Book Review

Book Review: Pride of Carthage

“Perhaps, my friends, you have forgotten whose army you fight in. Am I not Hannibal Barca? The child of a thunderbolt. Blessed of Baal and the seed of Hamilcar. If you forget your own courage, study mine. If you forget honor, look to me for its definition. If you doubt your destiny, know that I’ve never doubted mine.” – Hannibal, Pride of Carthage.

Pride of Carthage by David A. Durham is a sweeping historical fiction novel about the life and times of Hannibal Barca, a Carthaginian general, and his quest to bring Rome to its knees. Although the wars fought between Rome and Carthage, known as Punic Wars, resulted in the defeat of Carthage, the world still remembers Hannibal as one of the greatest military strategists of that time. This book covers the Second Punic War fully and can be roughly divided into two parts: the first part deals with Hannibal’s victories against various tribes and Roman principalities, while the second deals with Publius Scipio and his strategies. It starts with the siege of Arbocala and ends with the famous battle of Zama.

One of the underlying themes of this book is human cruelty. There are cases in which seemingly likeable characters resort to savagery. There are endless descriptions of blood and gore. It is certainly not for the fainthearted. But it might make you stop and think about morality. Why do soldiers commit unthinkable acts during wars? Just because they can? Another important theme is the purpose of war. What is the whole point of war? The author portrays it well through the eyes of a common soldier, Imco Vaca, in Hannibal’s army. “But it seemed even stranger when one of the goats lifted its head and stared at Imco piteously. It was not dead at all, just sunk up to its neck and disconsolate, its gaze a direct communication from beast to man. What is the point? it seemed to be asking. Imco had no answer.”It is ultimately about human action. It is fascinating how one man’s actions changed the course of history. Did Hannibal really had a choice? What would have happened if he hadn’t declared war against Rome? To answer these questions, one must understand the reason why Hannibal went to war with Rome. One of the major causes put forward in this book is that Carthage had no choice but to attack Rome because Rome would have crushed Carthage, given the slightest provocation. Romans certainly were hell-bent on world domination and Carthage was the richest city in the Mediterranean. Those are good reasons for plunder. The author explains Hannibal’s stance very well. About Romans, he says: “They grow stronger yearly, Hasdrubal. If we don’t fight them now, on our terms, we will fight them later, on theirs.” As a reader, I was convinced that this was the right course, though I did doubt it later. Although the perfidy of Carthaginian Council, lead by Hanno, made me irate, the Council made a few good arguments about ceasing hostilities.

Durham makes his characters come alive in a way very few historical fiction authors can. The wars are seen not only from the point of view of Hannibal, but also from members of his family (Hanno, Mago, Hasdrubal, Sapanibal, Imilce), other generals (both Carthaginian and Roman), foot soldiers and battle scavengers, which kept things interesting. Even though I knew that Carthage would be defeated I rooted for all the Carthaginian characters (even Silenus, Tusselo and Aradne who were not really from that city). Since each character had his or her own backstory and a unique reason for being a part of this war, I cared about each of them. Another strong point of this book is that the battle tactics of Carthaginians (from crossing of Alps with elephants to escaping through a pass guarded by Romans) are explained extremely well. But after finishing the book, I felt mentally weary; the sufferings of Sophonisba, Aradne, and Tusselo made me so despondent that I had to put aside the book for a while. My only grouse with Durham is that there are no maps in this book. So, I had to look up map images in Google to find Arbocala, Saguntum, Samnium, Apulia, etc. Apart from that, this book is pretty much perfect. I would recommend it to everyone.

 

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