The Cloister

In Cluny, France, in the year 1142, Mother Heloise of the Prelate comes to collect the corpse of theologian Peter Abelard, a recently excommunicated priest and, secretly, her husband. She also takes his writings, planning to hold them in trust at her abbey against the day when the views that brought about his damnation find their place as the true interpretation of God's love.

In Manhattan in 1950, Father Michael Kavanagh ducks into the Cloisters, reconstructed buildings from French abbeys that house the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of medieval art. Seeking solace after a startling encounter, he instead finds Rachel Vedette, a Jewish museum docent. As their acquaintance deepens, Rachel shares with Kavanagh her copy of Historia Calamitatum, Abelard's memoir of his affair with Heloise and eventual downfall, taken from the very same papers Heloise received in 1142. In it, Kavanagh sees a turning point in the history of the Church that led, centuries later, to the prejudices that brought on both the Holocaust and a personal tragedy perpetrated against his best friend in seminary.

Former priest James Carroll (Warburg in Rome) sets the bar high in a novel that shifts seamlessly between epic love story, the anatomy of a crisis of faith, family tragedy and trauma survival saga. While the separate parts initially seem tenuously connected, as the novel progresses they interlock to show the far-reaching impact of choosing one path over another as the moral right for a huge portion of the world population. Both moving and enlightening, The Cloister will engross readers of any--or no--faith. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

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