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The Priest's Madonna Hardcover – April 6, 2006

4.7 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A historical romance that mixes literary heft and pop-fiction indulgence, Hassinger's ambitious second novel (following Nina: Adolescence) makes for a busy, derivative read. Marie Dernanaud, raised a religious skeptic, is immediately attracted to Bérenger Saunière, the devout, charismatic priest who takes over the parish of her small town, Rennes-le-Château, in the 1890s. While hiding their dangerous affection for each other behind arguments over religion and revolution, Marie, who narrates, and Bérenger oversee their church's renovation, which turns up some curious artifacts: a map, a book and an ancient stone carving that might hold a Da Vinci–esque code. (Wearyingly, the stuff does in fact have its origins with the Knights Templar.) With the help of the enigmatic mayor's wife, Madame Simone Laporte, Marie tries to piece together the mystery of the church, but Bérenger has confessed that he's being fed a steady diet of cash by a powerful financier who wants access to whatever they find—including possible proof of a bloodline (here's Simone's interest) descended from Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Hassinger believably conveys Bérenger's transformation from gentle clergyman to angry, corrupt doubter, and mixes in some tantalizing ancient doings in Judea, but all the competing interests sap the dynamism from Marie, who never achieves a distinct voice.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In the late nineteenth century, parish priest Berenger Sauntiere--whose longtime servant, companion, and rumored lover, Marie Denarnaud, was known as the priest's madonna in their village of Rennes-le-Chateau--mysteriously came into wealth as he was renovating his church. Hassinger has transformed this true story into absorbing historical fiction, as told by Marie. Sixteen years Berenger's junior, she struggles with her faith, her attraction to the priest, and her guilt at attracting him, as her feelings are reciprocated. The two settle into a loving relationship that is chaste at first, with Berenger, drawn to the secular life, eventually feeling that his God has abandoned him. Interspersed with Marie's tale is that of Mary Magdalene, here portrayed as the bride of Christ who bore his daughter, a theme tied to the primary story as Marie and Berenger search for the hidden accounts of a local women who claimed that her family descended from Jesus. Hassinger brings historical characters to life in this vivid and affecting account of love and faith. Michele Leber
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult; 1st edition (April 6, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399153179
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399153174
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,908,100 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Amy Hassinger is the author of two novels. Deemed "superb" by O, the Oprah Magazine and "truly penetrating" by Salon.com, Nina: Adolescence (Putnam 2003) was translated into Dutch and Portuguese, won a Publisher's Weekly Listen Up! Award and was selected as Audio Book of the Year by ForeWord Magazine. A May 2006 Book Sense Notable pick, The Priest's Madonna (Putnam 2006) was translated into Dutch, Spanish, Russian, and Indonesian. Her writing has won awards from venues including Creative Nonfiction, Publisher's Weekly, and the Illinois Arts Council, and she has published work in magazines including Creative Nonfiction, The Writers' Chronicle, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and teaches in the University of Nebraska's MFA in Writing Program. You can find out more about her at www.amyhassinger.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Brought up Catholic the young nine year old Marie Dernanaud had no reason to doubt her beliefs and was in awe of the handsome, jovial friend of her mother, Father Berenger Sauniere. When at sixteen, a fire destroyed their home, Marie and her family moved to the beautiful village of Rennes-le-Chateau where their welcome was less than warm. Soon a new priest was assigned to the local parish bringing their old friend back into their lives Father Berenger and into their home.

At about that same time the very curious Marie had formed a friendship with the enigmatic Mayor's wife who in lending her books opening up a new world and a difference of opinion over certain doctrines taught by the church. Adding to the Marie's confusion and increased physical feelings for Berenger, were Berenger's new-found wealthy patron and their religious debates over church doctrine.

When renovations in the church uncovered clues as to long held rumors of the existence of a woman claiming to be descended from the bloodline of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, Berenger becomes guarded with each new discovery even as his illicit relationship with Marie intensifies.

*** On the heels of a certain best-selling made into movie book, I find that a lot of authors seem to be jumping on the bandwagon in researching and creating their own theories on the possibility of the Jesus and Mary Magdalene connection. From the authors copious notes at the back of this book this author has certainly done her research in blending a large amount of historical fact into her fascinating well-written and highly imaginative fictionalized story.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a beautifully written book. An absorbing, well-researched novel filled with mystery, romance and touches of humor.

Set in southern France in the late 19th century, the novel tells the story of young Marie Dernanaud and her life in the village of Rennes-le-Chateau, her family, friends and fervent love for Father Berenger Sauniere.

The forbidden romance between Father Berenger and Marie is believable and is one of the most striking aspects of this book. Their relationship was not an easy one, but rather full of confusion, anxiety and guilt. Beneath these struggles, however, was an unyielding love that neither could deny. This moved me significantly. Together, they embark on a journey of faith that leads them to question the bond between the divine and things of worldly origin.

Entwined with the story of Father Berenger and Marie is a narrative of Mary Magdalene set at the time of Christ. Here, the author appears to jump on the current bandwagon of considering a royal bloodline originating from Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. I am Roman Catholic and do not take the notion of such a bloodline seriously. However, it is with this fictional aspect that the author neatly ties in the mysteries in the village of Rennes-le-Chateau.

It is worth mentioning that Father Berenger Sauniere and Marie Dernanaud are not complete works of fiction. Though their legacies are interspersed with rumor and mystery, they indeed lived in Rennes-le-Chateau in the 19th century.

The Priest's Madonna is a captivating read. Very few books will I consider rereading, but I will most certainly revisit this one.
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Format: Hardcover
Do you like a good mystery? A love story? An historical novel? A theological inquiry? In "The Priest's Madonna" Amy Hassinger manages to give us all of these in a well-paced and lush novel that never suffers from an identity crisis. This book deals with some of the same themes as Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," but in a very different way. While Brown's book satisfies in the way an order of salty French fries satisfies after a night of overindulgence, "The Priest's Madonna" satisfies like a five course French meal with an excellent bottle of wine. Sophomore novelist Hassinger writes with a maturity that is extraordinary. She uses parallel and paradox to unfold the stories of Marie (and Berenger) at the end of the 19th century and Miryam (and Yeshua) at the time of Christ. Her female protagonists have that same quality of combined strength and vulnerability with which Margaret Atwood imbues many of her most interesting female protagonists. At times I found that I wanted a bit more development of Berenger's and Yeshua's characters, but in the end I concluded that because Marie's story was told from the first person and Miryam's story was told from the personal third person, the development of the male characters was just right to evoke that sense of mystery that the female protagonists found attractive in them. Reading this book left me with the same feeling and question I had years ago when I read "Snow Falling on Cedars" - how can a book that is so descriptive and literary make me want to turn the pages so fast?
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Format: Audio CD
While I love reading books, audio books have been the very convenient for me on those long commutes home. This audio book has been the best I've heard in a long time. The author ability to weaves both stories of Marie and Berenger along with Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene are simply riveting. While an author can put so much time and effort into researching and writing a wonderful book it's a terrible waste when the Narrator does a poor job of reading the book. I was delight that that was not the case for The Priest's Madonna. Anna Fields does a superb job of telling the story to the listener. She gives each character their own voice and personality and well.... it was captivating!

I'll be frank, had I purchased the book and tried to pronounce any French words I would've been discouraged and wondered if I was saying them correctly. Anna certainly had no problem with French or Hebrew pronunciations. This was wonderfully written and beautifully told. A must for audio book lovers!
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