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Deus Io Volt!:
Thanks to the big screen, Evan Connell may be best known for Mr Bridge and Mrs Bridge, his-and-hers novels in which he recorded the tribulations of a Midwestern family. But Connell is no mere purveyor of WASPish minimalism. His greatest accomplishment to date is probably Son of the Morning Star, an account of Custer's foolish and fatal engagement at Little Big Horn, and Deus lo Volt! is cut from a similar historical cloth. This time, however, Connell has chosen a lengthier (and bloodier) conflict for his subject: Christendom's crusade against the Muslims.
Pope Urban set this so-called holy war in motion in 1095, when he urged a vast army to reclaim Jerusalem from those "Turks, Persians, Arabs, accursed, estranged from God, that have laid waste by fire and sword to the walls of Constantinople, to the Arm of Saint George." In no time at all, entire nations obliged him:
Does not a wheel turn slowly at first? Now faster, faster. Knights mortgaged their estates, great or small, farmers sold their plows, artisans their tools, each after his fashion preparing to liberate the Holy Land. Some who felt reluctant or undecided got unwelcome gifts to express contempt, a knitting needle, a distaff. Meanwhile the clerics of France distributed swords, staves, pilgrim wallets.Rallying to the cry of Deus lo volt! ("God wills it!"), these liberators threw themselves at the ramparts of Jerusalem for nearly 200 years. The sheer duration of the conflict would tax the skills of almost any traditional novelist, which probably explains why Connell has instead produced a quasi-medieval chronicle--one of those kitchen-sink creations in which mighty battles lie cheek by jowl with domestic anecdotes, historical background, character sketches, and an abundance of miracles. His prose echoes the language of the period without ever lapsing into Prince Valiant-style mannerism, and the result is a fascinating hybrid of scholarship and swordplay. At times the carnage defies belief: "Here were Angevins and Normans thrusting through eyes, through mouths, chopping off hands or feet, so many Turks dropping that pilgrims stumbled over heaps of bodies on the sand." Among other things, however, Deus lo Volt! is an astonishing episode in the history of ethnic cleansing, which makes it not only a medieval epic but a disturbingly modern one. --Bob Brandeis [via]