Journey to Zürich: Excerpt: Martin of Gfenn

Today author Martha Kennedy joins us once more for our Zürich series in which we are introduced to the city and a bit of its history, seen through historical fiction and the author’s own experiences. We are given a glimpse of life as a leper in the Middle Ages via excerpt from Kennedy’s first novel, the indie B.R.A.G. Medallion-winning Martin of Gfenn.

mog-2nd-edition-frontThis is the story of a young Zürich artist, Martin, who in the mid-thirteenth century, contracts leprosy at age nineteen. He fights the disease’s physical effects and ensuing social stigma to paint fresco – what he believes is his destiny and in so doing, encounters the Knights of St. Lazarus and his own philosophical focus of Christ’s teachings. Here we join the narrative at Christmas as Martin struggles to reconcile the turn his life has taken.

Do see below for a fascinating video compiled by author Martha Kennedy, who provides background to the story and that of medieval lepers overall, including how the Knights of St. Lazarus would have come to be. The last link takes us on a tour of the city through the author’s eyes.

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Martin’s First Christmas at the Lazarite Community in the

Village of Gfenn

Introduction and background:

At this point in the novel, Martin of Gfenn, Martin has been part of the community for two months at the most. The chapel belonging to the community of the Knights of St. Lazarus is new, just finished, and Martin has no way of knowing at this moment how important it will be for him. He is mentally, emotionally and spiritually numb, trying to reconcile his circumstances — a shortened life of diminishing powers — with his artistic drive and vision. He doesn’t want to be in this place; he doesn’t want to have leprosy; however, he has leprosy and there is nowhere else to go. 

The new chapel is about to be sanctified by the Preceptor of the Knights of St. Lazarus. Some of the other residents — all lepers — have asked Martin to join them as they go to the forest to find the Christmas tree, though then it was not called a Christmas tree; it was called a Paradise Tree and hung with red apples, symbolizing humanity’s return to Eden with the birth of Jesus Christ.

Chapel at Gfenn, winter 2016

From Martin of Gfenn

by Martha Kennedy

Christmas Eve morning, Brother Hugo spoke to Martin, “Come with us. We are going to the forest to cut a tree and boughs to decorate the sanctuary. The Preceptor arrived last night.”

Martin had no interest in the chapel though all around him saw it as a great boon, a sanctuary for those banished from all others, but his habit had become simply to go along. He followed Brothers Hugo, Lothar and Heinrich outside the gate where a peasant waited with a sled. The sun had finally risen, though fog-bound and dim.

The four lopsided men in long black tunics followed the sled across the frozen fen and into the wood, the ice-covered pine needles clinking like crystal as they passed. Martin felt the forest’s magic pull and filled his lungs with the open air, cold though it was. “Take care, Brother; you are not used to this. You’ll catch your death,” warned Brother Hugo.

They stopped in a small clearing surrounded by pines. With a sharp saw, the peasant cut branches, while the four lepers looked for a fir the right size for the Paradise Tree.

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Chapel at Gfenn Christmas tree, 2016. Elegant and lovely in its simplicity.

“Will this one do?” called Brother Heinrich a few yards away.

“We may find nothing better.” Brother Lothar was anxious. He and Brother Heinrich were assisting at the mass, and he feared they would not return in time.

After a few strikes of the peasant’s axe, the tree fell in a cloud of fresh snow.

Martin and Brother Hugo lay the pine boughs around the base of the altar and set high candelabra and large candles throughout the chapel to light the dark corners. The peasant made a stand of two boards for the tree, and Sisters Regula and Ursula tied apples and candles to its branches. For this day, the sisters had sewn a new altar cloth of white linen embroidered in white silk thread, with symbols of worship and the Lazarite cross entwined with grapevines. Benches were set near the front for those who could not stand or kneel. Minutes before the midday mass in which the chapel would be consecrated, the dark room had been transformed.

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Some great links to peruse …

What is “Gfenn” and where is it?

Lazariterkirche Gfenn

Quartierverein Gfenn

Zürich Through Time and Space

 And a video with fantastic background, but also vibrant, beautiful images that shed some light on the dark …

Follow Martha Kennedy to learn more about the author and her books at her website, Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter, Indie B.R.A.G. author page, or her Savior blog and Facebook pages, and the Martin of Gfenn webpage.

martha-kennedy

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Images courtesy Martha Kennedy.

Stay tuned for more in our “Journey to Zürich” series.

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Journey to Zürich: Zürich Through Time and Space (Guest Post: Martha Kennedy)

Martha Kennedy is the award-winning author of Martin of Gfenn, Savior and The Brothers Path.  To be announced at a December 9 reception, the author will also receive more details of an honor awarded for her short story submissions to Letters from Hidden Lake, the literary magazine of the Alamosa Public Library. Congratulations, Martha Kennedy!

Zürich Through Time and Space

by Martha Kennedy

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Grossmünster (Great Church)

My relationship with Zürich did not start well. On my first visit in 1994, the labyrinthine passageways in the Niederdorf, Zürich’s old town, felt sinister and claustrophobic. The whole thing was “topped” by a barren, stone cathedral called the “Grossmünster” or Great Church. The few images in the church — such as Jesus whipping himself with a cat-o-nine tails — were horrific. I could not have imagined that someday those streets would fill my imagination, the church would become a place of dreams, or that the city held within its long history people who belong to me.

***

Three years later, on my second visit, I was with two friends at a famous bar, the Bodega Española. The Neiderdorf, yes, the bar was in the Niederdorf, now seemed less sinister (but equally labyrinthine). We were drinking Spanish red wine as people have done there for a century or so, including Lenin who lived for a time in Zürich. A professor, a Scandinavian man who said he taught Norse literature at the University of Zürich, leaned across one of my friends and asked me, “What brings you to the cross-roads of western civilization? James Joyce’s grave?”

“James Joyce’s grave?” I asked, incredulous. This was strange, and ghoulish.

“He lived here after he fled Trieste and the fascists,” said the professor.

I barely heard the professor. I was still hung up on the idea of Zürich as the “crossroads of western civilization.”

The wonder of complete ignorance, such as mine, is that you get to learn things.

Zürich is an ancient city, but most don’t think of it as they do other ancient European cities such as Rome, Athens or London. Zürich has been around in some form for more than 6000 years as village of lake dwellers, a Celtic settlement, an Allemani town, a Roman trading center. On one narrow lane, Thermengasse, leading to the Lindenhof, where the Romans had their palace, a visitor can look through a grating to see ruins of a Roman bath.

***

Before that second Zürich journey, I had read How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill (I bought it thinking it was a joke) and was flabbergasted by the fact that Switzerland’s patron saint is an Irishman, St. Gall. With my last name being “Kennedy” it is probable there is at least one Irishman in the woodpile of my ancestry, so I was curious about this Irishman. My curiosity about St. Gall drew me into an old world that was new to me.

Back in the day (the 7th century) St. Columbanus and St. Gall, and ten other monks, had crossed the English Channel and walked to the Lake of Constance where Gallus became ill and decided to stay behind. Gallus lived as a hermit with twelve converted Germanic monks whom he taught.

Gallus’ hermitage is now (and has been for centuries) an enormous abbey whose library contains  some of the world’s oldest manuscripts. Over the doorway is inscribed, in Greek, “Medicine Chest of the Soul.” Many of the manuscripts are written in languages known to only a few scholars. It touched me deeply that people had, long ago, written important messages to the future that the future could not read.

***

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Martin of Gfenn is an indieBRAG Medallion Honoree (click image)

When we returned to Zürich, my friend’s mother, knowing of my new interest in all things medieval, said, “Take Martha to see the little church at Gfenn.” Gfenn, pronounced “fen,” (a medieval German word meaning “swamp”) is a village north of Zürich.

We arrived at dusk, and the church was locked. But the stone medieval building captured my imagination. We returned the next day, and I learned that it had been built in the 13th century as part of a community of the Knights of St. Lazarus; the Leper Knights of Jerusalem.

Looking at the faded frescoes surrounding the east window of the chapel, I began a journey in space and time that became Martin of Gfenn. It was as if the protagonist of the story, Martin, a young artist with leprosy, had been waiting centuries for someone to tell his story, and I had practiced writing all my life in preparation. The thing is, I knew NOTHING about the crusades, Catholicism, the organization of the military orders, leprosy, fresco painting, medieval European history or about Zürich.

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I began writing Martin of Gfenn in 1998 and had a completed, but not “finished,” manuscript by 2004. I went online hoping to find a Swiss medievalist historian who might be willing to read the book. I found Rainer Hugener, then a graduate student at the University of Zürich. He’d grown up only a few kilometers from Gfenn and had already specialized in the history of the very place where Martin of Gfenn was set. He was excited that anyone — never mind an American — was interested in this tiny dot on the Swiss map. He read the novel. I was concerned about the quality of my research, and Rainer replied that he was stunned by its historical accuracy. I was relieved and happy.

I decided to visit Zürich in March 2005 and I met Rainer on the steps of St. Peter’s church. Rainer had an early map of Zürich, and we used it to go around the city in our own 13th century time machine. This amazing day culminated in a trip north over the Zürichberg (where the zoo is now located) to Gfenn, mostly on foot, a journey Martin had made. Just beyond the zoo are ruins of a medieval Augustinian cloister, St. Martins, a place of which I had no knowledge, but where Rainer imagined the protagonist of my novel had been raised. It was the perfect place.

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Martha at Gfenn

We reached the chapel at Gfenn just before sunset. We took photos and talked about the paintings, about the ruins of Castle Dubelstein on the hillside across the fields, about Rainer’s research. Afterward, I went home with Rainer whose girlfriend at the time, also a historian, had prepared dinner. We sat around the table, sharing fondue and champagne, and I asked them, “How do you guys like being identified as Swiss medievalist historians?”

They laughed and Rainer’s girlfriend said, “What do you think YOU are?”

Wow. I was a Swiss medievalist historian! Martin of Gfenn had brought me there; Zürich had brought me there.

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Second cover edition for Savior, also winner of an indieBRAG Medallion (click image)
Second cover edition for Savior, also winner of an indieBRAG Medallion (click image)

The Commander, one of the characters in Martin of Gfenn, seemed to cry out for me to tell his story, so I had begun Savior in the summer of 2004. In my mind was a location, a hillside, with a castle ruin that I had seen on one of my trips to Switzerland in the 1990s. I made that the location of my story, rebuilt (in my mind) the ruined castle, put a family in it. The location was on the Albis Mountains, a small range of high hills southeast of Zürich, in the Sihl Forest, on the “back” of the Üetliberg, the highest mountain in the Albis chain. Because I’d hiked there, the setting I was imagining felt familiar to me. I imagined the family to be that of a very minor noble, a knight and his wife and sons. One of the sons, the older of the two, would become Commander of the community at Gfenn after a long journey that would include fighting in the Holy Land. I imagined it as a prequel to Martin of Gfenn. By 2005, I had more or less finished what was then called Rudolf when life hit me hard. Writing took a back seat for the next five years.

When Martin of Gfenn was finally published in 2011, I sent several copies to newspapers in and around Zürich, hoping for reviews. The book was received enthusiastically, and I was interviewed by several papers. It was read by English-speaking Swiss, one of whom sent me an email suggesting I had Swiss ancestry. He said many Americans did. In the 18th century Swiss Anabaptists, Mennonites and Amish, had fled Switzerland.

After eating macaroni and cheese in Appenzell in 1997, a dish that, in the first bite, took me back to my grandmother’s kitchen in Billings, Montana, I’d suspected my grandma of being Swiss. At that time, I did a little search, but found nothing. I gave it another shot at this man’s suggestion and there they were, a family named Lunkhofen with close connections to another family with the nickname “Schneebeli.”

The Lunkhofens had lived in a small castle fort on the Albis Mountains above the town of Affoltern am Albis, or “Appletree Village on the Albis,” the very location in which I had envisioned the family. They had two sons. The names I’d given the characters in my story were, all but one, the names of the members of my own family. My family tree provided an ending in which I could believe. Down the road, this discovery led to The Brothers Path.

Learning that part of my OWN story began in this complex, ancient and beloved place made me inexpressibly happy — but it was eerie, too.

***

This past summer I returned to Zürich for the first time since 2005. I saw the streets as familiar old friends I knew not only as they are today, but as I had come to know them through time, through old maps and the footsteps of the characters in my novels.

I met Rainer and his wonderful girlfriend, Kirsten, for dinner. As we planned our meeting, we decided to meet in front of the Grossmünster. Because the focus of my writing had moved on some three hundred years, Rainer met me with maps of 16th century Zürich and surrounding towns. We had dinner in a sidewalk cafe in the Niederdorf. It turned out very “Swiss” as a group of Alphorn players came by and serenaded everyone on the patio.

Martha pointing at the navel of the world
Martha pointing at the navel of the world

We talked as, in my life, only Swiss medievalist historians can.

“How long has it been since you saw each other?” asked Kirsten.

“Ten? Eleven years?” Rainer answered.

“That’s a long time.”

When our dinner was over, and I really had to go, we all walked to the parking garage.

We passed the Cabaret Voltaire, the home of DADA. In 2005 Rainer took a photo of  me pointing up to the “Navel of the World.” That evening, Kirsten took a photo of both of us pointing.

Rainer and Martha

As we said goodbye, Kirsten said, “Don’t wait another eleven years.”

I’m nearly 65. I quickly did the math.

“I won’t. I love Zürich. I’ve missed it.”

“Zürich loves you,” said Rainer.

And I kind of think that might be true when I look at all the gifts Zürich has given me.

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About the author…

Martha Kennedy has published three works of historical fiction. Her first novel, Martin of Gfenn, which tells the story of a young fresco painter living in 13th-century Zürich, was awarded the Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society Indie Review and the BRAG Medallion from IndieBRAG in 2015.

Her second novel, Savior, also an BRAG Medallion Honoree (2016), tells the story of a young man in the 13th century who fights depression — and discovers himself — by going on Crusade.

Her third novel, published in July 2016, The Brothers Path, a loose sequel to Savior, looks at the same families met in Savior three hundred years later as they find their way through the Protestant Reformation.

Kennedy has traveled intensively in Switzerland, journeys that have at once inspired and informed her writing. She has also published many short-stories and articles in a variety of publications from the Denver Post to the Business Communications Quarterly.

martha-kennedy

Kennedy was born in Denver, Colorado and earned her undergraduate degree in American Literature from University of Colorado, Boulder, and her graduate degree in American Literature from the University of Denver. She has taught college and university writing at all levels, business communication, literature and English as a Second Language. For many years she lived in the San Diego area, but has recently returned to Colorado to live in Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley.

All of Martha Kennedy’s novels are available in both paperback and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other online booksellers. You can also contact the author!

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Follow Martha Kennedy to learn more about the author and her books at her website, Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter, Indie B.R.A.G. author page, or her Savior blog and Facebook pages, and the Martin of Gfenn webpage.

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Photos courtesy Martha Kennedy

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Author Martha Kennedy will be signing books at the San Luis Valley Book Fair on December 2. (Click image for more details.)

This post has been updated to replace the copy of Martin of Gfenn‘s cover with the second edition image and add a link to author bio.

Journey to Zürich: The Brothers Path (Book Review)

Today we set off on a new series and bit of a journey to sixteenth-century Zürich, by way of author Martha Kennedy and her magnificently-told tales. Her second novel, Savior, previously reviewed in these pages, brings us next to The Brothers Path and the six Schneebeli brothers, descendants of characters in its predecessor. Stay tuned for more from this wonderful author and what she has to say about it all.

The Brothers Path by Martha Kennedy

the-bros-path-cover-fb-headerIn The Brothers Path, set in 1520s Reformation Switzerland, author Martha Kennedy brings us to an era that often seems to get the short end of the stick in history classes. These are the days of Zwingli and Manz, when infant baptism was rejected, then, by Zwingli, supported. Barely concealing the selling out of his beliefs in exchange for the influential support of the Zürich council, Zwingli rose in prominence and power. Using corruption of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy as an overture, his teachings turned to condemnation of Lenten fasting and the use of images in worship, and promoted clerical marriage. He also re-organized the structure of the Mass.

Manz, for his part, continued his activism against infant baptism believing, as Zwingli had originally declared and Andreas, one of six Schneebeli brothers in The Brothers Path frantically ruminates in the novel’s opening pages,

that children should be baptized only “… after a firm faith had been implanted in their hearts and they had confessed the same with their mouth ….”

Manz’s support of adult baptism led to the refusal of parents to baptize their infants as well as the rise of the Anabaptists—“re-baptizers”—who believed their adult baptismal was the only true one, having come after their own freely chosen confession of faith in Christ. The Anabaptists were ordered by the council to cease their activities; they refused and Manz was executed by drowning under the authority of a newly minted edict outlawing the group’s religious practices.

As the novel opens and Andreas is left alone with his prematurely newborn brother Rudolf, his monk brother Hannes is summoned and Andreas directed to baptize the dying infant. He silently declines, later rebuked by Hannes, who insists the child unable to be buried with its mother in consecrated ground.

In this manner the Reformation propels its way into the Schneebeli household, one of some standing in the village outside Zürich, though past its prime. Hannes, who has been questioning particular angles of his faith, though not his devotion, is the first to realize the forceful manner in which the new ways will overtake the old. He sees some validity in their messages, but sympathizes with Catholics who wish to remain such. It is here that Kennedy’s neutrality really shines in its honor, for she not only gives the old prior at Hannes’s monastery voice, but also a compelling, humane position.

“Look at the women who go to that battered little Virgin.” The prior crossed himself. “They believe she will help them conceive a child. Some leave her money, which we collect and use for the poor. Do these women believe they can ‘buy’ help from that statue? I don’t know. Perhaps. Still, when they return home, their heart is lightened. They have told their troubles and they feel less alone.”

He goes on to assert the power of art distinct from any idolatry and the manner in which each new generation utilizes scripture for their own ends. Hannes expresses his mixed feelings as the two prepare for their church’s denudation—objects newly prohibited for worship will be seized and sold or melted down for money for the poor—and feels gladness upon noticing that the linden-wood Virgin has disappeared, surely taken by the prior to the safety of Einsiedeln or Luzern.

Brother by brother, the author journeys us through the march forward of the new religion, allowing us to bear witness not merely to events that affect them, but also the manner in which the new ways touch all lives. Zwingli’s declarations do not allow for people to “live and let live” or simply keep their heads down, and there is no room in this new order for respecting the beliefs of others as the theocracy some scholars believe he created begins to take shape. Kennedy’s personal religious beliefs do not make themselves apparent because, while those on all sides of the dispute state their criticisms and she gives them free reign to do—it is Zwingli and his forces who oblige their whispers—we recognize the coercive nature of beliefs and the ramifications of such coercion as the destructive agent. When Hannes travels to Zürich for information we are given an early glimpse into the manipulative manner in which the demolition persuades its way into the tolerance of good people.

Jud paused. “Join us. As I said, all of the canton will have to join us sooner or later.”

 “Have to, Brother Jud?”

 “Well, yes. It would be most unkind of us to allow our neighbors, our brothers and sisters to continue on the road of sin, not knowing our Lord and Savior, in thrall to superstitious idolatry, believing they can buy their way into Heaven.”

 Hannes began to fear for the abbey.

It should be noted also, that this is more than a tale of people working or riding their way through a religious crisis. In itself that would be a compelling story, but under Kennedy’s guidance we are gifted scenes in the lives of love, dreams, disappointment, regret, honor, compassion, loyalty and more. With dexterity she lays out, for example, the inner running of Old Johann’s flour mill, written succinctly, but with the detail we need in order to understand the passion he has, a fervency that led to him acquiring it, building it from near nothing and passing it on.

Also striking is the manner in which the family —including extended members, spouses, children and so on—and villagers care for each other and attempt to provide physical, spiritual and emotional shelter for others even when they wrangle. It’s not that Kennedy’s characters are always agreeable; they’re not. They clash with each other, sometimes bitterly, and terrible heartbreak ensues resulting from poor choices paired with selfishness. But they can also pull it all together to act on behalf of those in danger, or simply to live up to the respect they know others deserve, even when the other party had not done the same, especially in the matter of religious belief. This gives reflection to an underlying tenet of what religious perspectives they all do share, of forgiveness and doing unto others, perhaps the most difficult of all.

Throughout the novel, with shifting perspectives and labeled as such at the start of each chapter, the author magnificently transports us from village to city and various scenarios, often via a trail referred to as The Brothers. Named for three brothers, children of two characters in Kennedy’s previous novel, Savior, the pathway provides a link not only to other locations, but also to ancestors and their experiences, and a guide to how they got to be who they are and, ultimately, who they want to be. In better times and in crises, including escape from authorities who have by now begun to bear down on even the lying-low Schneebelis, the trail provides connection, later revealing a discovery that harkens back to a time before the rise of what simply is a new master and a destructive campaign to be free of it.

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Savior is a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree (click image)

Having previously reviewed Savior and come to care about Rudolf, the Schneebelis’ ancestor, it was a small delight to encounter reference to him here. The Brothers Path also continues to confirm Kennedy’s strong sense of a people as she realistically and compellingly paints a portrait of a time with her dialogue, historical events and individuals—including Heinrich Schneebeli, her own ancestor—mingled with those of her imagination, producing a greater understanding of what it was to experience life in a dangerously divided society.

There is great loss in this novel, though as mentioned earlier, it is not merely a catalogue of oppression and war. A glimpse into the Schneebelis’ lives, even during disputes, carries us through the steps of how creeping conversion takes hold and people seek to stand by their values while by necessity quietly resisting. The language is lovely and we can understand, through the awareness of how much family means to these people, how even a character not really all that likeable can come across as sympathetic.

Also as mentioned before, the novel does not take sides—except perhaps with freedom—and the author beautifully presents elements of worship without proselytizing. This, of course, broadens the potential readership, which naturally is a wise strategy, but it isn’t strategy that keeps readers with a book after the first few pages if it isn’t well written. From start to finish the Schneebelis’ story draws reads in, perhaps at first for the expression, later for the family themselves and ultimately what it all means for every one of us. The Brothers Path is another work of art from an award-winning author who generously shares her gift of story with us, and hopefully will again.

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Stay tuned for more from the “Journey to Zürich” series and author Martha Kennedy!

About the author…

Martha Kennedy has published three works of historical fiction. Her first novel, Martin of Gfenn, which tells the story of a young fresco painter living in 13th-century Zürich, was awarded the Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society Indie Review and the BRAG Medallion from IndieBRAG in 2015.

Martha KennedyHer second novel, Savior, also an BRAG Medallion Honoree (2016), tells the story of a young man in the 13th century who fights depression — and discovers himself — by going on Crusade.

Her third novel, published in July 2016, The Brothers Path, a loose sequel to Savior, looks at the same families met in Savior three hundred years later as they find their way through the Protestant Reformation.

Kennedy has traveled intensively in Switzerland, journeys that have at once inspired and informed her writing. She has also published many short-stories and articles in a variety of publications from the Denver Post to the Business Communications Quarterly.

Kennedy was born in Denver, Colorado and earned her undergraduate degree in American Literature from University of Colorado, Boulder, and her graduate degree in American Literature from the University of Denver. She has taught college and university writing at all levels, business communication, literature and English as a Second Language. For many years she lived in the San Diego area, but has recently returned to Colorado to live in Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley.

All of Martha Kennedy’s novels are available in both paperback and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other online booksellers. You can also contact the author!

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Follow Martha Kennedy to learn more about the author and her books at her website, Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter, Indie B.R.A.G. author page, or her Savior blog and Facebook pages.

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The blogger was furnished with a free copy of The Brothers Path to facilitate an honest review.

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Book Review: Savior

Savior by Martha Kennedy

A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

savior-2-edition-coverSavior is Martha Kennedy’s poignant tale of Rudolf and his brother Conrad, inhabitants of thirteenth-century Zürich and a society immersed in religion and warfare. Rudolf suffers from depression, a condition he is counseled comes from Satan and can be eradicated in a fight to save the world from such sin. A local priest explains that with Jerusalem once more in the hands of the infidel, who “wasted no time in desecrating the holy sites and persecuting Christians living within its walls,” fighting these invaders would help to expiate sin and contribute to his salvation.

Kennedy opens Savior with a quote from St. Augustine that reflects Rudolf’s state of mind—“I bore a shattered and bleeding soul,” it reads in part—and a downpour reflecting the emotion, as if nature herself was as anguished. No amount of service to travelers escaping the downpour, or joy in his fiancée, Gretchen, eases Rudolf’s internal torture.

Conrad, on the other hand, is restless and though negative about Gretchen or some content of the minnesingers’ songs, sees a bright future elsewhere, such as under the tutelage of a knight, who could teach him the rules of chivalry. He longs to see the reality behind the travelers’ wonderful stories, so filled with the strange and faraway, the wild and brave. One could easily imagine Conrad delighting in The Travels of Sir John Mandeville had he known of even the outlandish within the travelogue, yet to be published.

Thus begins Rudolf’s aim to join the latest Crusade, following his own examination on the roots of his torment, and Conrad’s in his quest for adventure and something beyond the confines of the Longfields’ estate and his father’s goal for him, to serve his brother as a stable hand.

Image from first edition cover: Herzog von Anhalt from Codex Manesse (Wikimedia Commons)

As the boys prepare to leave, Kennedy alternates between Rudolf and Conrad and their conversations with those who seek to dissuade them. Through expressive, sometimes heartbreaking, dialogue readers are given an internal view to the opposing motivations of each to make the dangerous journey, the same their father had made in his own youth, and which had driven their mother close to the brink: Rudolf, to rid himself of feeling suffocated by the presence of evil, Conrad to “be[come] the hero of his own romance.”

One of the first features I noticed in Savior was the manner in which Kennedy brings to life not only her characters, but also the emotion swirling through so many scenes, while simultaneously managing its effect and keeping it out of the realm of the overwhelming. Readers feel each mood as it hovers, and the author consummately provides the history that we need to know behind each person’s perception.

Despite their opposing motivation both Rudolf and Conrad search for self, and the dialogue, whether between the brothers or one of them and a supporting character, reflects this intuitively. It is as if Kennedy overheard and recorded real conversations rather than created ones that sought to speak from distinct perspectives.

Character growth in Savior is depicted beautifully, largely utilizing the author’s dialogue expertise but also the internal discourse of several characters, including that which plagues and then begins to inform Rudolf as he faces the terrible reality of war, and the now-porous walls of his depressive prison. While his understanding is not exactly as he thought it might be, there is a greater openness to his examination that questions circumstances while retaining the devotion he had always known.

Kennedy wisely allows Rudolf to be the thirteenth-century man he is rather than forcing on him either genuine modern sensibilities or political correctness, while truthfully opening his understanding to the political machinations that had made their way into bonafide belief. The changes wrought by invasion and crusading alters his individual world and eventually society as a whole, and the pain of that transition is felt in Rudolf’s experiences.

Through the current trendiness of Christianity bashing in our own time, it would be easy to label Savior as an indictment of the religion given its early misdirection. While Kennedy does not pull her punches in illuminating the misdeeds of those who abused power and manipulated religiosity, she does also address human failure to recognize the beauty Rudolf’s God desires for him, and how ignorance is the main driver behind misinformation treated as the nature of God.

“Brother Youhanna, did those priests lie when they said my sins would be forgiven if I came to fight the infidel?”

 “Lying? No, yet I doubt they spoke the truth. They spoke from their beliefs, in the limits of their understanding, but Truth is not carried on the edge of a sword.

 “But if the Holy Father in Rome told them, would it not be the truth?”

 Youhanna shrugged.

 Rudolf never imagined the Holy Father could speak anything other than the truth. “What then?”

 “Confusion. Desire. Blindness. Anger. No one is free.”

As historical fiction the novel is top notch. Kennedy brings readers to the brutal Battle of La Forbie where injections of stark prose match what lay out in front of the arriving fighters: too few of them—the Hospitaller leader looks at them “thinking only that they had come to die”—horrendous confidence-destroying heat—shedding layers of protection one at a time, eventually succumbing grievously to, “Who cared if a sniper’s arrow picked them off? They were in Hell now. Death would bring Heaven”—and locals trying to “redeem themselves for the crime of survival.”

From their position on the coast to de Brienne’s impatient and premature strike from a disadvantageous terrain, Kennedy remains true to historic events, smoothly writing in both Conrad and Rudolf’s places in and before the battle. Rudolf experiences a watershed moment, flawlessly written into a scene leading to the moments both he and the fighters have been waiting for. A bridge in the novel, it is filled with an array of memories, sensations, activities and song of the minnesinger, and displays an achingly beautiful passage of time both ghastly and poetic, a combination not often seen done, even less often done as well as it is here.

While Savior is a work of historical fiction set in a time when religion was a way of life and not just part of it, it also is a coming-of-age story, though related within a cultural milieu so different to many of the same stories of today. This is not a Vietnam, or a coming to grips with gruesome urban events, and though it retains the spiritual with its mood and prodigal son angle, it opens itself to readers in its search for truth, an age-old quest, even while appearing in some ways so foreign to what many readers will know, such as medieval attitudes toward mental illness. It is also a book audiences will want to read again and again, it being easily recognizable as one with layers that often reveal themselves upon subsequent visitations, which I highly recommend.

Monk beating Satan (Wikimedia Commons)
Monk beating Satan (Wikimedia Commons)

About the author…

Martha Kennedy has published three works of historical fiction. Her first novel, Martin of Gfenn, which tells the story of a young fresco painter living in 13th-century Zürich, was awarded the Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society Indie Review and the BRAG Medallion from IndieBRAG in 2015.

Her second novel, Savior, also an BRAG Medallion Honoree (2016), tells the story of a young man in the 13th century who fights depression — and discovers himself — by going on Crusade.

Martha KennedyHer third novel, published in July 2016, The Brothers Path, a loose sequel to Savior, looks at the same families met in Savior three hundred years later as they find their way through the Protestant Reformation.

Kennedy has traveled intensively in Switzerland, journeys that have at once inspired and informed her writing. She has also published many short-stories and articles in a variety of publications from the Denver Post to the Business Communications Quarterly.

Kennedy was born in Denver, Colorado and earned her undergraduate degree in American Literature from University of Colorado, Boulder, and her graduate degree in American Literature from the University of Denver. She has taught college and university writing at all levels, business communication, literature and English as a Second Language. For many years she lived in the San Diego area,but has recently returned to Colorado to live in Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley.

All of Martha Kennedy’s novels are available in both paperback and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other online booksellers. You can also contact the author!

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Follow Martha Kennedy to learn more about the author and her books at her websiteFacebookAmazonGoodreads, Twitter, or her Savior blog  and Facebook pages.

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The blogger was furnished with a free copy of Savior in exchange for an honest review.

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Photos courtesy of and provided by the author.