A Stolen Tongue

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It is 1483. Father Felix Fabri has set sail from Germany to Mount Sinai on a pilgrimage to venerate the relics of the spiritual bride he took when he first swore his vows, the martyr Saint Katherine of Alexandria. Joined on ship by a disturbed young woman who claims that Saint Katherine speaks through her, and her older brother whose intentions are never clear, Felix soon finds his expectations for a pure and holy journey crushed. Following a tempestuous sea voyage, Felix's group comes ashore to pay homage and ...
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Overview

It is 1483. Father Felix Fabri has set sail from Germany to Mount Sinai on a pilgrimage to venerate the relics of the spiritual bride he took when he first swore his vows, the martyr Saint Katherine of Alexandria. Joined on ship by a disturbed young woman who claims that Saint Katherine speaks through her, and her older brother whose intentions are never clear, Felix soon finds his expectations for a pure and holy journey crushed. Following a tempestuous sea voyage, Felix's group comes ashore to pay homage and celebrate Katherine's life in Greece and Palestine. Each time they come to worship, though, they find that the remains of Katherine's body are being stolen in bits and pieces; her hand, her ear, and then her tongue are missing from their holy resting places. Desperate to discover the thief and save his saint from such a brutal fate, Felix is thrust into a deep and strange mystery that takes him across the desert and plumbs the depths of his soul.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Widely varied notions of faith and mission, from the conventional to the bizarre, color this intriguing historical thriller about a 15th-century pilgrimage from Germany to Mt. Sinai. The narrative takes the form of a journal kept by Dominican Father Felix Fabri, beginning at sea in 1483. Felix seeks to visit the relics of his spiritual wife, St. Katherine of Alexandria, on whom he has developed a fixation that might strike contemporary readers as not being entirely in keeping with his vows-though such eroticized spirituality was not uncommon at the time. As pieces of Katherine's body disappear from churches along his party's route, Felix faces a troubling mystery made more strange by the appearance of a young woman named Arsino, whose possibly mad communications with the saint have earned her the sobriquet, Tongue of St. Katherine. The pilgrims' voyage is arduous enough, but with the added intrigue of the disappearing relics, and conflicts that try Felix's faith and corrupt his judgment, they will be pushed to the brink of despair. First-novelist Holman pulls her readers along with odd riddles and careful suspense. As absorbing as is her portrayal of the premodern world is, her feel for timeless ironies is also sure: Felix decries the strange, unholy ways of the "Saracens" while he searches for his dead "wife," whose dried-out tongue he keeps in a pouch around his neck. While the plot's resolution is a bit unsatisfying, this is a strong debut, an often enthralling yarn that draws the reader right in among the pilgrims on their harrowing trek. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Obsessed with spiritual "marriage" to the martyr St. Katherine of Alexandria, Father Felix Fabri plans to visit her tomb on a journey to the Holy Land with a group of German pilgrims. Along the way, however, the group stops at shrines containing relics of the saint, only to find that someone has stolen them. Fifteenth-century culture springs to life through the voice of this educated, religious, witty, and well-spoken observer. A moving first novel; essential for historical fiction readers.
Kirkus Reviews
In an unusual, probing debut, 15th-century Palestine is the destination for a group of German pilgrims, who arrive gratefully in the Holy Land after a perilous sea voyage, only to lose much of what they hold most dear.

Fishing the corpse of a fellow pilgrim from a harbor in Crete to give him a Christian burial, Friar Felix Fabri and his patron Lord Tucher escort the dead man to a church containing a relic of the Friar's heavenly bride, the martyr Saint Katherine—and find it stolen. So it goes across the Mediterranean: Whenever they reach a location supposed to possess relics of Katherine, Felix learns that they've just been filched. A woman named Arsinoë, who joins the pilgrims on board ship, begins to seem a likely suspect: She is believed to be the "Tongue of Saint Katherine," through whom the saint speaks to those on earth. The suspect's odd behavior takes an even stranger twist when she assumes her Greek husband's identity after his death en route. Other deaths follow when the Holy Land is reached, leaving the Friar torn: Is Arsinoë really what she thinks she is, or is she dangerously delusional, as her pursuing brother Niccolo claims. By misleading her brother, Felix helps her to get a head start on a trek across the desert to Mount Sinai, home of Katherine's shrine, then learns that she may be bent on destroying what he has crossed the world to see. The final stages of the journey bring privation, betrayal, and death to most of his fellow travelers, including his patron and Arsinoë. Having barely survived himself, the friar is left a wiser man, to contemplate his harrowing experience with what remains of his faith.

Light humor and deep tragedy coexist uneasily here, with the latter ultimately triumphant, but the unevenness doesn't change the fact that this is a rich, surprisingly compelling tale of faith and spiritual transformation.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385491242
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/1/1998
  • Edition description: 1 ANCHOR
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 8.01 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Sheri Holman
Sheri Holman
"I feel incredibly fortunate that I can make my living reading a bunch of obscure books and turning them into stories," novelist Sheri Holman reveals in our exclusive interview. Best known for The Dress Lodger -- her Dickensian look at plague-ridden England through the experiences of a prostitute -- Holman continues to probe the past for inspiration with her latest work, The Mammoth Cheese.

Good To Know

In our interview with Holman, she shared some fun and fascinating facts about herself:

"Before publishing my first book, I spent five years working for the literary agent Molly Friedrich (she represents Jane Smiley, Terry McMillan, Frank McCourt, and Sue Grafton, among others). I started as her assistant and now she's my agent!"

"I know how to say, ‘I'm a hot chick, kiss me,' in Russian. "

"My husband and I have way too many pets: four indoor cats, four outdoor cats, a parrot, a baby, and now twins on the way. I think of myself as a country girl, though I've lived 15 years in New York City. I love to cook and I watch way too much baseball on TV (the Yankees, of course). I feel incredibly fortunate that I can make my living reading a bunch of obscure books and turning them into stories. "

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    1. Hometown:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 1, 1966
    2. Place of Birth:
      Richmond, Virginia
    1. Education:
      B.A. in Theatre from the College of William and Mary, 1988

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