On the northwest shore of Manhattan sits an imposing collection of medieval cloisters imported from France. In the 1950s, a young Catholic priest wanders into this serene space and meets Rachael, a Parisian Holocaust survivor. Tentatively yet bravely, she introduces him to the work of medieval scholar Peter Abelard and unwittingly pushes him to a crisis of faith. Their story is interwoven with that of Abelard and Heloise themselves. The reader is immersed in love stories large and small, tales of great courage, and the contemplation of Church crimes both ancient and modern. Carroll has written a deeply moving, immersive story on the nature of evil, the corruption of power, and how love, faith, and the pursuit of knowledge are the flames of hope in the darkness. Recommended By Kathi K., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
From National Book Award-winning writer James Carroll comes a novel of the timeless love story of Peter Abelard and Héloïse, and its impact on a modern priest and a Holocaust survivor seeking sanctuary in Manhattan.
Father Michael Kavanagh is shocked to see a friend from his seminary days named Runner Malloy at the altar of his humble Inwood community parish. Wondering about their past, he wanders into the medieval haven of The Cloisters, and begins a conversation with a lovely and intriguing museum guide, Rachel Vedette.
Rachel, a scholar of medieval history, has retreated to the quiet of The Cloisters after her harrowing experience as a Jewish woman in France during the Holocaust. She ponders her late father's greatest intellectual work: a study demonstrating the relationship between the famously discredited monk Peter Abelard and Jewish scholars. Something about Father Kavanagh makes Rachel think he might appreciate her continued studies, and she shares with him the work that cost her father his life.
At the center of these interrelated stories is the classic romance between the great scholar Peter Abelard and his intellectual equal Héloïse. For Rachel, Abelard is the key to understanding her people's place in intellectual history. For Kavanagh, he is a doorway to understanding the life he might have had outside of the Church. The Cloister is James Carroll at his best.
"In The Cloister, Carroll has produced a sweeping, beautifully crafted book--perhaps his best yet."
Wall Street Journal
"A literary detective game . . . In pushing his readers--in both his fiction and nonfiction--to ponder tough religious topics . . . Carroll is continuing the important discussions made famous by Peter Abelard."
New York Journal of Books
"With his familiar deftness and depth, James Carroll weaves a profound and compelling novel from diverse but overlapping narrative strands. From the conversations between a Catholic priest and a French Jewish woman in mid-twentieth century New York to the brutality of Nazi-occupied Paris to the great medieval love story of Abelard and Heloïse, The Cloister illuminates life's most vital questions and proposes inspiring, radical, and timely answers."
Claire Messud, New York Times bestselling author of The Burning Girl and The Emperor’s Children
"James Carroll has written an enlightening, vitally important book, a necessity for our time."
Maxine Hong Kingston, author of I Love a Broad Margin to My Life
"I didn’t know I needed this novel until I read it. As unflinching about the Holocaust as it is about the Crusades, The Cloister is a fearless exploration of the violent foundations on which our own historical inheritance rests. And like all the best fiction, it commandeers the reader’s heart."
Rachel Kadish, author of The Weight of Ink
"A sweeping, heartbreaking blend of history and fiction. . . [its] entwined stories move at an engrossing rhythm, making this a very magnetic, satisfying novel."
"Fascinating in its evocation of the twelfth-century Catholic Church in France, this lavishly detailed historical novel serves as an education in historical philosophy, a poignant tale of devoted love, and a portrait of a postwar human crisis influenced heavily by both . . . This is definitely a thought-provoking book." Booklist
"A novel that shifts seamlessly between epic love story, the anatomy of a crisis of faith, family tragedy and trauma survival saga . . . Both moving and enlightening, The Cloister will engross readers."
About the Author
James Carroll is a distinguished scholar in residence at Suffolk University and a columnist for The Boston Globe. He is the author of ten novels and seven works of fiction. He lives in Boston.