The Sisterhood - Helen Bryan

Since the publication of The Da Vinvi Code it could have been expected that similar 'what if'- questions would pull a few new surprises out of the hats of history, and this book is no exception. In the Da Vinci Code, the question was asked 'What if Jesus was married or had a family?'. In this book the question is asked ' What if Jesus had sisters or brothers, and Mary did not remain a virgin forever? ' Throw in the theories presented in another recent book 'The Kabbalist' around the true history of Jesus as seen from a Jewish viewpoint, as well as yet another possibility in 'The Shack' of God being a woman, and I can safely declare myself ready to drown my sorrowful confusion in a casket of ancient Roman Posca!

This long and complex tale centers around a history of women and their fate in the Catholic church during and after the Spanish Inquisition in which people from other faiths were forced to convert to Christianity with bloody prosecutions and killings by the thousands for those who still practiced their own religions in secret. 

The Gospel of the Foundress of the Las Golondrinas Convent, Andalusia, Spain, ultimately reveals much more than her own history. It solves the mystery behind the badge around the little girl's neck who was found in a fishing boat by sailors and delivered to a convent in Spanish South America.

This is her, Menina Walker's story, going back centuries and involving the fates of five orphan girls: Esperanza, Pia, Sanchia, Marisol, and Luz. Menina Walker, the little Spanish girl who was adopted and given a new name by American Baptists, was given the medal and The Chronicle for save keeping by the nuns of the South American convent. She grew up in America, decided to study Art History and visit Spain for her college thesis. A traumatic experience drives her to go sooner than later.

As fate would have it, she misses her bus to Madrid and unbeknownst to her, she lands up in the convent where her story begun, centuries ago . 

The reader is immediately pulled deep into the narrative, totally losing a sense of reality, completely vanishing into the in-depth history of the Spanish Inquisition, the fate of the Jewish, Muslim and other converts who were prosecuted by the Spanish authorities and the destiny of the nuns who had to take care, in utmost poverty, of the sufferers of the prosecutions. 

Two story lines are intertwined. The one begins in 1552 in Spain and the second one in 2000 with Menina Walker starting her life as young student.

At first I was mesmerized. The information is so well presented that the reader taste, feel, hear, and smell every single detail. From moldy  dark, dilapidated convents, to the barbaric, 'uncivilized' Incas, the taste of stale bread, and the stinky breaths of rotten teeth - it was vividly presented. The story is a riveting depiction of the terrible lives of so many people in that period of history. 

But by the 50% mark of the kindle version I had enough of the endless historical detail and the endless repeat of horror and hardship in the different story lines of the five girls, their families and the nuns. I just had enough of the never-ending stream of new characters constantly being added with their stories. The superficial, light-weight inclusion of the modern, and romantic, American girl's participation in the story almost derailed it for me. It did not quite fit into the narrative at all! What a pity! It would have been more convincing, to me personally, if she was from South America, or not present at all! 

But! The Sisterhood was a learning curve. Informative, thrilling, suspenseful, masterfully presented. 

I would have loved to rate it five stars, but one stars goes awol for: 1 ) the tedious nature of the information dump.  2) Menina, with her tasteless, money-driven, mass-market, tourist-trap solution just blew it for me! Menina was too obvious an added character to make the book more of a commercially palatable chic lit target. The dignity in the tale of the nuns and the orphans was destroyed. It cheapens the story. No, she was not the heroine in this book at all, sorry! The humble, devoted, dedicated, compassionate nuns unintentionally overshadowed her in every aspect of what it means to be human and to sacrifice everything for the good of fellow human beings.There were just too many protagonists, a too detailed information overload and intense descriptions of the surroundings. However, the historical aspects of the story, with the nuns as protagonists, saved the book. Their stories were the magnificence this tale needed to make it an extraordinary read!I recommend it to anyone who is interested in this part of history and can appreciate the immense wealth of research being presented in this narrative. The story contains many elements of the Greek comedy, Lysistrata, written by Aristophanes, which was performed in 411 BC. in Athens. This aspect provides another enchanting dimension to the book. And then there is the sub-story of the swallows........!  Amazing!

All in all though, a really, really good read! I love this author's writing style and way with words. I will read her again.