by novelist Valerie Martin imagines the life of St. Francis of Assisi in the form of short, vivid scenes. She begins at the end, with his death in 1226, and then moves backward in time, ending with his youth and conversion. Martin has mined all of the early hagiographies of St. Francis in order to fill her book with sharp details ("his eyebrows met above the bridge of his nose"). She has carefully corrected some popular misconceptions about her subject: "He was not so much a nature lover (he was certainly neither an environmentalist nor a vegetarian) as a man who saw no distinction between himself in the natural world." And although she is not particularly religious, she clearly describes the spiritual significance of poverty. Salvation
is not a defense of St. Francis or an argument about his significance in the contemporary world, but many readers will interpret its stories in a way that fulfills both. Many contemporary Christians are hungry for precisely this kind of story, about a person whose faith was so deep and dedication so strong that he sacrificed everything--even most Christian doctrine--in order to become like his Lord. --Michael Joseph Gross
From Publishers Weekly
Captivated by the various frescoes depicting the life of St. Francis of Assisi, Martin, a writer of fiction (Italian Fever), was inspired to create this series of word pictures about the medieval saint who has been declared patron of ecologists and animals. Her book is an album of written scenes in which she invites the reader to see her own vision of how the various events of Francis's life might have played out. Although, as Martin confesses in the introduction, she is neither Catholic nor "particularly religious," her fascination with Francis is not unusual. Indeed, the saint's embrace of poverty and love for creation seem to hold special appeal for moderns. Martin's scenes from Francis's life are exquisite and imaginative, though they do not always make for pleasant reading and definitely are not for seekers of sweet stories about the saint. For instance, the author's rather graphic opening treatment of Francis's illness and death is bereft of any of the glory often found in hagiography or religious paintings. Likewise, her study of Brother Leone washing Francis's stigmata wounds is centered almost wholly on pain and discomfort. In painting such details so starkly, Martin effectively confronts the material poverty of Francis's life, but sometimes seems to miss the transcendent values that motivated him. This portrait will be most interesting to readers who are already familiar with the basic facts of Francis's life and remain open to exploring a new, gritty interpretation of them.
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