Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Genre: Historical Fiction
Published:  1996, Ballantine Books
Source: Personal library
Review:  4/5 stars

Brief Summary:  The legend of a woman named Joan who, disguised as a man, allegedly became Pope in the ninth century is brought to life in this novel by Donna Cross.  As a very intelligent young woman she decides to dress as a boy in order to pursue her dream of learning and education that was completely denied to women during that time.  Her superior intellect, drive, and compassion give her many opportunities and eventually lead her to the highest spiritual position on earth.

My Thoughts:  This really is a fascinating book.  I don't know for sure what to think about the truth of whether this woman existed but it is definitely a good story.  I really enjoyed learning more about this time period.  The utter brutality and injustice toward women that was described made me so mad, the corruption and politics discussed were very interesting, and the love story is heartfelt.

We read this for book club and everyone enjoyed it.  It was fun to debate about whether or not she did exist and I think we agreed that where there's this much smoke there is probably fire. If you've read the book and the pages by the author at the back talking about her research you would have seen the picture of the chair.  For most of us that was the most convincing piece of evidence that something happened to make them use that chair and declare the nominee a man.  It was also quite funny. :)

Recommendations:  I would recommend this book to most people I know.  On the back of my copy there was a review that said, "Pope Joan has all the elements one wants in a historical drama–love, sex, violence, duplicity, and long-buried secrets. Cross has written an engaging book."–Los Angeles Times Book Review.  That made me a little nervous about reading it but the sexual content ended up being fairly mild.  The violence was actually more offensive to me than the sexual content (but that's just my opinion).  

Ratings: 2.4.2  Includes sexual relations between an unmarried couple but is not explicit.  Violence includes child abuse, war type violence, sexual assault, and violent punishments.  Profanity was fairly minimal.

Thanks for reading!


Melissa Mc (Gerbera Daisy Diaries) said...

We read this for book club a year ago or more...and it was a good discussion. The author was in town giving a lecture a few weeks ago, but I couldn't attend due to a previous conflict. There is a movie that has been released in Europe with John Goodman, but hasn't found a home here. The final scene with her giving birth was one I won't soon forget.

Jenny said...

This one sounds interesting...if nothing else it would make for a good book club discussion.

Jessica said...

Hi, Kim!! Thanks for this review. I really want to read this book soon. And I hope you'll post some more reviews when you get a chance.