Historical fiction at its best
‘We are none of us perfect, and a streak of stubbornness is what is needed in dealing with a household such as yours, Kat… and with Martin.’
Sanderling Books|23 July 2019|print length 446 pages|e-book review copy|5*
I loved this book; beautifully written and meticulously researched Katharina: Fortitude by Margaret Skea it presents a vivid portrait of Katharina von Bora from the beginning of her married life with Martin Luther in 1525 to her death in 1552. It is the conclusion to Katharina: Deliverance, which covered the early years of her life from 1505 up to her wedding to Luther.
They both work well as standalone novels but I think reading both gives a fully rounded picture of her life. Margaret Skea is a skilful storyteller and seamlessly blends historical fact into her fiction. She is an award winning author both for her short stories and her historical novels – and Katharina: Deliverance was Runner-up in the Historical Novel Society Novel Award 2018.
Just as in Katharina: Deliverance, I was transported back in time and place to Reformation Germany, and in particular to Wittenberg in Saxony, experiencing the social, cultural and political situation. It’s also an intensely personal novel and I feel I really came to know Katharina and Martin very well. They lived through turbulent times, suffering outbreaks of plague, political and religious conflict as well as coping with the death of two of their children. Their marriage, initially one of convenience, opposed by some of his friends and fellow reformers, eventually became full of their love for each other and Martin came to value Katharina’s candid opinions and the support she gave him.
I felt immense admiration for Katharina, for her strength of character, resilience and courageous spirit. She gave birth to six children, whilst looking after Martin, who was often ill and suffered from depression. And in addition she also managed the daily life of the Lutherhaus in Wittenberg, often under financial difficulties because of Martin’s generosity towards others. She catered for the students and all the visitors and boarders, as well as working in the garden, with its vegetable beds and herb garden, the brewhouse, stable and piggery. Luther continued to be involved in religious controversy, whilst lecturing students, and holding his Table Talk sessions discussing a variety of topics ranging from theology and politics to diseases and their remedies. He also translated the Bible into German, composed hymns, catechisms and treatises.
I have often written in my reviews that I am not a fan of novels written in the present tense, but I had no issues with it in either of these books about Katharina and I think it fits the story perfectly. I was totally immersed in the story, enhanced by the richly descriptive writing, which made it compulsively readable for me.
In her Author’s Note Margaret Skea states that her book, based on a research trip in Saxony, ‘is a work of fiction, and though based on extensive research, the Katharina depicted here is my own interpretation’. There is a list of the main characters, a glossary of German terms and a map showing Saxony and Surroundings to help with the locations. It is a remarkable story, full of drama, centred on Katharina, a strong and courageous woman who never gave up no matter the difficulties that life with Luther brought her. I loved it.
With many thanks to Margaret Skea for sending me an advance review copy.