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 Journalist and novelist Sheehan (Innocent Darkness, 1993, etc.) delivers a bloated and pretentious--if lively--saga of recent Vatican history as seen through the career of one very complicated man. Born to a neglectful American mother and a stiff British nobleman father, young Augustine Galsworthy is a handsome boy, but also a lonely and awkward one. Packed off during WW II to a French school run by Benedictine monks, Augustine is taken under the wing of a priest who's dazzled by the boy's beauty and has a vision of his becoming a cardinal. Finding in the Church the home his selfish parents and muddled nationality have left him craving, Augustine grows in confidence. He finds it difficult, however, to master his carnal temptations, and finally loses his virginity to--and fathers a son by--a woman who picks him up on the streets of Florence. Nevertheless, Augustine takes and keeps his priestly vows and rises quickly in the Church's ranks to become the second-youngest archbishop of the century and, ultimately, a cardinal who plays a critical role in selecting a new Pope. Though Augustine displays his faith through his growing dedication to the Third World poor, he schemes for favor with the relentless shrewdness of a politician or rising CEO, working his way into the intimate acquaintance of four successive Popes while indulging in borderline simony on the side. Augustine also develops a voluptuary temperament, surrounding himself with expensive art, defending the grandeur and ceremony of the Church against attempts to modernize it, and cultivating passionate, if technically chaste, friendships with a series of beautiful women. Finally, he himself is under consideration for the papacy, forcing him to reevaluate the way he's conducted his life. An odd mix of earnest history lessons, turgid efforts at literary prose, and genuinely fascinating glimpses of the inner workings of the Vatican.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-670-85541-3
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1997