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Salvation: Scenes from the Life of St. Francis Hardcover – March 6, 2001

3.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Salvation 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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (March 6, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375409831
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375409837
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,549,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Martin describes the life of St. Francis of Assisi with short, vivid scenes rather than traditional narration. Martin, who is not Catholic, not particularly religious, and not a believer in miracles, gives us a story with real ramifications for Christianity - just as did the life of St. Francis himself.
Why is this book interesting, especially for nonbelievers and skeptics? In the first place, the vividness of the descriptions provides an engaging and fascinating look at medieval existence. In the second place, the stories in the book keep returning to an important but ignored concept: the power, spirituality and value of poverty.
This is not something which most Christians in contemporary America seem to really believe in any more - even though it was a standard belief for Christians in the middle ages.
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Format: Hardcover
I just finished Salvation: Scenes from the Life of St. Francis and found it to be a provacative read. Martin is a captivating writer, who handles a potentially biased topic with journalistic objectivity. But still, she manages to relay the deep emotion that surrounded and continues to surround St. Francis and his life. What I appreciated most about Martin's writing was that it gave small pictures of St. Francis, some which showed clearly his holiness and devotion to Christ, others that made you wonder if he was a complete lunatic.
For those of us who have studied the life of Christ, we find an interesting parallel. CS Lewis once said that Christ was either the Savior of the world or a raging lunatic. Too often, people shy away from the uncomfortable when they approach such topics. Because of that, people miss out on the complexity of the people. Too many people think Christ floated 3 inches off the ground and acted like he was stoned most of the time. They don't talk about anger, despair, humor and the like. They often make the same mistakes regarding saints.
Martin shows here that St. Francis was a man who took a radical stand in his faith. Who knows...maybe he was holy AND insane!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was prepared to dislike this book, because I tend to distrust imaginative "biographies" of Christian saints. Too often, they tend to be sweetly sentimental. But my concerns were pointless in this case. Martin's "biography" of St. Francis is a wonderfully beautiful and reflective series of sketches. She takes scenes from his life--those related by the two earliest biographies by Thomas of Celano, but also later accounts such as Bonaventure's--and imaginatively weaves them into a cinematic-like procession that offers glimpses of the man Francis that shed light on our own spiritual journeys. The reviewer who carps about Martin's chronological lapses really misses the point of what she's trying to do. She doesn't intend to offer a straightforward account of the saint's life so much as a string of meditations that take their starting point from specific events in his life. And along the way she offers prose that is breathtaking in its beauty. Here's an example, taken from Martin's description of Francis early encounter with a leper--the episode that he himself, in his Testament, describes as his "conversion." Francis has just kissed the leper's hand (p. 241): "His ears are filled with the sound of wind, and he can feel the wind chilling his face, a cold, harsh wind blowing toward him from the future, blowing away everything that has come before this moment, which he has longed for and dreaded, as if he thought he might not live through it. He reaches up, clinging to the leper's tunic, for the wind is so strong, so cold, he fears he cannot stand against it. . . . The two men clutch each other, their faces pressed close together, their arms entwined. The sun beats down, the air is hot and still, yet they appear to be caught in a whirlwind. Their clothes whip about; their hair stands on end; they hold on to each other for dear life." Wow! With writing like that, how could one not love this book?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author looks at the great love St. Francis had of first God and then man, beast and nature through eyes without faith or understanding. It results in a book that relates stories of his life through the use of the frescoes, but they are meaningless or worse perverted without the understanding of his unlimited love of God. St. Francis was a totally anti-materialistic man at a very materialist time in history. He was a man of peace at a time of war and chaos. This book left me as a reader wondering why this person she depicts would have attracted the extensive number of followers he did and why the Franciscans are still with us these centuries later and why he is still one of the most beloved Saints. I do know that it is because the love of God made him find gladness everywhere and that he loved, worked and suffered for others.
All who he encountered saw through the rags, the eccentricities, the suffering ,who he was and and how he lived his beliefs. Read another book on the life of Francis.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was prepared to dislike this book, although for the life of me I can't quite remember why. Perhaps it's because I distrust fictional accounts of Christian saints, particularly when they're written by nonbelievers. But I was quite mistaken in this case. Martin's "biography" of St. Francis is a wonderfully beautiful series of sketches. She takes scenes from his life--those related by the two earliest biographies by Thomas of Celano, but also later accounts such as Bonaventure's--and imaginatively weaves them into a cinematic-like skein that offers glimpses of the man Francis. So the reviewer who carps about her chronological lapses really misses the point. Martin doesn't intend to offer a straightforward account of the saint's life so much as a string of meditations that take their starting point from specific events in his life. Along the way she offers prose that is breathtaking in its beauty. Here's an example, taken from Martin's description of Francis early encounter with a leper--the episode that he himself, in his Testament, describes as his "conversion." Francis has just kissed the leper's hand: "His ears are filled with the sound of wind, and he can feel the wind chilling his face, a cold, harsh wind blowing toward him from the future, blowing away everything that has come before this moment, which he has longed for and dreaded, as if he thought he might not live through it. He reaches up, clinging to the leper's tunic, for the wind is so strong, so cold, he fears he cannot stand against it. . . . The two men clutch each other, their faces pressed close together, their arms entwined. The sun beats down, the air is hot and still, yet they appear to be caught in a whirlwind. Their clothes whip about; their hair stands on end; they hold on to each other for dear life."
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