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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2010
Format: Paperback
There were things I loved and things I didn't love about this book. I thought that Vanitha Sankaran did a wonderful job of setting up the story - the birth of Auda and death of her mother, Elena was heartbreaking and an eye-opening (if a bit predictable) method to open the story.

I loved the educational aspect of making paper and the way the story revolved around the tracts labeled as "heresy" and the connection that papermakers risked. I actually thought the historical aspect of this novel was the most interesting part of it and carried the story of Auda and her family.

Which brings me to what I was disappointed in. I felt as if Auda, her sister and her father were sort of glossed over and we were given half-stories .. just enough to keep the story moving but not enough to make me feel a connection to her. The person I felt the strongest for was actually Auda's mother - and she had just a few short pages devoted to her.

Overall though, it is an interesting perspective on the Middle Ages and one worth reading as long as you don't expect to have any lasting impression of character to carry away from it.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Watermark is the story of a young woman, Auda, who is different than others because she is albino and mute, and her struggle to survive in the middle ages. Ignorance and superstition are common place in Auda's time; she must combat these enemies, along with the Inquisition and society's senseless fear of anything that's different. I found the map of France, included in the front of the book, to be quite helpful.

I love the way this story unfolds, starting with the drama attendant upon Auda's birth and then, what seemingly passes for a normal life, until Auda has become a young adult. The true details of history and paper making included in the story as well as the carefully developed characters and their actions make this novel a page turner. There are both kinds of characters in this story; those you love and those you love to hate... still, I wasn't entirely prepared for the shocking ending... and, no, I'm not gonna tell... well, okay I'll just say this: it wasn't completely unexpected, but I did wish someone else had turned out to be Auda's betrayer.

In some books, the supporting addenda are almost as interesting as the main story. This is especially true of Watermark. In addition to the great story, and the aforementioned map, my copy of Watermark contains:

* An author's note that I recommend to readers finishing the book,
* A glossary of words originating in five other languages which were used in the book and which may be unfamiliar to many readers,
* A chronology of important events in the middle ages, and
* A selected bibliography for readers who may wish to read more about the historical events and influences behind the novel...

and that's not all, but I'll leave the rest for you to discover on your own.

I highly recommend this intriguing novel to lovers of historical fiction, and to those looking for something different to read. This review has been simultaneously published on Amazon.com, Dragon Views and LibraryThing.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
This novel has a lot going for it conceptually, and as a writer and paper & pen lover myself, I couldn't wait to read it. As Ms. Sankaran says herself in her notes about the story behind the book at the end, "The latter part of the medieval era was ripe with change; it was teeming with growing tensions between the burgeoning middle class, the corrupt Church, and a nobility worried about its own power, which makes the perfect backdrop for a compelling story." It does indeed, the pity is, it just doesn't happen with this one. I really did try to like this novel, but the characters were never really brought to life. Their motivations at times left my head whirling, and while I could certainly sense the momentous tension of those times, it felt as though it was at some remove, rather than the immediacy of a vivid story well told. It is interesting to watch Auda's growth and individuation as she emerges from her sheltered life. Whether coming from that background, even with the ability to read and write, she would've developed her rather (for the time) radical ideas about gender equality and the nature of love is a bit of a stretch for me, but I do like boundary breaking heroines, so I'll suspend disbelief on that count.

The ending read like a fantasy, though not a bad one, it just didn't fit in with the tone of the rest of the book.
So I'm not sure what happened to what was obviously a subject of meaning and passion for the author, but between the story she had living in her head and the written book itself, something got lost.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
What a great year 2010 has been for historical fiction writer debuts! I have been really blown away by the shear awesomeness of these first timers and know that I will be reading them for years to come! And author Vanitha Sankaran is no exception.

Sankaran has painted an exquisite and beautiful tale about a mute Albino girl named Auda, who is the daughter of a papermaker in Narbonne, France in the 14th century. Born during a time of religious persecution and intense superstition, Auda's affliction causes her to be a target and she has to be extremely cautious when leaving her house or risk being called a witch and handed over to the Inquisition.

My knowledge of watermarks and the paper making process itself were very limited prior to reading Watermark and it was fascinating to me to read about the history and the way it was made back then. One thing that I thought was very interesting was that watermarks were sometimes used by heretics as a means of conveying secret messages. I felt like I really learned a lot from reading this book and for me that is always a plus and one of the main reasons why I read historical fiction.

Auda is an extremely likeable character, with her passion for the written word that any reader can relate to. She has spirit, bravery and fortitude and is inspiring to read about - all good qualities for an awesome heroine in my book!

Watermark is a strong, solid debut from an emerging new talent and I HIGHLY recommend it!

FTC: Many thanks to the author for sending me a copy to review.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
I found this story to have a very unique plot and setting. The historical aspect about the papermaking and the concept of the watermark I found extremely fascinating. How she used the concept of the watermark and tied it to the heresies was very well done. The only drawback was she didn't develop the relationship between Auda and Jamie more and nor did she address the consequences of her sister's action. I felt after her capture the story rushed to an end that was a bit too anticlimatic. I wanted revenge but that would have ruined the texture of the story, I know. Maybe had the character's motivations and emotions been more fleshed out the story would have reached five stars.

For those who claim that the story needed better editing, I guess you must be the kind of reader who needs to have everything spelled out for you rather than experience the story as it unfolds. I didn't want it to end wanting to know more about what happened to Jamie and Auda and hope that the author might revisit them in the future.

I am espeically pleased to see not only a glossary at the back but a wonderful list of research sources and information on papermaking. All this added to the quality of the persentation. Kudos to the cover artist. This is one the prettiest book covers for the period.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2010
Format: Paperback
I give Watermark two stars for I found the information on the paper making process fascinating.
As a fiction novel, I found it disappointing. The characters are underdeveloped. The internal monologue of the protagonist is grating, her motivations unclear, sometimes even shocking. I felt no connection to her.
The story doesn't flow.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2010
Format: Paperback
In a time when women had few opportunities, let alone a young girl who is born albino and due to being albino, had her tongue cut out and rendered mute, Auda is trying to thrive. The book begins with her birth in 1300, Auda's mother dies from a rough child birth where Auda had to be birthed by a crude cesearean section and she is born a "white witch" and she was deformed due to her unfortunate birth. Then "Watermark" jumps to 1320, when Auda is a grown woman, her sister is off and married and she is at home helping her father with his papermaking business. She reads adn writes and has dreams, skills that are a necessity for someone who is mute. During a time of the Inquisitions, Burnings of witches and Heretics, and the Crusades against Jews and Infidels, being something "different" is a curse.

Through Auda's trials and tribulations, the author takes you through her journey of survival, love and the art of papermaking.

I am not sure how I feel about this book. I felt absolutely ZERO connection with Auda. Generally, I fall for the underdog and cheer them on. With this story, I just didn't care as much as I would normally. I didn't want anything bad to befall her but I didn't feel that strong pull that a reader should feel. I thought the historical aspect of the story was amazing and especially the art of papermaking was extremely interesting. I felt the dialogue was underwhelming. There is definitely SOMETHING there, but I feel that something was missing. That "spark" was gone. I just wasn't wowed but I also didn't despise it. It was readable but not re-readable for me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 5, 2011
Format: Paperback
Watermark is a story that I was caught up in right from the very first chapter. The author doesn't mess around here, you fall head first into an emotion filled scene that sets the pace for the rest of the book. I knew right from that first chapter that I had to read this book and if the remaining pages were like the first few, I was going to love it.

Auda is a unique narrator like I have never read before. Sometimes you will have interior monologue just because the author wants to write this way, but in this case, Auda is mute and the only way we can understand what is going on in her head is to be in her head. The author was really able to capture all of the emotions that are running through her mind throughout the story - panic, fear, confusion, first love, strength of character. I also really enjoyed seeing the way she interacted with others - from her own language with her father and sister, to the wax tablets with her employer, and unspoken language with her first love. Even though she couldn't speak, the author was able to convey what Auda wanted to say in other ways. My hats off to you!

As I said earlier, this book just takes off and continues to flow from beginning to end. It was amazing how much ground you would cover in a short time (be it actual page count or events that happen in the novel). One of the aspects that really move the plot along was the Inquisition. I have found that novels that focus on the Inquisition tend to develop quickly because of the fear and panic that often accompany the story.

A pleasant surprise in this novel was the indepth exploration of the process of papermaking. Auda helps her father in his paper workshop and we get to learn the steps that go into making paper, the strengths and weakness of paper at that time, how watermarks work, the significance of watermarks, and the difference between paper and parchment. I never expected to learn so much about paper from this book. The author certainly put in a lot of time researching the subject and was able to convey it in a way that was interesting and not just a statement of facts.

This novel will certainly pull at your heart-strings and having you feeling for Auda and her family throughout. I hope that you will love this novel as much as I did.

This book was received from the publisher in exchange for a review and this was also posted on my blog.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel. The story is about a mute girl, whose passion is for paper-making, but more so for the potential for revolutionary social change that paper and the written word represented in middle-age Europe. The details of the process of making paper were excellent, and well researched. I used to make my own cardboard out of soaked newspaper for my crazy building projects, and that was hard enough. I can definitely understand the difficulty involved in perfecting what was then a new art. Paper had to compete with the prevalent writing media of the age, and the need was for fine, thin, consistently sized sheets that wouldn't bleed ink. Add to that the art of inserting unique watermarks to each sheet, and you get some idea of the level of experimentation needed to perfect the art. The potential of the new medium for bringing about education and literacy was also brought out nicely, including the renewed interest in old literary work. The obstacle to progress was the rigid, inflexible Church, and the ongoing inquisition. On the whole, a lot of research has gone into this novel.

The human element of the novel was equally impressive. It is hard to tell a story through the medium of a mute girl, and the author handles this well. The main character had my sympathy all along, and her fears of being branded a witch, owing not just to her lack of speech, but also her lack of color (she was an albino) were nicely portrayed. She nevertheless manages to find love in that day and age. The historical details and descriptions of France in those days also seemed to have been well researched.

This was a very entertaining read, and I'll definitely look out for more works from this author.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
In 1300 in Narbonne, France, as her mother dies giving birth to her, Auda is born bone white to the horror of the healer and her apprentice. To prevent the infant from spreading the devil's words, the frightened apprentice viciously rips out Auda's tongue. However due to her father's occupation as a scribe, Auda learns to read and write.

By 1320, as a team father and daughter try to persuade those who use parchment to switch to the paper her dad invented. Shockingly, a Vicomtesse orders some of their stock and hires Auda as her scribe. At the palace, an artist saves Auda from a witch-hunt, but she begins to write heretical verse about women's rights that places her in further danger from an inquisition that already distrusts her albino skin as that of the devil.

Watermark is an entertaining medieval tale that looks deep into life in France by someone whose difference subjects her to ostracism and with little impetus potential burning at the stake. Along with the invention of a new type of paper (perhaps the mother of invention for the printing press), Watermark is Auda's saga of surviving as a mute albino with a skill taboo for women. Although believability seems lacking at times, the survival adventures of Auda in fourteenth century France is an engaging character driven thriller.

Harriet Klausner
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