INSCRIPTION Published by Sowilo Press. Available now from bookshops or online.
Marina's manuscript will be the warp, and my miscellany the weft, of a textura, a fabric I cannot yet name or imagine. But I do know that the final text, however tightly woven it may appear, will really be a net, an openwork of filaments from one knot to another, with empty spaces between.
The academics often said I was on the edge of serious scholarship; well then, I claim once more the freedom of the borderlands. I have been scrupulously accurate in rendering Marina's words, but I will not impose any such discipline on mine. I no longer have the energy for the academic niceties, I'm not interested in confining myself to scholarly jargon, and I cannot promise to keep myself decorously out of the picture.
INSCRIPTION is a novel in two strands, the voices of two women living two thousand years apart.
One is the voice of Aubrey, in North America in the 1990s, a specialist in ancient texts. She is originally from England.
The other is the voice of Marina, a female scribe writing in the first century from an island off the Italian coast. Though she has been living in Rome for years, Marina is a native of an Imperial outpost, Britannia.
Aubrey translates Marina's text and transcribes it by hand into a notebook, the book we are reading. She interleaves Marina's words with her own, so we hear their stories antiphonally.
Marina has been banished from Rome by the emperor Domitian. With her is a Roman girl, Tilla. Their relationship shifts from initial hostility into a deep friendship, as they share the dangers of exile.
Between passages of Marina's story, Aubrey annotates the historical background and the context of Marina's manuscript. But gradually, in response to what happens to Marina and Tilla, Aubrey finds herself confronting her own buried life. Now she is seriously ill. She must deal with one particular piece of unfinished business. But it means painful self-exposure.
Aubrey and Marina, separated by two thousand years, must both come to terms with the past. They must both find the courage to act for the future. And they must both, in different ways, make the journey home.
Inscription won the 2013 Eludia Award from Hidden River Arts.
The award includes publication by Sowilo Press and the book was published in August 2105.
The book was also long-listed for the 2013 Cinnamon Press novel/novella award.
Inscription is one of twelve semi-finalists (out of more than 150 entrants) for the 2016 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. It's in good company! The winner, The Turner House by Angela Flournoy, has been named book of the year by Oprah magazine, among others.
Here is some responses to the book:
"Clean, lean, superb prose; the quality of research; thoughtfulness; the subtle interweaving of the stories of two women divided by two millennia but drawn together by circumstance. It's not difficult to praise many components of this unusual and deeply moving historical novel, but what is less obvious, and in the end more profound, is Christine Whittemore's conspicuous achievement in writing a novel about both the consolation of fiction and of writing fiction."
Kevin Crossley-Holland, poet and author of The Seeing Stone and The Hidden Roads: a Memoir of Childhood.
"A delightful and poignant tale."
Historical Novels Review.
"A great read....given the right opportunities it could make the leap into cinema.....a very promising first novel."
"Inscription is a powerful, moving, and finely-crafted novel. I was carried by the force of the story and the lyrical, poetic writing. I found the characters intensely human and real, the story poignant and gripping, and the descriptive writing so vivid. It's an incredibly immersive read….Inscription is both learned and accessible, intensely readable, full of poetry and the most beautiful prose."
Anna Saunders, founder/executive director of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival, and poet, author of Struck and Kissing the She-Bear.
"Here's what kept me going: the weave—the pattern and pacing of voice and story and history and detail, rendered with an accuracy that is more than intellect or academic rigor, an accuracy driven by an unerring sense of what matters to the human heart and the desire to preserve and transmit it so it is not lost."
J.C. Todd, Fellow in Poetry at the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, and Lecturer, Creative Writing Program, Bryn Mawr College.
"I’ve taken some time reading Christine Whittemore’s Eludia Award novel, Inscription, because I have read it twice. I often do this. I like to read a good novel once rather quickly, moving right ahead, to get an overview of the whole story (lingering a bit here and there, of course, over choice passages). On my second reading, I read much more slowly, savoring description, character development and just, in general, the felicities of the writing.
This reading technique worked very well for me when reading this rich tapestry of a book.
Whittemore is an excellent writer, fully in control of all her material, writing that lets the reader fully and sympathetically identify with characters such as the main character, Marina, a scribe who is, unusually for the 1st century, a woman, or the other main character, Aubrey, a contemporary woman.....
....I found myself very involved in the precarious lives of these women. Aubrey, who changed her own name and thus removed herself from easy research by her unknown descendants, by the end of this book stepped into history. These lives all seem very complicated but when we stop to think about our own lives, we realize this complexity is the human experience. Back in the day, even Pontius Pilate famously said, “What is truth?”
I think there is a very good possibility that, when some time has passed, I may read Inscription again. It’s that good, leading us skillfully through the complexities of 1st century life, religion, and politics. Wonderfully symmetrical and satisfying ending but I won’t be a spoiler. You’ll have to find out for yourself and you will be very happy you did so."
From a review by poet and short story writer Tree Riesener.
"The author’s poetic sensibilities shine throughout this beautiful narrative, the prose is as spare and delicate as a poem, every word in the right place, carefully weighed to create a seemingly effortless prose style. The book is beautifully created too, free from errors, typos and formatting blunders, so that it facilitates a swift and fluent reading, without pulling up the reader and reminding them that they are reading, rather than hearing, a story.
The story is a time-slip format, weaving two time periods together, creating an arc of female experience that spans centuries. There’s nothing unique about the device, but the earlier time period (first century AD Roman Empire) is fascinating and the research and knowledge of the book is worn very lightly. The modern protagonist, Aubrey, seems at first so incredibly different from Marina, the worlds they inhabit so distant in time and space, and yet by the end of the book, we are struck by the universality of human experience, and particularly female experience, wherein so little of substance has actually changed in 2000 years. ......There is a definite air of the detective story in the modern chapters of Inscription, which I found fascinating, and which really kindled in me a desire to know more and to visit the richly-described locations. And there is love. And there is guilt. And there is sacrifice. And the hope of redemption.
From a review by writer Orla McAlinden (winner of the Irish Book Awards Short Story of the Year 2016 for "The Visit.")
Coming in the future:
MY FATHER'S PROMISE: A HIDDEN CHILD SURVIVES THE HOLOCAUST co-written with Harriet Dronska-Feitelberg.
"You will make it through the war, and so will I, and we will find each other."
So said my father, leaving me on a street corner. I believed him. He always kept his promises.
from My Father's Promise.
Harriet, now in her eighties, unburies her long-repressed experience as a child hiding in plain sight during the Holocaust.
Henryka Schatz was the daughter of well-off Jews in Lwow, Poland. Under the German occupation her mother vanished, taken by the Nazis. Her father sent Henryka away, at nine years old, to save her. Carrying false Catholic papers, she worked as a maid in various households, some German. Exposure meant death.
Wrenched from a pampered childhood, separated from her remaining family, often hungry, she kept her disguise and her chutzpah, even bluffing the SS. She was sustained by her father's promise and by his confidence in her.
Nearly all Lwow's Jews died. Henryka and her father did survive, and did find each other again.
My Father's Promise is an extraordinary story.
If you are a publisher interested in this, please get in touch!