Hosted by Claire Musters
This month I’m reading…
Of Love and Treason By Jamie Ogle
(Tyndale House Publishers, 978-1496479662)
February is a time when we can be bombarded with adverts urging us to show our loved ones how much we love them on Valentine’s Day by buying their products. Many of us may have chosen to ignore this day, exasperated by how commercial it is. However, there was a real man called Valentine, who became a saint after being put to death.
It is this man’s story that is the subject of this book – I was intrigued when I heard about it, particularly knowing it focused on the early Church and life in Rome, as I was about to travel there. Set in AD 270, the book begins at the end, with Valentine in the amphitheatre about to lose his life (this made my trip to the Colosseum take on a whole extra level of meaning as I imagined the scene while stood inside). There are more snippets like this throughout the book, which then charts Valentine’s story as the leader of an underground church. As a ban is given on marriages, Valentine believes strongly that no one should decree against something that God had ordained, and begins to undertake marriage ceremonies in secret.
A chance encounter with the blind daughter (Iris) of Roman jailor (Quintis) changes life for them all. Jamie beautifully unpacks this family’s back story, and we follow their disbelief and awe as they begin to learn more about Valentine’s God and are embraced by his friends, who become more like family. What is really refreshing is the inclusion of doubts and questions about why God allows bad things to happen to good people, as well as the challenge of living with the tension of rejoicing in incredible miracles, but also standing firm when God chooses not to answer certain prayers in the way we would like.
This is a gripping novel, and I can see why Christian historical novelists such as Mesu Andrews, Francine Rivers, Lynn Austin and Jocelyn Green have wholeheartedly endorsed it.
What made you want to become a writer?
I grew up in a log cabin in northern Minnesota, listening to my grandparents tell stories from their youth. Stories of fighting in the Second World War, of panning for gold in Alaska, of crossing the Nebraska prairies in a covered wagon during the Great Depression, of gypsy caravans and a city girl falling in love with a farmer. Those stories made me fall in love with history and stories of grit and perseverance.
At night my parents would read missionary stories to me and my sisters before bed, and those stories of faith, sacrifice and courage inspired me even more. I read everything I could get my hands on and started writing stories of my own. My first story was self-published and self-illustrated on a piece of cardboard, and I’ve never stopped writing since.
Why did you choose to tell Valentine’s story?
I never really liked Valentine’s Day. Not that I’m anti-love or anything – I have an amazing husband – but I always thought it was just a stupid, commercial holiday. And I don’t know what I thought I was going to find that day when, in a moment of irritation, I looked up the origins of the holiday. However, the story of love and courage that I saw in those few, sparse legends grabbed hold of me in a way I couldn’t escape. The deeper I dug into the history and culture of ancient Rome, the more Valentine’s story came alive in my mind, and I started writing it down. History and historical fiction have always appealed to me because we get to see a fuller picture of the far-reaching effect one person can have on the world. I think it’s so inspiring.
There aren’t that many historical documents that mention Valentine, how did you go about researching for this book?
The first stories of Valentine show up around 200 years after his death, and most include the same details with a few variations. I started with those stories and compared them to what we know of the history and culture of that time, working to piece together a plausible storyline. Ultimately, it’s a work of fiction, but I tried to keep it as historically accurate as I could.
According to the stories, Valentine was a church leader in Rome who married couples in secret, despite the emperor’s marriage ban. He was eventually captured and, while he was imprisoned, fell in love with the jailor’s blind daughter. He healed her (the stories vary on how this happened) and left her a love letter signed, “Love, your Valentine”. I tried to keep this as the main narrative and selected both real and fictional side characters to support and draw out the significance of his actions.
What historical discoveries did you make that surprised you?
I’d written the whole story with – as far as I knew – a fictional Calogarus family who hosted Valentine’s church in their home. I found out later that St Marius, St Martha and their sons were real people believed to have been friends of St Valentine. Some stories even had them opening their home to host his church. It was a delightful ‘accidental’ discovery.
What message do you hope those of faith – and those without – will glean from this novel?
For readers of faith, I hope this story inspires a deeper relationship with God and the courage to stand for what is right despite the risks. For others, I hope they see the theme of deep, selfless love running through the story and realise that is the way God loves them.
Jamie Ogle on:
The books that have changed my life
The Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers
The faith journey of the characters in this series is so inspiring. I came away with a deep hunger for God’s word.
Whose Waves These Are by Amanda Dykes
I don’t cry easily, but this book had me sobbing with its depth, beauty and lyrical prose.
The White Rose Resists by Amanda Barratt
This story of courage and sacrifice is so inspiring and convicting. It’s one that’s stayed with me, years after I read the last word.
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