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Giving voice to one of history’s most mysterious women, The Confessions of X tells the story of Augustine of Hippo’s nameless lover, their relationship before his famous conversion, and her life after his rise to fame. A tale of womanhood, faith, and class at the end of antiquity, The Confessions of X
|Format: DRM Protected ePub|
Vendor: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: 2016
Winner of the Christianity Today 2017 Book Award!
Before he became a father of the Christian Church, Augustine of Hippo loved a woman whose name has been lost to history. This is her story.
She met Augustine in Carthage when she was seventeen. She was the poor daughter of a mosaic-layer; he was a promising student and heir to a fortune. His brilliance and passion intoxicated her, but his social class would be forever beyond her reach. She became his concubine, and by the time he was forced to leave her, she was thirty years old and the mother of his son. And his Confessions show us that he never forgot her. She was the only woman he ever loved.
In a society in which classes rarely mingle on equal terms, and an unwed mother can lose her son to the burgeoning career of her ambitious lover, this anonymous woman was a first-hand witness to Augustines anguished spiritual journey from secretive religious cultist to the celebrated Bishop of Hippo.
Giving voice to one of historys most mysterious women, The Confessions of X tells the story of Augustine of Hippos nameless lover, their relationship before his famous conversion, and her life after his rise to fame. A tale of womanhood, faith, and class at the end of antiquity, The Confessions of X is more than historical fiction . . . it is a timeless story of love and loss in the shadow of a theological giant.
Suzanne M. Wolfe grew up in Manchester, England, and read English Literature at Oxford University, where she co-founded the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society. She is Writer in Residence at Seattle Pacific University and has taught literature and creative writing there since 2000. Wolfe is the author of Unveiling: A Novel (Paraclete Press, 2004)and co-founder, along with her husband, of Image, a journal of the arts and faith. Suzanne and Greg have also co-authored many books on literature and prayer and are the parents of four grown children. They live outside of Seattle.
BethAge: 25-34Gender: female5 Stars Out Of 5Gorgeous, evocative tale of a courageous historical womanSeptember 19, 2017BethAge: 25-34Gender: femaleQuality: 5Value: 5Meets Expectations: 5Finding the words to express my feelings about this beautiful book is difficult. "X" became a real person to me, from her travels with her father a mosaic layer with an artist's touch to her bereft heart as he leaves her in her aunt's care. She longs to travel with him again, to see her friend Nebridius, but one day her father doesn't return, and thus her life is propelled on a different - one that will lead her to meet Augustine, as well as set the course for tremendous joy and heartache. Wolfe explores this anonymous woman and creates a compelling picture of the relationship between Augustine and his concubine, here simply called "X," in keeping with her name being lost to history. While she is loved and taken care of by Augustine, their life is not easy. Life in general was not easy in late antiquity, often precarious and rife with suffering, which Wolfe deals with honestly and respectfully.
Wolfe's writing immerses the reader fully in ancient Carthage; the heat of the desert, the dangers of every day life, as well as the rules regarding the roles of women are so well realized in the story. "X's" first-person narration is finely done - her voice is distinct. Wolfe's prose is almost poetic at times, rife with lush descriptions, as well as deeply emotive.
"...we scrubbed the tesserae brushes dipped in sand and oil and then rubbed them with leather cloths, smoothing and burnishing until the whole floor shone, my father explaining that any roughness in the surface would catch on sandals, dislodge the tiles, and destroy the mosaic over time. Such polishing we do to our memories so they will not snag on our souls and cause us to stumble."
With that lovely passage, I felt myself fall deeply into the story, though I worried for what I knew was to come for her. I have a fairly rudimentary knowledge of Augustine, but seeing him through her eyes has such impact. Her deep love for him, their son Adeodatus, as well as others in his family, and her heartbreaking sacrifice is the biggest take away from this novel. I am appreciative to the author for giving this anonymous woman a voice, and I also appreciate the historical notes explaining that he most likely kept her name out of his writing in order to protect her, not out of shame or embarrassment. Details like this, as well as what concubine meant in those days in comparison to it's modern connotation are fascinating. These immersive historical details and more, along with X's strong characterization make The Confessions of X one of my favorite reads this year.
I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher. I was not required to post a positive review; this is my honest opinion.
theLadyLeighAge: 25-34Gender: female4 Stars Out Of 5UnexpectedFebruary 28, 2017theLadyLeighAge: 25-34Gender: femaleQuality: 5Value: 5Meets Expectations: 5When this book first came in my mailbox I was convinced that it was a book that I couldnt like on a topic I wasnt interested in reading about. And so it sat around on my bookshelf for quite some time as I read through other review copies on my list. When I finally got myself in the mood to sit and read this I was very surprised about it indeed.
This book takes you to a very long time ago, to the ancient Carthaginian world of Augustine, the great Christian theologian. The story is told from the eyes of his concubine, a woman whose name is lost to history but whose impact was strongly felt on the life of the man she considered her husband.
From the very first the language in this book sucked me in, it is stunningly beautiful and lyrical and has a loneliness and hunger to it that compels the listener to hear her and know her story. The world in which the woman lives is nothing like our own- and yet her story is so familiar in the storytelling world. It is one of falling in love with someone not of her own class but being loved in return and dearly cherished. It is one of the journey of life and the struggle of living side by side with someone on a journey they dont know the end of. It is one of being ripped apart when the odds can no longer pretend they are in your favor.
The womans story is told in the strong brush strokes of a hard and sometimes harsh life. There is childbirth, and death, life and love painted in strongly worded descriptions. And there are also the soft stirrings of her own heart as she seeks to understand the world around her and follows alongside of Augustine and is a part of his philosophical work.
I was very struck by all of this story and several times found myself in tears. I could spend a lot more words here trying to explain the details of this story but I think it would only cloud the issue. While I dont agree with all the events that take place in this story I could not help but be moved by it all the same. This book doesnt really fit into a box that I can neatly check as being good or bad. The writing is amazing. The story that is told is amazing. But it is also one that pushes me out of my comfort zone. The writers notes at the back of the book help to clear up some of the historical perspective and context and I did find that very helpful in understanding this book.
In the end, I would recommend this book to someone who was looking for something very different from the standard Christian fiction fare. I would not recommend it for younger teen readers, I think there is too much in here that needs an older eye to discern. But Ill tell you that if you do read it, it will change you, and that I guess is what all books are meant to do.
Final Rating: 4
I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.
ADFehlArden, NCAge: 25-34Gender: female4 Stars Out Of 5A woman's truly unconditional love for her manJanuary 19, 2017ADFehlArden, NCAge: 25-34Gender: femaleQuality: 4Value: 5Meets Expectations: 4Between the years 397 - 400 AD, St. Augustine of Hippo released his multi-volume memoir Confessions. Within the pages of the early passages, he makes mention of a woman who was quite important to him prior to his church life, but the woman remains unnamed except for when he calls her "Una" -- The One. In The Confessions of X, Suzanne Wolfe imagines who that woman might have been, what she might have been like, and what might have transpired to have this mystery female part ways with Augustine.
In this novel, the woman remains officially unnamed though she is given nicknames by some, such as her best friend Nebridius. Their first meeting was at the town creek when they were small children, so he gives her the nickname Naiad (Greek for "spirit of the river") while she calls him Nereus (jokingly meaning "wet one" but also name of a Greek god of the sea).
Augustine and his special lady meet when they are 17, both being friends of Nebridius. They have a whirlwind romance but their relationship faces a major roadblock. Augustine is from a privileged family and heir to a great fortune while X is the daughter of a humble mosaic artist. In fact, X's father has her living with his sister since he struggles with drinking and gambling addictions. Tough sell for a man in Augustine's position, but he feels true love for X so he presents her with the best situation he can offer her -- no official marriage, but instead a position as his concubine. In that era, the role of concubine was a little different than what we imagine when that word comes up now; back then it was more like vowing yourself into a common-law marriage via commitment ceremony... spiritually powerful but not as legally binding. In fact, under the concubine arrangement, in the case of a break up, the man would automatically get full custody of any children he sired, while the woman would basically be out on her rear.
X bears Augustine a son and they have many content years together. Neighbors seem stunned at just how cozy & lovey-dovey the couple remains as the years continue to pass. But there is a restlessness to Augustine's spirit that X cannot seem to calm. X packs up their home and moves the family from Carthage, Africa to the bustling city of Rome, hoping Augustine's heels would cool once he got settled into a more academically satisfying community. Hard as she tried though, nothing seemed to answer his need quite enough. When she overhears one of his colleagues whispering that X may be playing a part in Augustine being held back professionally, she makes the choice to exit out of his life at the age of 30, returning to Carthage so that he might make a advantageous and official marriage with someone within his class. But as history buffs know, Augustine goes on to choose the church over another woman.
I'm new to the writing of author Suzanne Wolfe, though she's had a few books out prior to this one. This novel though... WOW. Her descriptions of this world are so palpable! This is one of those books you have to be willing to take slow because there is A LOT of detail to take in and while you might feel a little worn out in the process taking it all in, it's all worth it. There's one heck of a story here! I can't imagine processing the kind of painful decisions X was pushed to make multiple times over the course of her life. I just picture this woman with a shattered heart that never found a way to entirely heal but somehow she pushes through and carries on.
The story isn't all heartbreak though! There are some loving scenes between Augustine and X that are alternately beautifully deep and sometimes tragic but also sweet, adorable, even hilarious in parts. I had a good laugh over one scene where X is talking with her friend Neith, the mother of a large herd of children. X just has her one son. Neith hypothesizes that X's love of books is just a band-aid for her pain, an odd side effect from struggling to conceive again, shrugs it off with "you'll soon be cured." The reader is then given a glimpse into X's inner thoughts, the memory of how the birth of her son very nearly killed her, making her think that maybe she doesn't WANT to be cured of reading! X-D
This gorgeous bit of historical fiction gave me a glimpse into a time & place I've admittedly read very little about -- the Romans in Carthage, Africa. Weird how it's hard to think of Romans outside of Rome but this novel reminded me of the true scope of the Roman Empire. History aside, I also fell in love with all these unique characters -- not just Augustine and X but also all their friends, neighbors and colleague who had small but important influences on their day to day life decisions. These characters were wonderfully alive and I eagerly look forward to exploring more of Wolfe's work!
FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.
Susan Barrett5 Stars Out Of 5Never Expected to Like it, but now I'm in love!June 6, 2016Susan BarrettQuality: 5Value: 5Meets Expectations: 5I received Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe from the Thomas Nelson and Zondervan Fiction Guild. Now I am familiar with the age-old adage to not judge a book by its cover, but I often do so anyway. This was one case where I did judge the book by its cover, and I therefore didn't even pick it up to read it for weeks. I don't know why, but for some reason the cover just seems (to me) to show a woman so covered in shame that she can't raise her head, so tainted that her sins were like scarlet, as red as crimson. I've dealt with enough shame in my life that I didn't really want to read a story so seemingly consumed with someone else's. When I turned the book over to read the back of the cover, I discovered that the story was about St. Augustine's concubine. Really? I thought to myself. Really. THIS is what the Fiction Guild sends me? What happened? They've done a pretty good job so far of picking stuff that I like to send to me. But this? Who would want to read a story about a concubine?
Eventually, though, I did start the book, because I had to review it. (Which I've since discovered isn't required) I have to admit, it took me several more weeks to get into the story. The first 30-50 pages were riddled with paragraph-length sentences and unusual vocabulary words that made the reading tedious yet slightly poetic. But mostly tedious. Then around the 50 mark, bam! I was in love. I don't even remember a specific event that happened to the character, but somehow, the wording became easier to read, the story started flowing, and I was hooked. And by "hooked", I mean like hook, line, and sinker. Totally captivated. I've managed to tear myself away from the book--I'm a little over half way through right now--to come here and write about it. If the you've heard of or seen this book but the cover and/or summary has thrown you off, I suggest giving it a try anyway. So far, and I cannot speak for the rest of the book as I have not as of yet finished it, the book is fantastic. The character isn't weighed down with shame; in fact, she's lighthearted and free. She's loved and she's lost a few people along the way so far, but she's followed her heart and kept her head held high. She's gotten me captivated, and I dearly hope that the story doesn't end with something that makes her hang her head the way that she is doing on the cover, because so far, this book is shaping up to be on my Top 10 list for 2016.
Thank you so much to the Thomas Nelson and Zondervan Fiction Guild for sending me this book. All opinions are my own and were not required to be positive.
Deb2 Stars Out Of 5Just not for me.May 23, 2016DebQuality: 0Value: 0Meets Expectations: 0This book took me a while to get into and then when I did, it was only momentarily. It wasn't the author's fault at all. I received this book blindly by Thomas Nelson and truthfully, it's not a book I would have chosen for myself.
However, thanks to Thomas Nelson for the privilege of allowing me to read and review this book.