The Tenth Gift

The Tenth Gift

3.9 32
by jane Johnson
     
 

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The art of embroidery uncannily links two fascinating women of different eras and their equally passionate love stories.

In an expensive London restaurant, Julia Lovat receives a gift that will change her life. At first glance it is a book of exquisite seventeenth-century embroidery patterns belonging to a woman named Catherine Ann Tregenna. Yet in its

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Overview

The art of embroidery uncannily links two fascinating women of different eras and their equally passionate love stories.

In an expensive London restaurant, Julia Lovat receives a gift that will change her life. At first glance it is a book of exquisite seventeenth-century embroidery patterns belonging to a woman named Catherine Ann Tregenna. Yet in its margins are the faintest diary entries; they reveal that “Cat” and others were stolen from their Cornish church in 1625 by Muslim pirates and taken on a brutal voyage to Morocco to be auctioned off as slaves. Captivated by this dramatic discovery, Julia sets off to North Africa to determine the authenticity of the book and to uncover more of Cat’s mesmerizing story. There, in the company of a charismatic Moroccan guide, amid the sultry heat, the spice markets, and exotic ruins, Julia will discover buried secrets. And in Morocco–just as Cat did before her–she will lose her heart.

Set almost 400 years apart, the stories o...

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In an entertaining if uneven debut novel from a U.K. publishing executive, dual story lines feature spirited English heroines-a 17th-century country girl and a modern-day craft shop owner-both with a gift for embroidery. As a farewell gift from her married lover, Julia Lovat receives a book published in 1625 and filled with a variety of sewing patterns. Inside the manual, Julia discovers the words, scribbled in pencil over the pages, of Cat Ann Tregenna, a 19-year-old British servant kidnapped by Muslim raiders and taken to Morocco to be sold into slavery. En route, the pirate leader, Al-Andalusi, is wounded in a battle, and Cat and her needlepoint skills are called on to stitch up the man's wounds, an encounter that leads to a tangled interfaith rivalry. As Julia struggles to shake off the dregs of her affair, she finds inspiration in Cat's makeshift diary and travels to Morocco to track down proof that Cat really existed; in the process, she discovers a new life of her own. Johnson imbues her historical story line with a captivating energy and momentum, but the humdrum contemporary quasi-romance doesn't pull its share of the weight. (May)

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Kirkus Reviews
Two needlewomen, centuries apart, find love and career satisfaction in Morocco in this novel from Johnson, the publishing director at HarperCollins UK . In the early 17th century, corsairs (aka Barbary pirates) from Sale and other Moroccan cities raided coastal waters and villages in the British Isles, kidnapping and enslaving sailors, fisherman and townsfolk. Johnson employs two through-lines, past and present. Julia, a London yuppie and textile craftswoman, is dumped by her longtime lover, antiquarian book dealer Michael, husband of Julia's best friend, Anna. As a consolation prize Michael hands Julia an antique leather-bound Needle-Woman's Glorie, a handbook of embroidery patterns, defaced by the marginal jottings of a flame-tressed woman named Cat, age 19. In 1625, Cat, a housemaid to minor Cornish nobility, is reluctantly betrothed to her adoring cousin Rob. She has ambitions that would take her far from her native Penzance, Cornwall. She's been stitching an altar cloth of her own design for the Countess of Salisbury, hoping to gain entry to the all-male Broderers Guild. By chance, Cat attends a Puritan church service. In mid-sermon, Barbary pirates swarm in and abduct the congregation. Shackled in the ship's filthy hold, the captives endure starvation and disease. When Al-Andalusi, the ship's rais (captain), is wounded in a sea battle, Cat is summoned to his cabin to suture his wounds. Smitten, Al-Andalusi has semi-honorable designs on her. But as the ship approaches Sale harbor, she insults his Muslim faith and is dispatched to the auction block. Back in the present, Michael realizes he's unintentionally given Julia a priceless artifact. He stalks her to Morocco, where she's goneto research Cat's story. But thanks to Julia's historical quest and a handsome guide named Idriss, she's now Michael-proof. Cat, sold to a rich merchant, manages his all-female embroidery factory. But the identity of her master is uncertain-could it be the rais, who's growing on Cat by the day?Johnson's innovative style and tone (informed by her own Moroccan vision-quest) transforms what could have been a conventional swashbuckler-bodice ripper into a witty page-turner. Agent: Russell Galen/Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency
From the Publisher
"A remarkable view of Barbary pirates and their times, and an engrossing romance of clashing cultures and wonderful characters." Diana Gabaldon, #1 New York Times bestselling author

"This is such a lush book! It transported me to another time and other places, enticing me into an exotic, turbulent world in which past and present are seamlessly woven into a mesmerizing story." India Edghill, author of Wisdom’ s Daughter

"What a tangled web Jane Johnson weaves with the opening of a book of old embroidery patterns! Two heroines cross paths across centuries. Unworthy lovers, treachery, ghosts, and pirates march through the streets and seas of modern day England, 17th century Cornwall, and Morocco as each woman tries to find what is most important to her. Discovering one’s authenticity is a story in which time doesn’t matter, and Johnson stitches the threads of both stories into a lovely, enticing whole." Karleen Koen, New York Times bestselling author of Dark Angels

“An unashamedly escapist page-turner that will be enjoyed by fans of Kate Mosse and Philippa Gregory.” Daily Mail (UK)

“Wildly yet convincingly romantic...Johnson weaves together the two women’s lives, exploring issues—love, desire, ambition, and guilt—that transcend time. Beautifully narrated...and a delectable adventure of the heart.” USA Today

“This is beautifully written, first class escapism.” Mail on Sunday (UK)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307405234
Publisher:
Crown/Archetype
Publication date:
05/26/2009
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
554,723
Product dimensions:
5.15(w) x 9.40(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they have never happened before, like larks that have been singing the same five notes for thousands of years."

I had scribbled this down in a notebook after reading it in a novel the night before I was due to meet Michael and was looking forward to slipping it into our conversation at dinner, despite knowing his likely reaction (negative; dismissive—he was always skeptical about anything that could even vaguely be termed "romantic"). He was a lecturer in European literature, to which he presented an uncompro mising post-structuralist stance, as if books were just meat for the butcher's block, mere muscle and tendon, bone and cartilage, which required flensing and separating and scrutiny. For his part, Michael found my thinking on the subject of fiction both emotional and unrigorous, which meant that at the start of our relationship we had the most furious arguments, which would hurt me so personally as to bring me to the edge of tears, but now, seven years in, we were able to bait each other cheerfully. Anyway, it made a change from discussing, or avoiding, the subject of Anna, or the future.

To begin with, it had been hard to live like this, on snatched moments, the future always in abeyance, but I had gotten used to it little by little so that now my life had a recognizable pattern to it. It was a bit pared down and lacking in what others might consider crucial areas, but it suited me. Or so I told myself, time and time again.

I dressed with particular care for dinner: a devore silk blouse, a tailored black skirt that skimmed the knees, stockings (Michael was predictably male in his preferences), a pair of suede ankle-strap shoes in which I could just about manage the half-mile to the restaurant and back. And my favorite hand-embroidered shawl: bursts of bright pansies worked on a ground of fine black cashmere.

I've always said you have to be an optimist to be a good embroiderer. A large piece (like the shawl) can take six months to a year of inspired and dedicated work. Determination, too; a dogged spirit like that of a mountaineer, taking one measured step at a time rather than panicking at the thought of the whole immense task, the crevasse field and headwall of ice. You may think I exaggerate the difficulties— a bit of cloth, a needle and thread: How hard can it be? But once you've laid out a small fortune on cashmere and another on the silks, or there's a tight deadline for some nervous girl's wedding, or an exhibition, and you have not only to design and plan but to stitch a million stitches, I can tell you the pressure is palpable.

We were meeting at Enoteca Turi, near the southern end of Putney's bridge, a smart Tuscan restaurant that we usually reserved for celebrations. There were no birthdays looming, no publications or promotions, that I knew of. The latter would, in any case, be hard for me to achieve, since I ran my own business, and since even the word business was something of a stretch for my one-woman enterprise: a tiny crafts shop in the Seven Dials. The crafts shop was more of an indulgence than a moneymaking concern. An aunt had died five years ago, leaving me a decent legacy; my mother had followed two years later, and I was the only child. The lease on the shop had fallen into my lap; it had less than a year to run and I hadn't decided what to do with it at the end of that time. I made more money from commissions than from the so-called business, and even those were more of a way of passing time, stitching away the minutes while awaiting my next tryst with Michael.

I arrived early. They do say relationships are usually weighted in favor of one party, and I reckoned I was carrying seventy percent of ours. This was partly due to circumstances, partly to temperament, both mine and Michael's. He reserved himself from the world most of the time: I was the emotional profligate.

I took my seat with my back to the wall, gazing out at the other diners like a spectator at a zoo. Mostly couples in their thirties, like us: well-off, well-dressed, well-spoken, if a bit loud. Snippets of conversation drifted to me:

"What is fagioli occhiata di Colfiorito, do you know?"

"So sad about Justin and Alice ...lovely couple...what will they do with the house?"

"What do you think of Marrakech next month, or would you prefer Florence again?"

Nice, normal, happy people with sensible jobs, plenty of money, and solid marriages; with ordered, comfortable, conforming lives. Rather unlike mine. I looked at them all embalmed in the golden light and wondered what they would make of me, sitting here in my best underwear, new stockings and high heels, waiting for my onetime best friend's husband to arrive.

Probably be as envious as hell, suggested a wicked voice in my head.

Probably not.

Where was Michael? It was twenty past eight and he'd have to be home by eleven, as he was always at pains to point out. A quick dinner, a swift fuck: It was the most I could hope for, and maybe not even that. Feeling the precious moments ticking away, I began to get anxious. I hadn't allowed myself to dwell on the special reason he had suggested Enoteca. It was an expensive place, not somewhere you would choose on a whim; not on the salary of a part-time lecturer, supplemented by desultory book-dealing, not if you were—like Michael—careful with your money. I took my mind off this conundrum by ordering a bottle of Rocca Rubia from the sommelier and sat there with my hands clasped around the vast bowl of the glass as if holding the Grail itself, waiting for my deeply flawed Sir Lancelot to arrive. In the candlelight, the contents sparkled like fresh blood.

At last he burst through the revolving door with his hair in disarray and his cheeks pink, as if he'd run all the way from Putney Station. He shrugged his coat off impatiently, transferring briefcase and black carrier bag from hand to hand as he wrestled his way out of the sleeves, and at last bounded over, grinning manically, though not quite meeting my eye, kissed me swiftly on the cheek, and sat down in the chair the waiter pushed forward for him.

"Sorry I'm late. Let's order, shall we? I have to be home—"

"—by eleven. Yes, I know." I suppressed a sigh. "Tough day?"

It would be nice to know why we were here, to get to the nub of the evening, but Michael was focused on the menu now, intently considering the specials and which one was likely to offer the most value for the money.

"Not especially,"he said at last."Usual idiot students, sitting there like empty-headed sheep waiting for me to fill them up with knowledge—except the usual know-it-all big mouth showing off to the girls by picking a fight with the tutor. Soon sorted that one out."

I could imagine Michael fixing some uppity twenty-year-old with a gimlet stare before cutting him mercilessly down to size in a manner guaranteed to get a laugh from the female students. Women loved Michael. We couldn't help ourselves. Whether it was his saturnine features (and habits, to boot), the louche manner or the look in those glittering black eyes, the cruelly carved mouth, or the restless hands, I didn't know. I had lost perspective on such matters long ago.

The waiter took our order and we were left without further excuse for equivocation. Michael reached across the table and rested his hand on mine, imprisoning it against the white linen. At once the familiar burst of sexual electricity charged up my arm, sending shock waves through me. His gaze was solemn: so solemn that I wanted to laugh. He looked like an impish Puck about to confess to some heinous crime.

"I think," he said carefully, his gaze resting on a point about two inches to the left of me, "we should stop seeing each other. For a while, at least."

So much for discussing larks. The laugh that had been building up burst out of me, discordant and crazy-sounding. I was aware of people staring.

"What?"

"You're still young," he said. "If we stop this now, you can find someone else. Settle down. Have a family."

Michael hated the very idea of children: That he would wish them on me was confirmation of the distance he wanted to put between us.

"None of us are young anymore," I retorted. "Least of all you." His hand went unconsciously to his forehead. He was losing his hair and was vain enough to care about it. For the past few years I'd told him it was unnoticeable; then as that became a bit of a lie, that it made him look distinguished, sexy.

The waiter brought food. We ate it in silence. Or rather, Michael ate in silence: I mainly pushed my crab and linguine around my plate and drank a lot of wine.

At last our plates were cleared away, leaving a looming space between us. Michael stared at the tablecloth as if the space itself posed a threat, then became strangely animated. "Actually, I got you something," he said. He picked up the carrier bag and peered into it. I glimpsed two brown-paper-wrapped objects of almost identical proportions inside, as if he had bought the same farewell gift twice, for two different women. Perhaps he had.

"It's not properly wrapped, I'm afraid. I didn't have time, all been a bit chaotic today." He pushed one of these items across the table at me. "But it's the thought that counts. It's a sort of a memento mori; and an apology," he said with that crooked, sensual smile that had so caught my heart in the first place. "I am sorry, you know. For everything."

There was a lot that he had to be sorry for, but I wasn't feeling strong enough to say so. Memento mori; a reminder of death. The phrase ricocheted around my mind. I unwrapped the parcel carefully, feeling the crab and chili sauce rising in my throat.

It was a book. An antique book, with a cover of buttery brown calfskin, simple decorative blind lines on the boards, and four raised, rounded ridges at even intervals along the spine. My fingers ran over the textures appreciatively, as if over another skin. Closing myself off from the damaging things Michael was saying, I applied myself to opening the cover, careful not to crack the brittle spine. Inside, the title page was foxed and faded.

The Needle-Woman's Glorie, it read in bold characters, and then in a fine italic print:

Here followeth certain fyne patternes to be fitly wroghte in Gold, or Silke or Crewell as takes your plesure. Published here togyther for the first tyme by Henry Ward of Cathedral Square Exeter 1624.

And beneath this, in a round, uncertain hand:

For my cozen Cat, 27th Maie 1625.

"Oh!" I cried, ambushed by its antiquity and its beauty. An intricate pattern filled the verso page. I tilted it toward the light in a vain attempt to examine it better.

Michael had just said something else, but whatever it was flew harmlessly over my head.

"Oh," I exclaimed again. "How extraordinary."

Michael had stopped talking. I was aware of a heavy silence, one that demanded a reaction. "Have you heard any of what I've been saying?" I gazed at him wordless, not wanting to answer. His black eyes were suddenly almost brown. Pity welled in them.

"I'm so sorry, Julia," he said again. "Anna and I have reached a crucial point in our lives and have had a proper heart-to-heart. We're going to give our marriage another go, a fresh start. I can't see you anymore. It's over."

I lay alone in my bed that night, curled around the book, the last thing in my life that would carry a connection with Michael, sobbing. At last, sheer exhaustion overtook me, but sleep was almost worse than being awake: The dreams were terrible. I surfaced at two-thirty, at three; at four, retaining fragments of images—blood and shattered bones, someone crying in pain, shouts in a language I could not understand. Most vivid of all was a sequence in which I was stripped naked and paraded before strangers, who laughed and pointed out my shortcomings, which were many. One of these onlookers was Michael. He wore a long robe and a hood, but I knew his voice when he said, "This one has no breasts. Why have you brought me a woman with no breasts?" I awoke, sweating and shamed, a creature of no account who deserved her fate.

Yet even as I loathed myself, I felt disoriented, detached, as if it were not me suffering the indignity, but some other Julia Lovat, far away. I drifted back into sleep, and if I dreamed again, I do not remember it. When I finally woke up, I was lying on the book. It had left a clear impression—four ridges, like scars, on my back.

CHAPTER 2

The doorbell rang. Michael crossed to the window and looked down. In the street below a man stood, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot as if in dire need of a visit to the lavatory. He was dressed too warmly for the weather, in an old wool Crombie and cord trousers. From his bird's-eye vantage point, Michael could see for the first time that the top of Stephen's head was almost bald, save for a thin covering of comb-over which looked almost as if it had been glued down. He looked comically out of place in this part of Soho, where young men paraded up and down in muscle shirts, ripped denim or leather, and knowing smiles, and tourists got vicarious thrills by entering, if only for an hour or so, the cruising scene.

Old Compton Street hadn't been quite so outre or lively when Michael first moved into the flat: He felt now, watching the tide of young life passing by outside, as if he were looking through a window into someone else's party, one to which he was too old and straight to be invited. Especially now that he was back on the narrow path, playing the good husband.

"Stephen!" he called down, and the balding man lifted his head, shading his eyes against the sun. "Here!" He threw his keys out of the window. "Top floor."

Not just his keys, either, he thought ruefully as they left his hand, but Julia's, too. He supposed he should return them to her now that it was over. But it just seemed so... final.

The arrival of Stephen Bywater interrupted his thoughts.

"You could have come down to the shop," he said accusingly, wiping the sweat off his forehead.

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Meet the Author

JANE JOHNSON is a British novelist, historian and publisher. She is the UK editor for Dean Koontz and George R.R. Martin, and as Jude Fisher has written the companions to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie trilogies.

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Tenth Gift 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
KY_reader More than 1 year ago
I kept putting this book on the bottom of the pile because I didn't think that I would like it. The title just made me think of some other books that I think are very lightweight, but when I finally started to read it, I couldn't put it down. The connection between the past and the present is told in an original way here. I also loved the strong and unpredictable women characters. The best suprise was the undercurrent of Islamic culture and the impact on the characters. This was a very pleasant surprise-- I really enjoyed this book. I wish that it had a better title though!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really wanted to like this book. It has a great cover, a great premise, and even the writing is good. What I couldn't get beyond is the idea that this English girl is captured, sold into terrible slavery, and yet falls in love with her slaver. Are you kidding? The real English women of the 17th century who were sold into slavery in Morocco were abused: physically, mentally and every other way. This is, imo, an isn't-it-great-to-be-serving-another-culture book, especially when that culture is non-white. Can anyone imagine the roles reversed, and a Moroccan slave falls in love with her white slaver? Would that have even been published today? I would give this book one star, except it has a nice cover.
coffeegoddess More than 1 year ago
This book begins by following the tale of woman embroiderer that is captured on the Barbary coast by pirates. Then you are transported to the world of Islam. Catherine must make a choice between her freedom as a Muslim woman or staying a Christian slave. In a post 9/11 world this story was intriguing and a good read for the open minded.
pern53 More than 1 year ago
I was asked to help a 'friend' out by reading this book so he/she could rate it for his/her work. It took me awhile to get into the book because the initial premise is of a woman, Julia, who's so screwed up she's been sleeping with her best friend's husband for years. He dumps and she doesn't see it coming?!?! As a breaking-up gift he presents her with a special book and that is where the story really starts. Julia discovers the long lost words of a young woman living in the early 17th century who is captured by Barbary corsairs and condemned into slavery. Some of the points previously made in other reviews are fairly valid. Perhaps Cat has a bit of Stockholm syndrome when she discovers her love for her captor. But the main thrust of the story seems to be more of how this young woman deals with the cards dealt her in life while Julia in the present seems to screw up the cards dealt her and can't seem to face up to the decisions she's made. Book clubs will have a great time with this book because there are so many issues which are open to discussion: women's issues, infidelity, cross-cultural issues, the juxtaposition of the present writing in the first person with the past being written in the 3rd person, etc. If you like historical fiction written with some authority, you'll enjoy this book.
SecondRunReviews More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book solely because Diana Gabaldon had a featured quote on the cover of the hardcover version. I snatched up a copy once it reached paperback and was drawn in immediately. While the present day part of the story was a little over dramatic, the historical part of the story kept me moving through the book as I was dying to find out what became of Cat and her unlikely love for one of the Barbary pirates.
NZH More than 1 year ago
A great read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I actually read the uncorrected proof of this book instead of the official version available at stores. I was completely spellbound! A lot of history, well researched, and VERY romantic! It depicts the differences between cultures and how servants lived their lives in eastern europe. If I were in that situation, I'd choose Morocco over the other culture any day!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Absolutely loved this book and could not put it down..drawn into the history of textiles and needlework with historical facts of the Salle pirates this was a wonderful read!! From past to present this book has a message for women...loved the character of Cat...gave one a sense of how the servants were regarded in British society...I would live in Morroccoo too!! Please write more!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just loved this book. Secret history, well researched, strong characters, fantastic romances, both in the past and the present, and lots of wonderful exotic detail. Can't rate it highly enough.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I could not put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will try others by this author!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved how the parallell tales unfolded. The characters were both unique and real. I enjoyed that it did not indulge any stereotypes. Each character made realistic decisions.
KatZombie More than 1 year ago
The Tenth Gift was such a different premise to my current reading that I admit I found it difficult to get my head into a non-zombie, non-post-apocalyptic state of mind, and it has taken me nearly a month to complete. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I kept getting distracted by all the other books on my e-shelf. I read a lot of reviews of this book before I started reading this book (something I rarely do), and the overwhelming majority of readers either didn’t respect, or found it hard to connect with the main character, Julia, mainly due to her choices in life. Personally, I didn’t have that problem – sure, I didn’t agree with some of her life choices, but I could understand why she made some of those choices. The character of Cat is particularly engaging – the journal excerpts are written in 17th century English which can be hard to read, until you get used to it, and her fiery, independent character make her the ultimate heroine of this book. The dedication of Rob is sweet but does stretch the imagination a little. There is a focus on Moroccan and 17th century English history, and the history of embroidery and needlework in the middle-east and England, which adds an extra point of interest. I’m undecided on this one – there were some very interesting parts, and some that just felt like padding.
auncgal89 More than 1 year ago
Though the story begins slowly, the interwoven past life is fascinating. Traveling to pirate ships in the 1600s captures the imagination and the reader's concern! Not an "easy read," but definitely wort the time!
April1777 More than 1 year ago
This book paints a picture of a great adventure which leaves you on the edge with anticipation. Great read
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