42. 'Katharina Luther' by Anne Boileau

Wednesday 5 October 2016

On 31st October 1517 Martin Luther pinned ninety-five theses on the Castle Church door, Wittenberg, criticising the Church of Rome; they were printed and published by Lucas Cranach and caused a storm. Nine young nuns, intoxicated by Luther’s subversive writings, became restless and longed to leave their convent. On Good Friday 1523 a haulier smuggled them out hidden in empty herring barrels. Five of them settled in Wittenberg, the very eye of the storm, and one of them – Katharina von Bora – scandalised the world by marrying the revolutionary former monk. Following a near miscarriage, she is confined to her bed to await the birth of their first child; during this time of enforced rest, she sets down her own story. Against a backdrop of 16th Century Europe this strikingly realised account of the early life of Katharina von Bora brings to the spotlight this spirited and courageous woman.

From the get go I knew I was going to enjoy this offering by Anne Boileau. The opening lines painted a vivid picture from the start, and I happily settled into the world of 1500s Germany. The book charts Katharina's life from childhood, to becoming a novice nun, to taking her vows and then her daring escape from convent life - all sparked by the writing of the controversial Martin Luther. 

I confess I did not know much about Martin Luther, outside of his influences on the Reformation in England, the influences it had on Anne Boleyn. So I knew absolutely nothing about his wife, and found her life fascinating, especially because during this time women were very much viewed as second to men. 

I very much enjoyed the idea of Katharina taking the reigns and penning her story in her own words. It added a sense of authenticity, and it wasn't flowery at all, which is a trap that some historical fiction books can fall into. The writing style is clean, concise and kept me turning the pages. 

There was a real focus on her life as a nun, and what her daily life would have been like. I know about monastic life from my training as a cathedral guide, but it is focused more on the life of monks, rather than nuns, so this was an enjoyable bit of knowledge to add to my inventory. Taking her vows at 15, must have been a choice she made on autopilot as she had known no other life since very young. 

Her relationship with Luther is one built on respect, and I do feel that he did feel responsible for all the nuns who escaped the convents, knowing they were fired up by his words and sermons. They are not portrayed as a romantic couple, which is refreshing. Martin is described exactly as his portraits show him to have appeared. He is not of perfect health. For all his great writings, he is a flawed man of his times in his attitude, which Katharina has to bring to heel. Katharina shows negative traits also, she is hot headed, and prone to jealousy - especially when it is revealed that Martin proposed to her closest companion part way through the book, and she felt overlooked. 

I got the sense that Martin and Katharina's relationship was one that did grow into a mutual kind of love. It wasn't all consuming and all blazing, but one of support, trust and companionship - and is quite realistic of a kind of marriage of the time. 

My one complaint would be that I wanted more after I came to the end. We finish the book just after she has welcomed her first child, with Katharina feeling as though she has finally found her place in the world. I enjoyed how she came across as a realistic character, with flaws as well as pros. Traits she showed as a stubborn child served her well in adult life when she had to stand up for herself and assert her right to respect, even from her future husband. 

Boileau paints a vivid picture of life in the turmoil times of religious upheaval, and the struggle faced by those who were still attached to the old ways, such as Katharina's parents, and those who were seeking to move with the times and embrace change, as seen with the escaping nuns. 

If this sounds like something you'd be interested to read you can purchase the book here.

Thank you to Authoright, who sent me a copy of Katharina Luther in exchange for an honest review. 

Rating: 4.5/5

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