The Donation of Constantine

Simon LeVay. CreateSpace/Lambourn Books, $16.95 paper (425p) ISBN 978-1-4701-3215-6

LeVay (When Science Goes Wrong) provides an intriguing look at eighth-century Rome and a critique of the complexities of historical truth in this fictional account of the creation of one of the seminal documents in European history: the Donation of Constantine. With Aistulf, King of the Lombards, poised to overrun Rome, Paul, the brother of Pope Stephen II, and Leoba, a nun, missionary, and scribe, concoct a desperate scheme to forge a letter from Emperor Constantine I giving the Pope temporal power over the West. LeVay presents an intriguing view of the clash between social necessity and individual faith that successfully evokes a world with concerns familiar to modern-day readers. Additionally, the author offers a coherent, fact-based picture of the ambiguities of historical truth and the shakiness of the foundations of society. The inclusion of historical background information weighs down the narrative at times, but the complexity of the novel's issues provides room for reflection on the perversion of fact and dogma in the face of necessity.