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In the heat of midsummer, in 1960, nineteen-year-old Deborah and several other young women share a cab to a convent on the Iowa bluffs of the Mississippi River. The girls, passionate to become nuns, heedless of all they are leaving behind, smoke their last cigarettes along the way and enter their life as postulants. In the same precise and beautifully crafted prose that distinguished her successful novel The White (“a brutal and beautiful novel”–The New York Times), Larsen’s memoir lets us into the hushed life inside the convent. We learn about such practices as “custody of the eyes,” the proper devotion to the rule of one’s superiors, and the importance of avoiding “particular friendships.” Her intimate episodic account captures the exquisite sense of peace–even of Presence–that dwelt among the women, as well as the strangeness of living under such strict rules. Gradually, she admits to a growing awareness that there is much life and beauty outside the motherhouse, which she is missing. The physical world–the lush experience of the tulip she stared at in the garden as a girl, the snow she tunneled in, and even the mystery of sex–begins to seem to her a significant alternative theater for a deep understanding and love of God.
With The Tulip and the Pope, Larsen delivers a swift and moving exploration of Christian experience and young womanhood in a more innocent time, and a message of devotion that extends far beyond the high walls of the convent.
“[An] evocative and intelligent memoir. . . . Larsen summons up a lost world.” —Washington Post Book World
“[Larsen] recalls…an era when life in a nunnery, for many women, was the only counterculture available.” —The New York Times
“Movingly and honestly explores an innocent girl"s faith and subsequent coming-of-age.” —Bookpage