Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Historical Masterpiece That Will Tear You Apart: The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry | Goodreads

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Release: April 12, 2016
Source: Library
Dolssa is a young gentlewoman with uncanny gifts, on the run from an obsessed friar determined to burn her as a heretic for the passion she refuses to tame.

Botille is a wily and charismatic peasant, a matchmaker running a tavern with her two sisters in a tiny seaside town.

The year is 1241; the place, Provensa, what we now call Provence, France—a land still reeling from the bloody crusades waged there by the Catholic Church and its northern French armies.

When the matchmaker finds the mystic near death by a riverside, Botille takes Dolssa in and discovers the girl’s extraordinary healing power. But as the vengeful Friar Lucien hunts down his heretic, the two girls find themselves putting an entire village at the mercy of murderers.
The Passion of Dolssa broke me. I read it over the span of a week, starting slowly for a variety of reasons (I was busy, the story was ever-so-slightly difficult to get into at first, I wanted to savor the setting development), then flying through the last 100 pages in one night. After I finished, my emotions were exhausted and my mind was racing. I was bursting to discuss my thoughts and feelings, but I couldn't quite find the right words to articulate the immersive, emotionally gripping experience from which I had emerged.

I lost sleep over this book, staying up far past my bedtime to talk about it with my friend Willa. Eventually I turned off my lights in the hopes of getting rest, but still I tossed and turned, unable to get Dolssa and Botille and every other character out of my head. I couldn't start another book until two long days later.

I want to review The Passion of Dolssa, but I know I won't be able to capture every one of its incredible nuances—and I'd fatigue myself if I tried. So instead I'll list a handful of thoughts that emerged from my mess of emotions after I read the last page.

Thought #1: What does that ending even mean?
After a meticulously-built, stressful plot, The Passion of Dolssa hits readers with a cryptic ending. The last four pages sent me into a spiral of analytical angst as I theorized about the conclusion's meaning and worried that none of my answers seemed to fit perfectly. I almost wish I had read Dolssa's story for the first time in a classroom setting so I could have turned to a group of people who shared my confusion, but as it was, I settled for mulling over the ending myself. The Passion of Dolssa is the perfect book for fans of thought-provoking, open-to-interpretation finales. But if you despise open-ended stories, don't let me scare you off; the author has a secret resource on her website that should help you if you've thought about the ending and are still unsure.

Thought #2: I am so glad I'm alive now rather than during the Inquisition (or any other time in history, for that matter).
The Passion of Dolssa is set during a truly terrifying time in world history, a time when anyone could be burned alive—or face other excruciating punishments—for crossing the Catholic church. And Julie Berry paints such a frighteningly realistic picture of this setting that at times I forgot I was reading a novel rather than following a documentation of an actual series of events. Even as I reminded myself that Dolssa's story was a work of fiction, despite the author's vivid writing, I could not stop thinking about the many real people who faced pyres and lashings and brandings in medieval times. The Passion of Dolssa's most gruesome scenes continue to run through my mind on repeat, making me incredibly appreciative of the place and time in which I live.

Thought #3: Wow, what a brilliantly-woven story.
Framed by a series of extended flashbacks, The Passion of Dolssa jumps from 1290, when a friar is piecing together the story of Dolssa, to 1267, when Botille agrees to recount the story's events, before rewinding to 1241, when the action takes place. From there, the narration switches between mainly Botille, sometimes Dolssa, and occasionally other characters with testimonies to share, creating a patchworked storytelling style that perfectly matches the premise that a friar is assembling the story through a collection of found documents. Berry's choice to place Dolssa's story inside the friar's makes the novel's plot seem all the more realistic, as if attention from another fictional character cements the events of Dolssa's life. And the numerous narrators, while a bit confusing at first, create a vibrant, multifaceted tale that reveals Dolssa's character and journey more than any one narrator ever could.

Thought #4: My emotions are crushed.
Throughout the course of the novel, I grew to care deeply about each and every one of the characters. And even more importantly, I grew to care about the characters' relationships with one another. In addition to telling a story of heresy during the Inquisition, The Passion of Dolssa tells a story of family and friendship (and a dash of romance, although refreshingly little). I loved Botille's relationship with her family, I loved the family's bond with Dolssa, and I loved watching the characters sacrifice for each other—and I wanted more than anything else for them to survive and stay together. As a result, the danger that faces the characters (starting with Dolssa, then spreading to others) left my emotions in ruins. I almost never cry over fiction, but The Passion of Dolssa brought me as close as I'll ever get, drawing tears of anger and sadness and fear from my eyes. I don't know when I'll fully get over the emotional pain, but it hasn't happened yet.

Thought #5: This is easily one of the best books I've read all year.
I haven't started compiling my best of 2016 list yet, but I can say without a doubt that The Passion of Dolssa has earned a spot. From the incredibly-researched historical details to the deep emotional connections forged between the characters and the reader, Berry's latest is a true masterpiece. It's the kind of book that stays with you long after you've finished reading, the kind of book that makes you think about life and collapse into a ball of emotions at the same time, the kind of book that I love. I can't remember the last time I've been so obsessed with a story, so emotionally attached days after reading the last page. Just as magical as the title character herself, The Passion of Dolssa is a miraculous novel.

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