Cover Image: The Sacrament

The Sacrament

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Member Reviews

This is not the book that I was expecting when I first starting reading it. There were parts that confused me since it kept switching back and forth in time. I really enjoyed the writing of this book but also felt as if it was extremely slow. I just think there could have been more to the story.
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The Sacrament by Olaf Olafsson is a compelling tale of abuse and power. It is also a story of one woman's conscious and the struggle of what is right and wrong and the lengths we will go through for justice.

Summary - 

"...I do not speak with the tongues of angels, nor have my prayers ever moved mountains. Mysteries have revealed themselves to me, not in mirrors or riddles, but face to face, and neither God nor man will forgive me my sins.,,"

A young nun is sent to a Catholic School in Iceland by the Vatican to investigate accusations of abuse and misconduct. Her own past has not made her a favorite with the Church but Sister Johanna Marie would encounter in Iceland, an abomination that the Church would not acknowledge.

"...I was impatient and rose from my chair. The woman hesitated, and I had the impression that she was going to say something else. But she waited until we were in the hallway when I was about to leave.
   One evening when he was in bed...
    I turned around.
....he said to me: Mummy, they touched me, they touched me, Mummy.
   She was in tears when I left..."

Sister Johanna Marie is certain that something is going on at the School, but when both the child and the parents refuse to talk any further, there seems nothing left to do but allow those she knows are guilty, to go free. But before she can leave, the headmaster, Father August Franz falls to his death before the very student who accused him of abuse.

Over twenty years have passed since that day, Sister Johanna Marie has resigned herself to serving the Church and tending her roses when she is once again summoned. The young boy who wrote the complaint has once again come forward. He states that he did not tell all of what had transpired the day of Father August Franz's death and is ready now to speak. But he will only speak with Sister Johanna Marie. 

Now Sister Johanna Marie must return to Iceland, to the events in the School as well as her past as a young girl in Paris. But mostly to the death of Father August Franz and the secrets she has kept all these years.

Review -

It is difficult to review this novel without giving away too many spoilers but I will do my best because seriously, this is an intricately crafted novel that deserves to be read and enjoyed. 

Sister Johanna Marie is a meticulously developed character and the novel is as much about her own life within the Church and the sacrifices she has made to be a part of it. Some of these sacrifices have been forced upon her, as most tyranny is, for her own good and the good of her soul. Sister Johanna Marie lives a life a quiet regret. But that is what drives this tale. Her regret and the outright unfairness of it all. When greater sins and greater abominations are not only allowed by the Church, but hidden away, yet her own are held over her. The perpetrators of these greater sins going forth unpunished. By man or, in Sister Johanna Marie's eyes, by God.

The Sacrament is at it's roots, a crisis of faith and the lengths Sister Johanna Marie will go to reconcile with God and herself. 

It is also an indictment on the Church itself. The politics of religion and the unjust actions it has taken. Beyond all of this, it is about the victims and the families who must choose between the truth and their place in the community. Especially a community that centers around religion. The choices that the families make that are too often wrong.

The Sacrament is a slow moving novel as most novels about introspection are. But Sister Johanna Marie is a powerful narrator and as we distinguish between the woman she was and the woman she has become, we understand that the events of twenty years past, in a School in Iceland have changed her.

A terrific read.
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This is a book that swings back and forth between the main characters younger years and golden years as well as between Paris and Iceland. This is a very dark story. This nun is tasked with investigating allegations of abuse. It was a great plot and story but I personally never felt connected to it. This was the problem for me and made the read seem to drag. If you are into dark mysteries however then this is a great choice for you.
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So I gave this book a second chance and I still couldn't get into it. Some books are just not for everyone and this one is not for me.
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A good book, this.  Spare and haunting as Scandinavian works often are, suspenseful and mysterious, a bleak, cerebral look at the darker sides of otherwise decent human beings.  And still I couldn’t help wishing for an even better book – because I think it could have been.  Perhaps it is just that – a “look at” rather than a “look into”.  Motivations are pretty apparent, but something was missing or in the way of understanding the “who” of the characters.

Sister Johanna is sent by Cardinal Raffin to Iceland to investigate allegations against Father August Frans, headmaster of a Catholic school there.  Initially we don’t know what the allegations are, but one is tempted to make an educated guess, of course.  Other than speaking Icelandic, Sister seems an unlikely choice for this assignment, but Cardinal Raffin has knowledge that he holds against her and it soon becomes apparent that this is not meant to be, must not be, a serious investigation.  No one really wants to get at the truth, to have it known.

While the book moves back and forth in time providing background, I still felt that something, some piece or pieces were missing, and I found the chronology somewhat confusing at times, though easy enough to resolve.  Maybe just me and my soggy synapses.  Of course, it’s a rare book that ticks all the boxes, and in spite of all that and the painfully guarded characters, this book is a worthwhile read.  As usual, the driver for me is that I had to know.  So will you, and when all is said and done, you might find yourself conflicted about what you know.  You’ll know the who and the why right enough, but trust me, not just anyone would do….that.  Hmmm, a book that drives you to find out and then leaves you mulling its outcome.  Now, you see, that sort of quandary, that sort of something to think about, can go on the plus side for Mr. Olafsson’s book.
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I couldn't get into this dark and dreary book. I have a lot of friends that enjoyed it enough that I may return to it in the future and give it another try!
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From Goodreads review: There are questions below about this book, and one is: A lesbian nun investigates Catholic Church child abuse, written in the first person by a male author, set in Iceland and France, does it work?

My answer is: sort of. The part that worked for me was the storyline about Sister Johanna's past and her present day life. Her struggle with her sexuality when she was younger and her decision to become a nun were very good and hearing about her great love for her roommate in Paris were the best parts of this book. There is a second question or actually I think 2 questions below concerning the timeline in the book and the storyline about the investigation of the priest in Iceland. This is where it was very convoluted for me. Never are there the times stated so I found it quite difficult to place the time when Johanna was first in Iceland or was it 20 years later? This is not fleshed out well At All in my opinion.
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This is a  novel of longing and memory, beautifully written.  Sister Joanna’s story is told from various time frames, as a young student in France, a nun asked to investigate possible abuse at a church school in Iceland, a return trip at the request of a former student, and as an aging sister living a comfortable, simple life back in France.
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While I tend to avoid overtly religious novels, I specifically chose this one because I do enjoy the torture that is Scandanavian novels and I was curious about what the mystery of the nun’s past could be. I was not disappointed, and the story only confirmed my antipathy towards the Catholic Church. As dark as this one is, I would highly recommend it to others and can see it spurring some fascinating discussions.
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Very well written / translated, this Icelandic mystery is slow moving and leaves you not knowing much until the end. You're left wondering when these stories are taking place, how everything fits together, and even what the mystery is. It's fantastic though, and I definitely recommend it. The landscape almost serves as its own character, its so beautifully written.
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I finished Olaf Olafsson’s atmospheric new novel “The Sacrament” well over a week ago and can’t stop thinking about it. In beautiful but spare prose, Olafsson tells the story of French nun Sister Johanna, whose investigation of a claim of sexual abuse at a Catholic school in Iceland ends when the accused perpetrator, Father August Frans, falls to his death from the church’s bell tower—a fall witnessed by one of the school’s young pupils. Decades later, Sister Johanna is living in semi-retirement in a convent in the Loire Valley when she is summoned back to Iceland: the child has now grown up and wants to unburden himself of his memories, plunging Sister Johanna into her own difficult memories of her earlier investigation—and of Halla, the Icelandic woman whom she has never forgotten. Moving back and forth between Paris, the Loire Valley and Iceland and toggling between three timelines, “The Sacrament” is a haunting meditation on sin, forgiveness and, ultimately, grace.

I loved everything about this book; my only regret is that I read it during the busy Christmas season when I never had time to really sink into it like I wanted. Do yourself a favor and pick this book up when you have the time to really immerse yourself in it—but do pick it up. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Collins Publishers for providing me with an ARC of this title in return for my honest review. It was the first Olaf Olafsson book I’ve read but it certainly won’t be the last.
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The Sacrament is a well written book about a tough subject. 
It’s a slow burning mystery, and it flips between Iceland and France. The story follows Sister Johanna as she returns to Iceland to investigate allegations reported in an anonymous letter of sexual abuse at the Catholic school. This in an amazing story, beautifully written with perfect descriptions of the scenery, and the character's actions and thoughts. I would love to read more from the author.  Fabulous book. I would like to thank Netgalley, the publisher and the author for providing me with an advance reader copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion of this book. 
#TheSacrament #NetGalley
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Harrowing and compelling.  This book packs a punch!  I love any story that highlights the fallibility of human memory.  Really glad I read it!  Thanks, NetGalley!
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The Sacrament is the story of Sister Johanna. In the late 1980s, Sister Johanna was sent to Iceland to investigate a letter alleging sexual misconduct at the church school.. 2 decades later Sister Johanna is called back to Iceland with another letter stating that she was not told all back then.

The story is told at different stages of Johanna's life. Three times are interspersed throughout the novel. We learn about Johanna when she was Pauline studying at the Sorbonne and learning Icelandic from her roommate Halla. Then there is the original investigation, where we learn what has gone on in Iceland. Finally, we go with Johanna on a trip from her convent to Paris and then finally back to Iceland. 

This is a story of personal growth and manipulation as well as the path to find and tell the truth through major obstacles. I found this novel engrossing and could not put it down.
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This book was so disappointing.  The plot blurb sounded amazing! I couldn't wait to read this!

The book was boring.  It was so hard to follow.  The characters were not likable or easy to identify with at all.  I always try to find something good about books I don't like, but it's just not possible with this one.

Maybe this book isn't for me.
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I really enjoyed this Icelandic mystery. I thought this was going to be a Nordic noir kind of book, but it really didn't have that feel to me. There aren't any grisly murders or oppressive winters, and although the subject of child abuse comes up, it's not described and not done in any sort of gratuitous way. It's handled very well, and I'm really happy about that because I did not want to read anything like that. I like a good Nordic noir, but I wasn't disappointed with what this turned out to be.  

This is more of a slow-burning mystery, and it flips between France and Iceland. I loved Sister Johanna, especially the relationship she has with her dog, and I thought the story itself was pretty fascinating. The book juggles three time frames, so it was a bit confusing at times, but it wasn't enough to make me dislike the book or get so lost that I didn't know what was going on. 

Very well written, and I'd definitely read more from this author in the future. 


A super big thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me a free copy in exchange for an honest review!! :)
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Such a pleasure to read!  A beautifully written story on a delicate topic:  abuse in the Church.  

Thanks to the publisher and to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this title.
#TheSacrament #NetGalley
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3.5 Dark and bleak, is this story of a young woman who struggles with a sexual orientation condemned by the Catholic Church. Going back and forth in time and alternating between Paris and Iceland, the story takes the reader inside the abuse accusations in the church. A nun herself now, she is tasked with the responsibility of investigating the abuse accusations arising out of a boys Catholic school in Iceland and their priest. Silence, a most potent motif is a result of sins kept hidden, of boys and their parents who are afraid to speak. The end result was unexpected, and surprising.

I liked this, sometimes it is all in the atmosphere, and this book has it in spades. The story had a authentic feel, the cold, brooding landscape, a scandal that has hit churches hard all over the world. It all fit together. Plus, I was reading while sitting in front of my picture window, while the sky darkened, the sun set and it seemed like I could imagine the story happening just as it did. 

Not quite the happy holiday story I should be reading, but it did fit the melancholy I am prone to as the sun stays hidden so often in winter months.

ARC from Edelweiss.
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It was OK. It wasn't exactly all that riveting, though--kind of slow-paced.

I received an advance copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Intense Nordic drama!

A boy locked in a school's broom closet views something strange out of the window.
A Catholic nun whose locked away her own secrets, including the reasons for her not quite belonging despite her best efforts. Her sense of humor, her attachment to her dog George Harrison and her rose garden don't quite still her heart. The persuasive church hierarchy who don't want to know. Cardinal Raffin, a sly holder of Sister Joanna Marie's life from before. He thinks that sending a nun with secrets can be controlled to investigate a school where abuse charges have been made. That this will suffice.
Sister Joanna is sent not once but twice, in her forties and then twenty years later to investigate complaints about the church school. 
The major part of the novel, is set in Reykjavík, Iceland. How Sister Joanna comes to speak Icelandic is another story that we glimpse as Joanna recalls her time at the Sorbonne as she waits in Paris for her evening flight. Later we come to know more details.
I felt like I was constantly in an ice storm reading this, not quite knowing which way was up, but aware of danger. The clues are just beyond reach, almost. I often felt overwhelmed by Joanna's powerlessness in the face of the church hierarchy. I felt the weight of her secrets. I lived the consequences of both her indecisions and her decisions.
The ending was a surprise and yet not really. The story looks at the interweaving of the past and present, of how small vacillations, even non action can effect the future. That I am forced to reflect on all that goes on long after I finished reading further commends this story by Olafsson to me. At its heart it is dark and yet the light enters, just in rather different ways.
I must say I like the cover, the brooding church with all that space around it, slightly menacing, a shadow on the landscape.

A HarperCollins ARC via NetGalley
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