Amal El-Mohtar's Reviews > The Habitation of the Blessed

The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente
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Jul 15, 2011

it was amazing
Read from March 10 to 12, 2011 — I own a copy

Here is what I wrote to the author upon finishing this book:

Today I finished reading The Habitation of the Blessed. I love it. This was a book that I approached with some caution, having so loved the short story, having so loved your reading of one of Imtithal's chapters, having felt so near to its construction and so far from its execution -- like you were always speaking to me from that land while asking me for words to seed that rich earth. To read this book, Cat, was to find paths of our conversations twisting and turning, lined with fruit-bearing word-trees that knew me as I knew them.

The truth of things, the depth of them. I kept reading it and thinking this, too, yes, this. I kept thinking of what I wanted to say about it while reading it, and then forgetting what I wanted to say as I read the next sentence, because I couldn't hold this whole world of yours, had to let it run a river through me while I tried to sip it.

At first, I read it slowly. I had to learn its shape, because it was clear to me from the beginning that Hiob's story was not a frame so much as its own fragment. Learning that was important. Reading it was like gathering two armfuls of sand towards me, and then finding as grain piled on grain that there were things to be unearthed from it, that there was a wholeness in these fragments, and how beautiful, how heartbreaking it was to see the narratives knitting together in perfect time to the decay of the texts that held them. And by that point I was reading as quickly as and with an urgency sympathetic to Hiob's.

It's just so brilliant, Cat. It's so brilliant, and so beautiful, and so full of grace.

I love that the bodies of the Blemmye force you to see a person in a body -- that to be a female Blemmye is to forego ever saying "dude, my eyes are up here," because it is impossible to look at breasts without them looking back. It is impossible to make an object, a commodity, of such a body.

I love that trees are made up of people. I love that you have seeded your world with Alexander and Sappho and Saint Thomas. I love the balance of the narratives, I love how every single character fascinates me and makes me want to know them, even John, who is infuriating.

Theotokos is Hagia's daughter, isn't she? I can't wait to hear her voice telling stories, as I think she must in books to come.

I love the Crusades as invented by a peacock with my brother's name.

Cat, I can't even say all I want to say in the length of an e-mail. I love this book that hurt you so much to make, and I want to read more in this world. The things you said in it. This -- this, I think, crystallised in me more than anything else:

That is the purpose of stories, that no matter where we walk in the world, we walk twice: once in the warm sunshine, and once in the silvery light of every tale we have ever heard, seeing each thing as it is, and also as it was.

That is why your mother brought me from Nimat when you were but babies, all the way down the long roads lined in yellow flowers, along the blue river, all full of stones. So that you would know how to walk twice, and so that your stride would be kind.

To walk twice. And I think of The Waste Land, and how you will always be this other walking always beside me no matter where you are, because your words are with me, and I eat the fruit of your book trees and they seed in me and send up shoots through me, and reading your books is to practice some strange, alchemical horticulture of the heart.

I love you, and I love this book so much. Thank you.
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Brittany An absolutely beautiful commentary, I agree with so very much said here :).

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