Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Roman Mysteries

My children are voracious readers. In search of something that would capture my oldest's attention, I discovered The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence, the first in her The Roman Mysteries series at our local library.

I made sure I read it before Nathaniel, because I was concerned about the character treatments, plot, and any philosophies espoused. What I found delighted both me and Nathaniel.

The Roman Mysteries are based around the lives of four children in the Roman era - it starts in the reign of Emporer Vespasian. Ostia is the port city of Rome, where Flavia Gemina, a Roman sea captain's daughter, lives. Through the course of this book, you meet the other main characters: Jonathan, a Jewish Christian, Nubia, an African slave, and Lupus, a mysterious boy who cannot talk because his tongue's been cut out (quite a mystery that is solved in one of the later books).

I honestly was a bit nervous about how Lawrence would treat the subject of religion in her book, but she handles it with honesty and tact. I especially enjoy the respect she gives to Christianity - a rare thing these days.

I was delighted when I read this passage toward the end of the book. Lupus attempted to steal from Flavia, which made her obviously angry, so she didn't invite him to her birthday party. Mordecai, Jonathan's father, is speaking.

"Can you find it in your hearts to forgive [Lupus]? I admit he did something that was wrong. He was tempted to steal and he gave into that temptation. But haven't you ever given in to temptation? Haven't you ever done anything wrong?"

None of them spoke. (...They all end up admitting they've done wrong.)

"Well," said Mordecai gently, "our faith teaches that if you say sorry to God for the wrong things you have done, and if you forgive the people who have done wrong things to you, you will be forgiven. Would you like that?"

Nubia and Jonathan nodded immediately. After a moment, Flavia did, too. It sounded suspiciously easy.

"Are you sorry for all the wrong things you've done?" asked Mordecai. They all nodded this time. "Then say sorry to God."

"How?" asked Flavia.

"Jonathan?" said his father.

Jonathan closed his eyes and said, "I'm sorry for all the wrong things I've done, Lord," and then added, "Amen."

Right away, Nubia closed her eyes and imitated Jonathan. "I'm sorry for the wrong things, also. Amen."

"What does 'amen' mean?" Flavia asked cautiously.

"It's like saying 'I really mean it,'" said Mordecai with a smile.

Flavia closed her eyes and tried to imagine which god she was speaking to. Finally she settled on the beardless shepherd with a lamb over his shoulders.

"I'm sorry for all the wrong things I've done," she whispered to him, and then added, "amen." When she opened her eyes a moment later she felt lighter somehow.

"And now," said Mordecai, "will you forgive Lupus?"

They all nodded.

Nathaniel and I are rereading The Roman Mysteries and introducing his nine-year-old sister to them as well. She told me she wasn't sure if she'd like them, but gave them a try. Now, she's devouring them at the pace of about one book a day! It won't take her too long to get through the series - depending on how often we get to the library.

It's a rare thing to find a book that captures the interest of an 11-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl and their (uh-hem)-year-old mother. These books are keepers for sure!

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