This 1967 novel opens a wide, picturesque window onto life in the Roman Empire in the 5th Century. Curiously, if not eerily, the view is a mirror to our own time. The window the novel provides for us to peer through are the sharply intelligent eyes of Alypius, the young, sensitive friend of Saint Augustine of Hippo.
When the story starts, Augustine is far from being a saint but is intently interested in the pursuits of wisdom and truth. Through Alypius’ journal, we follow the struggles of Augustine, Alypius and their close circle of wisdom seekers as they wend their philosophical way through the various religions and schools of thought competing for the minds and souls of the empire and the world in the fifth century. Their journey to Christianity is not merely intellectual however; it is also emotionally exacting, even torturous for both Augustine and his lover, Lucilla when their embrace of Christianity demands an ending to their illicit affair.
Saint Monica, Augustine’s long-suffering mother, is particularly well drawn, her fear for Augustine’s soul is made quite palpable by Rex Warner’s deft writing. There’s even a cameo by a cantankerous Saint Jerome that had me giggling.
All in all a gem of a historical novel!