Valerie Martin's biography of St. Francis begins at the end of the saint's life, as his ravaged body is carried in secret from Siena to Assisi. . . . The scene's focus on politics and intrigue, its frank detail and its eloquent, restrained prose provide an apt introduction to this interesting book. Martin isn't interested in providing another hagiography of a much-written-about saint. Her focus lingers instead on what he made happen, and on the lives affected by a baffling, unpredictable man. . . [Martin's] strange, introspective Francesco is very different from the familiar St. Francis who preaches to birds and effortlessly wins converts. [Her] depiction of Francis through the eyes of his followers is her greatest achievement. Relating their devotion as well as their confusion, she paints a subtle and contradictory portrait of a holy personality baffling and frustrating, sometimes offensive, but also radiant.
Stimulating. . . . Although it is classified as biography,
Salvation is constructed and reads like a novel. Medieval history it may be, but this is very closely observed stuff . . . Martin gradually backtracks through one episode after anotherthe phenomenon of Francis' stigmata, his adventures on the fifth crusade, his relationship with St. Clare and his growing band of followers, his hedonism as a youth, the moment when he overcomes his revulsion at being near lepers and recognizes his vocation. Martin chose this device because she decided the chronological approach was not the way people looked at things in the Middle Ages, and because she wished to create suspense, starting with what everybody knows, and working toward the much less familiar. In a sense, it is a progression from darkness to light, which is a very spiritual approach, and it is brilliantly done.
In painting these central scenes from the life of one of the most extraordinary saints ever to have lived, Valerie Martin has succeeded in rendering holiness visible, tangible, and something worth hungering for.
Salvation is at once Giottoesque and Gothic, terrifying and consoling. Here is Francis stripped to his essentials, a frail human being with a will of iron, freeing himself of everything in order to fix his full attention on the voice in the whirlwind, and receiving in turn the lovescape that transformed him and the world forever. Be careful. This is one of those rare books with the grace and power to change your life.
Valerie Martin has the artistry to render a great life in a series of perfect miniatures. Viewed in light of the religious and social turmoil of his day, San Francesco's joyful intransigence seems at once heroic and deeply human.
An unusual look at the life and times of St. Francis...[and] a contemporary homage to the anonymous 14th Century collection of tales of St. Francis and his followers known as "The Little Flowers of St. Francis." . . . Martin has a great touch for vivid detail, for landscape settings, for qualities of light and times of day. Her scene of the saint's hallucinatory encounter with demons has terrific immediacy, clarity and humor. Her evocation of the hollow silence that swallows a band of crusaders as they enter a besieged city whose inhabitants have been murdered by the plague is ghostly and chilling. If Martin's handling of her subject matter were a style of art, it would be International Gothic, decorative, her outdoor scenes bejeweled with sparkling dew. An aesthetic St. Francis is one who commands our attention, who draws us irresistibly toward a still point of wonder and self-reflection.
Captivated by the various frescoes depicting the life of St. Francis of Assisi, Martin, a writer of fiction (Italian Fever), was inspired to create this series of word pictures about the medieval saint who has been declared patron of ecologists and animals. Her book is an album of written scenes in which she invites the reader to see her own vision of how the various events of Francis's life might have played out. Although, as Martin confesses in the introduction, she is neither Catholic nor "particularly religious," her fascination with Francis is not unusual. Indeed, the saint's embrace of poverty and love for creation seem to hold special appeal for moderns. Martin's scenes from Francis's life are exquisite and imaginative, though they do not always make for pleasant reading and definitely are not for seekers of sweet stories about the saint. For instance, the author's rather graphic opening treatment of Francis's illness and death is bereft of any of the glory often found in hagiography or religious paintings. Likewise, her study of Brother Leone washing Francis's stigmata wounds is centered almost wholly on pain and discomfort. In painting such details so starkly, Martin effectively confronts the material poverty of Francis's life, but sometimes seems to miss the transcendent values that motivated him. This portrait will be most interesting to readers who are already familiar with the basic facts of Francis's life and remain open to exploring a new, gritty interpretation of them. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
American Gothic novelist Martin (Mary Reilly) discovered the attraction of St. Francis of Assisi while living in Italy for three years. Not a traditional biography, this is a series of 31 frescolike word panels on the radical popular stigmatist and founder of the Franciscan Order, about whom there are at least 180 titles in Books in Print. As skillfully written as her novels and incorporating some clearly identified fictional elements, the scenes begin with Francis's death and end with his encounter with a leper. The use of the present tense draws one into the joy and suffering of Francis and the barbarity of his age. Though this is not a theological study, Martin does cite scholarly accounts to support her arguments. Original dates, as opposed to republications, would have improved the selective bibliography. Recommended for libraries with Martin titles, yet marginally for religious collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/00.] Anna M. Donnelly, St. John's Univ. Lib., NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
“Elegantly written and strikingly intelligent…. [Martin's] graceful book is very much a work of art.” —
The New Orleans Times-Picayune
“Voluptuous language and ecstatic imagery.” —
The Seattle Times
“A biography so vivid and compelling in detail that it reads like a novel.” —
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Valerie Martin has the artistry to render a great life in a series of perfect miniatures.” —Cathleen Medwick, author of
Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul
“Dazzling…. An inspired work of the imagination, grounded in the truth of a powerful life whose mystery still captivates us.” —Patricia Hampl
“Compelling…. The story of a faith that is deep, dedicated and all-encompassing.” —
Salvation is at once Giottoesque and Gothic, terrifying and consoling…. One of those rare books with the grace and power to change your life.” —Paul Mariani
“A bold retelling of a familiar, beloved story.” —
Los Angeles Times
“Stimulating…. Brilliantly done.” —
The New York Times
“Martin's depiction of Francis through the eyes of his followers is her greatest achievement. Relating their devotion as well as their confusion, she paints a subtle and contradictory portrait of a holy personality-baffling and frustrating, sometimes offensive, but also radiant.” —
The San Francisco Chronicle
“Martin has a great touch for vivid detail, for landscape settings, for qualities of light and times of day…. An aesthetic St. Francis is one who commands our attention, who draws us irresistibly toward a still point of wonder and self-reflection.” —