struggles, her love, and her poetry represent the city itself, and while she represents the goddess on earth, she shows herself very human as she discovers things about herself (and about the goddess) while in captivity. For the most part, this is an engrossing, insightful tale, full of texture on a heightened scale... a spiritual plane, as the reader hovers over the words and finds a connection across time and space.
This is a book for true historical aficionados, and is not a read-in-one-sitting type of book as it is necessary to let some of the discussions between characters and the activities to soak in for a bit so you can understand the depth of what is going on on the surface and behind the scenes. To call this ambitious is putting it mildly, to say there is rich symbolism within the words doesn’t seem to be enough to capture the powerful themes that resonate to our time today.
Aside from the few anachronisms littered from time to time in the narrative and the sometimes overabundance of alliteration attempts, Mr Sridhar’s attention to detail is phenomenal and I have no doubt after reading his end notes, that he could give us all a lesson in Sumerian and Mesopotamian history, mythology, politics, and the day-to-day living conditions in a city like Ur.
Starlight in the Dawn receives four stars from The Historical Fiction Company.