Watermark: A Novel of the Middle Ages

Watermark: A Novel of the Middle Ages

by Vanitha Sankaran


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Watermark is a powerful novel about the destructive forces unleashed by ignorance and superstition.  Readers will care deeply for the courageous Auda.”
New York Times bestselling author Sharon Kay Penman


Watermark is a magnificent debut by Vanitha Sankaran—an atmospheric and compelling novel about the search for identity, the power of self-expression, and value of the written word, set during the dark days of the Inquisition in Medieval France. Readers who were captivated by The Illuminator by Brenda Rickman Vantrease or Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book will be enthralled by this thrilling journey to a colorful and dangerous past.

Product Details

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

About 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.

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...”

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Watermark: A Novel of the Middle Ages 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A reader's attention is captured in the first paragraphs and remains with the entire book.
cameling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An albino in medieval France was often thought to carry the Devil's Mark, and in a fit of fear and superstition, a midwife's assistant cuts off newly born Auda's tongue and renders her mute for life. Auda not only survives, but is loved by her father and sister, sheltered and protected against those who may wish her harm, and against the threat of the Inquisition seeking to burn heretics.Her father, a papermaker and scribe, teaches her to read and write. Her courage and intelligence bring her to the favorable attention of the vicomtesse of Narbonne. Her exposure to lyrics of previous troubadours inspire her to write her own stories.But fate has other things in store for our damsel, and she falls to into the hands of the Inquisitors and is accused of being a heretic. Will she find a way to survive or will she succumb? Will she find the love she craves and a life without fear?A good first novel, and in general it carried a good pace. I thought some of the characters could have done with more development, but on the whole, I liked it.
jdquinlan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
4.5 out of 5 StarsFrom the Back Cover: 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. My Review: In this impressive debut novel, Vanitha Sankaran crafts a very original tale centered around a very different kind of heroine. Auda is born an albino and the story opens with the gruesome circumstances of her birth, where a decision made by a superstitious midwife's apprentice renders her mute for life. Fast forward twenty years to Auda as a woman grown. Auda lives and works with her father, a papermaker. Her father and sister have done a good job of protecting Auda from the outside world, but her sister has recently married and moved out of her father's home, and things are changing in Auda's world. Auda can't speak, but she can read and write, and in addition to copying texts for her father, she writes stories of her own and dreams of sharing them with the world. But her sister has other plans for her, to see her married and to remain safely hidden away. "What form of story do you like best?" This is what Auda writes on a little slip of paper, the first question she wants to ask of the man her sister has arranged for her to marry, and it was the moment I lost my heart to her. It's also the moment I realized I was in trouble, because people like Auda living in times like those didn't have happily ever afters. I had to tell myself not to get attached to her and her hopes for a full and happy life. And oh, how Auda yearns to live a full and happy life. She's intelligent and inquisitive, and has reached the point in her life where she's ready to stretch her wings. But Auda's kind heart combined with her sheltered existance keep her from fearing the cruelty of others, and thus she goes along a little naively, unaware that seemingly innocent actions can draw unwanted attention. Which is unfortunate, for the town of Narbonne is on edge. An endless season of rain has ruined crops. Fear of heresy is sweeping through the country and priests are flocking to Narbonne to root out the cause of the evil weather. As heretic pamphlets begin surfacing more frequently in the town, the Inquisition turns its eyes to those who write, and to those who make the paper for them to write upon. "If a man hears an evil idea, unless his mind is bent toward evil, he will not dwell on it, will forget it before long. But if that same idea is written, he will be drawn back to it, again and again. Evil has a temptation and man is bent toward it." Auda's father comes under heavy suspicion and that means trouble for Auda. The story is compelling and well-paced, leading up to some pretty intense climactic scenes that keep the reader hooked right up to the sweet and satisfying conclusion. There were a couple of scenes that seemed to have been written specifically to draw attention to little nuggets of research the author found interesting (as explained in the author's note), but for me they came off as awkward rather than enlightening, since they didn't really have anything to do with the story. Minor quibbles, though. I thought this was a refreshingly original novel, fast-paced and very enjoyable with touches of poetry and story-telling. I loved the setting of this book, in the little seaside town of Narbonne rather than in a big cosmopolitan city like Paris and I enjoyed reading a story about someone who l
jaimehuff1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In a time when women had few opportunities, let alone a young girl who is born albino and due to being albino, had her tongue cut out and rendered mute, Auda is trying to thrive. The book begins with her birth in 1300, Auda's mother dies from a rough child birth where Auda had to be birthed by a crude cesearean section and she is born a "white witch" and she was deformed due to her unfortunate birth. Then "Watermark" jumps to 1320, when Auda is a grown woman, her sister is off and married and she is at home helping her father with his papermaking business. She reads adn writes and has dreams, skills that are a necessity for someone who is mute. During a time of the Inquisitions, Burnings of witches and Heretics, and the Crusades against Jews and Infidels, being something "different" is a curse. Through Auda's trials and tribulations, the author takes you through her journey of survival, love and the art of papermaking.I am not sure how I feel about this book. I felt absolutely ZERO connection with Auda. Generally, I fall for the underdog and cheer them on. With this story, I just didn't care as much as I would normally. I didn't want anything bad to befall her but I didn't feel that strong pull that a reader should feel. I thought the historical aspect of the story was amazing and especially the art of papermaking was extremely interesting. I felt the dialogue was underwhelming. There is definitely SOMETHING there, but I feel that something was missing. That "spark" was gone. I just wasn't wowed but I also didn't despise it. It was readable but not re-readable for me.
susanbevans on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Vanitha Sankaran's Watermark is a beautifully written piece of historical fiction that will completely immerse you in the story within the first few pages. Auda is a unique and interesting character and it is impossible not to be immediately drawn into her life. Her struggles are the same struggles universal to women of the time period, but are amplified by her physical and educational differences. Auda and the other characters in Watermark are realistic and well-written, and come to vivid life through Sankaran's imaginative descriptions.Sankaran's writing style if phenomenal. Her depiction of 1300s France - the people and small towns - as well as details of papermaking and scribing, are well-researched and artistically portrayed in Watermark. Auda's story is engrossing and memorable. Once I picked up Watermark, it was unimaginable that I would put the book down until I had devoured every last word. Fascinating and expertly paced, Watermark is a definite literary gem.
knittingmomof3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
From my blog...Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran is a beautifully scripted tale of a woman, born an albino, trying to get by in the Middle Ages during the time of the Inquisitions. The story begins in 1300 Narbonne, France with Elena struggling with a difficult birth and anxiously awaiting her husband Martin and their young daughter Poncia's return with a midwife, however it is a healer he returns with. Biatris sends her assistant to gather herbs while she assesses the situation, concluding she must cut the baby from the womb, saving one life, but ending another. When Biatris' assistant sees the baby, born without pigmentation, she takes the baby to the river to drown, but instead chooses to cut the baby's tongue out to prevent her from speaking the Devil's word. The story then jumps to 1320, Auda is happily living with her father and her sister Poncia has settled down into married life with Jehan. Poncia wants to find someone willing to marry her sister, since more and more Inquisitors are arriving daily. One Inquisitor writes about finding the "white witch", alluding to Auda, yet she feels relatively secure even with herself while at home with her loving, artistic father. Auda would rather be happy than safe, staying unmarried and making paper with her father. She is educated, when most women are not and Auda enjoys her freedom and shares the same dream as her father, to one day make paper, reading, and writing common amongst all people; lofty goals for her poor father, even loftier for one who is being sought after. Martin has been commissioned by the Vicomtess and she has agreed to hire Auda as her scribe, but at what cost? The Watermark is an exceptionally well-written novel that easily captivates the reader and commands the reader's attention until the very end. Sankaran chose an intriguing historical setting for her novel and it is evident through her writing that she has extensively researched this time period. It is with vivid detail the reader is transported back to the Middle Ages, to the sites, the sounds, and people of the time, from the Inquisitions, the heretics and daily accusations to love, ambitions, and awaking artistic movements. Auda not only is a strong charater, she is also an easy-to-like character who despite all adversity is true to herself, her dreams, goals, and ambitions. Watermark is a brilliantly crafted narrative that I would highly recommend to all readers.
Soniamarie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I guess I'm the first person not to be jumping up and down with joy after reading this novel, a story about a mute abino girl who is the daughter of papermaker in the middle ages, but here goes.. First, what I didn't like: Poncia, Auda's sister. If that woman wasn't already getting slapped around, I would have jumped in there and slapped her around myself. Her and her self rightousness had me cringeing throughout the reading of this. Also, despite fascinating facts regarding early papermaking (love the recipes in the back of the book by the way!) I found the book dull at times as nothing much seems to be going on. The Inquistion has come and everyone is wondering who is a heretic and Auda is falling for a painter and writing or reading verses of love everyday. That sums up the middle. Finally, the moment of betrayal in the end: I seen it coming and thought Auda dumb for not seeing it herself.End of complaints. Here is what I liked: Auda's writing. Upon finding numerous written verses about or by women, Auda realizes that in them, women have no choice and she pens her own verses, giving women a choice in the story. "The old verses never let women decide, choose what to want. They are always victims of a man's choice. I wrote something different. I wrote these tales. To spread the word. She chooses, not the men." Obviously, Auda is a woman ahead of her time. I also liked that last quarter except for its predictablity. I liked how Auda stuck to her guns. I also thought that despite its dullness at moments, the novel was very educational about the Inquistion in France and the effects it had on the people, priests and peasants and noblemen alike.Not a bad book, but I wasn't enthralled and I didn't find myself thinking of it long after setting it down, nor was I on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next. I wish to part with a final quote that appeared often throughout the reading of this that I liked: "Women are no lesser than men, men no lesser than women."
Shuffy2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Auda¿s arrival into this world was tragic; during child birth her mother had to make the tough choice- save her own life or that of her newborn child. Now an adult, how did Auda¿s mother¿s decision to save her life put her in harm¿s way? Auda is raised by her father, a papermaker by profession, a somewhat new trade for the time. She spends her days away from the glaring eye of the public; Auda is mute and in an age of Inquisition, when superstition and ignorance overshadowed reason, her differences were seen as a threat. Now that she is a woman, her sister Poncia tries to arrange a marriage for Auda in an attempt to save her from the small mindedness, but it sets into motion a series of events that spiral out of control. Auda¿s attempts to be a good sister and daughter only make matters worse. Will she find love or will she lose everything near and dear to her?Great book about the Middle Ages! Religion, the Inquisition and the spread of the written word was a scary yet vital time in our history. The book centers on Auda but gives a good picture of expectations and assumptions during this time: class standing, the church and love. I found the book riveting and it kept me turning the page, it did feel a bit rushed at the end but the story is still solid. I would recommend to historical fiction fans, especially those interested in the medieval period.
containedobsession on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I thought the writer did a good job with communicating Auda's thoughts and feelings without letting her talk with words. I loved the descriptions of papermaking and learned a lot about the difference between parchment and paper--and that one could be a tool of heretics. I can't wait to read her next book.
zibilee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fair-haired Auda has been mute since birth, and due to her strange looks and lack of speech, has been sequestered away from society for most of her life. Living as an assistant to her father, the paper maker, Auda dreams of one day penning her own work of art on her father's pages. Though Auda and her father lead a quiet existence, life in their bucolic French village is becoming increasingly fraught with unease, as some in the town are being accused of heresy against the Church. But Auda has more pressing problems, for her sister is contracting a marriage between the young girl and the town's unattractive miller, a situation that causes Auda no end of unease. In order to escape his attentions, she contracts herself to the vicomtesse as a scribe in the castle. As she spends her days copying poetry from the crumbling parchment of the past, Auda discovers that a group of inquisitors are bearing down on the village and that their intent is to burn those who they deem to be heretics. Soon Auda comes to realize that she and her father are in grave danger by the rumors of heresy swirling around the village, and that they may have to sacrifice everything to save themselves and the ones they love. Told with a bewitching style and voice, Watermark is a dark swirling tale of secrecy and fear, set in a time where being different can be deadly.From the moment I plunged into this tale, I realized that it was going to be a dark and treacherous ride. The story opens with the very dramatic scene of Auda's troublesome entrance into the world, leaving her motherless and disfigured. I knew just by this passage that Auda's life would be one fraught with difficulty and pain, and though there were some very joyous moments in the story, the tale lived up to my expectations.I liked Auda and felt a strange protectiveness throughout the story. She was, in essence, an intelligent innocent, unschooled in the ways of the world, yet still independent and brave. Though most of her life was spent hidden and isolated, she had the same dreams and wishes for herself that most young girls have: to find love, to be respected and valued in the community, and to practice her art. She was not the type of character to feel pity for because she never sunk into pity for herself, choosing instead to lead her life with wonder and acceptance. She had very strong family ties and I really liked the relationship between her father and herself. She was not only his apprentice but his friend and confidante, weathering the hardships of life right alongside of him. Their relationship was sharply contrasted with the relationship she had with her older sister, Poncia, who was always meddling and lecturing, trying to be the maternal force in Auda's life. I had a strong dislike for Poncia and felt her to be at times very cruel.Towards the middle of the book, Auda gets the chance to form a romantic relationship with a fellow artist. This was a nice aspect of the plot and tended to drown out the darker elements of the story, giving a nice balance to the narrative. As she begins to blossom in new ways, she grows beyond her small world of isolation and forges her way into the world surrounding her. The relationship between the two lovers was unique because it was not only forged in seduction and attraction, but also in mutual respect and admiration for one another's craft. Though the lovers have a difficult time rising above their situations and dangers, they are steadfastly loyal to one another and in the end are rewarded for it. I do wish that there had been a bit more focus on their relationship in the book because I really enjoyed reading about their times together and thought that it would be interesting to watch their relationship grow a bit more.There were also a lot of great inside details on the craft of papermaking in the book. It's a craft that I had been curious about but knew very little of. The details of paper making were imparted with a great deal of clarity and filled
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.
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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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