Posted by the Bells on Jan 26, 2018
The UMHB bookstore started selling Suzanne Wolfe’s novel the Confessions of X at the beginning of the spring semester and it was chosen as the book for discussion in the English Honor Societies book club, so I decided I would join in on the fun.
The Confessions of X is a mix of historical fiction, Christian fiction and romance, and is an imaginative correspondent to Saint Augustine’s Confessions. The book follows the life of X, the daughter of a tile-layer and mysterious lover of Saint Augustine of Hippo. The novel paints a perfect picture of the ancient culture and is well researched despite it being historical fiction. Though we know X existed, we only know of who she was through Augustine’s Confessions and I think that Wolfe did a wonderful job keeping X vague enough to give her anonymity while still being personal enough for readers to relate with. The novel is described as “a reflection of what it means to love and lose… while deftly exploring one woman’s search for identity and happiness within very limited circumstances.”
The book starts with X in her old age and we learn a lot about her life without giving too much away, but enough to leave you wanting more. In the second chapter, we start with the very beginning of her life and obtain background information, family, and beliefs before we go into the main storyline with Augustine. Readers watch X grow into a young woman, meet Augustine and start a family with him as his lover. Because of the difference in social classes, they can never marry, but knowing this, they both decide to love each other anyway. Now typically, I’m not a romantic, but I found myself rooting for a relationship I knew was bound to end but because of the way it was written, I couldn’t help myself. It was sweet to watch them fall in love and the adorable notions they made after they decided to be together. This book portrays a rare TRUE LOVE not often seen during this time period.
The whole book is worded elegantly and the first few chapters need to be read slowly for the reader to fully comprehend the meaning behind the words, but after you start reading, you become more used to the style and it flows more freely off the tongue. I had a limited amount of knowledge concerning Augustine and his confessions, but I was still able to understand everything about him, their life, and the story. I enjoyed this book and would give it a 6 out of 10 at first glance, simply because I knew I was missing out on the full experience by not being familiar with Augustine’s Confessions. However, do not take that to heart because this book is still good, despite my limited knowledge of the confessions.
“There are a lot of connections between the confessions and this novel, but each book is able to stand alone. You don’t need to read Augustine’s confessions to understand and enjoy the book, but your understanding and love of the book would be deeper if you are familiar with his works,” associate professor in the English department, Dr. Nathaniel Hansen said.
Dr. Hansen helped the Book Club decide on this novel and has read both Augustine’s Confessions and the Confessions of X. He says that Wolfe takes on the first-person point of view and explores it in an imaginative way. He found that the most compelling part in the book for him was experiencing the relationship she and Augustine shared and its development.
“I was very moved and I thought it was very captivating,” Hansen said.
Suzanne Wolfe was first introduced to X in school while reading Augustine’s confessions in religion class. In his confessions, Augustine only referred to her as una – meaning “the one.” When she asked her teacher who X was, her teacher responded with “no one knows, she is lost in history.”
“That phrase, “lost in history,” stuck with me. I thought: so many great women are lost to history, eclipsed by the lives of the men they loved. So forty years later I decided to go looking for her so she could tell her story,” Wolfe said. “If you are interested in history and the way people lived, the way they had the same feelings and griefs and joys as you or I, then this book is for you. My great hope is that the story of the unnamed concubine who lived over a thousand years ago will be an inspiration for others today.”
Wolfe will be on campus during the Writers Festival in February, and students can hear Wolfe give the George Nixon memorial lecture at the Lord Conference Center in Parker Academic Center on Feb. 15. The Writers Festival will be open to the public, and fans of the book can meet Wolfe in person at the festival.