By Kelly Bridgewater
Before he became a father of the Christian Church, Augustine of Hippo loved a woman whose name has been lost to history. This is her story.
She met Augustine in Carthage when she was seventeen. She was the poor daughter of a mosaic-layer; he was a promising student and with a great career in the Roman Empire ahead of him. His brilliance and passion intoxicated her, but his social class would be forever beyond her reach. She became his concubine, and by the time he was forced to leave her, she was thirty years old and the mother of his son. And his Confessions show us that he never forgot her. She was the only woman he ever loved.
In a society in which classes rarely mingled on equal terms, and an unwed mother could lose her son to the burgeoning career of her ambitious lover, this anonymous woman was a first-hand witness to Augustine of Hippos’s anguished spiritual journey from religious cultist to the celebrated Christian saint and thinker.
Giving voice to one of history’s most mysterious women, The Confessions of X tells the story of Augustine of Hippo’s nameless lover, their relationship before his famous conversion, and her life after his rise to fame. A tale of womanhood, faith, and class at the end of antiquity, The Confessions of X is more than historical fiction . . . it is a timeless story of love and loss in the shadow of a theological giant.
She met Augustine in Carthage when she was just seventeen years old. She was the daughter of a mosaic-layer. He was a student and the heir to a fortune. They fell in love, despite her lower station and Augustine’s dreams of greatness. Their passion was strong, but the only position in his life that was available to her was as his concubine. When Augustine’s ambition and family compelled him to disown his relationship with the her, X was thrust into a devastating reality as she was torn from her son and sent away to her native Africa.
A reflection of what it means to love and lose, this novel paints a gripping and raw portrait of ancient culture, appealing to historical fiction fans while deftly exploring one woman’s search for identity and happiness within very limited circumstances.
I’m really not a fan of historical fiction, especially when it covers stories written in the Biblical times or stories in the past without modern conveniences. But when I was given a copy of The Confession of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe, the synopsis on the back of the book intrigued me. When I was in graduate school, I took a class by Professor Latta on Rhetoric and the importance of it for every English student. That class was difficult, but I really enjoyed learning more about how reading and writing actually go hand in hand along with speaking. For that class, we had to compose a twenty-five page essay. I choose to do mine on Augustine. My thesis basically proved that in order for someone to speak, read, or write well, they had to study the Bible. Using examples and letters from Augustine, I proved my theory.
I read Augustine’s Confessions for my essay, but I really didn’t remember much about the woman who captured his heart. The Confession of X is her story, so I wanted to fill in the gaps with this fictional piece created by Wolfe.
Wolfe does a great job at inviting me into the historical story without feeling out of place. I saw the community with the paved roads and the market where the women went to hang out all day long and watch their children before returning to the house during the heat of the day to cool off. I enjoyed learning more about poor woman who had no stature and how they couldn’t marry any one with wealthy; they just had to be their concuibine because they brought nothing to the marriage.
With the first person point of view, I really understood and empathized with “Little Bird.” The name her father gave her. The entire story is told from her perspective. We don’t understand why Augustine chooses to do what he does; instead, we watch Augustine’s woman make the choices she does. I understood her feelings and understood her ultimate sacrifice. I enjoyed watching her mature and change as the world around her changed. Wolfe does a good job at creating a historical character that would rightly suite Augustine.
The Confession of X is unique, but it made me realize the significance of woman long ago. In the history books and the Bible, most women were glossed over because woman weren’t seen as the important ones in history. Only the men mattered. But Wolfe allows her imagination to flow and makes “Little Bird” important and a strong heroine.
Overall, Suzanne M. Wolfe’s The Confession of X gives a rare glimpse into a forgotten woman in history, bringing to her life for the masses. The story could have been ripped from the pages of Augustine’s Confessions if he would have told the truth. I really enjoyed this book and can’t wait to see if Wolfe will write another story.
I received a complimentary copy of The Confession of X from Thomas Nelson and the opinions stated are all my own.
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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What is your favorite aspect of a historical novel? Would you read a story that is made up about a character from the past?