Author: Marc Kuhn
Published: October 9, 2012
Paperback: 242 pages
Kindle Edition: 229 pages
THE POPE’S STONE is a fascinating historical novel that follows the lives of Nathaniel and Nicholas, descendants of the Barrington family of Virginia. Each young man keeps life-long journals which eventually reveal their parallel lives; lives that are mirrored by similar events and experiences, similar relationships and consequences. The two, however, lived a century apart. The only connections between them are their family heritage, their journals…and the Pope’s Stone.
The Pope’s Stone was a slab of engraved marble given to America in 1854 by Pope Pius IX. It was to be embedded within the walls of the Washington Monument, then under construction in the nation’s capital. John Henry Barrington, a stonemason working at the Monument site, was persuaded to assist a small party of anti-Catholic activists in stealing the Pope’s Stone, smashing it to pieces and tossing them into the Potomac River. The Pope’s Stone was never to be seen again, except for a fragment that John Henry secretly kept for himself. This small piece of the stone passes down through generations of Barringtons, leaving a path of hardship and unexpected tragedy for those who possess it. Coincidence? Bad karma, as Cousin Sarah calls it? Or is it more than that? And, what role does the stone play in the lives of Nathaniel and Nicholas? These are some of the questions you’ll be asking…discover the answers in THE POPE’S STONE.
They say everything starts with a cover, so let me begin my review with that. The increasing font used for the three words of the title is appropriate; it gave more emphasis on the stone. Judging from the book blurb, one can know that the Stone has an important role in the story. However, I think that the Washington monument was featured a bit smaller, thus decreasing its towering height. I don’t know if there is another reason for its size in the cover other than the slab of Stone and an opened journal are intended to appear bigger and more prominent.
The story began in the 1850s, with the first chapter titled with date and place. It was a descriptive introduction fitting to be a foundation of the story. The history was established, actions were executed, and conflict was introduced. All of these were done in just a single chapter, six pages in all. There was brevity and creativity in the author’s art of implanting this very first part of the book in the reader’s mind. It was a nice move, actually. My attention was immediately captured by the pace of the story. A well-described and explained intro can be the make or break of a book and this novel has given its successful teaser.
The second chapter started the same way – with title, date, and place. The date was 25 years after the first and the place different. In here, the story started with Nathaniel Henry Barrington, a boy who just celebrated his 14th birthday. He is a smart and inquisitive young man and his friend, Elizabeth, supported his likes and hobbies by giving him an elegant leather notebook. The third chapter, 106 years after, Nicholas Henry Barrington also had his 14th birthday highlighted with a leather bound journal gift from his neighbor friend, Jennifer.
On POVs and writing
The succeeding chapters became a continuation of the second and third chapters. When I started the fourth one, I realized the importance of the chapter headings with the different dates and places. They were to guide me about the generation I was reading. It is a smart trick, that. I appreciate the way the author wanted to make his chapters more understandable to his readers.
The chapters were, more often than not, kept on changing perspectives. One chapter it would be Nathaniel (the older) narrating, then Nicholas (the younger) next. Right now, it is worth noting that the author has an uncanny skill in living with the times. When the perspective is with Nathaniel, the characters during that time possess the appropriate personalities that people at that period have. I especially like the way they speak, all so formal and courteous. When the perspective shifts with Nicholas, the atmosphere became different. It became lighter, more freely. Or is it because it’s my generation? Anyway, I commend the author for being able to naturally capture two generations more than a century apart. It makes the story more realistic and believable.
Though it proved to be a good writing strategy, I somehow did not like the frequent shift of POVs. Occasionally is okay, but it was done every other paragraph. There were times I felt like Nathaniel and Nicholas were playing tennis due to their alternate chapter POVs. It was dizzying. In addition, there were many similarities between the two, and that’s honestly okay, but narrating an occurrence in Nathaniel’s time only to be echoed in Nicholas’ in the immediate succeeding chapter was a bit frustrating. I can assume the reason for this though. The author wanted to point out that Nathaniel experienced this situation a century ago and Nicholas had the same. He wanted to show how utterly similar their lives became. Perhaps the author did not want the readers to forget what happened in Nathaniel’s life so he immediately followed Nicholas’ turn. That’s actually acceptable, but personally speaking, perhaps three chapters of Nathaniel’s life then Nicholas’ would be better. This way, the readers can be challenged to remember what happened in Nathaniel’s life and soon, they’ll have the “Aha” moment.
Another thing which I did not approve of is the number of tragedy and deaths in the story. There were a lot. Yes, they were all essential in the story, but still. I am speaking in personal experience and I prefer fewer deaths because I tend to get quickly attached to a character. I’m weird. So shoot me.
Lastly, I was waiting to read more about the Pope’s Stone in general. When it got thrown in the Potomac, did everyone really stop there? I was looking for more story and drama regarding the stone per se, but I also realized that the book wasn’t pertaining about the rock, but to something that it symbolizes.
But if there are low points, there are also flying ones. What I like best in this novel is the rich history it presented. I am not an American, but the author did not make me feel like an outsider. I could easily grasp the story of the states. And what’s more interesting? The foundation story and other parts of this novel are true! The geeky part of me made a research especially about The Pope’s Stone and was surprised to learn that it actually existed! I am not sure if it’s common knowledge since I didn’t have American History class, but I was amazed just the same. There were other stories that really happened in there – the Oklahoma Territory of 1889, crews died in Khe Sanh, Vietnam, the confederates’ cemetery, etc. This novel is very well researched! It is such a commendable practice of being a historical fiction author.
Based on research, the author extracted his creative juices and weaved an imaginative story with his characters. I used weaved because the lives of the two main characters were beautifully interlinked until the end. Both lives were interesting enough to keep my fingers continuously leafing the pages of the book. It was very fascinating and thought-provoking. I even created my own Barrington family tree to guide me while reading. Like Nicholas, I slowly figured out his genealogy. If what I did isn’t a proof of how stimulating and entertaining this book is, I don’t know what is.
Overall, this book is an enjoyable read. Fans of historical fiction will definitely love this one. For others, they’ll find their first love of history in this book. There are some rooms for improvement, but they are small things that I am sure the author can work with. The book ended in an open plot and I wonder if the author is planning to have a sequel. Whatever the case may be, I will be looking forward to read more adult novels by Marc Kuhn.
Rating: 4/5 – Will definitely recommend it.
*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange of an honest review.
About the Author
Author Marc Kuhn has worked in radio broadcasting most of his life as a journalist, a program director and a marketing executive. He has held positions at major radio stations in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Miami.
Now retired, he has turned his attention to writing. His first book, NEVER GOOSE A MOOSE! is a collection of whimsical verse for young children.
ABOUT A FARM is his second children’s book. It features lessons in life beyond the barnyard.
A third book, THE POPE’S STONE, is Kuhn’s first adult novel. It is a fascinating historical novel about two descendants of the same family who live parallel lives, but a century apart!
Kuhn lives in South Florida with his wife, Rosemarie, and seven grandchildren.
Contact the Author
Marc Kuhn, the author of the historical novel The Pope’s Stone, is very generous to offer a combo prize package of a signed paperback of his book plus a simple black journal. To sweeten the deal, four winners can totally get this awesome gift. Awesome? Two US residents and two international participants will be chosen by an electronic raffle after the giveaway ends. So what are you guys waiting for? Kindly check the rafflecopter links below. The first one is for International giveaway and the next is for US only.
Hop into the fun!
Note: Both giveaways are open until Friday, March 22. All entries will be checked for validity. On or before March 25, two international and two US residents will be randomly chosen by Rafflecopter. These four winners will be announced in this blog and they will have 48 hours to respond/comment on the announcement post.
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The Pope’s Stone Tour Schedule (March 8-19)
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