When my friends publish, I get so gleeful. Perhaps there’s some selfishness in that glee – If they can do it, I can do it, too – but mostly, I’m just really happy for them. I love people succeeding at what they love, and my friend Vanitha has done just that with her first book Watermark, released by HarperCollins this month. The book is thoughtful, interesting, and well-written. Brava, my friend.
The novel tells the story of Auda, an albino mute, living in medieval France during the Inquisition. She is the daughter of a papermaker who is helping to facilitate the switch from parchment to paper. Auda, unlike most women, has learned to read and to write, and in some ways the book is her story of her coming into her voice, ironically without having a vocal one.
The book twines together historical fact and literary fiction to create a well-paced, nuanced story about the questions we must all answer to live into our true selves – what are we willing to risk? Who must we protect? How must we speak?
While not typically a fan of historical fiction, I found myself very invested in Auda, partially because she is a female artist, partially because she struggles with questions of faith and questions of family loyal, and partially because she’s just interesting – a well-written character.
I also loved the sections on papermaking and illumination (Auda meets a young artist who specializes in illumination) because I find the history of writing and text to be engrossing. How did we survive as a species for so long when so few of us could communicate through the written word? I know only a writer/reader would ask this question, but still it fascinates me.
If you like a good story that keeps you invested without resorting to big-action gimmicks and if you appreciate history, particularly religious and writing history, this book is a great choice for you. But really it’s a good read, and I’m not just saying that because Vanitha is my friend. It really is quite good. Yeah, my friends have done it again. I’m so proud.