Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: CECILIA, by Linda Ferri

Cecilia, by Linda Ferri. Published 2010 by Europa Editions. Literary Fiction. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.

The story of a Roman woman who becomes a Christian martyr, Cecilia is absorbing historical fiction about rebellion and finding yourself. Set in the second century A.D., Cecilia starts when its title character is about 15 and still living with her parents, noble Romans involved in public life. Her mother is bereft following a series of miscarriages and early deaths of her children; her father is distracted and Cecilia is left to her tutors, her friends and mostly to herself. She dreads marriage and soon finds herself questioning her society's values and looking elsewhere for fulfillment.

The book is immersing but really takes flight once Cecilia becomes involved with a local group of Christians and starts to navigate this new world and her place in it. They become like a new family for her, after her marriage has faltered and her relationship with her parents strained. But like any family they are fractious and fight among themselves as they all try to figure out what it actually means to be a part of this fledgling religion. I liked that these people don't have it all figured out yet, that they struggle and experience doubts and conflicts. Cecilia finds her calling in service to the poor, and she tries to set aside the internal politics of the new church and focus on this central mission to give her life meaning. Watching a woman of her class living the word of Christ, Cecilia reflects "...I understood that if prayer is words, the word is not a dead letter but life and love. She was a rich matron, and now she has callouses on her hands from so much work and blisters on her feet from all the miles she walks to visit the needy."

But what she's doing is illegal in Rome, and she is soon called upon to denounce the faith or risk
execution. Her family tries to intervene, but what will be her ultimate fate? That's not really a mystery but watching her approach it is fascinating and moving, and it makes me want to visit the church in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome, which was the real-life Saint Cecilia's home and is dedicated to her. Through the twists of history she is the patron saint of musicians but this book a rumination  of her life rather than her legend. I recommend it to readers of literary and historical fiction and for adults who read YA for the way it examines the life and mind of an adolescent.

This is my 16th book for the 2015 Europa Challenge. You can visit the blog at


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


Becca said...

This sounds interesting. I've never heard of Cecilia.

Lucy said...

Excellent! I would love to read this one, and learn about this early martyr's life, separating it from the legend, as you say, that has associated her with music and musicians.