Rating: ★★★★ // Historical fiction with an interesting point of view.
Favorite Line: “I am the living heart of a tree uncovered by the ax, still pliable, still green and full of sap.”
Since reading St. Augustine’s famous work Confessions, I’ve wondered about the mystery woman who had his heart before his conversion, and before he became the the famous Theologian that the world knows him to be today. Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe tells her story.
Before he became the sainted church father of Christianity, Augustine of Hippo began a love affair with a young woman whose name has been lost to history. They were together for over thirteen years, and she bore him a son. This is her story.
She met Augustine in Carthage when she was just seventeen years old. She was the daughter of a tile-layer. He was a student and the heir to a fortune. They fell in love, despite her lower station and Augustine’s dreams of greatness. Their passion was strong, but the only position in his life that was available to her was as his concubine. When Augustine’s ambition and family compelled him to disown his relationship with the her, X was thrust into a devastating reality as she was torn from her son and sent away to her native Africa.
A reflection of what it means to love and lose, this novel paints a gripping and raw portrait of ancient culture, appealing to historical fiction fans while deftly exploring one woman’s search for identity and happiness within very limited circumstances.
I really enjoyed this book. It is very strange to put yourself in the place of “the woman”, but the way it is written, it is very easy to do and it seems very natural to view things from her point of view.
I was a little hesitant about reading this book because I am a huge fan of St. Augustine’s writing. He presents a beautiful narrative about his love of God and about the beauty of humanity. Therefore I was worried this book would make him look like a scoundrel and I didn’t want to read a book basically defaming one of my favorite writers. This was a very stupid mindset to have for multiple reasons:
- St. Augustine himself tells us over and over and over and over again, in Confessions, that he was a scoundrel. The whole book his about his failings and his mistakes. He wrote about how unworthy he was to be considered good or holy because of his past. He owned up for his mistakes and he wrote them all down for the world to see, and he spent the rest of his life trying to make up for his wrongdoings.
- Any mention of “X” by Augustine is with the deepest love by Augustine. It was clear that he loved her and she loved him. Their love seemed more like one of the forbidden loves in a Shakespeare play.
- She went through a huge conversion before he did, as he mentioned in Confessions. She must have urged or at least influenced him to change his life.
“She was stronger than I…and made her sacrifice with a courage and generosity which I was not strong enough to imitate.”
-St. Augustine, Confessions
So once I got over my petty mindset, I picked up this book and found it to be a wonderful book. Yes, sometimes I got very angry at Augustine, and yes, sometimes I got very angry at X, but mostly I just felt the love between them, and I felt sad for their situation.
Their situation was this: they were in love, he wanted to marry her, the law would not allow it. They had a decision to make, either they go their own ways or she moves into his home as his concubine. She chose to stay. For us this sounds like an awful situation because we see it basically as a role as a prostitute, while in fact he held her in the position of his wife, and he raised her to a much higher status than would have been granted her before their relationship. He remained faithful to her (even though it would not be looked down upon to have relations with other women) and she remained faithful to him.
This story follows her struggles, her joys, her thoughts, and her pains. While this story is fictional and we have no way of knowing much about X, the personality of the woman is reflected in the little evidence we do have of her.
This is a great read for historical fiction readers, especially those who like Roman era stories.
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