An American Pope by Paul Xylinides – A Review

RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★

A modernizing American has assumed the papal throne. One of His first acts is to select a seventeenth century priest for canonization. The Congregation for the Causes of the Saints recoils in horror at the new pontiff’s choice. Against a backdrop of Vatican intrigue and infighting, a long-unsolved crime comes to the attention of a retired detective. The forces that contribute to it reach far back into the distant past. No one can truly fathom the life of the candidate for sainthood including the nun and priest who join forces to prepare the submission to Rome.

Amazon Book Description

This is the second book I’ve read by Mr. Xylinides, the first being The Wild Horses of Hiroshima, and I find both are equally striking in their beautiful prose and complexity of purpose. Pope, however, which was published before Horses, is written with such beautiful flourish and is as times so complex with its often haunting and ethereal story line and its bevy of words unknown to me, that I had a hard time keeping my focus on it as I would often have to stop to look up a word or trudge backwards in page count to reread passages until their meaning finally revealed themselves to me.

To me personally I don’t regard that as a negative. I like the challenge as long as when I get to the end of the story I find that it, the story, was worthy of it, the challenge.

And with An American Pope, it truly was; for it has, within its 300 or so some odd pages, a joyously unique story containing everything a discerning reader could ask for: mystery, intrigue, mayhem and scandal, murder, madness, cannibalism, rape, suicide, humor, caricature, friendship and, finally, love… although a mostly pained and unrequited love I’m oh so sad to say.

While the flourish and complexity of Mr. Xylinides’ writing style to this reader is regarded as a desirable blessing, I’m afraid that in this day and age where fewer and fewer humans are reading novels, literary novels such as An American Pope in particular, and where our attention spans are becoming more and more diminished by the demands of our devilish devices, I believe the flourish and complexity of Mr. Xylinides’ writing style would be less than a blessing for most readers I am, again, oh so sad to say. And if I remember correctly, I believe I said something quite similar in my review of Horses, which means obviously, this is a point important to me and one in which I hope Mr. Xylinides considers in his future writings because his important literary ideals and values deserve to be enjoyed by the widest audience possible.

And it is of this reason only — my compassionate consideration of the reader, the endangered species that we are — that I give An American Pope a four-star rating instead of five.



2 thoughts on “An American Pope by Paul Xylinides – A Review”

  1. Thank you so much for the review, Kurt. The writer must always aim for accessibility, and I take your point. At the same time, if you are not writing another Border Trilogy, Blood Meridien, Alexandria Quartet, or Winter’s Tale, then what will be there to satisfy the educated reader? – Paul Xylinides


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