Watermark: A Novel of the Middle Ages
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Watermark: A Novel of the Middle Ages

4.2 23
by Vanitha Sankaran
     
 

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The daughter of a papermaker in a small French village in the year 1320—mute from birth and forced to shun normal society—young Auda finds solace and escape in the wonder of the written word. Believed to be cursed by those who embrace ignorance and superstition, Auda's very survival is a testament to the strength of her spirit. But this is an age of

Overview

The daughter of a papermaker in a small French village in the year 1320—mute from birth and forced to shun normal society—young Auda finds solace and escape in the wonder of the written word. Believed to be cursed by those who embrace ignorance and superstition, Auda's very survival is a testament to the strength of her spirit. But this is an age of Inquisition and intolerance, when difference and defiance are punishable "sins" and new ideas are considered damnable heresy. When darkness descends upon her world, Auda—newly grown to womanhood—is forced to flee, setting off on a remarkable quest to discover love and a new sense of self . . . and to reclaim her heritage and the small glory of her father's art.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Best-Selling Author - Sharon Kay Penman
"Watermark is a powerful novel about the destructive forces unleashed by ignorance and superstition. Readers will care deeply for the courageous Auda, who finds love where she least expects it, in the shadow of the Inquisition."
Laurel Corona
“A story that will keep the reader up at night...”
New York Times bestselling author Sharon Kay Penman
“Watermark is a powerful novel about the destructive forces unleashed by ignorance and superstition. Readers will care deeply for the courageous Auda, who finds love where she least expects it, in the shadow of the Inquisition.”
Booklist
Sankaran deftly illuminates a time of intellectual darkness in this superbly rendered debut.
Publishers Weekly
Medieval France is no place to be born albino: when Auda emerges from the womb “undercooked” and “white as bone,” an ignorant healer's apprentice tears out the child's tongue to keep her from “spread[ing] the devil's lies.” Though her mother dies in childbirth, a small stroke of luck graces Auda's childhood: her father makes his living as a scribe and a papermaker, so she learns reading and writing to compensate for her inability to speak. Together, father and daughter work to make his experimental paper the new standard for France's writing stock (replacing parchment); against the odds, they field an order from the local vicomtesse, who then takes on Auda as her personal scribe. At the palace, Auda grows more independent and finds romance with an artist who saves her from a witch-hunting mob. When Auda begins writing potentially heretical verse about women's empowerment, however, she tempts fate and the inquisition, setting off a chain of unlikely events. Though improbable plot twists detract, Sankaran has created a likable, easy-to-root-for protagonist in Auda. (Apr.)
Library Journal
When Auda is born with albinism in the medieval city of Narbonne, her nurse believes the infant's appearance makes her prey for the devil and mutilates the child before Auda's father, a literate papermaker, can rescue her. Rendered mute, Auda learns her father's craft and becomes a scribe for local nobility, but finding a legacy of a troubadour's verses to copy sets her to writing on her own. In 1320s France, paper is beginning to provide an affordable alternative to expensive parchment, but its use is watched with suspicion by the Church. As the demand for paper grows with Narbonne's diverse population of Jews, Italians, Gypsies, and other travelers, it also brings the papal Inquisition to town looking for heretics. Auda's encounter with the Good Men, Cathar prefects persecuted by the Inquisition, climaxes with the flood of the river Aude. VERDICT Avoiding being either overly dark or sweet, this debut historical by an author who already plans a second novel about printmaking in Italy has potential for book club discussions and will appeal to readers of medieval historical fiction who enjoyed Brenda Vantrease's The Illuminator.—Mary K. Bird-Guilliams, Wichita P.L., KS

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061849275
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
04/13/2010
Pages:
331
Sales rank:
1,176,525
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are saying about this

Sharon Kay Penman
“Watermark is a powerful novel about the destructive forces unleashed by ignorance and superstition. Readers will care deeply for the courageous Auda, who finds love where she least expects it, in the shadow of the Inquisition.”
Laurel Corona
“A story that will keep the reader up at night...”

Meet the Author

Vanitha Sankaran holds a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Northwestern University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Antioch University. Her stories have been published in various print and online journals. In addition, she is a founding editor for the literary journal flashquake. She is at work on her second novel, which is about printmaking in Renaissance Venice.

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Watermark: A Novel of the Middle Ages 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A reader's attention is captured in the first paragraphs and remains with the entire book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well written. You fall in love with the character and empathize with the world she lives in almost immediately. A brilliantly unfolding story.
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Sudarshan_ More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel. The story is about a mute girl, whose passion is for paper-making, but more so for the potential for revolutionary social change that paper and the written word represented in middle-age Europe. The details of the process of making paper were excellent, and well researched. I used to make my own cardboard out of soaked newspaper for my crazy building projects, and that was hard enough. I can definitely understand the difficulty involved in perfecting what was then a new art. Paper had to compete with the prevalent writing media of the age, and the need was for fine, thin, consistently sized sheets that wouldn't bleed ink. Add to that the art of inserting unique watermarks to each sheet, and you get some idea of the level of experimentation needed to perfect the art. The potential of the new medium for bringing about education and literacy was also brought out nicely, including the renewed interest in old literary work. The obstacle to progress was the rigid, inflexible Church, and the ongoing inquisition. On the whole, a lot of research has gone into this novel. The human element of the novel was equally impressive. It is hard to tell a story through the medium of a mute girl, and the author handles this well. The main character had my sympathy all along, and her fears of being branded a witch, owing not just to her lack of speech, but also her lack of color (she was an albino) were nicely portrayed. She nevertheless manages to find love in that day and age. The historical details and descriptions of France in those days also seemed to have been well researched. This was a very entertaining read, and I'll definitely look out for more works from this author.
Rufus_T_Firefly More than 1 year ago
The premise was interesting: paper making in the middle ages with a mute albino child...but the story didn't leave me with a satisfying end. It was as if the author tried to wrap the book too quickly, and the way out for Auda had way too much of a Hollywood ending for this reader's taste.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
phineasfreak More than 1 year ago
At least if you were anybody in France, circa 1300. Moreso if you are an albino woman. Auda would have been a great character with a little more self preservation mindset and better character judgement. Still, very good use of the dark horror of the medieval church and its nazgul emmissaries.
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gl More than 1 year ago
Watermark: A Novel of the Middle Ages opens with the event of Auda's birth, her welcome to the world, and a glimpse of the superstition that she faces throughout her life. By the time Auda is grown, she has learned her father's craft and has learned to express herself clearly in her writing. Few of the people around her are literate, but Auda has fashioned a life for herself. Between assisting in the papermaking, serving as a scribe, and hiding her albino features, Auda has learned to move around in her world. Despite the danger to her person, Auda is not one to trade freedom for safety or independence for marriage. Though with the spread of the Inquisition's power, Medieval Europe is fraught with danger for anyone who seems different - and Auda knows that she can never blend in. When Auda obtains the job of scribe in the castle, she flourishes. Her skills and writing bring her the respect and appreciation of powerful women. But her writing and beliefs also bring danger and loss. Watermark is a carefully crafted and fascinating work of historical fiction. It's a story of love, fear and superstition, and of the struggle to keep one's identity. ISBN-10: 0061849278 - Paperback Publisher: Avon A (April 13, 2010), 368 pages. Review copy provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours.
Mirella More than 1 year ago
In Narbonne, France, in the year 1320, a midwife and her apprentice aid a woman in the desperate throes of childbirth. The baby lies trapped in her belly and the mother is faced with a terrible decision - cut the baby from her belly or both she and the child will die. But when the child is sprung from the womb, it is evident there is something amiss with the child who is born with unnaturally white skin and odd-coloured eyes. Believing the child is from the devil, the apprentice flees with the newborn to the river where she cuts out the baby's tongue, silencing it from ever speaking the devil's words. Mute, Auda grows to womanhood in a time fraught with the dangers of the Inquisition. Her father, a scribe, skilled in the new art of papermaking, teaches her to read and write. Writing affords her an escape from the realities of her harsh life, giving voice to the thoughts she cannot speak. She aids him in producing the paper which is more affordable than parchment. Whenever he takes her out into the world, she is careful to cover her albino skin with hood and mantle for fear of catching the attention of the Inquisitors. When their new art of papermaking comes to the attention of the vicomtesse, she takes Auda into her household as her personal scribe. Auda's newfound independence leads her into trouble, however, when she is accosted by a mob who believe she is a witch. A young artist comes to her rescue and love soon blossoms between them. As Auda's writing grows bolder, the vicomtesse encourages her, even though her work is considered heretical and in support of the intelligence and power of women. But the arms of the Inquisition are long and Auda and her father find themselves captured, facing a bleak, almost incomprehensible fate at their hands. Watermark is the poignant, multi-faceted tale of a mute albino woman who must navigate a path in a world fraught with intolerance, suspicion, and fear. Vivid with description and details, from the very first chapter, the reader finds themselves immersed in the story. The art of papermaking has been carefully researched and described, relaying a strong understanding of how paper replaced parchment and ultimately changed writing and reading forever. The terror brought by the Church and the Inquisition, is also a major source of conflict within the novel and is believably represented. But it is the heart-rending tale of a horribly disadvantaged young woman that is at the true heart of this story. Papermaking and scribing offer consolation to her muteness and state as an albino, which force her to live in seclusion and on the fringes of a society who will never accept her. Through vivid language and in depth descriptions, Vanitha Sankaran nudges the emotion and credibility out of the story, making the reader truly understand the complexities of this turbulent era through the thoughts, dialogues, and actions of her characters. Watermark is a delightful, engaging tale about determination, perseverance, love, and forgiveness.
The_Reading_Reviewer More than 1 year ago
From the moment of her birth Auda had been labeled "the white witch". She was born an albino and cursed with snow white hair and a pure ivory complexion. Added to the fact that she was mute as a result of a midwife who thought to stop the devil from coming out of her by cutting her tongue out at birth her life seemed doomed to failure. Even now life for someone that unique life would be difficult but in the time of the inquisition where they were always on the hunt for witches and heretics life for Auda was complicated, troublesome and dangerous. She lived a quiet, secluded life with her father making paper and keeping a very low profile hoping no one would notice that she was different. It was a life she was happy with but one that could not last for someone as unique and special as Auda. When Auda ventures into the world outside of her home events occur that bring such pain and heartache but also a tender and thoughtful love. Her father's visits into town show Auda what life is like outside her reserved world but there are those seeking the heretics and the threat of inquisitors is everywhere. She tries to stay out of sight but at one chaotic scene she is threatened then saved by a wonderful and handsome man named Jamie. It turns out he has also had less than a stellar existence and uses his gift of painting to work through his pain and is able to show her how beautiful life can be. They have some chance and some intended encounters and each one takes up the danger of the meeting another notch but the passion that is stirring inside each of them make every rendezvous worth the risk. But a position writing on the paper she and her father had created for the vicomtesse changes life for Auda completely. She is making her own money, writing her own verses and being part of a social community. Just as she feels things have become as close to normal as possible for her a horrid event ruins everything. Her father is taken prisoner as a heretic when papers that Auda had been in possession of are discovered. Not long after she is also taken prisoner and suffers such atrocities against her person it is by her sheer power and will to live that makes her survive. When she realizes who has brought all this evil upon her life nothing is more painful that the grief she feels from that deception. While this is not an easy book to read the Middle Ages were I am sure a difficult time to write about yet Ms. Sankaran has done so magnificently. She shows the true face of pain and grief one who is unique lives with in such a dark and foreboding time in history. The characters are well scripted and have enormous depth to add to the story and each character brings something to the book that is critical when you have so many stories to tell. Auda and Jamie stand out as the lead here but each of them can and does survive without the other. This book at times made me think with all the prejudice surrounding us today if this was being written about the dark ages or the modern times? Mary Gramlich is The Reading Reviewer located at www.marygramlich.com
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1300 in Narbonne, France, as her mother dies giving birth to her, Auda is born bone white to the horror of the healer and her apprentice. To prevent the infant from spreading the devil's words, the frightened apprentice viciously rips out Auda's tongue. However due to her father's occupation as a scribe, Auda learns to read and write. By 1320, as a team father and daughter try to persuade those who use parchment to switch to the paper her dad invented. Shockingly, a Vicomtesse orders some of their stock and hires Auda as her scribe. At the palace, an artist saves Auda from a witch-hunt, but she begins to write heretical verse about women's rights that places her in further danger from an inquisition that already distrusts her albino skin as that of the devil. Watermark is an entertaining medieval tale that looks deep into life in France by someone whose difference subjects her to ostracism and with little impetus potential burning at the stake. Along with the invention of a new type of paper (perhaps the mother of invention for the printing press), Watermark is Auda's saga of surviving as a mute albino with a skill taboo for women. Although believability seems lacking at times, the survival adventures of Auda in fourteenth century France is an engaging character driven thriller. Harriet Klausner