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Friday, September 29, 2017

Linen Shroud: An Expression of Diversity in 19th Century America

Linen Shroud by Destiny Kinal is the second book in a historical fiction trilogy. It takes place in 19th century America.  I haven't read Burning Silk, the first one.   Kinal includes background about the family that is the focus of this trilogy in Linen Shroud.  So I found that this book can stand on its own.

When I read in the description that it deals with characters who are a mix of French and Native American, my first thought was that a friend whose ethnic origins are similar would love this book.  I haven't changed my mind now that I've finished it.  I'll be giving my review copy, which I received for free from the indie publisher, to my friend for her birthday.  Although it's an ARC, it's a beautiful edition.  My friend should be happy to receive it.


  The most developed character in Linen Shroud is Delphine Montour.  I didn't always perceive her as sympathetic.  Delphine had believed that her people had thrown her away by sending her to boarding school,  but she eventually discovered that she was loved and needed.  She studied the traditional ways of her people, the Haudenosaunee who Euro-Americans call the Iroquois.  She became a leader among them.  I confess that I found Regina, the dedicated young suffragette, more likeable.  I wished that we could have seen more of Regina's feminist activities in the novel, but Kinal is interested in pursuing other themes.

In addition to ethnic and spiritual identity, Kinal dealt extensively with resistance to the factory system through the traditional cottage industry that the Huguenot ancestors of many of the central characters had brought from France.  Factories prioritized efficiency at the price of labor conditions that were often horrific.   I am accustomed to reading about this conflict from the perspective of labor organizers who made factories more tolerable, not from the perspective of those who believed in a more humane and sustainable alternative to factories.  This family wasn't stuck in the medieval period.  They adopted some innovations that allowed their business to survive and thrive while continuing to respect their workers.  This is a historical viewpoint that I found refreshing and inspiring.

Unfortunately, Kinal's Christian theology seemed confused to me.  She portrays the French ancestors of this family as worshipers of the Black Madonna who were  both Huguenots and Cathars. Huguenots are not at all the same thing as Cathars.  Both were heresies from the perspective of the Catholic Church, but Huguenots were Protestants who didn't believe in the veneration of any form of the Madonna.  They followed the doctrines of John Calvin.  There is a very good article on Wikipedia about this subject at John Calvin on the Virgin Mary. I've encountered much disagreement about what the Cathars believed.  I don't think that those who believe that the Black Madonna was venerated by the Cathars can establish a connection between their version of the Cathars, and the historical Cathars who were persecuted in the Albigensian Crusade.  When I read web pages that take the view that Cathars worshiped the divine feminine, I noticed that they conflated the persecutions of the Cathars and the Templars which took place a century apart.    If I run a separate search on the Black Madonna and persecution, I come up with nothing.   This is because the Black Madonna has been very much a part of the Catholic Church in a great many localities from Poland to Mexico.

Since Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code has popularized the meme of Cathars as forerunners of the women's spirituality movement,  many people will have no problem with this idea at all.  It wasn't a very prominent theme in Linen Shroud, but I am capable of morphing into an academic oriented nitpicker when I find myself historically annoyed while in the process of reading a novel.

I was only temporarily annoyed, however.  There were so many wonderful and moving scenes in Linen Shroud that I couldn't stay irked for long.   Linen Shroud will be released on November 1.   Readers of this review have a month to consider this book.   I recommend that you do decide to read it.  You may be as intrigued by this distinctive  family as I was.



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