Wednesday 12 April 2023

Book Review ~ The Mirror of Simple Souls by Aline Kiner ( Translated by Susan Emanuel)


Pushkin Press
6 April 2023

My thanks to the publisher for my copy of this book

A heretical text, a vengeful husband, a forbidden love...

It's 1310 and Paris is alive with talk of the trial of the Templars. Religious repression is on the rise, and the smoke of execution pyres blackens the sky above the city. But sheltered behind the walls of Paris's great beguinage, a community of women are still free to work, study and live their lives away from the domination of men.

When a wild, red-haired child clothed in rags arrives at the beguinage gate one morning, with a sinister Franciscan monk on her tail, she sets in motion a chain of events that will shatter the peace of this little world-plunging it into grave danger..

๐Ÿ“– My Review..

The title of the book takes its inspiration from a medieval work on Divine Love written by Marguerite Porete who was burned at the stake for heresy in Paris in 1310. Set against the background of medieval Paris and with its focus on those women who chose to spend their lives in contemplation, safely ensconced behind the walls of the Beguinage of Paris, we meet Ysabel, the infirmiere, who tends her garden, nurturing both the soil, and her patients as tenderly as children. 

When Maheut, an emotionally damaged girl, arrives at the beguinage, Ysabel is determined to help this red-haired young woman whose secrets lie hidden however, there is a sinister Franciscan monk seeking her who also wants information. Caught up in those who seek the whereabouts of this mysterious young woman, The Mirror of Simple Souls shines a spotlight on a dangerous period in French history and of both the strength, and vulnerabilities, of women living during this difficult time of religious persecution.

Beautifully written, and sensitively translated, from its original French the medieval world comes vibrantly alive. Whilst I knew a little about the role of the beguinage in medieval Europe, it has been fascinating to discover more about this lifestyle choice and of the women who took no holy orders and yet who lived their lives in quiet contemplation.

About the Author

Aline Kiner (18 June 1959 – 7 January 2019) was a French journalist and novelist. Kiner began as a journalist for Sciences et Avenir in 1995, and was then named editor-in-chief of special issues in 2008. She also collaborated with the French documentary series Thalassa, and for the French newspaper Libรฉration.

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