Reviewed by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
The author of numerous historical novels, author Morgan Llywelyn brings Brendán of Clonfert to vivid life in her latest work. Better known as St. Brendan the Navigator, this strong man in an often harsh land became famous in the Middle Ages for his ocean voyage to discover the Isle of the Blessed, a Paradise supposedly located beyond the Western Sea.
Brendán was born in Ireland toward the end of the fifth century, an era during which the Christianity preached by Patrick had gained a strong foothold but was by no means universally accepted. Raised first by nuns and then by a bishop, he is filled with wanderlust from an early age. The future saint and his pet raven first travel throughout Ireland, visiting the land and occasionally founding monasteries. But he always feels driven to seek more, a desire that culminates in his legendary journey by sea.
Llywellyn’s story is less about Brendán’s physical journeys than about his inner journey. Fantastic events happen to him, even miraculous things, but Llwellyn’s story is more about a hero coming to terms with the longings of his heart while never losing his sense of wonder.
The author tells her tale by combining Brendán’s retrospective personal journal, his less-formal memories, and narrative from the points of view of his companions—companions on his life’s journey as well as his sea voyages. Llywelyn’s use of multiple viewpoints demands the reader keep much in mind while reading. This evokes, at times, an almost meditative, contemplative mood.
Adroitly blending imagination, the medieval “Life of St. Brendan”, and Llywellyn’s vast knowledge of Irish legend and history, Brendán is a fascinating introduction to this towering man of faith and the world that shaped him and which he, in turned, shaped.
Forge (Tom Doherty Associates)
$24.99 | hardcover | 303 pages
16 February 2010