Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Blessed Are The Meek by Zofia Kossak

I haven’t been very active in the blogosphere for the past week and I am even two books behind with reading :o, but it’s all due to me having come down with a flu and you all know what that’s like: not much sleep, everything aches and your head hurts to even look at the letters of a book page. All and all, not a pleasant state to be in. Thankfully, I am coming out of it now so I should be “up and running” soon.

I did manage to finish one book this week. I decided to read Blessed Are the Meek by Zofia Kossak for three reasons. One, it’s a historical fiction book and I always enjoy this genre; two, its subtitle is A Novel About St. Francis of Assisi and I have always wanted to read more about this amazing (in my opinion) person; and three, it’s written by a Polish writer of whom I had not surprisingly heard before, despite the fact that spending the first 25 years of my life in Poland I should be well versed in Polish literature.

The action of this novel is set in the early 13th century, in the times of the fifth Crusade whose purpose was to take the Holy Land from the hands of Moslems. Pope Innocent III is ruling the Christendom and is obsessed with his people’s lack of enthusiasm and will to fight the Crusade to win back the Holy Sepulchre. Instead of mighty knights, little children are gathering to fight for Jerusalem. These little ones form the tragic in its consequences Children’s Crusade. At the same time, little known monk, Francis of Assisi comes to Rome with his band of brothers to ask the Pope for the permission to create an official Order. Despite all the odds against Francis, he gets the Pope’s approval and the Oder of brothers Minor is created. In the meantime, the French knight Jean de Brienne goes to Palestine and marries a young queen Marie to become the King of Jerusalem. However, he leaves behind Blanche, Countess of Champagne, who is the true love of his. The fifth Crusade is finally in full swing but instead of marching to the Holy Land, its action is directed towards Egypt and the ruling Sultan.

There is a lot going on in Blessed Are the Meek. And for that reason, I wasn’t particularly crazy about this book. I don’t mind many characters being introduced in a novel, I actually enjoy reading true sagas where many different characters take up the center stage at one point or another. However, this novel was not long enough to have so many events and so many people crammed into it. The effect was that instead of one major plot, there were a few and none of them were elaborated upon and left me disappointed and not truly absorbed in any of them. The most disappointing part was that Francis of Assisi is not the subject of this book. His story is fragmented and keeps disappearing from the pages to give way to other events and there is no continuity which made me feel very frustrated because his life and the way people listened to him with rapture and followed this poor, meek agent of Christ happened to be also the most engaging one. But as soon as my interest got spiked and I started to be engaged in the story, it would break off and the action would move on to the Pope or the happenings in Egypt. I don’t know whether it’s the fault of the translator or the author of the book. I can only speculate here as I didn’t read Blessed Are the Meek in its original language (one day I will, considering that it’s my native language). All I can say is that this book had a great potential that wasn’t fulfilled and instead, the plots seemed superficial and the reading was very slow and laborious. But who knows, maybe if I weren’t sick I would have been more positive towards it.