THE GARDEN OF PERSEPHONE by Cesar J. Rotondi

THE GARDEN OF PERSEPHONE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Rotondi, author of two unpleasant forays into contemporary fiction (Obsessions, Grand Obese) does much better with this medieval historical novel--which centers on Julien Fitz Nigel, a young English monk of the 12th century who, much impressed with the unorthodoxies of Peter Abelard, is drafted away from scholasticism and into the world of action and public affairs. He goes as one of an English advisory party to Sicily--richly multi-cultural, sexually diverse, ruled over by Roger, its enlightened duke. And Julien finds that Moslem and Jewish influences make this society an exciting meld. But, though Julien is provided with concubines at first (boys too, if he so wishes), his eye instead is on the noble-born Claire. So there's much wooing ahead--as well as sexual straying when Claire proves troublesome--while Julien also acts as a trusted and loyal counselor to Roger, who's embroiled in the schismatic wars that result from the Reign of the Two Popes. (Anacletus is supported by Roger; Innocent is supported by the Holy Roman Emperor.) Rotondi sometimes bogs down in such matters as the technicalities of eunichism. And there's considerable polemicizing about the sexual repressions of the Church--with repeated contrasts between Julien's beloved Abelard and Innocent's house saint, Bernard of Clairvaux. (""The same churchmen who find sexual expression natural and have the fewest prejudices about it are the ones who believe in peace and are also most charitable towards those who disagree with them."") The result is a great over-simplification of both history and theology--but this is nonetheless an alert, primary-colored novel of the Middle Ages, with agreeable fictionalization of a relatively little-chronicled place and time.

Pub Date: Feb. 23rd, 1981
Publisher: St. Martin's