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The Tulip and the Pope: A Nun's Story

Book Corner Oct 2, 2006

The Tulip and the Pope: A Nun’s Story
By Deborah Larsen, Alfred A. Knopf, 2005 pp. 256 

Reviewed by Barbara Eisenhart

Deborah Larsen’s name may sound familiar to you.  A Gettysburg College writing professor, Larsen wrote The White, a novel which was chosen last year for the One Book, One Community reading program in our area.  The White is the story of Mary Jemison, a white girl raised by Native Americans in Adams County (PA).

The Tulip and the Pope, Larsen’s second novel, is a fascinating, detailed description of almost five years of her life in a convent on the banks of the Mississippi River in Dubuque, Iowa.  The book is meticulously written with exact details of physical, spiritual, and emotional memories. The fact that Larsen is a talented poet, as well as a fine novelist, is evident in her simple, lyrical writing.  Her carefully chosen words bring to life all the senses, including specific smells and sounds in that quiet stone motherhouse.  The injection of quotations and references to literary works and characters within the book adds a somewhat “intellectual” aspect to the novel, in addition to emphasizing and clarifying certain feelings that Larsen had.  Finally, the simple way in which Larsen presents her life at the convent in little episodes, concisely and beautifully written, allows the reading to progress very smoothly and efficiently. 

I especially loved Larsen’s “Epilogue” in which she explains her thoughts today regarding God, metaphors, philosophy, and spiritual growth.

Larsen waited 40 years to write The Tulip and the Pope, explaining she was not ready before that amount of time had passed.  After turning the last page of this literary gem, the reader can say that it was well worth the wait.