An interfaith retelling of the life of St. Francis.
Cast as a manuscript by St. Francis only allowed to be published over 800 years after his death, di Bernadone’s book explores the scope of St. Francis’ life through the commonalities of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. As a young soldier, Francis meets a Sufi convert named Abu Hashim, who introduces him to meditation, karma, the absence of self and other core tenets of contemplative religions. These ideas and practices inform Francis’ actions as he leaves his rich life behind to embrace “Lady Poverty” and ultimately to found the Franciscan order. The book is partially addressed to Clare of Assisi, one of Francis’ first followers and the founder of their sister order, the Order of Poor Ladies; it contains a supposed preface by her, though her role in the plot of the book itself is somewhat limited. The story manages to bring together in a satisfying and relatable way the various religions it explores, showing similarities among faiths that have long been supposed to be diametrically opposed. Choosing St. Francis as a vessel for this project seems a wise choice given his embodiment of compassion for other beings. As a work of historical fiction, however, the book falls somewhat flat, drawing on concepts such as “mind over matter” and the use of idioms like “played hooky” that didn’t exist at the ostensible time of its writing. All in all, the “found text” convention creates confusing additional narratives that fail to add much to the ideas being expressed. Despite this, contemplative concepts and practices are personalized through Francis’ experiences of them, and readers interested in these practices as they relate to Christianity will come away with a new view of the life of the famous saint.
Readable and ambitious, if muddled.