The Sisterhood by Helen Bryan – reviewed by Celine
Kindle format File Size: 3.212 MB
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Print Length: 420 pages
Publication Date: 30 April 2013
Without giving too much away, this book contains a huge amount of information about religious violence toward women during the 1500s in Spain, and then later in the 2000s violence based upon men’s assertion of power over women. It has a timeline or history of stories of generations of women from the Spanish inquisition days when Catholic sisters in convents took in orphan girls and other abused or neglected young girls and cared for them, and protected them at risk of their own lives.
This back story is gripping, and although sad and disturbing if you don’t want to read about real-life based violence toward women, makes fascinating reading due to revealing the integrity and courage of the women who do what they can, in the face of this oppression. I felt immersed in the tales of the many women whose stories were told in this book and found it hard to put the book down.
Thus the “sisterhood” is the movement of women looking after girls and other women, in this story, imbued with miraculous visitations and with a holy medal and a book “the Chronicle” which contains a gospel story (involving women) which some would see as blasphemy.
The actual main story, set in the year 1984, is of an orphaned child in South America being found with a religious medal around her neck and being adopted by an American couple and her pathway of being serendipitously reunited with her own personal history.
That said, the endings fall flat for me, regarding both Isabella, the first woman in the 1550s whose story I got totally enmeshed in, and regarding Menina who is the female in the 21st century whose immediate ancestry and discovery of the meaning of the Chronicle is, I think, totally glossed over.
Often the endings of stories fall flat or are disappointing, and not only my Review attests to this for “The Sisterhood” but so do other reviews that I have read that are posted on Goodreads.
After giving so much attention to the inter-twining stories of Menina’s descendants, at 95% of the way through the book, there is no mention of the thoughts of the women in the convent where Menina ends up, about the Chronicle. The author then glosses over 6 years of Menina’s life whereas 90 percent of the book has been taken up looking in depth at the stories of several key women before Menina in the “sisterhood”, over about a 30 year span in the 1500s.
I would have liked a more memorable “summary” if you like, of the ramifications of the Chronicle in terms of the traditional Gospels and Bible’s message – that all are equal in value (recognising that certain passages in the traditional works are sometimes conveniently mistaken for the right to subjugate women); and that (in the story) the Chronicle would inspire small girls around the world to also take up the mantle of the Sisterhood.
Instead the ending fizzled out into making the Chronicle into copies for sale, and this to me was a cheapening of the spirit of resistance and sisterly support that Menina’s descendants and the Sisterhood evoked, even if Menina’s story was set in the so-called modern year 2000 AD. What was in the Chronicle would spark cries of heresy even today in the year 2018, I think. It is okay to spread the word but the real life excitement and illumination that such a Chronicle would evoke was not mentioned at all, making the ending un-realistic to me.
But this aspect was glossed over and the 5 percent of the novel spent on telling readers that Menina’s lineage was sure to continue for hundreds of years more could have been told in one paragraph and more words given to the impact of the Sisterhood, the medal and the Chronicle for a more satisfactory resolution.
These are of course, all my thoughts, and the next person reading this novel may find nothing at all to fault about it. At over 400 pages long, which take a while to read, it is worthwhile reading if you want to read about the “sisterhood” in Spain, but that would be more to treat it as a docu-drama or as a history lesson, which stops at around 95 percent of the whole book.
The book successfully points out that it is unacceptable for men and others to repress women, on the grounds of both religion and superiority, and I applaud the author for this.