Simply and beautifully written, this guileful little book from Greek author Karnezis (The Maze, 2004, etc.), now living in London, focuses on the mysterious (miraculous?) appearance of a newborn child on the steps of a convent in early 20th-century Spain.
The convent of Our Lady of Mercy is physically deteriorating and down to only six nuns when Sister Lucía discovers a baby boy left in a suitcase carefully ventilated with holes. She immediately takes the child to Sister María Inés, the mother superior of the convent, who faces a dilemma: While Christian love suggests that the child stay at the convent to be cared for, hardheaded pragmatism indicates that such a solution would be burdensome for the nuns. Sister María Inés is convinced that the child is a sign, and her private reading of the situation involves her own complex psychological and emotional life, for 30 years earlier she had been pregnant and had had an abortion. She joined the order in part driven by the guilt arising from this act, but now God seems to have seen fit to replace the child that she lost, so she reads the arrival of the child as a miracle, “a gift I do not deserve.” Sister Ana, however, comes to the opposite conclusion, for she “had little doubt that recent events were the work of the Devil,” especially since she found a bloodied sheet buried on the grounds of the convent, according to Sister Ana a sign of animal sacrifice. The Mother Superior becomes ever more emotionally attached to the child, fiercely so in fact. (At one point she poisons the convent dogs out of fear for safety of the child.) Sister Beatriz, a young and beautiful nun, also has a strong attachment to the child and becomes an ally of the Mother Superior’s in her desire to keep it. Adjudicating all this in-fighting at the convent is Bishop Ezequiel Estrada, who must decide whether a more appropriate place for the child is a local orphanage.
A haunting and psychologically dense novel.