“Every device imaginable for the darkest gothic novel appears in these pages, and yet this drama was not drawn from the imagination, but from tattered bits of fact confined, for more than a century, to local gossip and legend, and scattered historical records. This story is true, and yet somehow had escaped a thorough retelling until now.”
So accurately states Mardi Link at the beginning of her latest work Isadore’s Secret, the true story of the 1907 disappearance and murder of the young Felician nun, Sr. Janina. Incredibly, the “…sin, sex, torture, confession, and secrets…” that abound in this novel push like contemporary fiction, making it all the more sensational that the event in question happened more than 100 years ago.
Living in the tiny town of Isadore, Michigan was an isolated affair. Not only was the Leelanau Peninsula geographically remote, but Isadore of the early 1900’s was further obscured by its tight-knit, Polish settlers and their devotion to God and the Catholic church. At the time of this story, anyone outside of Isadore’s proud community was considered undesirable. It was among this insular, Polish speaking populace that “the tragedy” occurred.
Not unlike the handsomely paid bloodhound of the book, Mardi Link also “hunts a cold line” for the truth behind the murder of Sr. Janina. For on a seemingly ordinary day in August of 1907, Sr. Janina went to her room to rest and was never seen again. The massive search that ensued turned up only speculation and rumor, and the quiet town of Isadore was reluctantly thrust into the media spotlight.
With what must have been painstaking research, Link digs into the past and unearths the facts and events surrounding the mysterious disappearance of the affable young nun. From stark fields to dark confessionals, the reader is taken on an esoteric journey into the mind-set of small town secrets and the larger, though no less complex, machinations of the church.
Isadore’s Secret is absorbing, and its constant supposition keeps you ruminating on the facts long after you close the book. Though the story is a century old, it continues to be cloaked in mystery up to the present day. Artfully drawn on historic Michigan tableau, it is no wonder that Isadore’s Secret was selected as a 2010 Michigan Notable Book. However, with its mass appeal and intrigue, you don’t have to live in Michigan to appreciate its thrill.
-Review by Megan Shaffer
-Mardi Link is a native Detroiter who currently resides outside of Traverse City. Click here for more on the author.
-Milan Stitt’s play adaptation of the story: The Runner Stumbles
-The movie adaptation of The Runner Stumbles
–University of Michigan Press
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