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All art is unstable. It's meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author, There is no authorative active voice. There are only multiple readings. David Bowie, 1995

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

...trials and tribulations in Charlemagne's times!

The Scribe by Antonio Garrido, translated by Simon Bruni

Having been taught to read and write by her father, all Theresa wants to do is be a scribe and parchment maker. Theresa is battling with the prejudice of a woman's place in society. Given that this tale takes place in medieval Würzburg of 799, at a time when women's roles were even more proscribed, we can hardly be surprised by the attitudes of those around her. Garrido's writing is vivid and brings home the sights, sounds and smells of the time, and the hardships of Theresa's occupation. (Thank you also translator Bruni) At this time the surrounding country is besieged by famine. Denizens of Würzburg are in desperate straits.        
A talented parchment maker and scribe Theresa is treated to all sorts of indignities by her fellow workers and especially the master parchment maker, the despicable Korne.  When Theresa had to go into the deepest maceration pool to find her cow skin for her parchment making exam, let me say that my stomached heaved along with hers. After this first dramatic part I actually wondered how the story was going to continue or if I had somehow missed the pagination. Theresa's chapter appeared closed.
But this is only the beginning as Theresa, escaping capture, traverses forests and mauriding Saxons, is rescued by and rescues a young soldier, and eventually finds her way to a Benedictine Monastry in Fulda. Here Theresa becomes a scribe to a Alcuin of York, a monk and herbalist. A man with deductive abilities that make me wonder if this master is a former incarnation of Sherlock Holmes. Alcuin is much more than a humble monk.
There is more afoot though. Graft and corruption is  linked to mysterious illnesses people are dying from. Murder and mystery are intertwined. Unusual friendships leaven the way.
Then there is the relationship between Charlemagne and Theresa's father.
With more twists and turns than a spider's web, this is an intriguing story of a young woman who dared to dream of more--albeit an incredibly stubborn young woman. A doorway into times of the past, portrayed with startling realism.

A NetGalley ARC

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