July 22nd, 2008

The Treasure of Montsegur by Sophy Burnham

The Treasure of Montsegur
By Sophy Burnham
            I knew very little about the Cathars before I picked this up. I knew them to be a sect of Christianity, and that they had been exterminated at some point. When I saw The Treasure of Montsegur, a historical fiction focusing on the end of Catharism, I immediately grabbed it off the bookstore’s shelf.
            Unlike most historical fiction writers, who may write some footnotes or an epilogue at the back of their book to discuss their fiction vs. recorded history, Sophy Burnham begins right off with a preface outlining the events that surround her novel. Knowing what was going on within the political and social climates, and the basic tenets of the Cathar faith made it much easier to immerse myself in the novel. I wish more writers would do this!
            Jeanne was found outside a burning town when she was an infant, dressed in a white gown sewn with pearls. Her identity unknown, she is adopted and grows up in a Cathar household. Willful and curious, her faith is strong, but her lust for men is often stronger.   The great love she has for a soldier named William eventually leads her to Montsegur. Her tenacious desire to live gets her through the siege and helps her escape the massacre that followed, but she can only live the life of a transient, for if she stays in one place to long she will be found out as a heretic and burned. So she drifts, relying on the charity of others, and does her best to forget the past.  
            Jeanne’s struggles to reconcile her belief in a god of love, and the horrors she saw when the Cathars were wiped out, really resonated with me. Who doesn’t ask the universal question, “Why does a good God allow bad things to happen?” The story shifts between weary old Jeanne sleeping in stables and doing her best to stay anonymous, and the youthful Jeanne of her memories, full of hope, life and love. At times the switches from past and present are jarring, but most of the time it flows quite naturally. For fans of medieval fiction, this would be a unique addition to your collection. The Cathars may be gone, wiped out by the Inquisition, but this tragic tale has many bright spots of humor and warmth. Jeanne’s life was hard, but it was enjoyable to read.

Buy the book on Amazon.com, or add it to your wishlist.