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The Leper’s Companions begins, we know only that the narrator has lost someone she loves. In her bereavement, she creates a past in which she might both lose and find herself: a fifteenth-century village in a land of saints and spirits, inexplicable afflictions and miraculous awakenings. With a band of pilgrims—among them an old man, his pregnant daughter, a priest, a dying woman, and a leper—she discovers a beached mermaid, watches a priest drive madness from a woman’s mouth, enters a mossy forest inhabited by a hunted man covered in shaggy hair, and witnesses a map being digested in the belly of a ravenous woman.
Moving effortlessly between the magical and the real, the past and the present, the journey of the narrator and her companions transcends the physical terrain and becomes a fantastical quest for rebirth. We are skillfully ushered into the emotional lives of each of the travelers as they reflect and ultimately redefine the life of the narrator.
The Leper’s Companions reaffirms Julia Blackburn’s status as one of the most original writers at work today, as she makes the fictional narrative do the work not only of storytelling but also of invention.
You come across the shell of a ruined house. It could be anywhere in southern Europe where people once lived and then moved away because there was no work to hold them there. You might find things scattered in the empty rooms: a bread oven, a broken spade, earthenware jars that still hold the pungent scent of olive oil; even clothes left hanging in a cupboard, a silent clock on a shelf, a picture cut from a newspaper pinned on a wall.
The house is remote, but it is surrounded by a tracery of thin paths. One path goes steeply down to a village; others zigzag their way to scattered huts and stone shelters, to caves where you could hide in times of danger and to unexpected lookout points from where you could watch the approach of animals or human intruders.
Julia Blackburn and her husband moved to a little house in the mountains of northern Italy in 1999. She arrived as a stranger…[more]
In 1792, when he was forty-seven, the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya contracted a serious illness that left him stone deaf. In this extraordinary book, Julia Blackburn follows Goya through the remaining thirty-five years of his life. It was a time of political turmoil, of war, violence, and confusion, and Goya transformed what he saw around him into visionary paintings, drawings, and etchings. These were also years of tenderness for Goya, of intimate relationships with the Duchess of Alba and with Leocadia, his mistress, who accompanied him to the end.
Blackburn’s singular distinction as a biographer is her uncanny ability to create a kaleidoscope of biography, memoir, history, and meditation—to think herself into another world. In Goya she has found the perfect subject. Visiting the towns Goya frequented, reading the revelatory letters that he wrote for years to a boyhood friend, investigating the subjects he portrayed,…[more]
In the late 19th century, an English missionary arrives on a remote island in the Indian Ocean, intent on wiping our fornication among the natives. Instead he incurs a curse that strikes first his dark-skinned wife, then his son and grandson. But is the curse supernatural--or a white man's guilty fascination with an alien new world? "A hypnotic, cryptic, haunting exploration of the power of memory."--Boston Globe.