What’s your formula for a perfect summer read? If it combines endless love with deep scholarship, dueling medieval and modern churchmen, and truths that survive Nazi persecution, you’re in luck. Join Cathedral friends this summer to explore the logic of love, as we discuss James Carroll’s novel The Cloister.
Carroll — former priest, National Book Award winner, and author of over a dozen acclaimed fiction and non-fiction titles — brings the romance and rhetoric of the twelfth-century monk Peter Abelard and his brilliant pupil Héloïse to life in this well-researched historical fiction. Opening in post-war New York City, The Cloister weaves the narratives of the legendary lovers with those of a fictional French-Jewish medievalist, his scarred and private daughter, and an Irish-American priest. Through the lens of the Church, it illuminates concepts of love and tolerance—tolerance for knowledge, for difference, and for love that doesn’t fit prescribed categories. Scholar, monk, daughter, lover, friend: each must struggle to determine if redemption lies within the boundaries of the cloister. While academia and the church may celebrate intellectual inquiry, Carroll suggests that those who press the circumscribed boundaries — for love or logic — do so at perilous personal risk.
What were the dichotomous views of the church held by Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter Abelard? Did the Church play a role in creating anti-Semitism? What role did women have in medieval scholarship? Can we overcome life-changing loss? the Cloister delves deeply into questions like these. It’s a love story on all four levels — storge, philia, eros, and agape — as well as a mystery and an intellectual journey. Transcending traditional literary alchemy, its elements combine to create the perfect formula for a summer read: sizzling and serious.
Sign up to join a small group to discuss The Cloister as you read. Or read at your own pace and join the whole community for discussion during the Dean’s Hour on September 5. Look for more information to come about Cathedral Reads 2021, James Carroll, and his fascinating historical characters. No matter how hot the summer gets, Cathedral Reads 2021 will provide you with some very cool ideas!
To purchase The Cloister from the Cathedral Bookstore, click here.
To sign up for a discussion group, or to watch a marvelous discussion of monastic and intellectual life in 12th century France, click here. Groups begin the week of June 13, 2021.
The image above is of the Cloisters museum in New York, one of the settings for The Cloister. In conversation with Mary Gordon at the New York Public Library, James Carroll said that the structure of this novel was inspired by the construction of the museum from five medieval monasteries, including one where Peter Abelard once walked. To listen to that conversation, click here.
The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth.