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Book Reviews

Traitors’ Gate and Other Doorways to the Past

by Claire Eamer

Doors can be a metaphor for life, with the potential to link us directly with our past, present, and future. In Traitors’ Gate, Whitehorse author Claire Eamer explains this symbolism through the history of eight famous doors that have represented life-changing experiences for those who’ve passed through them.

Eamer says that feelings “are part of the magic of doorways,” and her narrative is rich with descriptions of what each space looks, smells, and feels like. She skillfully uses social, environmental, and political history to describe how each door came into being and how its use and meaning has changed over time. While some of these doors may be well known, others are glimpses into a world many will never see. By studying the door to the Sankoré Mosque in Timbuktu, for example, where entry is forbidden to non-Muslims, the author is able to describe both a once-thriving African civilization and the importance of scholarship in Islamic history.

Eamer is also adept at appealing to the inherently voyeuristic nature of her young readers by including many salacious details. Did you know that the last emperor buried at Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome was assassinated while peeing? That scientists use “poop” to profile the inhabitants of Spruce Tree House in Colorado? Or that Peter the Great’s relatives and friends were thrown off a porch and then “hacked to pieces” at the Kremlin in Moscow?

The story of each doorway is a well-told romp through history and archaeology. The only things missing are a glossary that would help pre-teens (especially struggling readers) with some of the more complicated vocabulary and concepts, and a map, which would underscore that these doorways are to be found across four continents. Otherwise, this book is excellent for any young reader of non-fiction, and would also serve as a good read-aloud book for younger children.