The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry. Viking, 2016
In 13th-century western Europe, the Inquisition is control through terror, as those whose beliefs or behaviors offend Church authorities face persecution as heretics. Dolssa is a young woman who says Christ is her true love. Even the threat of death cannot make her deny that he speaks to her. But it is her mother who is burned by Inquisitors as Dolssa watches. When her bonds are cut and a voice tells her to run, Dolssa flees. Spirited Botille and her two equally confident, gifted sisters run an inn in the village of Bajas. When Botille discovers a dying young woman by a river, instinct or intuition or perhaps something else tells her to lie when a passing friar asks about a missing girl. Botille smuggles the young woman—Dolssa—back to her village, where the sisters secretly nurse her back to health. Dolssa remains hidden until a crisis forces her to call on her divine gift for healing. Word about her miracles spreads and the determined friar tracks Dolssa down. A taut narrative arc in this work of historical fiction is richly embellished with vivid period details and a cast of vibrant, singular, complex, contradictory characters. The story is tragic, funny, satisfying, and scathingly critical. It also leaves space for genuine faith and miracles and mystery and devotion, however one chooses to define it (earthbound romance included). A detailed author’s note about the historical period concludes this intricate and astonishing work.
Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:
- Do you think Dolssa’s “beloved” is real or imaginary? If he is real, why doesn’t he save Dolssa and her mother? How do you explain the miracles that seemed to occur in her presence?
- Dolssa is being pursued because she is seen as a criminal by the church. The people of Provensa see her as good. What risks are the people of Provensa taking by siding with Dolssa instead of the church?
- Do you believe Botille at the end of the story? In an interview, Julie Berry herself tells readers not to trust her.
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