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The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John, Vol. 1 Paperback – Deckle Edge, October 26, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
In 1165, a letter ostensibly written by the distant Christian king Prester John describing a kingdom of wonders rocked medieval Europe. In this enchanting retelling of the legend, the first volume in a projected trilogy, Hugo nominee Valente (Palimpsest) imagines what might have been discovered by Rome's ambassadors if the letter had not been a hoax. Nothing is quite as fabulous as the pious priests had hoped. Prester John and St. Thomas the Twin married nonhuman women; the Fountain of Youth does not sparkle, but instead "oozes thick and oily, globbed with algae and the eggs of improbable mayflies." Three very different personalities narrate: the brooding Prester John himself; his carefree and openhearted wife, the blemmye Hagia; and maternal Imtithal of the elephant-eared panotii. Filled with lyrical prose and fabled creatures, this languorous fairy tale is as captivating as Prester John's original letter. (Dec.)
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From the Back Cover
Brother Hiob of Luzern, on missionary work in The East on the eve of the 16th century, stumbles across a miraculous tree whose fruits are books... books which chronicle the Kingdom of Prester John. The Habitation of the Blessed recounts the fragmented narratives found within these miraculous volumes, revealing John's rise to power... from John's own viewpoint... from the viewpoint of his wife Hagia, and from the viewpoint of Hajji, a prayer-cantor who vowed to end John's illegitimate reign. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Language this rich, full of analogy, metaphor, and mystical beauty feels luxuriant. . . while I was in the pages I felt like the title referred to me, and that the book was my habitation, and I was the blessed.
And to wonder early and often, is this an account of what is already, or what is not yet?
Immortality as responsibility (even grief) as opposed to release and reward. Sacred promises of one faith tradition the common-place expectations of all species in another tradition. Anthro-centrism challenged by the humanity of some many non-humans, and the inhumanity of so many humans.
This is a book which I can hope will be made into a movie and which I hope will not be made into a movie -- operatic in its scope, it deserves more than the printed page (image screen), but how could any one director express the universals adequately?
For now, it plays on the screen of my soul, over and over again, rewriting itself into my own story.
When I picked up Habitation, I really had no idea what I was getting into. I just saw that Catherynne M. Valente published something new and I slammed my money down. Her books have never left me disappointed, and her latest is really no exception. I don't want to give too much about the story, I don't want to rob anyone of that sense of discovery that I experienced. The book is really home to four stories told by four characters, these stories brilliantly intersect and ultimately tie together to create a lush and fully-realized world. As always, Valente's use of language is gorgeous, she arranges words into sentences, into paragraphs that create life. Early on, the reader knows that the world they're immersed in is tumbling toward something bad, the "what" isn't clear, but it's clearly coming. This sets a sense of foreboding, it causes one to want to turn the page, and turn the page, and turn the page until the last page, the last revelation. There's this shadow over everything, beautiful scenes take on an ominous feeling, because that fall is coming, it's so right there. This book is haunting, I still think about the end, it tells a story that stays. Let it visit and stay with you.
The story is told as four different stories: the story of the old man who finally discovers the land of Prester John, and three books he works to transcribe. The first is an account by Prester John himself, the second a memoir by his wife, and the third a well-known text of the land, called "The Scarlet Nursery."
What is impressive is Valente's ability to give each narrative a distinct voice. Her use of language is, as always, beautiful and a delight to read, and here, each separate story contains its own tension, interwoven with the others. The old priest, Hiob, rushes to transcribe the books before they rot, while musing on the failings of his own life and taking what inspiration he can from John's. John, stranded in this magical world, struggles to assert and justify his faith in it, while John's eventual wife Hagia recounts the strange influence this man had on her life.
One of the main themes of the book is purpose, since the magical land of Pentexore has such rich soil that anything planted in it will grow a tree. Thus, there is no death; any dead body set in the ground will produce a tree that is the embodiment of that person. Also they have a Fountain of Youth which keeps them immortal. So how does a society function when none of its members need die? What does that make of their religion, their conception of heaven and hell?
Valente explores these and many other questions in intricate, lovely detail. The book has funny moments, touching moments, deep and sad moments. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys a rich fantasy world and skilfully poetic language.
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because she reads books from that Author.
The book consists of four interwoven storylines.Read more