Thursday, January 16, 2014

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Synopsis: Pope Joan: A Novel, by Cross, Donna Woolfolk

My thoughts: oh, how I’ve wished for this book to be real! Not that I don’t believe in Johanna’s existence, on the contrary, but I wish that they didn’t erase all the data about her. I know this is a story made of fiction, but I want to believe that she existed. Why did they have to destroy all evidence of her just because of religion pride? Why didn’t they just hide it in the Vatican’s library in a private part that only a few knew how to find? So that those historical pieces weren’t lost?! How could they?

                Johanna was born at the same day that Carlos Magno died, January 28, 814 A.D. Hated by her father for being a woman but loved by her mother and older brother, little Johanna showed a great ability to write and read, better even than her middle brother Johannes. From that on, she showed not only those skills, but also the ability of argumentation and rhetoric, bringing her to the school of Dorstadt, where she was educated, something that for a woman in the beginning of the Middle Ages was unthinkable! However, she was bullied by her colleagues for her sex, forcing her to disguise her female characters with bandages and starting to behave like a man. When her brother Johannes was killed by Vikings, she took her chance and went for the monastery of Fulda under her brother’s name. That is just a few things that happened in the story, just to name you guys a few.

                Even though most of this was a fiction – like, how would someone (male, because female didn’t know how to write), in the Middle Ages, keep record of a girl’s childhood in a small village, as well as her life in a monastery as a man? – the more important historical facts were real. They can deny the existence of her, but I like to think that she existed.

                My only difficulties were with the vocabulary. The author used words related to the Vatican, such as the names of each person in the Vatican’s hierarchy, the names of the clothes the Pope’s used and the priests, making me go through the dictionary over and over, as well as looking for images at the Google. It was kind of a pain, but it is good to see how big and complex is the system of the Vatican, and there are still some words that I don’t know and never will! Another thing that was really hard for me was the Latin. Since I'm not used with the language at all, I had a hard time with it, but luckily they used to put the translated sentence right after so most of the time I could get by with it. Because of this details that were essential to the book but very difficult not just to me but I think that for many readers as well, I think that this book is more recommendable for some one well-studied or a professional like a theologist or something, but it was a great book nonetheless.

                I liked the ending, but it was a little unsatisfying. For me, a perfect ending was to see Anastacio’s execution because I don’t think that just being banned from Rome and not being able to get to his goods ever again isn’t a punishment good enough for what he did. For God’s sake, he tried to steal the Pope’s throne! Even though the Pope was dead already, it would be considered high treason and if it were the case, how could he eventually get to the librarian position? I think that they should have done his execution at public and when he was going to be punished he looked around and saw Johanna in her popery clothes and looking calmly to him. He then would have started screaming things like “witch” and “whore” and she would only move her lips and he would sooth down and dies. After all this scene, the author would right what Johanna said: “I forgive you, Anastacio, and welcome to the reins of Heaven.” The part of Arnalda could stay the same, because I liked it, but I think that this ending for Anastacio would be better than the one of him living until his eighties and something. Someone else could write the book.


 and a half

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