The Chosen Shell by Katherine Sartori

Image and Synopsis - Katherine Burns Sartori

Image and Synopsis – Katherine Burns Sartori

The Chosen Shell 
by Katherine Sartori
Publisher: Dream Traveler Press
Published: January 19, 2012
Genre: Fiction | Memoir
Source: Author
Celie O’Rourke, sensing a calling from God, enters a California convent during the 1960s, a turbulent era of change in the Catholic Church. Four years later, she is teaching Latino children with great success. But the cult-like practices of her monastic Order threaten her fragile self-confidence, as she grapples with sexual feelings she can no longer suppress.Celie’s charismatic Superior offers her guidance and friendship plus the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream… but these gifts come with a high price. Confused, she takes refuge at a retreat house where she meets an accomplished New York businessman, Tony DeStephano. Though from different worlds, the bond they feel is electric… but forbidden.A former nun, author Katherine Sartori has created a fictional story, inspired by her own experiences as well as those of the Sisters she met. Her novel seeks to contrast idealism with the realities of convent living.

My Thoughts:

Katherine Sartori opens a cache of experiences and shares them with her readers through the fictional story of Celie O’Rourke, a young girl who enters a convent in the tumultuous 1960s.  Celie’s eyes become our eyes as we live her day-by-day existence inside the walls of the convent.

Sartori brings to the page characters so vivid and alive the reader feels as if he or she is living with them.  One can feel pulses race, hearts beat, tears fill eyes.  An example of her gift of character development is found here:

Celie couldn’t take her eyes off this charismatic nun, a recognized dynamo in the congregation.  No taller than five foot four, Sister Gerald carried her muscular frame like a Cherokee princess, her shoulders thrown back in a statuesque posture demanding attention.  A smattering of freckles dotted the woman’s imposing nose and high cheekbones.  (Kindle Loc 547)

Immediately we see Sister Gerald.  We know something of her personality — charismatic, dynamic; her physical build — not too tall, muscular; her carriage — like a Cherokee princess, statuesque; her facial features — freckles, imposing nose, high cheekbones.

All Sartori’s characters are equally well-developed and described.  It makes reading her work a joy.

Further, she develops scene just as well.  As soon as Celie gathers with other novitiates and nuns for her first meal at the convent, the solemnity of the room strikes the reader at once:

Dinner was an austere experience, as they ate in complete quiet while a nun read about the life of a saint Celie had never heard of before.  * * *  Celie eyed the salt and pepper shakers, but they were just out of reach and no one noticed her need .  * * * [T]hey must focus, not on their own desires, but on those of others.  Celie decided she had to put up with the stew’s bland taste.  This would be her first sacrifice as an Augustinian.  (Kindle Loc 373)

Imagine the heaviness of finding yourself at such a mealtime after growing up in a home full of family and lots of talking and sometimes shouting.  The use of words like “austere,” “complete quiet,” “no one noticed her need,” “bland,” and “her first sacrifice” allow us to see into that room and experience the strangeness of this meal in Celie’s mind and her growing awareness of how her life is changing minute by minute.

During Celie’s first years in the convent, many changes are taking place in the Catholic church as well as the world, some of which the younger nuns welcome and some of which older nuns are definitely not favoring.  In the midst of these changes and growing changes in Celie’s life as a nun are the conflicting feelings Celie has as a woman coming into that stage of life when she begins to think of making a home, meeting that love of her life and raising a family.  All of this makes for a story that moves quickly through each difficulty and emotion with rapid pace.

Coupling these gifts of writing with the ability to draw from her own story, Sartori gifts her readers with an amazingly well written story rich in detail and feeling.  I cannot recommend this book more highly than to call it, in my opinion, a must read.

* * *

Meet the Author:

Katherine (Kas) Sartori recreated her life when she left the convent, teaching children and college students, as well as writing for several corporations. Now she enjoys being a mom and a grandma in California, and loves traveling the world with her husband Joe. Calling herself a Dream Traveler on her blog, she writes about the adventure of continually re-inventing ourselves.

Please take a moment to visit Kas’ website.

* * *

I want to thank Kas for the opportunity to read and review The Chosen Shell.

* * *

Up next: A Kingsbury Collection | Three Novels in One by New  York Times best-selling author, Karen Kingsbury.  



3 thoughts on “The Chosen Shell by Katherine Sartori

  1. Sherrey Meyer June 25, 2013 at 7:46 am Reply

    Reblogged this on {Healing by Writing} and commented:

    Kas Sartori’s book, The Chosen Shell, combines memoir and fiction in a stunning look at the 1960s and life in a convent. I highly recommend it. My review is posted on my book blog today.


  2. booklovers1 June 25, 2013 at 1:49 am Reply

    Sounds like an interesting read! Thanks for sharing 🙂


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