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The Tulip and the Popeby Deborah Larsen
Synopses & Reviews
In the heat of midsummer, in 1960, nineteen-year-old Deborah and several other young women share a cab to a convent on the Iowa bluffs of the Mississippi River. The girls, passionate to become nuns, heedless of all they are leaving behind, smoke their last cigarettes along the way and enter their life as postulants. In the same precise and beautifully crafted prose that distinguished her successful novel The White ("a brutal and beautiful novel" New York Times), Larsen's memoir lets us into the hushed life inside the convent. We learn about such practices as custody of the eyes, the proper devotion to the rule of one's superiors, and the importance of avoiding particular friendships. Her intimate episodic account captures the exquisite sense of peace — even of Presence — that dwelt among the women, as well as the strangeness of living under such strict rules. Gradually, she admits to a growing awareness that there is much life and beauty outside the motherhouse, which she is missing. The physical world — the lush experience of the tulip she stared at in the garden as a girl, the snow she tunneled in, and even the mystery of sex — begins to seem to her a significant alternative theater for a deep understanding and love of God.
With The Tulip and the Pope, Larsen delivers a swift and moving exploration of Christian experience and young womanhood in a more innocent time, and a message of devotion that extends far beyond the high walls of the convent.
"In July of 1960, 19-year-old Larsen (then Deborah Maertz) smoked a final cigarette before walking through the doors of Mount Carmel convent in Dubuque, Iowa. Inspired by Sister Luke in the 1956 novel The Nun's Story, she was determined to be a perfect nun, though she somehow overlooked Sister Luke's little problem with the vow of obedience. Along with theology and scripture, she studied posture and movement, hygiene and manners, French and 'custody of the eyes' (how to avoid being distracted by one's surroundings). She practiced silence, performed menial tasks and prayed daily, always following her order's rule while increasingly hungering for sensory experiences: 'The fabrics I [touched] were black and white serge, wool, cotton. There was no crushed velvet, no fleece, no angora, and no slubbed silk.' In 1965, after a year of college in Chicago and many visits with her confessor, she decided not to make her final vows. One among thousands of American nuns to leave religious life during the tumultuous 1960s, Larsen is now a writing teacher, poet (Stitching Porcelain) and novelist (The White). Affectionate rather than bitter, her memoir is a richly detailed reminiscence of convent life and a sensitive evocation of a young Catholic woman's coming-of-age. (Sept. 6)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Stringing together a series of descriptive vignettes and anecdotes, Larsen has cobbled together a refreshingly respectful memoir of the often-soothing tenor of convent life and the spiritual and temporal range of one young nun's experiences." Booklist
"Broken up into numerous short sections that make for relatively easy reading, hers is an in-depth description of convent life....
"Lyrical, subtle memoir." Kirkus Reviews
"The Tulip and the Pope is a fine portrait both of a religious order just before dramatic change in the Catholic Church and of one young woman's time of upheaval." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Larsen's moving exploration of life inside a convent speaks to readers in its clarity and with its message of devotion that extends beyond the high convent walls.
About the Author
Deborah Larsen grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and currently lives in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. She teaches writing at Gettysburg College, where she holds the Merle S. Boyer Chair.
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