The Cloister

The Cloister

From National Book Award-winning writer James Carroll comes a novel of the timeless love story of Peter Abelard and Heloise, and its impact on a modern priest and a Holocaust survivor seeking sanctuary in Manhattan.Father Michael Kavanagh is shocked to see a friend from his seminary days named Runner Malloy at the altar of his humble Inwood community parish. Wondering abou...

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Title:The Cloister
Author:James Carroll
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The Cloister Reviews

  • CoffeeandInk

    The Cloisters is a novel of ideas that made me feel as breathless and on edge as I do when reading a thriller. With masterful writing and pacing, the author creates two worlds for the characters to inhabit—1140s Paris and the scholastic sphere of the brilliant Peter Abelard and Heloise, and their inevitable, and separate, retreat from the world.

    How this all fits into Nazi occupied Paris, concentration camps, and on to post WWII New York City is an amazing literary feat. Entering this hall of mir

    The Cloisters is a novel of ideas that made me feel as breathless and on edge as I do when reading a thriller. With masterful writing and pacing, the author creates two worlds for the characters to inhabit—1140s Paris and the scholastic sphere of the brilliant Peter Abelard and Heloise, and their inevitable, and separate, retreat from the world.

    How this all fits into Nazi occupied Paris, concentration camps, and on to post WWII New York City is an amazing literary feat. Entering this hall of mirrors is the Catholic priest Kavanaugh and the Jewish docent for the Cloisters, Rachel. Rachel’s father is the link back to Abelard and Heloise, as before the war he was a scholar in Paris working on a study of Abelard’s work Dialogus inter philosophum, Judaeum, et Christianum, (Dialogue of a Philosopher with a Jew and a Christian) 1136–1139. She carries Abelard's book History of my Calamities with her wherever she goes. When the priest seeks the shelter of the Cloisters during a rainstorm, they fall into conversation, and she spontaneously hands it over to the priest.

    The themes of obligation and exploitation, retreat and annihilation, manipulation and survival are golden threads to follow through this labyrinth. A beautifully horrifying and shattering story.

    Thank you NetGalley and Doubleday. I'd give this novel 10 stars if I could.

  • Beth Cato

    I received this book from the publisher via Netgalley.

    A stunning book, beautifully written. Carroll brings to life the story of Abelard and Heloise, but not to focus on the tragic nature of their romance, which resulted in Abelard's brutal castration. No, he depicts the love that arises when two brilliant people come together, each feeding the other's brilliance. The result of that love echoes through the centuries to change the lives of two people in New York City in the aftermath of World War

    I received this book from the publisher via Netgalley.

    A stunning book, beautifully written. Carroll brings to life the story of Abelard and Heloise, but not to focus on the tragic nature of their romance, which resulted in Abelard's brutal castration. No, he depicts the love that arises when two brilliant people come together, each feeding the other's brilliance. The result of that love echoes through the centuries to change the lives of two people in New York City in the aftermath of World War II: a Catholic priest, left staggered by the return of a friend from his youth, as he realizes his own poignant isolation in the clergy; and a young woman, a Jew from France whose father studied the texts of Abelard, and essentially died for it during the war.

    There are layers upon layers here. This book is not a melodrama. It's about nuance. It's about people being people. It's about surviving, at great cost. It's about losing God, and finding him again. It's about the history of Catholicism and Judaism, and how churches--like people--have a difficult time realizing their errors or making an effort to correct them.

    This is a book that will haunt me, in the best sort of way. I am left with a profound need to not only read more about Abelard and Heloise, but to look for more of James Carroll's work.

  • Sharon

    Carroll has written three story threads in three different time periods. I was ignorant of Peter Abelard and Héloïse but I will never forget them and what they stood for against unbelievable odds. I knew that the Catholic Church had been complicit in the Holocaust but oblivious to the centuries old teaching that as “killers of Christ” they were worthy of scorn, to be wantonly killed - Jews! God’s chosen people!! The second thread takes place during the Holocaust and illustrates the anguish of th

    Carroll has written three story threads in three different time periods. I was ignorant of Peter Abelard and Héloïse but I will never forget them and what they stood for against unbelievable odds. I knew that the Catholic Church had been complicit in the Holocaust but oblivious to the centuries old teaching that as “killers of Christ” they were worthy of scorn, to be wantonly killed - Jews! God’s chosen people!! The second thread takes place during the Holocaust and illustrates the anguish of this evil teaching.

    Abelard was an apologist for the Jewish people, portraying them with “total sympathy and respect - an equal to the Christian. The Jew is not an object of conversion, or doomed to an eternity of hellfire.” This is what he taught his students which put him in opposition to the Catholics leaders of France to his physical peril.

    The modern day thread follows a chance encounter between a Jewish woman and an Irish Catholic priest who begin a tentative friendship after being drawn together through their fascination with the teachings of Abelard. Both are grappling with grievous issues in their lives that were “out of bounds” but come into focus through conversations about the 12th century lives of Peter and Héloïse. Abelard’s philosophy said “no” to the militant Christ and “yes” to the Prince of Peace, and it was his teachings that opened the door to Father Kavanagh’s inner introspection, though he ultimately credits Héloïse for his greatest understandings.

    Carroll, a former priest and practicing Catholic, is not indicting the Church, but he is throwing open the windows and doors and inviting modern Catholics to stop feeling guilty, and to see that more is present, not in the sacrament or in the Church but in the people of the parish themselves, to celebrate. Kavanaugh finally recognized that God’s love for him was no longer contingent on his being a priest. This book is brilliant and certainly more intellectual than I am capable of processing in one reading, all the philosophy and theology, a book of challenge and hope.

  • Nancy

    Religion, Philosophy and Romance

    After an unsettling meeting with an old friend from seminary, Father Kavanagh wanders through Central Park. To escape the rain, he takes shelter in The Cloisters. He’s hoping to be alone, but Rachael Vedette, a museum guide, wanders into his sanctuary. Their unexpected conversation changes their lives.

    Rachael is a survivor of the Holocaust in France. Her father, a Medieval scholar, studied Abelard in the hope of bringing Abelard’s ideas to the modern era and garn

    Religion, Philosophy and Romance

    After an unsettling meeting with an old friend from seminary, Father Kavanagh wanders through Central Park. To escape the rain, he takes shelter in The Cloisters. He’s hoping to be alone, but Rachael Vedette, a museum guide, wanders into his sanctuary. Their unexpected conversation changes their lives.

    Rachael is a survivor of the Holocaust in France. Her father, a Medieval scholar, studied Abelard in the hope of bringing Abelard’s ideas to the modern era and garnering him the honor he deserves. Rachael protected her father’s work throughout her own ordeal, now she feels compelled to share it with Father Kavanagh.

    The novel revolves around the story of Heloise and Abelard, an iconic love story that echoes through the centuries. It is also the story of Rachael and Kavanagh and the struggle to bring the story of the Jews into the rightful place in philosophical thinking, a task that Abelard paid dearly for.

    This is a beautifully written book. It’s a book to be savored, not read quickly. The love story and the foray into philosophy and religion present much food for thought. The characters are real people struggling with mighty issues. The author did an excellent job of making both the middle ages and the modern era into backgrounds that enhanced the novel.

    I enjoyed both the romance and the philosophy. It’s a book worth reading more than once.

    I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

  • Karen

    The Cloister - James Carroll, Mar 6, 4.56, 384 pages

    A well-researched piece of historical fiction written by former priest James Carroll. It is based on historically significant people, fascinating subjects who I’d never before heard of.

    It is a multi-layered read that spans hundreds of years and begins with philisopher/nun Holoise d’Argenteuil arriving at the Cloister garden to meet the Abbot where he will lead her to the the body of her much older lover Peter Abelard, reflecting on their doome

    The Cloister - James Carroll, Mar 6, 4.56, 384 pages

    A well-researched piece of historical fiction written by former priest James Carroll. It is based on historically significant people, fascinating subjects who I’d never before heard of.

    It is a multi-layered read that spans hundreds of years and begins with philisopher/nun Holoise d’Argenteuil arriving at the Cloister garden to meet the Abbot where he will lead her to the the body of her much older lover Peter Abelard, reflecting on their doomed affair and condemnation. Fast forward 800 years when priest Michael Kavanagh and Holocaust survivor Rachel Vedette, a docent and scholar have a chance meeting at the Cloister that will change their lives. This was the first I heard of Abelard and d’Argenteuil and their historically important story told through different perspectives and eras was complex and very well-done.

  • Lisa

    is a rich and demanding reading experience. Carroll skillfully weaves together three narratives from three historical settings-1950 New York City, Nazi-occupied Paris and medieval France. I found the novel quite engrossing - but because all the characters are grappling with religion and ideas, it demands concentration.

    Father Michael Kavanagh and Rachel Vedette both find solace in the writings of Peter Abelard and Heloise, whose love story is one of the narratives. These writings an

    is a rich and demanding reading experience. Carroll skillfully weaves together three narratives from three historical settings-1950 New York City, Nazi-occupied Paris and medieval France. I found the novel quite engrossing - but because all the characters are grappling with religion and ideas, it demands concentration.

    Father Michael Kavanagh and Rachel Vedette both find solace in the writings of Peter Abelard and Heloise, whose love story is one of the narratives. These writings and Kavanagh's conversations with Rachel, help him finally face the history of anti-semitism in the Church and the Church's complicity in the Holocaust. For Rachel, they are a way to hold on to her father, a scholar who studied Abelard, who was killed by a Nazi.

    I really appreciate when a novel sends me off to learn more - and this one certainly did! I have already read a few of the letters of Peter Abelard and Heloise and am finding their story fascinating. My only criticism is that occasionally the novel felt like a vehicle for Carroll's message about religion and morality. But overall he pulled it off - beautifully.

  • gaudeo

    An entertaining story about Heloise and Abelard, the famous medieval nun and monk, this novel is far more than that. It conveys their theology as well, particularly Abelard's, and particularly his renunciation of the Catholic Church's hatred and persecution of the Jews. The framing device is the story of a modern-day pairing, a priest and a Jew, who mirror Heloise and Abelard even as they study them and discuss them together.

    It's not a bad book, and the great love between Heloise and Abelard is

    An entertaining story about Heloise and Abelard, the famous medieval nun and monk, this novel is far more than that. It conveys their theology as well, particularly Abelard's, and particularly his renunciation of the Catholic Church's hatred and persecution of the Jews. The framing device is the story of a modern-day pairing, a priest and a Jew, who mirror Heloise and Abelard even as they study them and discuss them together.

    It's not a bad book, and the great love between Heloise and Abelard is portrayed quite vividly, as is its calamitous aftermath; but the author clearly wants the reader to understand Abelard's writing about the Jews, to show that the church didn't uniformly reject and hate them, and he practically beats the reader over the head with these facts, rather than trusting that the reader will "get it" through the events of the story. My feeling, on the whole, is that this is not this author's best fiction.

  • J.S. Dunn

    As another reviewer said, Breathtakingly tedious. Gave it a 3 only because of the depth of research but the multiple settings do not work.

  • Trin

    A Catholic grapples with "the Jewish question" for 360 pages.

    OY VEY.

    Far be it for me to speak for the entirety of the Jewish people, but: as long as you cool it with the murder and the genocide, we don't really give a shit what you think about us. We definitely don't need lengthy, self-back-patting apologia on our behalf. Thanks.

    I'm am very relieved to be done with this and to now get to read something that, whatever the author's intention, doesn't reference "the Jew" and "the Christ-killers" ab

    A Catholic grapples with "the Jewish question" for 360 pages.

    OY VEY.

    Far be it for me to speak for the entirety of the Jewish people, but: as long as you cool it with the murder and the genocide, we don't really give a shit what you think about us. We definitely don't need lengthy, self-back-patting apologia on our behalf. Thanks.

    I'm am very relieved to be done with this and to now get to read something that, whatever the author's intention, doesn't reference "the Jew" and "the Christ-killers" about 12 times per page.

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