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The Sacrament

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  2,166 ratings  ·  379 reviews
The haunting, vivid story of a nun whose past returns to her in unexpected ways, all while investigating a mysterious death and a series of harrowing abuse claims

A young nun is sent by the Vatican to investigate allegations of misconduct at a Catholic school in Iceland. During her time there, on a gray winter’s day, a young student at the school watches the school’s headma
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published December 3rd 2019 by Ecco
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Taylor Iachini Unfortunately there are no definite ages given during the novel. There is a small section where the main character is a child/teen, then jumps to wher…moreUnfortunately there are no definite ages given during the novel. There is a small section where the main character is a child/teen, then jumps to where she is around 20 or so (college age), then to perhaps a little older (maybe 30?) when she actually conducts the investigation, and finally to her "Golden Years". (less)
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Average rating 3.72  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,166 ratings  ·  379 reviews

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Jan 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Sacrament took me by surprise.
I loved the way the story is told, going backwards and forwards although following the plot required a lot of concentration. This was a slow read for me, there was no rush to learn about the events as the reader realizes it right at the start of the novel. So much, never enough, has been written with regard to the child abuse in the Catholic Church, and each story is painful in its own way. The slow pace shows the respect to all victims ... There is no grahic d
Dec 01, 2019 rated it liked it
This story takes place in both Paris and Iceland in dueling time frames. The main character Sister Johanna grew up as Pauline before she became a nun. As a teenager, she found that unlike her friends, she never was interested in the opposite sex. Then when she boarded at college in Paris, she became intensely attracted to her Icelandic roommate, Halla. As time went by, they worked on learning each other's language, but Pauline was a bit more serious about learning Icelandic. Matters took a momen ...more
Jun 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
A sophisticated novel told from the perspective of an elderly nun trying her best to enjoy her golden years tending to her roses and beloved dog. Her past comes back with a vengeance when she is required to return to Iceland to investigate events from her youth that have resurfaced but have never been forgotten. The unreliability of memory, youthful incompetence, first love, the abuse of power, and the marks on the heart that “sins” and sin leave are deftly and deeply explored. This is my first ...more
Diane S ☔
Dec 09, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 Dark and bleak, is this story of a young woman who struggles with a sexual orientation condemned by the Catholic Church. Going back and forth in time and alternating between Paris and Iceland, the story takes the reader inside the abuse accusations in the church. A nun herself now, she is tasked with the responsibility of investigating the abuse accusations arising out of a boys Catholic school in Iceland and their priest. Silence, a most potent motif is a result of sins kept hidden, of boys ...more
Nov 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I love mysteries that deal with different places. Here, we are transported to Iceland. A French Catholic sister is sent to Iceland to investigate a charge of abuse against two school boys. Why does the Catholic Church send a nun, you ask. Supposedly because she speaks Icelandic. But even she susses out the truth - they don’t want her to discover the truth and are expecting her to fail.

We hear from Sister Johanna Marie both at the time of her investigation and some 20 years later, when she is se
Richard Derus
Real Rating: 4.5* of five

Getting older, learning to live with the past, standing on the rocks of the walls you've crashed through and those you've tried to build, is a bear. You can't tell anyone younger what it means and anyone you know your own age not only knows but is busily trying to tidy the dust off their scratched, bloody feet.

When what you've seen, felt, done no longer matters to anyone but you...polite avowals of interest are never to be presumed upon...then Life can't take anything el
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes I think the audio version of a novel makes the story better because of the talent of the narrator. “The Sacrament” by Olaf Olafsson, narrated by Jane Copland is one of those novels that shine in audio. Copland has a melodious voice, capturing the novel’s narrator, Sister Joanna perfectly. Copland has the lilt, accent, and tone that enhances the story of a nun who steadfastly follows her conscious while she understands she’s being ignored and berated.

Author Olaf Olafsson writes a story
Jun 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: e-audible, nordic

This is a beautifully written novel, nuanced and often complex. Flashbacks over three time periods required concentration; but, as the story unfolds they gradually reveal a reckoning with a pedophile priest, cover-ups by the church hierarchy and the personal conflict of a nun sent by the Vatican to investigate sexual abuse at a Catholic school in Iceland.

As an ex-Catholic that attended Parochial schools, there are elements of the story that provoked deep reflection even after I finished the book
Aug 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received a free e-copy of The Sacrament by Olaf Olafsson from NetGalley for my honest review.

Sister Johann is asked to travel to Iceland and investigate an alleged sexual crime between a priest and some young boys.

After a very thorough investigation, Sister knows he is guilty. The problem is that none of the children or their parents are willing to have it documented. The priest knows this, of course, and provokes her.

An well written and intriguing read.
Connie G
Jan 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: iceland, mystery
While a young boy looks on, a priest falls to his death from the bell tower of the church. Sister Johanna, a French nun, had been sent to Iceland to investigate charges of abuse of school boys. (She was fluent in the language after rooming with an Icelandic woman at university.) It became evident that the church hierarchy just wanted the charges to disappear, but the nun knew the truth.

Twenty years later Sister Johanna is living in a convent, tending the rose garden and pampering a rescued dog.
Caidyn (he/him/his)
I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review!

DNF at 35%

Well, here we are. I thought this would have a lot of promise -- an Icelandic Catholic nun investigating abuse charges in the Church in Iceland??? Sounds like an awesome book. But, it didn't work for me at all.

My biggest complaint was how distant I felt from the story. It doesn't use quotation marks, so it was hard to read for me. That meant I was more focused on trying to see where the sentences started and stopped, and
Intense Nordic drama!

A boy locked in a school's broom closet views something strange out of the window.
A Catholic nun whose locked away her own secrets, including the reasons for her not quite belonging despite her best efforts. Her sense of humor, her attachment to her dog George Harrison and her rose garden don't quite still her heart. The persuasive church hierarchy who don't want to know. Cardinal Raffin, a sly holder of Sister Joanna Marie's life from before. He thinks that sending a nun wi
Alka Joshi
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is quiet. It sneaks up on you. You can't wait to finish it. And you don't expect the end to be what it turns out to be. It's written in a deceptively simple style. The main character is a nun who doesn't dwell on God so much as on a love she lost twenty years ago. That the author could write a woman's POV so convincingly left me in awe (of course, I know other male writers have accomplished this, but it's still a marvel when done so successfully). The nun's "sidekick," (if we can call ...more
Mike Salerno
Jan 09, 2020 rated it it was ok
This author took an awful long time to tell a very simple story. The non-use of punctuation quotes for dialog is not one of my favorite formats. It makes the book tedious to read. The whole story was based on a letter that was never revealed in the book!! What is up with that. First time reading from Olaf. I may or may not give him another try.
Siri Chateaubriand
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Having read a NYT review of this book I ordered a sample. After reading it I immediately ordered the book and continued into the night, reluctantly putting it down to get some sleep. In the morning I picked it up again and finished it pretty much 24 hours after I had started. I'm not sure why a story about a middle-aged nun, tormented by feelings of having wasted her life, and sent to Iceland on a mission to verify an accusation of abuse, should be so fascinating, but it was. Beautifully told, j ...more
Sep 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Now here is a book I loved, a book that drew me in from the very first page and held my attention and affection completely for the duration. Completely demolishing the myth of soulless business executives, Olaf Olafsson (who served or still does as an Executive VP of Time Warner) has created a book with so much soul, it practically spills out of its pages. Maybe it’s the Iceland shining through, the is indeed something distinctly Nordic about this book, despite the author’s obvious Americanizati ...more
Jun 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: edelweiss
A gripping, emotive literary accomplishment. Most highly recommended. Complete review to be posted closer to the publication date of 12/3/2019.
Maureen Grigsby
Nov 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book! It has mood, a sense of place, and the sins of the Catholic Church. Stunning writing.
Jun 01, 2020 rated it liked it
This book has a very gloomy tone, which I guess is appropriate! It just seemed a little slow and it dealt with very depressing and horrific events! The book itself wasn’t gory and didn’t detail those events thankfully or it would have been even more melancholic than it already is. In the end, it was slow going and if I was reading the actual book, I’m not sure I would have finished. Since I listened to the audio while chores I don’t think it was a complete waste of time but it was very heartbrea ...more
I really enjoyed this Icelandic mystery. I thought this was going to be a Nordic noir kind of book, but it really didn't have that feel to me. There aren't any grisly murders or oppressive winters, and although the subject of child abuse comes up, it's not described and not done in any sort of gratuitous way. It's handled very well, and I'm really happy about that because I did not want to read anything like that. I like a good Nordic noir, but I wasn't disappointed with what this turned out to ...more
Feb 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Solid story about a nun, Johanna, sent to Iceland to investigate a sexual abuse scandal at a Catholic school. There are three different timelines running in parallel. It can be a bit confusing at times because the author does not tell you explicitly when there is a jump. He puts the onus on the reader.

It all makes sense at the end. The end was a bit predictable (view spoiler), but the joy was in the journey and all the tribulations, past
Dec 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book tackled a number of issues in interesting settings, Iceland and Paris, however it was confusing for about the first half of the book whether we were in the present, the past, or distant past. The author did that on purpose to add to the suspense but i found it confusing. I liked the character development and felt like they were real people. I may go back and read it again, but feel its a 3 1/2 star book.
Nov 21, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 🌟 Very well written story.
Bill Silva
Jan 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
Not your average mystery...really more a layered and complex story about memory, regret, evil, and loss, all filtered through the recollections and experiences of the finely detailed and complicated character of Sister Johanna. An engrossing read!
Dec 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
I connected with Pauline/Sister Johanna at every age she was portrayed. It did take me a while to realize there were three points in time (2 trips to Iceland) in the narrative. I loved the last fourth of the book as it all came together.
Taylor Iachini
Jul 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
I received a free eARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

First things first: I ABSOLUTELY did the silly thing where I saw the cover of this book and assumed it to be horror or even suspense. However! After realizing my mistake, I quickly started enjoying this book for the lovely piece of literature that it is!

This story is told through the eyes of Sister Johanna Marie, an elderly nun who is called back to Iceland after years to further discuss a case that she looked into involvin
Jan 17, 2020 rated it liked it
The story was pretty good but I struggled too long with the bouncing through time. The novel takes place during 3 different periods, but sometimes without indication of where or when until later in the chapter. It would have helped to give chapter titles with a location and date, but that isn’t the author’s way.
Lisa of Hopewell
Jan 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
My Interest

I tried this audiobook earlier as I was curious to read more about Iceland, but got too confused and quit. I did something I rarely do, I read some reader reviewers on Amazon and got the gist of what was confusing me and tried it again a few months later. This week, it made sense.

The Story

Pauline/Sister Johanna reveals her story in an often confusing narrative told in back-and-forth switches in time from her student days in Paris to later in her life and to even later in her life. Her
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
It's hard to write a review without spoilers, but I'll just say that it's wonderfully written and very satisfying. ...more
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Olafsson weaves this tale about a young woman, Pauline who becomes a nun, takes the name, Johanna, who is a pawn in the structure of the Catholic Church, suffering under the scrutiny of one man, experiencing the depth of lies, silence and cover-up, inaction, along with the backdrop of bitter Icelandic cold, young love, and memories of France. The story weaves back and forth between past and present, at times a little confusing but effective in the telling. There are many moments of gut wrenching ...more
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Mt. Lebanon Publi...: The Sacrament by Olaf Olafsson 1 3 Jun 04, 2020 05:23PM  
Goodreads Librari...: please combine these editions 3 13 Jun 03, 2019 02:47PM  
English Translati...: Olaf Olafsson - The Sacrament 1 9 Apr 17, 2019 03:15PM  

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Olaf Olafsson was born in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1962. He studied physics as a Wien Scholar at Brandeis University. He is the author of three previous novels, The Journey Home, Absolution and Walking Into the Night, and a story collection, Valentines. His books have been published to critical acclaim in more than twenty languages. He is the recipient of the O. Henry Award and the Icelandic Literary ...more

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“I had the impression that I was damned, even though all I had done was to be as God made me, and as I lay in bed staring up at the ceiling, I saw no difference between God’s justice and man’s injustice.” 1 likes
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