Sloppy, silly, naive--but beneath it all there's an undeniably fascinating story. With books on the Vatican, John Paul II,...

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LA POPESSA

Sloppy, silly, naive--but beneath it all there's an undeniably fascinating story. With books on the Vatican, John Paul II, and recent popes erupting from the presses like Kilauea, nobody before had paid attention to the shadowy figure of Mother Pascalina: cook, housekeeper, confidante, and soul-mate to Plus XII from 1917 till his death in 1958. Born Josefine Lehnert in 1894 (she is still alive), this devout and iron-willed Bavarian nun first met Eugenio Pacelli at a retreat house in the Swiss Alps, where the 41-year-old head of the Vatican's foreign office had been sent after one of his periodic breakdowns. Pascalina quickly took the neurasthenic archbishop in hand, nursed him back to health, and then followed him on his cursus honorum, from the nunciatures in Munich and Berlin to Rome and coronation as pope in 1939. While many curial insiders resented her influence over Plus, that lonely, complex man--by turns imperious and helpless, frigid and wildly emotional, ready to die a martyr's death and an utter coward--simply could not live without her. Though he didn't always take her advice (she wanted him to resist Mussolini, denounce Hitler, blast the collusion between Franciscans and the Mafia in Sicily, etc.), he listened, and feared her anger. She would, it seems, have made a much better pope than he did. And this biography (based on interviews with her) would have been a lot better if its authors had been more careful. They write dialogue that's both invented and stiff. They gush (""Her gentle lips brushed the startlingly white brow of the great aristocrat""). They claim that the Holy See saved 400,000 Jews during WW II and make assorted small errors. But, such ineptness aside, there are too many piquant scenes here (Pascalina driving a motorcycle with a terrified/enthralled Pacelli in the sidecar, Pascalina socking the great bearded Cardinal Tisserant), and the heroine is too original and interesting, for this curious quasi-memoir to be ignored.

Pub Date: May 16, 1983

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Warner

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983