Tuesday, December 2, 2014

#59 "The Sisterhood" by Helen Bryan

The Sisterhood (2013) by Helen Bryan was the latest selection of my local book club. I didn't choose this one and hadn't heard of it, but it looked interesting so I began it willingly enough. The Sisterhood is an ambitious novel that travels jumps almost 500 years and across continents: from Spain, to South America, to southern United States.

Menina Walker was found as a toddler, alone in a boat after a terrible hurricane in South America. There was no sign of her family, but she had an old medallion wrapped around her neck. She is brought to a convent orphanage and from there adopted by an American couple. The nuns at the convent send an old book that matches the medal along with Menina's new parents to give to her when she's sixteen.

Menina grows up as a good child and a people-pleaser. She does well in school and finds an interest in art. By the time she's nineteen, she's engaged to the rich, young bachelor of the town who is all about old money and politics. When the engagement falls through because her fiance is the worst fiance in the world, Menina runs off to Spain to work on her college thesis. Following a large number of very improbable coincidences that can only be explained through the work of fate or god, Menina ends up at the convent where her and her medal originated from. She spends time there, learning about five women who came to the convent seeking safety almost five hundred years before from some pretty horrible, violent men in the midst of the Spanish Inquisition.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book. The brutality and hypocrisy of the Inquisition were on sharp display as we learned about the women fleeing to the convent for safety. It also had a feel of women empowerment as we could see what a great difference the nuns were making in people's lives. The mystery of where Menina came from and the stories hidden in her book kept me intrigued. Bryan also managed to intertwine the theme of violence against women throughout history, which was moving. Unfortunately, I did feel that by the end, Bryan bit off more than she could chew. The stories of the women grow shorter and more stunted as the book continues, and the end of the book felt rushed. I think to be really satisfying, this book would have to be much longer, or Bryan should have kept her focus in Spain. I also felt that she tied up some loose ends with happily ever after relationships that were unnecessary and undermined what she'd been building throughout the book.

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