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Book Review : The Mirror of Simple Souls by Aline Kiner

We’re delighted to be sharing Laura’s thoughts about The Mirror of Simple Souls by Aline Kiner.

This story was translated by Susan Emanuel.

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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Pushkin Press; 1st edition (6 April 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 320 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1782278303
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1782278306

A heretical text, a vengeful husband, a forbidden love…

It’s 1310 and Paris is alive with talk of the trial of the Templars. Religious repression is on the rise, and the smoke of execution pyres blackens the sky above the city. But sheltered behind the walls of Paris’s great beguinage, a community of women are still free to work, study and live their lives away from the domination of men.

When a wild, red-haired child clothed in rags arrives at the beguinage gate one morning, with a sinister Franciscan monk on her tail, she sets in motion a chain of events that will shatter the peace of this little world―plunging it into grave danger.

Book Review

The Mirror of Simple Souls is a fascinating historical novel set in Paris in 1310.

I loved learning about the beguines and how women, for a time, had royal protection to live independently of men.

This story focuses on three women who all lived in the beguinage. Ysabel with her vast knowledge of plants became a healer for the others and had lived as a beguine for twenty years; Ade, a gentle and quiet soul who sought refuge when her husband was killed in a battle; Maheut appeared in rags to seek shelter from an arranged marriage.

The child Mageut with her red hair caused stress and worry. Her hair is compared as a cursed colour and others believe she brought danger to the beguine.

I loved the historical details of this time (I have not read much about Paris at this time).

It was interesting to discover that women had a chance to keep their own property away from the control of men. Unfortunately with the rise of religious persecution this became a worrying sign for the beguines.

This story is a wonderful read.

Planner pages in the reading journal

About the Author

Aline Kiner (1959-2019) was born in Moselle, France. She later moved to Paris where she became editor-in-chief of special issues of the magazine Sciences et AvenirThe Mirror of Simple Souls was the fruit of three years of research and writing on the beguines of Paris. It was a bestseller in France and won the Prix Culture et Bibliothèques.

Susan Emanuel (Susan Boyd-Bowman) has been a French-to-English translator of academic and general audience books and articles for forty years. In 2022 she received an award from the French-American Foundation for two works of non-fiction. This is her first literary translation.

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