Autobiography of an ex-Nun: A book-review

Pix Courtesy : The Hindu

(Originally appeared in The Indian Blog World, December 2009 edition)

The title of the book is deceptive; it’s ‘AMEN’, and it sounds nice and pious. Then you notice from the first line of the title that this book, which is from the Penguin stables, is ‘The Autobiography of a Nun’, but of someone who is no longer a Nun. I guess I have your interest now. Then let me hook you further; this autobiography is a ‘taboo-breaking nun’s story, devastatingly honest, grippingly direct, and a remarkable read’ opines a famous writer..

Amen is the autobiography of Sister Jesme, who was not your door-mat ordinary type of nun; she was not a mere member of the Catholic Church who had opted to serve humanity, but a respected teacher as well and later on the Principal of a prominent college in Kerala. She remained in the holy garb for thirty-three years, but finally left the congregation when she found that the authorities were trying to declare her insane. The result was this book which tries to compress 33 years of convent-life into 180 pages of explosive material.

The content of the book is certainly volatile, and refers to the corruption and sexual excesses of some of the ordained dignitaries within the church. But the teacher claims her aim is only the reformation of the church by exposing these nefarious activities which should not be present in any holy place. She has opted to live outside the four walls of the convent now, but continues to live like a Nun.

The book has predictably created a lot of rumpus. It has been read with a range of emotions from anxiety, earnestness, curiosity, and appall. Consequently, the unusual autobiography has gone on to sell several editions, and become a best seller in the first language it was written, which is Malayalam.

Penguin then took on the English version, which is by Sister Jesme herself. I cannot vouch for the literary value of the book; the expectations that were raised have not been certainly fulfilled. In spite of the hype, the tone used by Sister Jesme is true to her training, and she is being quite restrained in her revelations. Penguin has not bothered too much with the edits either, the book is quite raw in its presentation. I was slightly put off by the tense used in the narration; it is present tense throughout. Perhaps Penguin hopes to bank on the shock-value for the sales.

Nevertheless, Sister Jesme’s odyssey through life is well-paced, and reads smooth. The book is priced at Rs.225/.

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