Miss Agnes Shanklin is a spinster schoolteacher in rural Ohio, the plain Jane in her family who is loved but overlooked nonetheless. She?s spent her life quietly obeying her hard-working mother and living vicariously through her sister. But when the Great War and the Great Influenza take her family away from her, Agnes is forced into the spotlight. Leaving her grief behind, Agnes takes her modest inheritance and her cheery little dachshund, Rosie, to Egypt. It?s 1921 and the world is still recovering from all those years of trench warfare, but in Cairo a peace conference is underway. Luminaries like Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell, and ?Lawrence of Arabia? are meeting to determine the fate of the Middle East. When Agnes wanders into their midst, her mild manner gives way to a sharp mind that serves as an ideal sounding board for their plans and ideas. Her attention is also drawn to Karl Weilbacher, an affable gentleman who showers Agnes with more kindness than she?s experienced in an entire lifetime. Karl is excessively interested in everything Agnes has to say?particularly when it relates to Churchill, Bell, Lawrence, and the plans of the European diplomats. Author Mary Doria Russell vividly portrays the real personalities who created the nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, but it is Agnes, the fictional character who narrates this history, who readers will relate too. Inexperienced but by no means uninformed, Agnes navigates the waters of Egypt?s shifting political intrigues with a sense of wonder and wry intellect that is appealing and intimate.

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