- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (1 Nov. 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060833130
- ISBN-13: 978-0060833138
- Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2 x 20.3 cm
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,851,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Scroll of Seduction: A Novel of Power, Madness, and Royalty Paperback – 1 Nov 2007
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Pub Date: 2007-11-13 Pages: 352 Language: English Publisher: HarperCollins US On an outing from her boarding school. young Luca meets Manuel-art historian and exquisite storyteller-who shares with her the tale of one of historys most tumultuous loves :. Queen Juana of Castiles legendary devotion to her husband. Prince Philippe the Handsome Embracing a union thrust upon her by political necessity. Juana responds with all the passionate abandon inherent in her fiery nature-and is forced to pay a high price for her honest sensuality. For there are those at the Renaissance court who will not allow such unabashed independence in the heir to one of the worlds most powerful empires-and they declare Juana mad. denying her ascension to the throne. But is she truly insane. or is she merely a victim of her own impetuosity and unbridled desire Or is Juana a pawn in a fierce power strugg...
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Gioconda Belli (born 1948) brings Joanna back to life using Lucia, a young woman in 1960s Madrid (so she's vaguely of the author's generation, who also went to boarding school in Madrid in the 60s) who plays her role in a game of history re-enactment that allows her to go through at least some of the experiences (love, vulnerability, imprisonment, bereavement) that Joanna went through in the 16th century. The role play artifice bridging a gap of 450 years works surprisingly well, bringing both the unfortunate queen and her modern day interpreter to life. The male history prof who sets the situation up and manipulates Lucia as the three men in her life manipulated Joanna remains more enigmatic. The spooky old house where much of the story is set is almost a character of the story and reminded me of the modern classic Nada by Carmen Laforet.
Does the author convince us that Joanna wasn't mad after all? In her afterword she argues that while historians tend to label her as schizophrenic, none of the psychiatrists she consulted agreed with this diagnosis. Most tellingly, Joanna only went "mad" when she was treated badly, e.g. locked up, forcefully separated from her children, etc., but appeared perfectly sane under normal conditions. Which suggests that she wasn't psychotic at all.
What appears to have been her real problem, however, was a lack of political instinct, which turned out to be catastrophic for somebody thrown into the political arena simply by virtue of her royal descent and her robust health - everybody else with higher ranking claims to the throne died young. Yes she was kicked around by the men in her life, but one can't help thinking that the queen gene skipped a generation. Her mother, Isabella of Castile, described as cold-hearted in the novel, but famous for the Reconquista (the expulsion of the Arabs from the Iberian peninsula) and for sponsoring Columbus' crossing of the Atlantic, would have asserted herself in a similar situation, while Joanna just drowned in it and went "mad".
Her gift appears to have been in a different domain - she is described as a passionate lover (the safe hands of an author who is also known for her erotic poetry are a definite bonus in that domain) and managed to produce six healthy children who all went on to become monarchs. The mad world of political power-struggle just wasn't for her.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
It's that question which lead me to read this novel. It's the story of two people who meet quite by accident-Manuel, a history teacher who is subbing for a tour guide friend and Lucia a sixteen year old boarding school student who happens to have Manuel as her guide when her grandparents visits Madrid (where she lives) and take a historical tour. After another accidental meeting Manuel and Lucia strike up a friendship, despite the difference in their ages, based on a love of history. Manuel seizes the opportunity to have Lucia participate in an experiment of a most unusual nature-he will tell her the story of Queen Juana "the mad" but if, and only if, she will imagine herself to be Juana, to feel what she felt, think what she thought. And dress they way she dressed, a in a red renaissance silk and velvet dress.
Lucia, an introverted orphan on the very edge of adulthood, is intrigued and goes along with it. But soon the experiment changes her life in unexpected ways as she becomes more involved in the story of Juana and her husband, Philip the Handsome, and with Manuel and his own curious and secret riddled family history.
"The Scroll of Seduction" is a novel riddled with questions and mysteries, pilled atop on another. Intellectual questions (Was Juana mad, or merely ahead of her time in the act of non-violent protest and rebellion? Can love drive you mad? Can recorded history ever be truly accurate? Can a person from one age understand one from another-especially one far removed from their own? ) as well as ones pertaining to the story (what does Manuel really want with Lucia? Will he play the story out to its terrible ending? Will his linage effect how he sees and treats Lucia as Juana in the end? What exactly is his relationship with his aunt-and why is he so determined in the end that Lucia must not leave his fortress/museum of a house?) that keep you guessing and reading, completely absorbed in the increasingly creepy atmosphere until the very last page.
Though it's a very absorbing book "Scroll" has some issues. It tends towards dry passages with a lot of narration on the part of Lucia/Juana with very little action and inadequate descriptions of the scenery (especially for someone who has never seen Spain or Brussels.) The dialog can also be a little dry but ultimately the building suspense cancels all that out (and kept me reading.) However if you're not inclined to read books with a lot of academic questions (and not a lot of plot movement in spite of the two stories involved) then I wouldn't recommend reading this.
Other than, four stars.