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Publisher's Summary

From National Book Award-winning writer James Carroll comes a novel of the timeless love story of Peter Abelard and Héloïse, and its impact on a modern priest and a Holocaust survivor seeking sanctuary in Manhattan.

Father Michael Kavanagh is shocked to see a friend from his seminary days named Runner Malloy at the altar of his humble Inwood community parish. Wondering about their past, he wanders into the medieval haven of The Cloisters, and begins a conversation with a lovely and intriguing museum guide, Rachel Vedette.

Rachel, a scholar of medieval history, has retreated to the quiet of The Cloisters after her harrowing experience as a Jewish woman in France during the Holocaust. She ponders her late father's greatest intellectual work: a study demonstrating the relationship between the famously discredited monk Peter Abelard and Jewish scholars. Something about Father Kavanagh makes Rachel think he might appreciate her continued studies, and she shares with him the work that cost her father his life.

At the center of these interrelated stories is the classic romance between the great scholar Peter Abelard and his intellectual equal Héloïse. For Rachel, Abelard is the key to understanding her people's place in intellectual history. For Kavanagh, he is a doorway to understanding the life he might have had outside of the Church. The Cloister is James Carroll at his best.

©2018 James Carroll (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"With his familiar deftness and depth, James Carroll weaves a profound and compelling novel from diverse but overlapping narrative strands. From the conversations between a Catholic priest and a French Jewish woman in mid-twentieth century New York to the brutality of Nazi-occupied Paris to the great medieval love story of Abelard and Heloïse, The Cloister illuminates life's most vital questions and proposes inspiring, radical, and timely answers." (Claire Messud, New York Times best-selling author of The Burning Girl and The Emperor’s Children)

"James Carroll has written an enlightening, vitally important book, a necessity for our time." (Maxine Hong Kingston, author of I Love a Broad Margin to My Life)

"I didn’t know I needed this novel until I read it. As unflinching about the Holocaust as it is about the Crusades, The Cloister is a fearless exploration of the violent foundations on which our own historical inheritance rests. And like all the best fiction, it commandeers the reader’s heart." (Rachel Kadish, author of The Weight of Ink)

"Fascinating in its evocation of the twelfth-century Catholic Church in France, this lavishly detailed historical novel serves as an education in historical philosophy, a poignant tale of devoted love, and a portrait of a postwar human crisis influenced heavily by both.... This is definitely a thought-provoking book." (Booklist)

"Carroll blends his well-aired interests in history, theology, and literary fiction in this deftly told story that partakes richly of all.... A rich, literate tale well told." (Kirkus Reviews)

"This is a wonderful novel, and it's wonder-filled. James Carroll brings the twelfth-century lovers, Abelard and Heloïse, blazingly back to life, and he does so through the medium of a New York priest and a Parisian Jew. The present and the past illuminate each other, and the startling mysteries of prejudice, brutality, and love are made doubly vivid here. Like All the Light You Cannot See, The Cloister is a book of gravity and consequence that makes you need to turn and turn the page." (Nicholas Delbanco, author of Curiouser and Curiouser: Essays)

What members say

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Enlightening. Thoughtful. Rare.

thank you for writing this one. very moving and worth reading again someday. no more words necessary.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Could not get into it.

The author reads the book. His voice is calming. I fell asleep within minutes of listening to it.

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Reading Cadence

So difficult to tolerate the staccato reading. Rarely was it appropriate, but story is fascinating.

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Rare Gem

I find this book captured my full attention- an excellent historical novel that captures real issues with Christianity, in particular, Catholicism. There is no doubt that The Jewish people have paid a heavy price for the success of "The Church" throughout history. They have been, and continue to be, blamed for killing Christ. James Carroll weaves this story in a way that makes the conflict in the argument remain out in the open. I appreciate his style and honor his integrity to the factual elements he portrays.