Chartreuse

Historically founded on a sixteenth century alchemist's elixir of long life (and the basis for the French liqueur), CHARTREUSE is a story of supernatural transformation; of the elixir's ingredients on which a Pope's life rests; of a young man's destiny and the chain of world events that lead to his final, wrenching choice. The central character, Blaise, is summoned to Switzerland once he learns he has inherited a parchment containing the recipe for nothing less than the elixir of life. He's directed to a distiller in the French countryside, a Carthusian monk at La Grande Chartreuse, for he alone knows how "to execute the formula to the greater glory of God and humanity."At the same time, someone wants the Pope dead and has infected him with a fatal disease. So the race is on: to save the Pope; to see which woman accompanies Blaise during his travails--his current lover or a flame from his past; to discover if the culprit keeps the elixir from reaching the Vatican.

CHARTREUSE is fast-paced without being frantic.  Yet in the drawing power of the plot's twists and turns, so much more than a plot goes on: a romance, a thriller, a source book of homeopathy, miraculous events, a spiritual journey. It's a search for a cure; a search for a moral code; a search for identity. With CHARTREUSE, Joseph Roccasalvo has written a novel about the sacred and the profane--a contemporary symbol of our 21st century lives.

  • "A rich, engaging, exciting, intelligent, gripping novel about the part of France that I love best, about people with whom one can identify or sympathize, or about whom one comes quickly to care. I could go on and on. In other words, I not merely enjoyed CHARTREUSE, I loved it."
    Wlfred Cantwell Smith (now deceased), Professor Emeritus of Comparative Religion, Harvard University.
  • Dear Joseph, I'm well into the novel, which has proven a disporting bypath in a bad week. I read somewhere that Faulkner use to keep on the wall long strips of butcher paper tracing the labyrinthine ways of his generational fictionals. I dunno what your own method is, but am in wonderment at how you keep names, events, cross purposes, mishaps, pratfalls from colliding. I fell in swoon for several of yr. characters (female), longing that like Woody Allen originals, they would walk off the page & propose honorable, or even dishonorable, behavior. At times I even savored the fumes of the gustatory rainbow (a bottle of which I once brought home in a steamer trunk. Life was never quite the same.) Now I'll have time on the weekend to continue the liqueur-tasting party. My hope is that some publisher with a nose (!) for a classic of a certain vintage (!) will catch a whiff, follow his nostrils & buy up the barrel. Vain hope? Most such eminences, as we both know, are skilled only in the heady scent of garbaggio. I raise a glass to you & your rainbow tribe. Long may they (and we) as in middle English, thole.
    Daniel Letter review of CHARTREUSE from Rev. Daniel Berrigan, S.J., poet, playwright, essayist, biblical thelogian, and anti-war activist.
  • CHARTREUSE kept me up way past my bedtime for several nights. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I felt as if I were walking next to you as you described the trip to the Grande Chartreuse, and I very much wanted to revisit. Your description of life in cell seemed right on the mark, and from my viewpoint, I think you captured the essence of Carthusian life very well, especially in the character of the distiller, Brother Michael. Perhaps the book started unnecessarily slow, but by the time you got me to the elixir, I was hooked. In the second half of the book, I thought you handled the complex plot very well. Many thanks for sharing this work; I have already mentioned it to Carthusian friends.
    Nancy Klein Maguire, author of AN INFINITY OF LITTLE HOURS: Five Young Men And Their Trial Of Faith In The Western World’s Most Austere Religious Order.
  • "Eveything, from the liqueur to the characters to the dramatic action in Joseph Roccasalvo's novel, can be construed as symbols of the forces in human life and the challenges they induce. As Brother Micharel explains to the main character, Blaise: 'It's like making Chartreuse: distilling till one gets down to essences, then blending. It accounts for the liqueur's simplicity and complexity, as well as its power. The events of our lives are like those ingredients. Carthusians wish to transform them into something higher." In fact, Roccasalvo is always striving to transform his narrative into something higher, an alchemy similar to that of the Church Fathers, or of the Buddhist parables in which the author is so well-versed. Even the concluding insight, that life not only molds us but acts on us according to who we already are, cuts across all distinctions of thought and action, of secular and religious experience, to touch the essential dimensions of our challenge. In this sense, CHARTREUSE is truly a thriller of the spiritual life, not so much because the spiritual life is thrilling (which it is), but because Roccasalvo has taken the dramatic narrative of his action thriller and made it into a unique and engaging projection of our interior struggle, a provocative account in a new key of our epic journey here below--our spiritual saga."
    From Rev. Michael Holleran, Former Distiller of Chartreuse.

He bent over the hearth and lit the one remaining log, then lowered the kettle hanging on a blackened chain. Presently the water would boil. His chicory tea and slab of bread smeared with bacon fat were enough to keep mind and body together. Food did not matter when the goal was so close. Today he might realize a lifelong dream, perhaps the hope of a century.

Would his latest formula prove true when so many concoctions had disappointed? By a process of exclusion, then by a stroke of intuition, he stumbled on this recipe of herbs. In their reciprocal power he envisioned the Center where darkness and light, motion and rest were a unitary force. So intense was the thrill of discovery, his heart began to thump. He breathed in deeply, slowly exhaled, and silenced his faculties. Gradually composure returned. Calm enough to begin, he lifted the flagon of alcohol. As he prepared to make the mother tincture, he felt like the just after Judgment: on the verge of eternal life.