Friday, October 21, 2011

The Secret Supper by Javier Sierra

(In which I embark on a journey to solve a timeless mystery.)


One of my former colleagues from the academy once told me her experience when she took an international standardized examination. In her speaking test, she was asked by the examiner if she agrees that a picture paints a thousand words. She answered, “No, because if a picture paints a thousand words, then we need to speak a thousand words to prove that.” And the examiner beamed at her.

The question and her answer must have been something that Leonardo da Vinci wanted to reconcile when he painted The Last Supper. He created a painting that is innocent on the surface but controversial deep within, so that those who see it would contemplate on all its possible cryptic messages and then talk about it for centuries.

Among the many baffling irregularities depicted in Leonardo’s masterpiece includes the missing halos, the, missing meat on the table, Simon Peter holding a dagger and a rather feminine Apostle John, some of which were attributed with Da Vinci’s veganism, an ancient confusion of theological teachings, Mary Magdalene and ultimately, Leonardo’s heresy – the angles that Javier Sierra wishes to give light in his originally-Spanish novel, made readable to English readers through the translation by Albert Manguel.

This historical thriller is narrated by Agostino Leyre, the Chief Roman Inquisitor and Master General of the Secretariat of Keys as an account of his search of the true identity of The Soothsayer, the secret Hermes who warns Rome of the Milanese Duke Ludovico Il Moro’s heretic plan to revive the ancient Athenian philosophies right under the nose of the Papacy, and the huge part played by Leonardo da Vinci in this heterodoxy. Furthermore, The Soothsayer speaks of the disturbing symbols in Leonardo’s mural in Santa Maria delle Grazie. Assisted by the Domican monks of Santa Maria and fascinated by Leonardo’s genius, Fra Agostino becomes part-witness, part-investigator as a cycle of deaths flows and more revelations surface. The narrator moves from being the man convinced that he is the Sherlock Holmes of this mystery, then later on finds himself as a part of the mystery, then as a victim. Finally, he realizes that the true enigma is not that of The Soothsayer’s but Leonardo’s. And the solution to the latter leads to a more painstaking search.

I am still leery of religious-tainted fiction. But this reading experience opens up something anonymous in me. I could, for the time being, let my reading self not be hindered by matters of conflicting doctrines, or the darkness of every religion’s past, or by the fact that all religions’ claim for truth and supremacy doesn’t seem to end. We read to let our minds be opened, and/or our logic to be sharper, and/or our faith to be rejuvenated.

I feel so free I penned Dan Brown down on my TBR list. But for the meantime . . .

Currently reading

Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan

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The Secret Supper
Saving Fish from Drowning