The Scroll of Seduction

The Scroll of Seduction

5.0 3
by Gioconda Belli

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Manuel is a man of many talents; an art historian and professor, he is also an exquisite storyteller. When he meets 16-year-old Lucía on an outing from her boarding school, he offers to narrate a story of dire consequences—that of the Spanish Queen Juana of Castile and her legendary love for her husband, Philippe the Handsome.

Promised to Prince


Manuel is a man of many talents; an art historian and professor, he is also an exquisite storyteller. When he meets 16-year-old Lucía on an outing from her boarding school, he offers to narrate a story of dire consequences—that of the Spanish Queen Juana of Castile and her legendary love for her husband, Philippe the Handsome.

Promised to Prince Philippe the Handsome to solidify ties between the Flemish and Spanish crowns, Queen Juana immediately fell in love with her betrothed with all the abandon and passion of her fiery personality. Theirs was one of the most tumultuous love stories of all time.

But Juana, who was also one of the most learned princesses of the Renaissance, was forced to pay a high price for being headstrong and daring to be herself. Those at court who could not fathom Juana as heir to the throne of the most important empire of its day conspired against her and began to question her sanity. Eventually she came to be known as Juana the Mad. But was she really insane, or just a victim of her impetuosity and unbridled passion?

As the novel unfolds, Lucía and Manuel become enmeshed in a complex psychological web that seduces and incites them to relive Juana and Philippe's story, and eventually leads them to a mysterious manuscript that may hold the key to Juana's alleged madness.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
How crazy was Juana La Loca, the Spanish queen who allegedly would not stop kissing her husband, Philippe the Handsome, even after he died? A Madrid professor enlists the help of a student and a silk dress to find out in the latest from Nicaraguan poet-memoirist-novelist Belli (The Country Under My Skin). While touring the Escorial, 17-year-old Lucia, a Latin American-born orphan attending a Madrid Catholic boarding school, meets Manuel, a 40-something professor who draws Lucia into his obsession with 16th-century Juana. Soon, Manuel dresses Lucia like Juana, and, as he seduces (and eventually impregnates) her, she channels Juana's spirit, allowing Belli to create in sensuous detail a turbulent, emotion-driven version of events that is at odds with historians' accounts of Juana's schizophrenia. Juana, as Belli depicts her, was a passionate woman who fell victim to power-hungry relatives, and whose eccentric behavior may have been symptoms of bipolar disorder. (As Belli explains in an author's note, "any woman with a strong sense of self, confronted by the abuse and the arbitrary injustices she had to withstand, forced to accept her powerlessness in the face of an authoritarian system, would become depressed.") Belli's insights into Spanish culture prove provocative, aided by Dillman's faultless translation. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This latest endeavor by Nicaraguan poet, novelist, and essayist Belli (The Country Under My Skin) is actually two books in one: a fascinating account of "Juana the Mad" of Castile and the coming-of-age story of 17-year-old Lucia, an orphaned boarder at a Madrid convent in the 1960s. The two story lines intersect when Lucia meets Manuel, a Spanish Renaissance professor 20 years her senior who is obsessed with the history of Juana, the Spanish princess who was madly in love with her husband and, after his death, was imprisoned by her own family for more than 40 years. Manuel invites the impressionable Lucia to listen to the story of Juana. Dressed in a Renaissance gown, Lucia is seduced not only by Manuel but also by his account of this intriguing character in Spain's history. The story of Juana is richly told and would make a fine novel by itself. The modern tale of seduction is a little less spellbinding but has enough suspense (e.g., is Lucia pregnant or not?) to keep readers' attention. This novel has a feel similar to Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring and will be of interest to fans of historical fiction and Latin American literature.-Anika Fajardo, Coll. of St. Catherine Lib., St. Paul, MN Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Nicaraguan poet, novelist and memoirist Belli (The Country Under My Skin, 2002, etc.) offers a beguiling feminist take on the frustrated life of a 15th-century Spanish queen. The tortuous saga of Juana of Castile, daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand, who spent 46 years of her life locked away as a madwoman, is evoked through an illicit modern-day love affair. Now 17, Luc'a has been a student at a Madrid boarding school for four years, since her Latin American parents died in a plane crash. Much older Manuel, a professor specializing in the Spanish Renaissance, is obsessed with Juana's story and much taken by Luc'a because she looks remarkably like the queen. Manuel seduces the willing virgin by dressing her in a period costume and mesmerizing her with a longwinded narration of Juana's life: Beginning with her birth in 1479, the tale takes a dark turn with Juana's passionate marriage at age 16 to Philippe the Handsome, Archduke of Burgundy, whose ties to the Hapsburg line are politically desirable but later disastrous. The novel moves fluidly between the Renaissance and the present, with both stories narrated in the first person, as if Luc'a is indeed possessed by Juana. The Spanish princess bears many children for Philippe and overlooks his infidelities while she grows increasingly isolated living away from her family. After a series of unexpected deaths, Juana is in line for succession as queen of Castile but is thwarted and imprisoned through the machinations of her husband, father and son (who became Holy Roman Emperor Charles V). In the present, young Luc'a becomes pregnant and is ensconced in Manuel's childhood home, where his Aunt Agueda watches over her. Also surveying Luc'aare the ghosts of Manuel's ancestors, the Denias, who were appointed to guard Juana but ended up looting her effects. Belli's historical savvy and skillful use of novelistic devices render these intertwined tales powerfully compelling. An intricate, sexy historical narrative, exploring the triumph of individual will over masculine coercion.
The Chicago Tribune
“A poetic, penetrating and revelatory tale of love and war, literature and politics. . .lyrical, dramatic and incisive, Belli’s soulful self-portrait and paean to her beautiful, beleagured country is at once timely and timeless, tragic and life-affirming.”
Ariel Dorfman
“Love and revolution have rarely been so splendidly and provocatively intertwined than in this heretic memoir of a woman’s sensual and intellectual voyage of self-discovery in Nicaragua.”
“Unravels [the] contradictions. . .all too common among powerful women–with characteristic candor and dignity. . .Often joyous, surprisingly fluid.”
San Antonio Express-News
“Engaging. . .When Belli speaks from the depths of her woman’s insight. . . her prose pierces the heart. . .A window to one woman’s extraordinary journey.”
Los Angeles Magazine
“A surprisingly frank picture of the movement. . .Belli presents a complex picture, revealing the ego clashes and massive blunders as well as moments of incredible bravery under fire.”
“…rigorously imagined and sumptuously presented…”
Philadelphia City Paper
“Romantic and engaging.”
Tu Vida Magazine
“Lush...Belli’s rich prose provides fascinating insight into Juana’s life...”
Entertainment Weekly
“In Belli’s story-within-a-story, expertly translated by Lisa Dillman, a historian uses Juana’s saga to seduce a 16 year old orphan at a Madrid boarding school...the novel gallops along. A-”
Los Angeles Times
“…A lush novel that draws in equal measure on history and human passion, The Scroll of Seduction bears a passing resemblance to Jane Eyre, Like Water for Chocolate and The Historian.”
Daily News
“The Scroll of Seduction engages the reader on multiple levels…an intelligent work of fiction.”
Cristina Garcia
“Gioconda Belli’s memoir reads better than a novel. It recounts her larger-than-life experiences as a revolutionary, lover, and mother with honesty, passion, intelligence and, above all, poetry. The Country Under My Skin is as much the story of Nicaragua as it is one extraordinary woman’s dreams.”
María Amparo Escandón
“Exceedingly clever and powerful, this passion-filled mystery of love and jealousy, of beauty and madness, unravels as the suspense builds to a page-turning frenzy that leaves us wanting to keep reading beyond the back cover.”

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The Scroll of Seduction
A Novel

Chapter One

Manuel said he would tell me the story of the Spanish queen, Juana of Castile, and her mad love for her husband, Philippe the Handsome, but only if I agreed to certain conditions.

He was a professor at Complutense University. His specialty was the Spanish Renaissance. I was seventeen years old, a high school student, and from the age of thirteen, since the death of my parents in a plane crash, I had been at a Catholic boarding school run by nuns in Madrid, far from my small Latin American country.

Manuel's voice rose densely within me, like a surging tide on which floated faces, furnishings, curtains, the adornments and rituals from forgotten times.

"What conditions?" I asked.

"I want you to imagine the scenes I describe for you in your mind's eye, to see them and see yourself in them, to feel like Juana for a few hours. It won't be easy for you at first, but a world created with words can become as real as the shaft of light that at this moment illuminates your hands. It's been scientifically proven that whether we see a lit candle with our eyes open or imagine it with our eyes closed, the brain has an almost identical reaction. We can see with our minds and not just our senses. In the world I'll conjure up, if you accept my proposal, you will become Juana. I know the facts, the dates. I can place you in that world, in its smells and colors; I can make you feel its atmosphere. But my narration—because I'm a man and, what's worse, a rational, meticulous historian—can never capture—I can never capture—what's inside. No matter how I try, I can'timagine what Juana felt when she set off, at sixteen, on the armada's flagship, accompanied by one hundred and thirty-two vessels, to marry Philippe the Handsome."

"You said she didn't even know him."

"She'd never laid eyes on him. She disembarked in Flanders, escorted by five thousand men and two thousand ladies-in-waiting, to find that her fiancé was not at the port to meet her. I can't imagine how she felt, just as I can't begin to conceive of her innermost thoughts when she finally met Philippe at the monastery in Lierre and they fell so suddenly, so thoroughly, so violently in love that they asked to be married that very night, so anxious were they to consummate a marriage that had actually been arranged for reasons of State."

How often had Manuel made reference to that initial meeting? Perhaps he enjoyed seeing me blush. I smiled to dissimulate. Although I had spent the last several years in a convent, surrounded by nuns, I could picture the scene. I had no trouble at all imagining what Juana must have felt.

"I see that you understand." Manuel smiled. "I just can't stop picturing that young woman—one of the most educated princesses in all of the Renaissance—who, after succeeding to the throne of Spain, was locked up in a palace at the age of twenty-nine and forced to remain there until she died, forty-seven years later. During her formative years she was tutored by one of the most brilliant female philosophers of the day, Beatriz Galindo, known as 'La Latina.' Did you know that?"

"It's sad to think that jealousy drove her insane."

"Well, that's what they said. And that's one of the mysteries you can help me unravel."

"I don't see how."

"By thinking like her, putting yourself in her place. I want you to let her story flood your consciousness. You're almost the same age. And, like her, you also had to leave your country and be on your own since you were very young."

My grandparents dropped me off at the boarding school one September day in 1963. Although the stone building was austere and gloomy—high-walled, windowless, an imposing front door with an old coat of arms on the lintel—its solemnity perfectly suited my frame of mind. I walked down the tiled hallway and into the stillness of the reception area feeling that I was leaving behind a noisy world that in no way acknowledged the catastrophe that had cut short my childhood. Neither day nor night, countryside nor city, managed to register my sadness the way the silence of that convent did, with its one lone pine shading the tiny central garden that no one ever visited. Four years I had lived there resigned and uncomplaining. And though the other girls were pleasant toward me, they also kept a prudent distance, influenced, I think, by the tragedy that had thrust me in their midst. The nuns' good intentions surely contributed to my isolation. They must have told the other girls to be compassionate and sensitive toward me, to avoid doing anything to reopen my wounds or to further sadden me. They even refrained from talking about their family vacations and their home life in my presence, thinking, I imagine, that talking about their parents would make me miss mine. Their restraint coupled with my rather introverted nature and my initial unwillingness to discuss the issue of having suddenly become an orphan, dramatically reduced my possibilities of forging new and close friendships. What's more, I got good grades, and the nuns held me up as an example of the triumph of will against adversity, inadvertently widening the chasm that separated me from the others.

"To be honest, I don't exactly understand what you expect me to do. Of course I can speculate about what Juana might have felt, but she and I are centuries apart. We're the product of two different times. I don't see how you'll be able to deduce anything about her by my reactions."

"When it comes to feelings, what difference does time make?" he asked. I could read Shakespeare and Lope de Vega, the poetry of Góngora and Garcilaso, tales of chivalry, and still be moved by them. Time passed, settings changed, but the essence of passion, of emotions, of human relations, was surprisingly consistent.

The Scroll of Seduction
A Novel
. Copyright © by Gioconda Belli. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are saying about this

Cristina Garcia
Gioconda Belli’s memoir reads better than a novel. It recounts her larger-than-life experiences as a revolutionary, lover, and mother with honesty, passion, intelligence and, above all, poetry. The Country Under My Skin is as much the story of Nicaragua as it is one extraordinary woman’s dreams.

Meet the Author

Gioconda Belli's poetry and fiction have been published in many languages. Her first novel, The Inhabited Woman, was an international bestseller; her collection of poems, Linea de fuego, won the prestigious Casa de las Americas Prize. She lives in Santa Monica, California, and Managua, Nicaragua.

Nacida en Managua, Nicaragua, Gioconda Belli es autora de una importante obra poética de reconocido prestigio internacional. Es autora de La mujer habitada, Sofía de los presagios, Waslala, El taller de las mariposas y un libro de memorias titulado El país bajo mi piel. Publicada por las editoriales más prestigiosas del mundo, Gioconda Belli vive desde 1990 entre Estados Unidos y Nicaragua.

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Scroll of Seduction: A Novel of Power, Madness, and Royalty 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Socrates Talavera More than 1 year ago
Just great, a great combination of past and present that transports you in such a way, that you will enjoy from begining to end.
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