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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 when he sees a friend from his seminary days named Runner Malloy at the altar of his humble parish in upper Manhattan - a friend who was forced to leave under scandalous circumstances. Compelled to reconsider the past, Father Kavanagh wanders into the medieval haven of the Cloisters and stumbles into a conversation with a lovely and intriguing docent, Rachel Vedette.

Having survived the Holocaust and escaped to America, Rachel remains obsessed with her late father’s greatest scholarly achievement: a study demonstrating the relationship between the famously discredited monk Peter Abelard and Jewish scholars. Feeling an odd connection with Father Kavanagh, Rachel 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 philosopher Abelard and his intellectual equal, Héloïse. For Rachel, Abelard is the key to understanding her people’s place in history. And for Father Kavanagh, the controversial theologian may be a doorway to understanding the life he himself might have had outside the church. 

©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 listeners say about The Cloister

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  • Overall
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Reading Cadence

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

2 people found this helpful

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Hire a professional reader

I’m not necessarily against all authors reading their texts. Some do an okay job. James Carroll would not be one of them. His stilted reading and monotone voice is a pretty distraction from the story. And he reads extremely slowly (no doubt to compensate). I listened to most of this on 1.75 x speed. If this was to save money... bad idea. This wasn’t even a memoir where you could MAYBE understand it.

Anyway, terrible reading. Okay story. Not very critical in the presentation of the history - a bit too one sided and naive but instructive in parts. Makes you want to go back and learn more.

Next time Jim: HIRE A PROFESSIONAL!!

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Great novel, awful audiobook

I tried listening to this but this brilliant author made a bad choice in narrating this himself. Read the book.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

A Story woven with confusion and light.

As I read the story line was somewhat predictable, and yet as I read the threads was filled with compassion, love and a deep understanding. I could not help to think that as corrupt and soiled as the Catholic Church, what makes it foundationally good is the real story of love that people live by day in and day out. It is not the clergy and their doctrine that make the faith, but the real story of truth and goodness that will not be watered down nor go away.

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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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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.

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Enlightening. Thoughtful. Rare.

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

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A novel that explores the meaning of LOVE

This novel travels time to explore love in its many forms. Extremely moving and thought provoking.

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Hard to listen?

I increased speed to 1.1 or 1.2 and found it much better. Great story, had compelling dialogue. Enjoyed this book.

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Nope

I was excited to listen to this book, having just visited the Met Cloisters in NYC. The author/narrator is a huge mistake. He does no differentiating between voices and I literally had no idea who was talking. This was a quick return. Will try it on kindle instead.