By Patricia Guthrie / Special to The Herald
If you need an escape from 21st century political intrigue, you might consider immersing yourself in 11th century political intrigue.
An Arlington author has written two books and is working on a third that will take you there — the Byzantine Empire.
For George Vasil, a family physician with The Everett Clinic in Lake Stevens, the Byzantine Empire is a wondrous world he discovered as a boy browsing his family’s World Book encyclopedias.
Also known as the eastern Roman Empire, the territory and 1,000-year reign is the backdrop for three novels by Vasil: “Emperor’s Eyes,” published in 2012, “The Lance,” published in 2019, and a third, as-yet untitled work set to be published in 2024.
Vasil’s books are historically correct in terms of time and place; it’s the plot and characters that make them fictional. Set in and around Constantinople, now the city of Istanbul, his books provide an armchair traveler’s snapshot into a vast and powerful civilization that flourished from 330 to 1453.
Reading them, Vasil said, could provide the history class many Americans failed to take — or just plain failed.
“The Byzantine Empire is a subject about which few North Americans or Western Europeans know,” Vasil said. “Yet this empire existed for a thousand years and played a pivotal role in European and Western Asian history.
“It experienced a glorious rebirth while Western Europe crawled out of the Dark Ages. The Byzantine culture was a unique fusion of ancient Greece, ancient Rome and Christianity.”
In his first book, “Emperor’s Eyes,” Vasil’s narrative describes Medieval times in its magnificence and regales the cosmopolitan, colorful city of Constantinople, a vibrant trading center linking Asia and Europe. Readers march alongside the emperor’s army, experience luxurious imperial palaces and follow the tale of separated lovers, cavalryman Justin Phillipos and his new bride, Eleni.
Set in the 11th century, the plot revolves around treason, subterfuge and a band of insurgents set upon overthrowing the government.
Both sets of Vasil’s grandparents were of Greek ancestry. He remembers they all spoke of the magnificence of the Christian cathedral Hagia Sophia, completed in 537, and considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. “They revered it,” he said.
Spectacular in size and artistry, the sprawling structure, now called the Grand Mosque, sets the stage for Vasil’s second novel, “The Lance.” Readers time travel to April 1204, when the city of Constantinople is sacked by soldiers of the Fourth Crusade. The story then jumps ahead to April 2004 after an earthquake has shaken the ancient city, now known as Istanbul.
A lance engraved with the words Longinus and Dominus was hidden by a monk in the wall of Hagia Sophia during the siege. Some 800 years later, tremors shake the lance loose, and it’s discovered by Turkish archeology student Mehmet Yakis.
The lance is believed to have pierced the side of Jesus during his crucifixion. The lust to own it propels a diverse cast of characters — including college students, doctors, a ruthless billionaire and former Nazi SS officers — into a hapless and often hilarious chase that ends when all are shipwrecked together on a tiny unchartered Greek island.
Part of his motivation for penning “The Lance,” Vasil said, was writing an antidote of sorts to the best-selling book and blockbuster movie, “The Da Vinci Code,” which has been widely criticized for historical inaccuracies and questionable Christian references.
Through repeated trips to Greece and Turkey and thoroughly studying New Testament and Byzantine history, Vasil takes pride in what he says is a true representation of time and place in his books.
“Those who enjoyed ‘The Da Vinci Code’ should enjoy ‘The Lance,’ ” Vasil said, adding that the novel shows that “God is too big to be contained in an earthly object.”
When he isn’t writing, Vasil, father to three sons and grandfather of two, sets aside at least one week a year to assist at medical missions, including in Ethiopia, Niger, Haiti, Afghanistan, Liberia, Lebanon, Armenia, The Gambia and Cameroon. He also traveled to Mauritania in 2019 to meet one of three children he sponsors through World Vision. He volunteers at Lahai Health, a Christian ministry that provides free health services for the poor in Snohomish.
Vasil now works part time, which gives him more time to work on his third novel. That story is set during the Third Crusade, which took place from 1189 until 1192. In it, leaders of England, France and the Holy Roman Empire tried and failed to recapture Jerusalem from the Muslim sultan Saladin.
The Crusades are notorious for their sectarian bloodshed, but Vasil’s novels strive to uplift.
“The books have an emphasis on forgiveness and redemption,” he said. “Even the most evil acts can be forgiven and the most evil people can be redeemed.”
About the author
George Vasil, of Arlington, has been a family medicine physician at The Everett Clinic since 1987. His passion for history, particularly for the Byzantine era, has led him to travel extensively and write three novels.“Emperor’s Eyes,” 444 pages, $23.95, and “The Lance,” 282 pages, $20.99, are self-published through iUniverse and available at Amazon. The third book, an as-yet untitled work, is set to be published in 2024. Go to facebook.com/vasiltalesauthor to read Vasil’s blog highlighting his passion for the Byzantine era.
Washington North Coast Magazine
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