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  • Listen to Valerie Martin read from SALVATION accompanied by the Franciscan chant Canticum creatorum, performed by Altramar medieval music ensemble.
    Part 1 / Part 2.
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    About the Author Excerpt Q&A
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    Valerie Martin is the author of two collections of short fiction and six novels, including Italian Fever, The Great Divorce, and Mary Reilly. She lived in Italy for three years and now resides in upstate New York.

    author photo (c) Jerry Bauer
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    The acclaimed author of Italian Fever and Mary Reilly takes a unique approach to biography in a fascinating work that enters directly into the world of the man who is at once the most radical and one of the most beloved of all Christian saints.

    Inspired by the fresco cycles that depict the life of St. Francis of Assisi, Valerie Martin tells the life of Francesco di Pietro Bernardone in a series of vividly realized "panels" of moments both ordinary and crucial: on the road. in the company of friends, alone in his meditations. She draws from myriad sources, including Francesco's own words, and has arranged these scenes thematically, in the manner of the early hagiographies, moving roughly backward in time.

    We begin with the dying Francesco and the rivalry for his body among the towns of medieval Italy. The old friar, exhausted by illness and the divisions within his brotherhood, gives way to the zealous missionary who joins the Fifth Crusade, confident that he can convert the Egyptian sultan. We see the unwashed and innocent revolutionary, unafraid to lecture a pope on Christ's message; his mystical friendship with Chiara di Offreducci, a nobleman's daughter who turns her back on the world to join him; and finally, the frivolous young Francesco on the deserted road where his encounter with a leper leads him to an ecstatic embrace of God.

    Salvation is at once a window into a medieval world whose physicality and purity have never been rendered with such visceral power, and a dazzlingly original portrait of the man whose legend has resonated through the centuries.

    "Stimulating. . . . Although it is classified as biography, Salvation is constructed and reads like a novel. Medieval history it may be, but this is very closely observed stuff . . . Martin gradually backtracks through one episode after another--the phenomenon of Francis' stigmata, his adventures on the fifth crusade, his relationship with St. Clare and his growing band of followers, his hedonism as a youth, the moment when he overcomes his revulsion at being near lepers and recognizes his vocation. Martin chose this device because she decided the chronological approach was not the way people looked at things in the Middle Ages, and because she wished to create suspense, starting with what everybody knows, and working toward the much less familiar. In a sense, it is a progression from darkness to light, which is a very spiritual approach, and it is brilliantly done." -Geoffrey Moorhouse, New York Times Book Review

    "Literate, sympathetic vignettes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi...Novelist Martin puts her storytelling skills to good use in this impressionistic, respectful appreciation of Sr. Francis's life. Many of the scenes are so well realized that they resemble tableaux vivantes: Francesco di Pietro Bernadone's repudiation of his family wealth for a life of poverty, his mysterious acquisition of stigmata after weathering a mountaintop storm, his conversations with crusading knights and dangerous beasts, his painful death–all these spring to life from the page. Drawing on a wealth of documentary evidence, the author takes pains to emphasize that 'though San Francesco was a great mystic, he was also entirely of this world,' with all the attendant urges and frailties. Martin['s] nuanced, thoughtful portrait of the medieval Italian reformer, so torn between manhood and sainthood, will be of great appeal to many."
    Kirkus (starred review)

    "In painting these central scenes from the life of one of the most extraordinary saints ever to have lived, Valerie Martin has succeeded in rendering holiness visible, tangible, and something worth hungering for. Salvation is at once Giottoesque and Gothic, terrifying and consoling. Here is Francis stripped to his essentials, a frail human being with a will of iron, freeing himself of everything in order to fix his full attention on the voice in the whirlwind, and receiving in turn the lovescape that transformed him and the world forever. Be careful. This is one of those rare books with the grace and power to change your life."
    —Paul Mariani, author of The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane

    "Valerie Martin has the artistry to render a great life in a series of perfect miniatures. Viewed in light of the religious and social turmoil of his day, San Francesco's joyful intransigence seems at once heroic and deeply human."
    –Cathleen Medwick, author of Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul

    "An unusual look at the life and times of St. Francis...[and] a contemporary homage to the anonymous 14th Century collection of tales of St. Francis and his followers known as "The Little Flowers of St. Francis." . . . Martin has a great touch for vivid detail, for landscape settings, for qualities of light and times of day. Her scene of the saint's hallucinatory encounter with demons has terrific immediacy, clarity and humor. Her evocation of the hollow silence that swallows a band of crusaders as they enter a besieged city whose inhabitants have been murdered by the plague is ghostly and chilling. If Martin's handling of her subject matter were a style of art, it would be International Gothic, decorative, her outdoor scenes bejeweled with sparkling dew. An aesthetic St. Francis is one who commands our attention, who draws us irresistibly toward a still point of wonder and self-reflection." - Thomas Simpson, Chicago Tribune