SONG OF THE MAGDALENE by Donna Jo Napoli

SONG OF THE MAGDALENE

Age Range: 12 & up
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Napoli (Zel, p. 691, etc.) turns from folklore to the Bible for inspiration, and crafts a brutal, challenging tale. Living with her widower father, Miriam roams the countryside, sings from the treetops, and acts in other ways inappropriate for the women of Magdala. She suffers seizures (probably epileptic ones) and, believing she is possessed, keeps them a secret, so that she will not become an outcast. She is drawn to Abraham, son of a servant, who is almost completely paralyzed and therefore mistakenly thought to be an idiot; in exchange for her friendship, he teaches her to read, using songs from the Torah. Their feelings deepen into love; Abraham dies knowing that Miriam carries their son. Later, in a shocking scene, Miriam is raped, suffers another seizure, and miscarries. In her subsequent travels away from and then back to Magdala for a certain famous meeting, Miriam prays, sings, and meditates, trying to make sense of her life and future. As is true of the protagonists in Napoli's The Magic Circle (1993) and Zel, Miriam's trials make her a tragic figure but also strengthen her, freeing her from the physical and intellectual restraints imposed on those of her sex. The novel may not easily find an audience: Its length, stiff prose ("The yellow jasmine winds through the trees behind us in such profusion you think they are [sic] the sun itself"), and deliberate pace will prevent many readers from appreciating the intelligence with which Napoli develops her themes and characters. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-590-93705-7
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Scholastic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1996




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