Saturday, April 04, 2009
The Road to Damietta
I just finished the adolescent book, The Road to Damietta. First of all, I don't think this is a good example of adolescent lit. I think most teenagers lack the background knowledge (13th Century, city-states of Italy, Catholicism, the Crusades, etc). and interest for this book. Honestly, I had a hard time getting through the first 200 pages (although the last 100 pages were very good - I read them in one sitting).
I originally bought the book because I saw it was a historical fiction novel about St. Francis of Assisi. I love St. Francis - he's one of my favorite saints. Unfortunately, his character is not as prominent as the narrator, a selfish young noblewoman named Ricca. I did not like or connect with her character, at all. Throughout the book, Ricca believes she is in love with St. Francis. She follows his life as he changes from a fun-loving, merchant's son into a devoutly religious man.
Although she has few actual interactions with him, her family disapproves of her obsession. As punishment, her father requires her to work as a copyist in the family's library/archive. Much of the first 200 pages describes her work making copies and illuminating those copies. After realizing that the work has done little to diminish Ricca's "love" for St. Francis, her father sends her to a nunnery in Venice.
After spending quite some time in Venice (the book doesn't give a definite time, but I assumed it was 1-2 years), Ricca learns that St. Francis is set to sail to Egypt with the Crusaders. She decides to follow him there, offering to translate for him. This was the best section of the book (the final 100 pages). It gave an excellent description of the Crusade, the city of Damietta, and the sultan, Malik-al-Kamil. I've been looking for a good book on the Crusades for the past 2 years, and had yet to find one. Although I choose to read this book to learn more about the life of St. Francis, I enjoyed it because of the portrayal of the 5th Crusade.
Despite not being a huge fan of this book, I still very much enjoyed the lessons learned from the life of St. Francis, including his prayer:
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sorrow, joy.