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The Secret Supper: A Novelby Javier Sierra
Synopses & Reviews
The most-talked-about international bestseller of the year!
Tightly paced and atmospheric, The Secret Supper is a dazzling historical thriller with a unique vision of both Leonardo da Vinci's genius and his masterpiece — which you will never look at in the same way again.
Milan, 1497: Leonardo is completing The Last Supper. Pope Alexander VI is determined to execute him after realizing that the painting contains clues to a baffling — and blasphemous — message that he is driven to decode. The Holy Grail and the Eucharistic Bread are missing, there is no meat on the table, and the apostles, shockingly, are portraits of well-known heretics — and none of them are depicted with halos. And why has the artist painted himself into the scene with his back turned toward Jesus? The clues to Leonardo's greatest puzzle are right before your eyes...
"Set in the late 15th century, Sierra's first book translated into English revolves around a papal inquisitor's investigation into Leonardo da Vinci's alleged heresies and offers a new way of interpreting The Last Supper. After receiving a series of cryptic messages from 'the Soothsayer,' who warns the 15th century church that 'art can be employed as a weapon,' the Secretariat of Keys of the Papal States dispatches Father Agostino Leyre on a twofold mission to Milan: identify the Soothsayer and discover what, if any, messages da Vinci is hiding in the painting. Leyre, who narrates, views the in-progress Last Supper at the Santa Maria delle Grazie and becomes fascinated. He makes a series of sometimes muddled discoveries about the painting, leading up to his interpretation of the painting's true meaning (not revealed until the last line of the last page). Those not well versed in Catholic history may have trouble following the many subplots involving factionalism and dissent within the church. The combination of code breaking, secrecy, chicanery within the Catholic Church and a certain artist is by now a familiar one, but Sierra's book, already a bestseller in Europe, is a fresh contribution to the da Vinci industry." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"What should we call a large group of conspiracy theorists? A British reviewer wryly suggests 'a connivance.' There are certainly enough writers in pursuit of Mary Magdalene's supposed French descendants to make up a large connivance. Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code' has sold more than 40 million hardcover copies in 44 languages, and conspiracy mavens will be hard-put to imagine it is coincidence that... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) two related novels are appearing in the same season that finally sees the paperback publication of 'The Da Vinci Code' and the premiere of a movie version. So the billion-dollar question here is whether or not these two candidates for the brotherhood of connivers will challenge Brown, who sits securely on a mile-high stack of best-sellers. The quick answer is 'no.' 'The Priest's Madonna,' written by Iowa Writers' Workshop graduate Amy Hassinger, stands shyly in the clubhouse doorway, unlikely to be admitted. Javier Sierra's 'The Secret Supper,' with more than 300,000 sold in Spain already, mounts a more serious challenge, but it lacks the contemporary pizzazz and love interest. Explanations for why 'The Da Vinci Code' has become the holy grail of publishing are legion, but essentially Brown brings to life a titillating alternative version of the underpinnings of Christianity. His fast-moving thriller invites readers to feel smart, enlightened and perhaps vindicated in their feelings that the established Church teeters on the boundaries of myth and greed. But the fundamental difference between 'The Da Vinci Code' and 'The Secret Supper' is that Robert Langdon, Brown's protagonist, lives very much in the 21st century. Sierra's narrative, on the other hand, plays out its intrigues against a background of 15th-century Milan: the powerful Sforza family, their patronage of the artistic and military genius Leonardo da Vinci and the despotic, sometimes violent rule of the Catholic Church. Sierra's narrator, Father Agostino Leyre, a former ecclesiastical inquisitor, is now a hermit living in exile in an Egyptian desert. In his old age, he seems a little cuddly for an inquisitor who once had the power to torture and kill anyone rash enough to argue with the Church, but he is now seeking to ease his conscience by leaving behind a full account of a story never told: of art, religion and murder, played out years before. In January 1497, Father Agostino was sent to Milan by the Vatican to investigate accusations of heresy surfacing in anonymous, mysteriously encoded messages signed only 'The Soothsayer.' The messages included a Latin riddle that Agostino felt would identify the sender. He suspected the heretics might be descendants of the Cathars, a Gnostic sect that had threatened the very heart of Vatican rule a century earlier. For the Cathars, true faith meant establishing a direct relationship with God, without the need for the Church. Smelling a profound threat, Pope Innocent III ordered the massacre of more than 200 Cathars in 1244. The Vatican was prepared to go to any lengths to exterminate secret survivors. When Agostino reaches Milan, mysterious murders occur, and he gains access to the incomplete mural of 'The Last Supper' being painting by da Vinci. Here Sierra claims one advantage over Brown: 'The Secret Supper's' fictional decoding of the famous painting relies on details uncovered by the 10-year restoration completed in 1997. The apostle Peter was revealed to be holding a dagger, and Sierra claims that Leonardo portrayed himself as Judas Thaddeus (St. Jude). Tellingly, the Leonardo/apostle has his back turned to Jesus and is talking to Simon — modeled, according to Sierra, from a bust of no less a skeptic than Plato. So 'The Last Supper' being painted in the heart of a Milanese Catholic monastery is in effect a poster proclaiming a Christian church radically different from the church founded by St. Peter. Hassinger's 'The Priest's Madonna' is not well-served by comparison with 'The Secret Supper.' She has carefully created a story based on an actual Catholic priest who served in the French village of Rennes-le-Chateau. Father Berenger Sauniere became mysteriously rich while serving his rural and impoverished parish. He also was rumored to have taken a mistress from the village, Marie Denarnaud, to live with him in an ornate villa he built surrounded by landscaped gardens. The adjective that springs uncomfortably to mind when reading this novel is 'earnest.' The life of the villagers is meticulously documented, but the mystery of the hidden tomb and the missing book that is to shake the Church to its foundations never becomes compelling. The clear choice here for fans of religious conspiracy and reinterpretations of religious history is 'The Secret Supper.' Its atmosphere of intrigue and the closed life of the monastery feel authentic, and the lonely old narrator in a desert cave is a good companion. His final explication of the secret message in da Vinci's 'Last Supper' requires a good head for games (Sudoku and crossword skills will come in handy), but here's one hint: According to Sierra, Leonardo's painting clearly tells us that Judas Iscariot did not betray Jesus. Brigitte Weeks is a former editor of The Washington Post Book World." Reviewed by Brigitte Weeks, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Sierra is a more sophisticated writer than Dan Brown, and he offers fresh perspective on the Renaissance mind." Kirkus Reviews
"Sierra's novel...fails to replicate Brown's pace and power....
"Sierra writes an intricate, involving and suspenseful story....Sierra emerges as a strong contender in historical fiction with his mostly well-crafted book....
"Secret Supper is...possibly more confusing than The Da Vinci Code, but it is a good read in its own right." Library Journal
Already an international phenomenon, this riveting novel depicts a deadly game of wits between the brilliant but religiously suspect Leonardo Da Vinci and a Dominican inquisitor who is intent on bringing him to trial for heresy.
About the Author
Javier Sierra lives in Málaga on the Costa del Sol, Spain. He has written on the secrets of the Templars, the mystical nun María Jesús of Ágreda, and the enigmas of lost civilizations. All of his novels have a "secret" common purpose: to solve historical mysteries based on real documentation and extensive field research. A bestseller throughout the Spanish-speaking world, The Secret Supper is now being published in thirty-five countries.
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