Jon Saboe,
The Days of Peleg
(Outskirts Press, 2007)

The Days of Peleg is a behemoth work of historical fiction. It is oversized and thick, at 636 pages. Before I tell you about the plot, let me tell you of my experience with this book. At 10 p.m. I decided to read for one hour or so before going to sleep. But I could not stop reading! At 5 a.m. I became so sleepy that my eyes refused to focus. When I woke, I had to get right back to the story of Peleg's adventures. I sat there reading until I reached the final page.

Wow! What a story!

The introduction provides an explanation of the archaeology and anthropology X factor, known as OOPARTS (out-of-place artifacts), and introduces the various mindsets that explain -- or ignore -- them. Author Jon Saboe says he crafted this book so that everything contained within the covers is at the very least possible.

The book is divided into four parts, with 41 chapters, plus "Afterword: Fact vs. Fiction" and four appendices: "What the Sumerians Knew," "Essay on the Origins of Races by Shem," "Recommended Reading" and "Glossary." There are numerous websites listed for further information and the author refers readers to the book's website for much more information about topics found in the book, including OOPARTS. Saboe has definitely researched his subject extensively.

This is a difficult book to review because it is so intricately interwoven between peoples and regions. Basically, there are three strands of the story. The main plot is about Peleg's travels, one strand provides the story of Peleg's home city during his travels and another strand tells what happens to the places and people that he has visited. At times there are other pieces to this massive puzzle. They are provided as the reader needs the background information of the characters to know how they fit into the story. But you have at least three stories going at all times within the framework of the one epic.

It has been almost 200 years since the Great Calamity (deluge, flood) and 100 years since the Great Awakening. Reu-Nathor is High Minister of Knowledge at the Citadel, the center of knowledge in Ur, a city that is based upon knowledge. Reu-Nathor announces an expedition that will begin the Great Discovery period. He dispatches six ships along different routes to explore the regions, create maps, study the people, document their languages and record any technologies they have developed. Their voyages will last for 12 years and will end with the presentation of their findings at the first Global Geophysical Congress.

Peleg is chosen to be chief cartographer aboard the Urbat, commanded by Captain Phaxad. Each chief is allowed to bring one assistant, so Peleg chooses his always-hungry best friend, Serug. They become close friends with the ship's master chemist, Thaxad. The only women allowed on the expedition are the wives of the ships' captains. Phaxad's wife, Utebbibassu, -- 'Bassu to her beloved husband -- was the one on their ship. A group of individuals could not be more diverse ... or outright different in every way, from their beliefs to their backgrounds to their training.

Peleg is secretly told to discover why humans are losing their longevity, maturing more quickly and dying of old age. When he returns, he is to report his findings straight away to the Mentor who gave him the instructions.

During their 12-year journey, they encounter almost every adversity known to seamen, and a few common only to landlubbers. They get blown off course by a typhoon. Erratic magnetic fields reverse their compass. They meet a male-only colony that needs 'Bassu to continue their bloodlines. They run out of food and fresh water. They get captured by the local peoples. They see ice and snow for the first time. They suffer illness, tragedy and loss.

The positive side to their journey is that they meet a vast array of cultures and make many friends among the colonies, tribes and clans. From cave dwellings to technologically-advanced mountain seaports to forest campsites, they see wonders of all kinds. They learn an equally diverse set of beliefs and creation myths. They try to learn as many languages. At times their only means of communication are gestures or drawings on the ground. Peleg is also a leading linguist among his people and has been appointed by Phaxad to be the translator for the crew. Thus, Peleg is always plunged into the thick of all the action and adventure.

Meanwhile, back at the Citadel, there is an upheaval and a radical change of power, which is quickly followed by another radical change of power, which is followed by a radical complication to the power, which is followed by another complication to the power from outside their region. Did you get that subplot in a subplot compounded by a subplot and affected by an outside subplot? I refuse to spoil any of this story by cluing you in to what will happen. You need to feel the surprise. But rest assured that this is one tremendously satisfying segment of the epic.

The change in power brings extreme changes to the belief system and ultimately places the lives of all the persons on the expeditions in peril. The powers in Ur cannot allow the men to return home and announce any discoveries that could destroy or lessen their hold over the people. Peleg has devoted 12 years to a mission he will never be allowed to complete. His loyalty and sense of duty have been in vain, though he does not know until the end of the journey.

I did not think I would ever find a historical peoples author that I would like as well as Jean M. Auel (Clan of the Cave Bear, The Mammoth Hunters), but Saboe has soared to Auel's cloud. He has that same magical talent for creating characters you care about, then weaving historical facts, human psychology and intellectual curiosity into a fictitious epic that keeps you needing to read more.

You can take this book as deeply as you desire. It can serve as a pleasure read or a topic for philosophical debate, or you may follow the references listed to do your own research into the subjects. Regardless of how you approach the book, you will leave it realizing that it is a profound and thought-provoking work. It may well prompt you to challenge your own beliefs. It will haunt you long after you finish reading it. You may be doing something else and suddenly a passage from the book will pop into your head, leading your thoughts away from your current task and into the realm of deep analysis.

The story is saturated with creation myths and other aspects of mythology. If you enjoy mythology, this is definitely a book for you. Another point I really enjoyed was the description of the foods and the ways they were prepared -- a magnificent touch.

Saboe is a master storyteller with a forward-moving storyline, descriptive language, smooth segues, detailed kinetics during fights, vivid action scenes and landscapes that will be as clear in your mind as if they were in front of your eyes. He includes all seven stages of the story and resolves every conflict with a logical solution.

The Days of Peleg is a fantastic journey through the world after the Flood. It gives us a look at the ways different cultures arose and how the belief systems often clashed, while growing and changing with new generations. Above all else, it is a gripping tale of a lovable group of travelers through strange and foreign lands. I cannot praise this book strongly enough.

My personal thanks to Saboe for having a native trade his expensive shoes for a flute. I would, too, but cannot find anyone who believes shoes are worth more than a flute these days. See how far we have regressed?

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

7 June 2008

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