Before he became the sainted church father of Christianity, Augustine of Hippo began a love affair with a young woman whose name has been lost to history. They were together for over thirteen years, and she bore him a son. This is her story.- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
She met Augustine in Carthage when she was just seventeen years old. She was the daughter of a tile-layer. He was a student and the heir to a fortune. They fell in love, despite her lower station and Augustine’s dreams of greatness. Their passion was strong, but the only position in his life that was available to her was as his concubine. When Augustine’s ambition and family compelled him to disown his relationship with the her, X was thrust into a devastating reality as she was torn from her son and sent away to her native Africa.
A reflection of what it means to love and lose, this novel paints a gripping and raw portrait of ancient culture, appealing to historical fiction fans while deftly exploring one woman’s search for identity and happiness within very limited circumstances.
One thing that attracted me to this book was the background of the author. British born (always a plus when it’s by a compatriot) and a Cambridge Graduate- and besides- Augustine lived in a period that just about counts as the beginning of the Medieval era. So……
Overall, I liked The Confessions of X a lot. The writing style was wonderfully descriptive and evocative of the world and environment of the characters, giving a sense of sights, sounds and smells. As someone who’s actually travelled to North Africa, the details of that region were fascinating.
The intent of telling the story of an unnamed women, lost to history was well achieved, with believable portrayals of many of the key characters and their relationships. The love between Augustine and X was one that one could feel was genuine. I would say the treatment of the relationship between the protagonists is less like the mushiness one finds in a lot of romances. However- there were, as others have pointed out, a number of sexual references, which, although not graphic- were descriptive- and at times a little too much. I guess I really didn’t want or need to know about.
In terms of the historical content- the characters seemed to be mostly ‘of their time’, although many of Augustine’s beliefs about Christianity before his conversion seemed to mirror those of modern sceptics and atheists, rather than a Platonist, and adherent to a Late Roman pseudo-Christian sect. Clearly, most of the details of the story were meticulously researched (despite the odd modern Americanism- like the characters talking about the season of ‘fall’).
Other reviewers have questioned the inclusion of this story in the Christian fiction genre, as the protagonist’s religious affiliations are decidedly ambiguous (I would say she leans more on the side of pagan than Christian)- and because of the nature of her status in relation to Augustine- his concubine instead of his wife. In this regard, though I don’t mean to condone illicit sexual relations, it’s hard to ignore that various biblical figures had concubines and this was not something they were condemned for.
I would personally leave it to the reader’s discretion whether they wish to count this as Christian fiction or not. It’s certainly a touching, moving and fascinating story of love and loss.
I received a free e-book edition of this title courtesy of the publisher via Booklook Bloggers for the purposes of review. I was not required to write a positive one, and all opinions expressed are my own.