HEAVENLY SUPPER: The Story of Maria Janis by Fulvio Tomizza

HEAVENLY SUPPER: The Story of Maria Janis

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The first of Italian novelist/historian Tomizza's 22 works to be translated into English, this is the creepy tale of a 17th-century religious ascetic caught on the borderline between intense devotion and self-deception. In 1662 Venice, a peasant peers through a crack in a boardinghouse door to witness a priest and a woman performing Mass. Such private services are forbidden; the couple is denounced to the Inquisition. The woman, it transpires, is Maria Janis of Bergamo, who challenges her accusers with the extraordinary assertion that she has eaten nothing for the past five years but the bread and wine of daily communion. Her priest, Pietro Morali, hacks her claim. Through months of interrogation, the authorities grind down woman and priest until they confess: Janis has indeed fasted more ""than the greatest of the desert saints"" in a pathetic effort to become a living saint--but she has also swallowed salami, headcheese, and pasta when her suffering became too great. Tomazza offers scant sympathy for his protagonist, and none of the ""suspense and coup de thÉâtre"" he promises. Nor does he seize the opportunity to probe with any depth issues of sanctity, authority, or eating-as-sacrament. He concludes that his interest in Janis is ""due not to her holiness but rather to her humanity""--but this quality resides in everyone: small justification for a turgid read. Unnourishing.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1991
Page count: 184pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago Press