Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Title: Luther and Katharina
Author: Jody Hedlund
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
Pages: 386

The book begins on a cliff hanging note. Katharina von Bora, dedicated to the convent as a five-year-old, is preparing to jump off the second storey window, and escape to a new life, along with eleven other nuns.

In the outside world, Martin Luther’s writings have already begun to incite a revolution. Katharina and her fellow nuns who have read his writings, which were smuggled into the abbey, have been infused with hope that God’s salvation will not be denied to those who have a family.

When it becomes too hard for the sisters to stay in the Black Cloister, Luther arranges homes for them. Katharina is assigned as a servant in the home of Elsa Reichenbach, the mayor’s wife.

Both Luther and Katharina struggle against the growing attraction they feel for each other. Luther’s own life is in danger and he cannot bear to endanger another’s. Katharina, having long been deprived of the privileges that are hers by birth, longs for them and cannot bear to think of herself as a commoner.

I found myself warming to the character of Katharina from the beginning. She is an amazing character and we begin to appreciate her in the slow manner that Luther does, even though her character failings are all too apparent. She feels entitled by virtue of her high-class birth and wishes to live a life of ease. She cannot see the sliminess of Jerome Baumgartner, a rake who only wants to bed her. Of course, she has spent the greater part of her life in the abbey, and has therefore no idea about the true nature of people. Even so, the obstinacy with which she clings to the trappings of high class is annoying.

These failings are offset by her deep sense of compassion, her willingness to help those in need, her deep affection even for her maid, Greta, and the sense of rejection and abandonment she carries with her ever since her father left her at the convent.

It is this good nature that causes Katharina to deny herself to Luther, first out of loyalty to her friend, Margaret, who is infatuated with him. Over the course of the book, I admired the transformation in her as she slowly began to understand that birth and status mean nothing.

I also liked the character of Justus Jones, Luther’s friend, for his biting sense of humour, his support of Luther and his willingness to speak to Katharina, when Luther won’t.

The writing is beautiful in its simplicity, evoking tender word images, Her blue eyes frosted like the water in his wash basin most spring mornings, that make the book come alive like a slowly crackling fire on a cold day. The descriptions are the kind that you would not want to skip. The account of the grisly sight of the hangings brought a lump to my throat.

Slowly we become aware of how Martin Luther’s preaching incites a revolution among the long-oppressed peasants who have been harassed by the clergy and the nobility. His outspokenness against the corruption and the dishonesty rampant amid the clergy of the time comes through clearly. He dismisses the relics in the abbey with these words: There are enough pieces of the true cross here to build a house. We also get an idea of how the peasants took the law into their own hands, plunging the countryside into chaos.

The history of the protests against the Catholic Church of the time comes alive. We realize the extent of the profligacy of the clergy, the corruption in the sale of relics and indulgences, the reign of fear practiced by the clergy and the nobility.

I found the Germanic custom of consummating the union in the presence of a witness rather weird.

It helped that I did not know anything about the life of Luther and Katharina. I wasn’t caught up in wondering which parts were true and which were fiction. It was only after I had finished reading the book that I began to read about the history of Luther and Katharina, and was amazed at how true Jody had stayed to the original account, while adding some uniquely fictional touches to build her story up.

The author succeeds in weaving history into this love story at appropriate moments well enough, in order to bring back memories of our history lessons learned decades ago, particularly the period of the Reformation against the Catholic Church of the time. Her research on the historical events that transpired at the time is commendable. We get a sense of the Reformation coming to a culmination, even as the unacknowledged love of Luther and Katharina comes to a crescendo.

Of course, the love story irritated me at times because neither party seemed to be willing to admit their feelings, hiding behind the façade of obligation, and Katharina just would not let go of her regret at having to marry a commoner.

I have not read love stories in a long time so the enjoyment that I derived from this one came as a total surprise to me.

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

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