ALINA IN ECSTASY is about a man intensely hostile to religion. Julian Mandel, more an agnostic than an atheist, is in a jealous and uncomprehending rage over a former lover's decision to join the Carthusians, a religious order noted for their silence and solitude. When Julian visits Alina, now Mother Maddalena, she claims not to recognize either him or herself as the persons involved in the sexual relationship that once existed. Later, he learns she has died and been declared "Blessed" by the pope. So obsessed is he by this development, that he tries to prevent her advancement to sainthood. When Julian is suddenly cured of terminal cancer, for which he did not pray but which he believes might have been owed to Alina's intervention, he prays for the return of his cancer--which does. He cannot avoid the thought of a second intercession by Blessed Alina, an attempt to subvert her own canonization with the return of his cancer. The Vatican quickly responds by declaring that "No protocol exists for treating as miraculous the reversal of a miracle".
- ALINA IN ECSTASY works well on all fronts. It is quite believable in its outlandish premise of a second miracle being retracted and likewise, Alina's sainthood, at least temporarily. The plot twists surprise and are imaginative far beyond what usually transpires in the Catholic Church. They are Roccasalvo’s hooks, and they hook. In the context of a thriller, ALINA immerses the reader in a world of beatification and canonization, which are usually taken for granted, The author makes them now "un-taken for granted.” That is the brilliance of this novella. The book’s last line preserves the story’s ambiguity, even while allowing that Alina's ecstasy proves victorious.
- I read Alina last night and I think it is quite possibly my favorite of Roccasalvo's works to date. It seemed to me to be such a feminist read: a woman choosing her own destiny, not needing earthly men, in full control of her own decisions. I loved it! I’d like to get it into the hands of Pope Francis and so many others. Well done.
- I decided to read through ALINA IN ECSTASY from cover to cover and react. Doing so in two sittings was far more propitious than my earlier fits and starts. It all hung together much better the second time. I really like the basic idea of combining travel romance, racy love scenes—the trio reminds of "Jules et Jim"—science vs religion, flesh vs spirit, and ultimately, Roccasalvo's exploration of the world of mysticism. I remember being struck by the eroticism of the Bernini statue—I must have been seventeen—as I had been by Rodin's sculptures. Bernini's is truly problematic because it poses bluntly the question of the relationship between spiritual and physical ecstasy, and that is precisely what Roccasalvo's story does. So if nothing else, it is a remarkable commentary on the Bernini statue, and gives me the desire to learn more about what he was thinking when he did it.
- ALINA IN ECSTASY is a morality play cast as a thriller, in which the protagonists are a famous fado singer who becomes a nun and her former lover who does not want her to become a saint. Taking its cue from Bernini's statue of Teresa, it fuses the erotic with the mystical. With miracles and the canonization process as the backdrop, the story explores both the rigors of mysticism and the dead-ends of secularism in affirming that love is stronger than death.
- ALINA IN ECSTASY is a nest of interlocking points of view in which scarcely a word is wasted: a careful balance of opposing perspectives, sacred and profane, in which no final interpretation defeats all others.
THE HEADLINE MADE the front page of Vatican City’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. The English version read Portuguese Chanteuse Raised to the Rank of Blessed:
Thousands of Portuguese stood in front of St Peter’s to celebrate the beatification of Alina Lontana. She was the fado singer known in religion as Mother Maddalena, a Carthusian nun of Notre Dame Monastery. The ritual was the kind that gives Catholicism a glamorous name. Crowds were there to honor a woman who had acquired a global following for her music’s joyous lament. The vicar for the Roman diocese asked His Holiness to proceed with Alina’s beatification. A biographical note followed. Before entering the monastery, she bequeathed all the royalties of her recorded music to the foreign missions. Her bequest created clinics, orphanages and schools, and educated countless seminarians. The bishop in the Alps of Haute-Provence opened Alina’s cause for sainthood. Not long after, the pope recognized her heroic virtue. All stood as the pope pronounced the formula of beatification: “I grant that the Venerable Servant of God, Alina Lontana, known in religion as Mother Maddalena, be called Blessed; that her feast day be celebrated on October 21, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Thunderous applause came from the crowds after her relics were brought to the altar.