Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Convent
by Panos Karnezis

Visualize a 16th century Spanish convent located in a remote area. It is after WWI and only a few nuns still inhabit the convent. The Mother Superior of this small group is Maria Ines— the other nuns, Sister Ana, Sister Carlotta, Sister Teresa and Sister Beatriz.

One day a suitcase is left on the convent steps—inside the suitcase is a newborn baby boy. The child means something different to each of the nuns. For Maria Ines he is God's gift, redemption. For Sister Ana the baby represents a demonic visitation. Sister Carlotta pays little attention to the baby. She's mostly concerned with a pack of stray dogs she's rescued from city streets. Sister Teresa is most interested in the gramophone records she has hidden in her room. Sister Beatriz is the only nun helping Sister Maria with the care of the baby.

Because Sister Maria believes that the baby is a gift from God, she wishes to keep him in the convent rather than have him brought up in an orphanage. Another character in the monastic mystery is the Bishop. He visits the nuns once a month, says mass, hears confession, stays over, and then returns to an unnamed city.

He gave the convent an old car so that they can get to the city to purchase provisions. Sister Maria is the chief mechanic. When she was a young woman she was in love with a naval cadet—became pregnant,and had an abortion while he was in the war. When he died she dealt with both the wish to die and the wait for God's punishment. She spent a year in Africa and accepted penance for her sin by refusing an offer of marriage and deciding to take her final vows as a nun. The baby represents God's forgiveness. When she recognizes that some of the nuns question keeping the child her judgement becomes tainted.

The question remains—who is the mother and why was the baby left on the convent steps? When Sister Ana discovers a bloody sheet she is convinced that a ritual had been held and the devil is afoot. She visits the Bishop and relates her fears. He is well aware of her ambitions and after a visit to the convent he must decide on what is best for the child and all concerned. But a series of revelations—for the reader—limit his choices and the choices of some of the characters.

One must completely accept a series of improbable events, but the story is interesting and even though the twists at the end are what a reader might be anticipating, the story moves along at a quick pace. I did want another chapter—and then and then...

Mystery Book Challenge

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