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Summary and book reviews of The Everlasting by Katy Simpson Smith

The Everlasting

by Katy Simpson Smith

The Everlasting by Katy Simpson Smith X
The Everlasting by Katy Simpson Smith
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  • Published:
    Mar 2020, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
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About this Book

Book Summary

From a supremely talented author comes this brilliant and inventive novel, set in Rome in four different centuries, that explores love in all its various incarnations and ponders elemental questions of good and evil, obedience and free will that connect four unforgettable lives.

Spanning two thousand years, The Everlasting follows four characters whose struggles resonate across the centuries: an early Christian child martyr; a medieval monk on crypt duty in a church; a Medici princess of Moorish descent; and a contemporary field biologist conducting an illicit affair.

Outsiders to a city layered and dense with history, this quartet separated by time grapple with the physicality of bodies, the necessity for sacrifice, and the power of love to sustain and challenge faith. Their small rebellions are witnessed and provoked by an omniscient, time-traveling Satan who, though incorporeal, nonetheless suffers from a heart in search of repair.

As their dramas unfold amid the brick, marble, and ghosts of Rome, they each must decide what it means to be good. Twelve-year old Prisca defiles the scrolls of her father's library. Felix, a holy man, watches his friend's body decay and is reminded of the first boy he loved passionately. Giulia de' Medici, a beauty with dark skin and limitless wealth, wants to deliver herself from her unborn child. Tom, an American biologist studying the lives of the smallest creatures, cannot pinpoint when his own marriage began to die. As each of these conflicted people struggles with forces they cannot control, their circumstances raise a profound and timeless question at the heart of faith: What is our duty to each other, and what will God forgive?

THE CITY
[ 1559 ]

After the trunks from Florence had been put away and the footman had delivered the letter from her lover that she refused to open, Giulia listened at the door for the footstep of her husband—nothing— and then draped veils over the mirrors, took off her heavy skirts, and started in on the Battle for the New World, with the heathens on the verge of surrendering the high mount of Hispaniola. She thrust her umbrella into the rib cage of a writhing Indian; she spun around to lop off the head of a phantom approaching from behind. Blood spattered the silk upholstery. She grabbed the corpses by their ankles and swung them onto the bed to clear the field. A boy ran in front of her, his hands raised in a plea; she kicked open the window and hurled him by his hair into the street below. A man selling eels stared up at her.

On the island, not a soldier stirred. The lady knight Bradamante sheathed her lance and flipped a veil from one of the mirrors. Her eyes were dark ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Broad and ambitious in scope, The Everlasting endeavors to capture the history and spirit of Rome across generations. It is a wildly ambitious book that is sometimes more compelling for its ideas and structure than its narratives, but it ultimately comes together as a cohesive, clear-eyed portrait of a city where love, lust, and immorality have been inextricably combined for centuries...continued

Full Review Members Only (614 words).

(Reviewed by Rachel Hullett).

Media Reviews

BookPage
A rare book whose ambition is matched by its craft and emotional weight…Combining the gravity of history with the tribulations of faith and the wit and wisdom of Satan himself…An exquisite tapestry of history, religion and heartbreak that’s perfect for historical fiction and fabulism fans alike.

Publishers Weekly
The further Smith digs into Rome's layered past, the more captivating the story becomes. This is an ambitious novel whose characters must choose between sensual or spiritual love, gratification or self-abnegation, principled martyrdom or survival.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Perhaps Smith's most appealing character is Satan, whose weary, ironic comments punctuate a narrative that shines with lyrical, translucent prose. A compelling, beautifully rendered tale of passion and pain.

Author Blurb Nathaniel Rich, author of King Zeno
Only Katy Simpson Smith could have written a novel of such elegance, emotional power, and grace. The Everlasting, a quadruple love story spanning two millennia, is no less than the story of love itself—its frustrations and thrills, its blunders and transcendent glories. Meraviglioso.

Author Blurb Jonathan Lee, author of High Dive
It is so very rare to find a writer whose blistering ambition when it comes to bringing history alive on the page is matched by an equal ability to build and break sentences in beautiful ways. Katy Simpson Smith is that writer, and The Everlasting -- a bold and ingenious novel spanning multiple time periods and characters with the ease of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas—is full of rich and brilliant ideas about Rome, home, free will, sin, sensation, and civilization. It's an incredible achievement.

Author Blurb Taiye Selasi, author of Ghana Must Go
The Everlasting is, quite simply, a wonder: a mesmerizing quartet of stories rendered in lucid, accessible prose. This is a thrillingly modern narrative that, shifting effortlessly from voice to voice, feels like a good old-fashioned story, the story of a city, one of the world's oldest, wildest, sexiest (and, incidentally, my favorite on earth): Rome.

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Beyond the Book

Books Set Across Centuries

Katy Simpson Smith's novel The Everlasting is set entirely in Rome, but it takes place across multiple centuries, introducing us to separate storylines in 2015, 1559, 896, and 165. Here are some other noteworthy books that are set in one location spanning multiple centuries.

The Pillars of the EarthThe Kingsbridge Series by Ken Follett
Originally published in 1989, The Pillars of the Earth is set in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England in 1135. It follows the family of mason Tom Builder, who is commissioned to construct a cathedral grander than the world has ever seen. At nearly a thousand pages, it's an epic, sprawling multi-family saga on its own, but Follett continued the story of Kingsbridge in his follow-up, World Without End, published in 2007. ...

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