Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Cloister - by James Carroll: Book Review

Title: The Cloister
Author: James Carroll
No pages: 384
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Publishing Date: 6.03.2018
Format: Kindle

Threading three different stories, the novel presents the story of people who are unable to present their cases clearly, or if they do, they are met with judgment and misunderstanding.

The story of World War Two Holocaust when millions of Jews were killed is well known. A victim of this injustice was Rachel Vedette, a French Jew, and her father, a scholar of the Torah. Presenting her story is done as a result of her discussions with Father Michael Kavanagh, a misfit in his group of Catholic priests. What helps Rachel and Father Michael understand each other and deal with their doubts and struggles is the story of Peter Abelard and Heloise. The texts Abelard wrote and Heloise made sure survived the ages showcase a man who dared to write about what he believed in and thought of, despite the shame and excommunication it brought upon him. Above all, the idea of love, in all the forms people try to see it in, is seen throughout the novel. It's what fuels every discussion and change of direction, whether it’s love for God or love for other people. 

More than Abelard and Heloise’s, Rachel and Father Michel’s conversation, and relationship, intrigued me. They seemed to play hide and seek, emphasis on seek, during their every encounter. Two people who think of themselves as impostors in their everyday life come face to face with the history of the Jews throughout the centuries and its implications for their personal lives. Two people confined to the self-sufficiency they’ve been used to up to that moment. Two people unable to be honest with each other because of their baggage and out of fear to not say too much or offend. This is what fascinated me.

I personally didn't like how some serious social and religious issues were approached. I haven't read anything by Abelard, and my Catholic knowledge is limited, but I sensed that some ideas the author adhered to were far-fetched. It was as if he wanted to tie everything in a nice bow and give his characters a final resolution and clear purpose, doubts-free. 

I enjoyed the foray into history, the musical and poetic language (which made the reading tedious at times, but I powered through) I was exposed to, and the attempt to show how apparently small and insignificant deeds of the 12th century carry weight well into our time.

Despite the heavy topic and at times slow paced reading, it was a good book, certainly appealing to history buffs. 

I received a free e-book copy from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own. 

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