T.T. Thomas's Reviews > Miserere

Miserere by Caren J. Werlinger
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Jan 11, 13


Caren Werlinger has written a masterful and gorgeous story in Miserere. Like the other reviewers, I could not put this book down. The story is about redemption in unlikely places among people related by blood or historical proximity to one another against a backdrop of the travesties committed in Ireland during the potato famine and in American during the last years of legalized slavery and, again in America, during the late 1960s. The juxtaposition of the Irish problem with that of the slaves and other marginalized cultures and peoples in America was a flawless execution of seamless delivery by Werlinger--and at the same time, so sensitively drawn, so beautifully nuanced, so completely engrossing.

A curse of biblical proportions has travelled down the centuries to one family of Irish heritage, and it's up to a young girl in 1968 to reclaim her family's freedom from that curse. The character of Connemara, Conn, is expertly and perfectly developed, as are each of the supporting cast. Facing a curse she doesn't understand within a society that doesn't allow for differences, Conn sets out to solve the mystery and end the curse. First she has to figure out what the curse is, and, with a series of scant but intriguing and amorphous but eerie clues, decide what to do about it.

The exquisitely chosen title of the book, Miserere, is from the Latin setting for the 51st Psalm, which begins with "Miserere mei, Deus" (Have mercy on me, oh God!). Often referred to simply as "Miserere," it is one of the Penitential, or Confessional, Psalms written as expressions of sorrow and repentance for sins. The history of the 51st Psalm is that it is David's song of penance about his adulterous affair with Bathsheba (Bat Sheva). Lady Jane Grey famously recited the 51st Psalm before her beheading in the Tower of London.

The pacing of this story is as perfect as it gets: Werlinger's narrative moves you along in a page-turning orchestration of events that is all the more exciting because we are seeing it from Conn's point of view. This choice by the author really sets up the tension, and the entire story delivers the punch and the promise of the first few pages. Seriously, this book never stops giving readers who came for a great story exactly what they came for!
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