A lifelong friend remembers Teresa of Àvila, “Spain’s most beloved saint,” in this richly entertaining historical novel from Mujica (Spanish/Georgetown Univ.; Frida, 2001, etc.).
Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born in Àvila in 1515. She would become famous as a mystic, an author and a monastic reformer. Although her unorthodoxy drew the attention of the Inquisition, she was canonized in 1622. This is her life, as remembered by her (fictional) friend and fellow nun, Angélica del Sagrado Corazón. Sister Angélica is a clever creation. By telling Teresa’s story from this unknown nun’s perspective, Mujica spares herself the trouble of competing with one of Christianity’s most prolific self-chroniclers. And because Angélica is writing for posterity—for a future audience that might not know much about convent life or Catholic theology—the reader is treated to Angélica’s concise, matter-of-fact lessons on such matters as the reforms of the Council of Trent and the differences between Carmelites and Jesuits, material that a lesser historical novelist might turn into painfully improbable expository dialogue. The real brilliance of Angélica, though, is that she is the perfect complement to her famous friend. God tells Teresa to found convents. He tells Angélica to have a second helping of mutton stew. While Teresa engages in ecstatic communion with Jesus, Angélica—the daughter of a seamstress—wonders how angels’ wings fit through their robes.
An earthy, humanizing portrait.