NEW YORK TIMES BEST HISTORICAL FICTION OF 2020
"Only Katy Simpson Smith could have written a novel of such elegance, emotional power, and grace. The Everlasting, a quadruple love story spanning two millennia, is no less than the story of love itself—its frustrations and thrills, its blunders and transcendent glories. Meraviglioso."—Nathaniel Rich, author of King Zeno
From a supremely talented author comes this brilliant and inventive literary work of historical fiction, set in Rome in four different centuries, that explores love in all its various incarnations and ponders elemental questions of good and evil, obedience and free will that connect four unforgettable lives .
Spanning two thousand years, The Everlasting follows four characters whose struggles resonate across the centuries: an early Christian child martyr; a medieval monk on crypt duty in a church; a Medici princess of Moorish descent; and a contemporary field biologist conducting an illicit affair.
Outsiders to a city layered and dense with history, this quartet separated by time grapple with the physicality of bodies, the necessity for sacrifice, and the power of love to sustain and challenge faith. Their small rebellions are witnessed and provoked by an omniscient, time-traveling Satan who, though incorporeal, nonetheless suffers from a heart in search of repair.
As their dramas unfold amid the brick, marble, and ghosts of Rome, they each must decide what it means to be good. Twelve-year old Prisca defiles the scrolls of her father’s library. Felix, a holy man, watches his friend’s body decay and is reminded of the first boy he loved passionately. Giulia de’ Medici, a beauty with dark skin and limitless wealth, wants to deliver herself from her unborn child. Tom, an American biologist studying the lives of the smallest creatures, cannot pinpoint when his own marriage began to die. As each of these conflicted people struggles with forces they cannot control, their circumstances raise a profound and timeless question at the heart of faith: What is our duty to each other, and what will God forgive?
Moving back through time from today (The Wilderness) to the Renaissance (The City) to the Middle Ages (The Grave) and finally to Rome under Marcus Aurelius (The Paradise), Tom, Guilia, Felix, and Prisca search and suffer for love in the eternal city, made vivid and familiar as they reappear in each century.
In this symphonic novel, Smith (Free Men) composes delicate variations on faith, love, and human transience in the eternal city. An American scientist leaves his family behind and travels to modern-day Rome to study crustaceans and debates returning after meeting a new woman. In the 16th century, Guilia de Medici, a "bastard princess" with African roots, is married off to a man she loathes, but not before becoming pregnant with her lover's child. A ninth-century monk presides over his deceased colleagues in the monastery's putridarium while reflecting on his illicit love for another boy back when he was a teen. In second-century pagan Rome, the early Christian martyr Prisca embraces the new faith at a dangerous time for believers. Smith elegantly ties these narratives together with a fishhook, which, depending on the century, is a utilitarian object, prized relic, or rusty bit of trash. Satan occasionally interrupts the narration with grating apercus ("Oh, chickie, there is no line between pain and want") but also keen observations on Rome and the novel's structure: "Rome is a dream; its cobbles are slick with sweat and lust, the stuff of sleep. You cannot move forward here, only up and down." The further Smith digs into Rome's layered past, the more captivating the story becomes. This is an ambitious novel whose characters must choose between sensual or spiritual love, gratification or self-abnegation, principled martyrdom or survival.