In the past few weeks I have read two books about nuns. No, I did not go looking for books about nuns, I am reading everything by author Ron Hansen, hoping his expertise in historical fiction will rub off, and two of his books just happened to be about nuns.
My experience with nuns has been limited. Of course, there was Sally Field flying around the convent and Whoopi Goldberg hiding from the bad guys that almost made Nun-dom look like fun. But, I’ve had such little contact with “real” nuns that I’ve always considered them mysterious, even mystical women.
So now I’ve read two books, works of fiction, mostly, but fiction so well written that the nuns came to life on the pages. And although the stories were both very powerful, the education I received in Nun-hood was priceless.
Exiles by Ron Hansen is the story of five German nuns, destined for
, who die on the steamship Deutschland. The story is told alongside a second narrative, that of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a priest and poet who was so taken with the story of the nuns that he wrote a very detailed poem about their experience called “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” Hopkins and the nuns are real people, their stories fictionalized. Although the ending of the story, the death of the nuns, is already known, it is the telling of their story that is exceptional. America
Mariette in Ecstasy, also by Ron Hansen, is a fictional account of a young postulate in 1906 who develops the five holy wounds of Christ, stigmata. Half of the other nuns in the convent think she is a saint. The others think she has wounded herself for attention. It is a beautiful story, one that definitely makes you think and (one of my favorite things), has a surprise ending.
I’m not a big follower of “nun literature”, nor do I seek out these types of books in general. However, I do feel like I now know a little bit more about those amazing, mysterious, mystical women and recommend both of these books to my reader friends.