Little Saint

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9780394565958: Little Saint

This is a book written in ecstasy.
        
In the early 1970s, the writer Hannah Green and her husband, Jack Wesley, an artist, came upon a village called Conques, curled like a conch shell in the mountains of south-central France. Entranced, they returned the next year, and the next, living there for months at a time, for more than twenty years. Hannah Green was attracted to the craggy landscape, the ancient language, the traditions of the region. Most of all, she felt herself drawn to the story of the little saint whose spirit fills the lives in that place.

In the fourth century, a girl--who becomes this book's "shining center"--had refused the demand of a Roman ruler to deny her faith; she was betrayed by her father and then beheaded. She was twelve years old.
        
Sainte Foy's remains came to be the "golden spark" that inspired a cult and inspired this American writer, a Protestant and a "stranger to saints," to devote the rest of her life to writing one book. To do so, Hannah Green had to improve her French to the point where she could translate original documents. She and her husband were soon accepted by the villagers--indeed, were loved by them. In time, Hannah began to sense that she was part of a centuries-long parade of pilgrims who came to Conques and were transformed.
        
Ostensibly the story of one day, the twenty-four hours described here have twenty centuries woven through them. The result is a rare work, in part history, biography, celebration, meditation, inspiration. It is an ode to joy, death, the earthy, and the spiritual. The prose spirals like a shell, poetic or plainsong. It is good-humored, yet it is also the memoir of intensely felt, almost painfully loving personal experience.
        
Written in a kind of rapture, Little Saint tells the story of a living presence, of her travels in time; of holy and healing places and characters; of fields of force and unexplained emanations; and of a saintly girl who makes jokes. It is a story as well of one woman, deeply American, who found in France while on holiday a place and a person for all time.

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Review:

As evidenced by her successful novel The Dead of the House, Hannah Green possessed an acute awareness of early adolescence, the time in life we call coming of age. It's no surprise that Green became entranced and eventually dedicated to a 12-year-old girl, who was known as Saint Foy. Betrayed by her father in 303 A.D., the French girl called Faith was tortured and beheaded for her refusal to worship the pagan goddess Diana and renounce her devotion to Christ.

Green narrates in the first person, recounting her reaction and fascination when she first traveled to Conques, France, and saw the golden statue of Saint Foy (with the girl's bones embedded in the statue's heart). Although pilgrims from all centuries and all parts of the world have paid homage to Saint Foy's statue, Green had not anticipated the deep visceral reaction she would have when she first beheld the little saint. "It is a shrine," she writes. "And in some mystic way it suggests to the mind's eye more strongly than any imagined likeness could the presence of Saint Foy herself as she was, with her young fresh skin and the radiance, the life, in her face, the light, and as she is: bone and spirit come to God."

This is a three-layered, masterful piece in which Green offers a biography of this young saint and the influence she's had over the centuries, a profile of the highly unique village that hosts her statue, and finally a memoir of Green's own spiritual epiphanies born from this saintly encounter. --Gail Hudson

From the Back Cover:


Early comments on Little Saint

Alix Kates Shulman, author of Drinking the Rain:

"This strange and beautiful book, with its magical sentences that dance and sing right off the page into the reader's heart, seamlessly weaves the remote past into the living present more than any work I know.

Learned, complex, exuberant, and deeply personal, this meditation on the millennia-long life of a French child martyr is a fitting climax to Hannah Green's devoted life of letters."
Fae Myenne Ng, author of Bone:

"In this glorious work, Hannah Green takes us to the ancient village of Conques, into the world of the sacred and the simple everyday. As she and her husband, Jack, are embraced by the villagers, we too feel intimately welcomed.

We meet the wonderful ninety-one-and-a-half-year-old (!) Madame Benoit, the artist Kalia, the devoted Père André, and hear stories of hardship, joy, and faith, even of the mischievous streak of their beloved saint. It is one day;
it is Eternity. When Hannah writes about her discovery of Sainte Foy, she writes of rapture, and this fills Little Saint with mysterious life, magnificent light."

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