In 1517, Martin Luther nails his ninety-five theses to the door of Wittenburg Cathedral, and a dance of death begins between a radical Anabaptist with many names and a loyal papal spy known mysteriously as "Q." In this brilliantly conceived literary thriller set in the chaos of the Reformation-an age devastated by wars of religion-a young theology student adopts the cause of heretics and the disinherited and finds himself pursued by a relentless papal informer and heretic hunter. What begins as a personal struggle to reveal each other's identity becomes a mission that can only end in death.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)|
About the Author
First published anonymously in Italy, and crafted by four young writers under the pseudonym LUTHER BLISSETT, Q has become a cult bestseller across Europe
Read an Excerpt
Out of Europe, 1555
On the first page it says: 'In the fresco I'm on the in the background.'
The meticulous handwriting, no smudges, tiny. Names, places, dates, reflections. The notebook of the final fevered days.
The yellowed and decrepit letters, the dust of decades.
The coin of the kingdom of the mad dangles on my chest to remind me of the eternal oscillation of human fortunes.
The book, perhaps the only remaining copy, has never been opened.
The names are the names of the dead. My names, and those who have travelled those twisting paths.
The years we have been through have buried the world's innocence for ever.
I promised you not to forget.
I've kept you safe in my memory.
I want to recall everything, right from the beginning, the de tails, chance, the flow of events. Before distance obscures my backward glance, muffling the hubbub of voices, of weapons, armies, laughter, shouts. And at the same time only distance allows us to go back to a likely beginning.
1514, Albert Hohenzollern becomes Archbishop of Magdeburg. At the age of twenty-three. More gold in the Pope's coffers: he also buys the bishopric of Halberstadt.
1517, Mainz. The biggest ecclesiastical principality in Ger many awaits the appointment of a new bishop. If he wins the appointment, Albert will get his hands on a third of the whole German territory.
He makes his offer: 14,000 ducats for the archbishopric, plus 10,000 for the papal dispensation that allows him to hold all these offices.
The deal is negotiated via the Fugger bank of Augsburg, which anticipates the sum required. Once the operation is concluded, Albert owes the Fuggers 30,000 ducats.
The bankers decree the mode of payment. Albert must pro mote the sale of the indulgences for Pope Leo X in his territory. The faithful will make a contribution to the construction of St Peter's basilica and will receive a certificate in exchange: the Pope absolves them of their sins.
Only half of the takings will go to the Roman builders. Albert will use the rest to pay the Fuggers.
The task is given to Johann Tetzel, the most expert preacher around.
Tetzel travels the villages for the whole of the summer of 1517. He stops on the borders with Thuringia, which belongs to Frederick the Wise, Duke of Saxony. He can't set foot there.
Frederick is collecting indulgences himself, through the sale of relics. He doesn't tolerate competitors on his territories. But Tetzel is a clever bastard: he knows that Frederick's subjects will happily travel a few miles beyond the border. A ticket to paradise is worth the trip.
The coming and going of souls in search of reassurance infuriates a young Augustinian friar, a doctor at Wittenberg University. He can't bear the obscene market that Tetzel has set in motion, with the Pope's coat of arms and the papal bull in full view.
31 October 1517, the friar nails ninety-five theses against the traffic in indulgences, written in his own hand, to the northern door of Wittenberg church.
His name is Martin Luther. With that gesture the Reformation begins.
A STARTING point. Memories reassembling the fragments of an era. Mine. And that of my enemy: Q
Letter sent to Rome from the Saxon cit of Wittenberq, addressed to Gianpietro Carafa, member of the theoloqical meetinq held by His Holiness Leo X, dated 17 May 1518.
To the most illustrious and reverend lord and honourable master Giovanni Pietro Carafa, at the theological meeting held by His Holiness Leo X, in Rome.
My Most Respected, Illustrious and Reverend Lord and Master,
Here is Your Lordship's most faithful servant's report on what is happening in these remote marshlands, which for a year now appear to have become a focus for all manner of diatribes.
Since the Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailed his notorious theses to the portal of the cathedral eight months ago, the name of Wittenberg has travelled far and wide on everyone's lips. Young students from bordering states are flowing into this town to listen to the preacher's incredible theories from his own mouth.
In particular, his sermons against the buying and selling of indulgences seem to have enjoyed the greatest success among young minds open to novelty. What was until yester day something perfectly ordinary and undisputed, the remission of sins in return for a pious donation to the Church, seems today to be criticised by everyone as though it were an unmentionable scandal.
Such sudden fame has made Luther pompous and over bearing; he feels as though he has been entrusted with a supernatural task, and that leads him to risk even more, to go even further.
Indeed yesterday, like every Sunday, preaching from the pulpit on the gospel of the day (the text was John 16, 2: 'They shall put you out of the synagogues'), he linked the 'scandal' of the market in indulgences with another thesis, one which is to my mind even more dangerous.
Luther asserted that one should not be overly frightened of the consequences of an unjust excommunication, because that concerns only external communion with the Church, and not internal communion. Indeed, only the latter concerns God's bond with the faithful, which no man can declare broken, not even the Pope. Furthermore, an unjust excommunication cannot harm the soul, and if it is sup ported with filial resignation towards the Church, it can even become a precious merit. So if someone is unjustly excommunicated, it can even be seen as a precious merit. S0 if someone is unjustly excommunicated, he must not deny with words or actions the cause for which he was excommunicated, and must patiently endure the excommunication even if it means dying excommunicated and not being buried in consecrated ground, because these things are much less important than truth and justice.
Finally he concluded with these words: 'Blessed be he who dies in an unjust excommunication; because by being subjected to that harsh punishment because of his love of justice, which he will neither deny nor abandon, he shall receive the eternal crown of salvation.'
Uniting the desire to serve you with gratitude for the confidence that you have shown in me, I shall now make so bold as to convey my opinion of the things that I have mentioned above. It seemed clear to Your Most Reverend Lord ship's humble servant that Luther had sniffed the air and smelt his own coming excommunication, just as the fox scents the smell of the hounds. He is already sharpening his doctrinal weapons and seeking allies for the immediate future. In particular, I believe he is seeking the support of his master the Elector Frederick of Saxony, who has not yet publicly disclosed his own state of mind as regards Friar Martin. Not for nothing is he called the Wise. The lord of Saxony continues to employ that skilled intermediary, Spalatin, the court librarian and counsellor, to assess the monk's intentions. Spalatin is a sly and treacherous character, of whom I gave you a brief description in my last missive.
Your Lordship will have a better understanding than his servant of the disastrous gravity of the thesis put forward by Luther: he wants to strip the Holy See of its greatest bulwark, the weapon of excommunication. And it is also apparent that Luther will never dare to put this thesis of his in writing, since he is aware of the enormity that it represents, and the danger it might present to his own person. So I have thought it opportune to do so myself, so that Your Lordship may have time to take all the precautions he considers necessary to stop this diabolical friar.
Kissing the hand of Your Most Illustrious and Reverend Lordship,
I beg that I may never fall from grace with Your Lordship.
Your Lordship's faithful servant
Q Wittenberg, 17 May 1518
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The authors of Q have an interesting idea: they see similarities in how powerful institutions can make ideas of radical change seem dangerous, whether the ideas are about religion in 1525, or about capitalism today. One problem they run into is that this idea is not quite enough to make a novel, and things people look for in good novels--like strong characters and dialogue--gets neglected so that they can expound this idea. Another is that their idea itself is limited in its usefulness. Too often the story indulges in a kind of wish-fulfillment that imagines that but for evil forces of coercion and deception, people would choose a radically egalitarian mode of life free of the constraints of property ownership and family. This is ultimately too simplistic a notion to describe the complexity of the issues facing the different contestant visions of Christianity in the sixteenth century. And too often, religious belief in Q is seen through the lens of current questions of political ideology rather than in a way that takes spiritual life seriously for its own sake. This is why despite the fact that the narrators of Q meet some of the most fascinating figures of this era, including Martin Luther and the future Queen Mary I of England, we do not hear their voices setting forth their ideas about the world, and instead get the lengthy and repetitive discourses on these subjects from Q's main character, that could frankly pass as lectures on theory in a modern graduate humanities classroom. This doesn't just do a disservice to the intellectual giants of sixteenth century Europe, or their various beliefs and struggles. It also does a disservice to the ideas that the authors of Q (writing under the pseudonym Luther Blissett) are trying to advance, because it looks quite simply like they are trying to dodge a debate with a 500+ year old dead monk because they fear they might lose. Which in something that proclaims itself a "novel of ideas" is a shame. If only Luther, or better yet More, or best of all Erasmus, could write such a novel about the intellectual limitations of anarcho-syndicalism and the contemporary post-Marxist European left, we might be better served than we are by "Luther Blissett's" efforts.
Q Luther Blisset 7/4/2004 A very good novel about the time of the Reformation. The title refers to a character who is a spy for the Inquisition, involved in toppling the various protestant sects and ultimately establishing the power of the church. The story is told mainly from the point of view of a German free- lancer and mercenary, who first became involved with a radical peasant revolt, then with Anabaptists, and at the end as a subversive working with the Jewish people in Venice. Very richly detailed, moves at a good pace, has a complex plot and engaging characters.
An amazing tale revolving around the violence in Western Europe during the Protestant Reformation. The authors are an interesting group; some of the same people have written books under the pen name of "Wu Ming".
Brilliant read, essential stuff for people interested in the 1500th century and the incredible internal turmoil Europe was in at the time. How technology, trade and religion was turned up side down over a very brief time frame!
I am in awe! An amazing, historical tour de force which brought to life the turmoil of Europe of the Reformation, the incredible incestuous politicking of the factions, the long view the Vatican takes (to this very day) built within a brilliant spy novel at the top of the genre. I'd pay a great deal of money to have lunch with the authors - 'course I'd have to learn Italian or they'd have to speak English.
We were diligent sowers of the seed, lighting the spark of war against those who had usurped the Word of God, the tormentors of His people. I saw scythes hammered into swords, hoes becoming lances and simple men leaving the plough to become fearless warriors. I saw a little carpenter carving a great crucifix and guiding Christ's troops like the captain of the most invincible army. I saw all this and I saw those men and women take up their own faith and turn it into a banner of revenge. Love seized our hearts with that one fire that flamed within us all; we were free and equal in the name of God, and we would smash the mountains, stop the world, kill all our tyrants in order to realise His kingdom of peace and brotherhood.The protagonist starts off as a radical student at Wittenburg University, and becomes a soldier in the cause of religious reform, moving through Northern Europe, travelling under many different names and sometimes having to go into hiding. Despising the Lutherans as having become as much a part of the establishment as the Catholic church, he hooks up with the more extreme Anabaptists, travelling with various preachers and agitators, inciting peasants and townspeople to rebel against the aristocrats and merchants who oppress them. In later years, his methods become more indirect, as he perpetrates a fraud on the bankers who finance the people in power, and becomes involved in publishing and distributing a banned book, "The Benefit of Christ Crucified", in the hope of influencing the opinions of Catholic intellectuals and the more moderate cardinals and ensuring the election of a sympathetic pope, who will curb the powers of the inquisition.Decades of intrigues and attacks, betrayals and retreats, rashness and remorse, are rushing together all of a sudden. The prophets and the king of a single, tragic day; cardinals and popes, and new popes; bankers, princes, merchants and preachers; men of letters, painters and spies, and counsellors and pimps. Everywhere, involving everyone, the same war.The story covers nearly forty years of the Reformation, portraying it as social revolution as much as religious reform, if not more so. It skips backwards and forwards in time, but each of the short chapters is dated, so I found it easy to follow. Gert from the Well's story is interspersed with letters from the Catholic spy known as Q or Qoelet, who is working for the Vatican to counter the plots of its foes, whether they be Anabaptists, Lutherans or indeed the Holy Roman Emperor himself. The name of the footballer Luther Blissett was used as a nom de plume by various artists and radicals around the world during the 1990s, as part of the loosly organised "Luther Blissett Project. "Q" was written by a collective of four Italian anarchists, who have since written another novel under the name Wu Ming. It is an utterly fascinating story, which leaves the reader with lots to think about - what happened in Munster really reminded me of "Animal Farm". While I was reading the early parts of this book, I was also reminded me about the pet hen in "Sredni Vashtar" by Saki. The Houdan hen was never drawn into the cult of Sredni Vashtar. Conradin had long ago settled that she was an Anabaptist. He did not pretend to have the remotest knowledge as to what an Anabaptist was, but he privately hoped that it was dashing and not very respectable. I think Conradin should be very satisfied with his choice.
"one of the stupidest episodes is when the hero meets by chance the cardinal that is to become the next pope!"Ehm... Stupid or not, it really happened. During the 1970's that meeting was one of the subjects of Prof Carlo Ginzburg's historical research. BTW, some key members of Anabaptism, far from being depicted as "always good", turn into crazy villains in the second part of the novel.
A very good novel about the time of the Reformation. The title refers to a character who is a spy for the Inquisition, involved in toppling the various protestant sects and ultimately establishing the power of the church. The story is told mainly from the point of view of a German free-lancer and mercenary, who first became involved with a radical peasant revolt, then with Anabaptists, and at the end as a subversive working with the Jewish people in Venice. Very richly detailed, moves at a good pace, has a complex plot and engaging characters.
Honestly it was an interesting read if a bit fragmented and meandering. I'm not sure that it's really my kind of book but I'm not unhappy that I read it. It gave me an insight into the various revolts and the effect that the reformation had on people and how they thought about the world.
At over 500 pages and set in one of Europe's most turbulent and violent periods of history, Q is not a light read. The plot follows the central character between various religious revolts, sharing his heady sense of justice amid visions of a new world order and his cruel defeats, along the way the reader is spared little of the casual malice of the age. Over time the multi-named hero becomes aware of Q, a shadowy adversary whose identity becomes an obsession.Q is a good book. It is well written with an intriguing plot and unlike many historical novels it uses past events and characters to its advantage. I am glad I got to the end; however, it was a struggle. Partly this is due to the off-hand brutality that peppers the book, partly because the story is told in a multitude of ways that can sometimes be difficult to follow. The characters are hit-and-miss, some wonderful and realistic (some of the side characters hesitation between inaction, madness, faith and morality is genuinely sad), others being two-dimensional. Mostly, however, the main character just got on my nerves: he is both wise and sensible when others give in to insanity, a believer in the revolutions he follows and helps foment, a student of life's harshest lessons ... but most of all he can seem like a bit of a whiner. The defeats he has suffered and how others have been harmed because of him are stressed relentlessly; the intrigues with Q and the final denouement are bizarrely out of character and I struggle to see his passion for his cause.Irritation with the narrator is a fairly fatal blow, but fortunately it is insufficient to sink 'Q'. It is intelligent, interesting and rewarding and although I occasionally wonder what else I could have done with all that time, I'm leaving the book on hand because one day I suspect I will revisit it.
There is no way to follow this book it is very poorly written. Just a bad idea that should have been abandoned. The style of writing is just unbearable.