Readers Write about Martin of Gfenn

October 17, 1012, Martin of Gfenn gets fan mail!

"As a member of the book group that your friend ... is in please accept my thanks to you for the gift of your book, 'Martin of Gfenn.' I am currently reading it and engrossed by the beautiful, though sometimes horrific, descriptions. Your writing makes it so easy to feel Martin's heart. I greatly appreciate your generosity."
A conversation from Facebook, 6/1/2012

Martha Kennedy posts: Today a friend who is reading Martin of Gfenn said, "I don't get how a person as silly as you are wrote such a sad book."

"It's not sad."

"How is it not sad? This guy gets leprosy!"

"Yeah, so how is that sad?"

Must be me. ;-)

It seems to me that every life has sad stories. Sad stories don't make a life sad. I sometimes think back to AP English with the immortal Mrs. Zinn and learning about Greek tragedies and Aristotle's ideas that humans need catharsis, a consequence-less way to inspire pity and fear, and relieve the pressure of the pain of life. Art can help our lives be more bearable in the bad times by helping us see how great our lives really are. For example, who reads or sees Oedipus the King and doesn't think, "Wow. I'm so glad I never did MY mother and had to gouge MY eyes out. Now that's REALLY bad luck!"

So yes; I suppose Martin of Gfenn is a sad story, but still, I do not believe the protagonist is a sad man and that is the whole point.

Ginger Sickbert reponds:
Martin finds his bliss... what he loves to do and can do excellently well; and he finds love in many ways. He develops strength of mind, enough so that he can counter the dogma of the religious around him... and yet can do it without being abusive or even uncivil. Wow. Seems like a pretty good life to me.


I have read this fable several times and find it is starting to live within me. I describe it as a fable because in spite of the scholarly work needed to present an understanding of the secular, religious and artistic life in 13th century Zurich and surroundings, it is primarily a picture of our human struggle to live, to love and to create while always aware of the brevity of life. Leprosy is the metaphor for this condition.

There is, of course, much sorrow here, but the sorrow is alleviated by the great beauty and clarity of the writing--especially in the many depictions of the beauty of the natural world and of the growth of love and understanding in the artist hero Martin. I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading more by Martha Kennedy, a terrific writer! Sarah Beynon, May, 2012

"Martin of Gfenn was an insightful novel of the human spiritual journey. This well-crafted novel chronicles the 13th century artist, Martin, as he struggles with perfecting his art, his understanding of God, and the tragic disease of leprosy. Although Martin's story takes place almost 800 years ago, his journey is one that continues in humanity today. I loved this novel and can't wait to read more from Martha Kennedy." Lois Maxwell, January, 2012


 "Just finished Martin of Gfenn & I was moved by the poignant story & the quality of writing. Having seen gorgeous frescos in Italy & heard histories of the Catholic church's materialism & hypocrisy in terms of using & judging artists, I could relate these to the creative & spiritual dilemmas Martin became embroiled in." Ron Hueftle, November, 2011

"Thank you for the book. I'm reading it now. It's holding my interest and making me wish to return to it again...what a lot of research you must have had to really so amazed at what a labor of love, skill, research and inspiration it is...Martha, I really liked it a lot. I finished it days ago and was sorry that it ended so soon, but I was greedy and didn't ration it.  It is wonderful." Flame Schon, November, 2011


“Some thoughts reading your chapters which are still very thrilling. We would call it an artist novel about an artist whose work is growing more perfect each day while he, himself, is increasingly decomposing from leprosy -- a truly ingenious idea!” Rainer Hugener, Historian, Zurich, 2005

Reader: "I'm LOVING your to you pronounce Gfenn? (G silent??) Anytime I think about a book even when I'm not actually reading it at the time, like on my hike today, I know it is making an impression on me." Nile Johnson
Martin of Gfenn: “Fen” -- and it means the same thing in English, marsh, swamp. Cool word, isn't it! ...and I'm very happy you like the book!
Here's a direct link to Martin of Gfenn on Lulu

"Lepra ist eine wunderbare Metapher"

This is a JPEG of an article written about Martin of Gfenn and published in a Swiss paper in 2005 after I went to Zurich to meet Rainer Hugener, a young Swiss Medievalist, who grew up in the very area where my novel is set. I found him online, introduced myself, he read my book (which at that time was twice as long and half as good) and loved it.

I decided to spend Spring Break in Zurich so I could really talk to Rainer and see everything again since I hadn't been in Zurich in 8 years. He met me at St. Peter's Church with a 13th century map of Zurich. The map was really a time machine! We went all around the old city, locating the places in my novel. I learned of St. Martins Augustine Canons Cloister on top of the Zurichberg -- long gone, nothing left but ruins and archeologists drawings. Rainer thought Martin should grow up there. We walked over the mountain (hill, large, large hill) down the other side, basically walking a route Martin walks in the novel, and we went to Gfenn on foot.

It was a truly great day. It ended with Rainer and his girlfriend, who made us fondue, champagne and tiramisu for dinner! That was when I learned that I am a "Swiss Medievalist Historian."

Rainer wrote this article for the local paper about my book and about my visit.

The opening is a translation of a section of the book (near the end). The rest of the article is about me, how I first came to Gfenn, how I became inspired to write and what I do for a job. It discusses the medieval view of leprosy -- which was, for the most part, NOT what we believe it to be. Leprosy was viewed by many as a blessing from God for two reasons. 1) It allowed others the chance to find salvation by showing compassion to the leper. 2) Since those who had leprosy were considered to be "dead" they were already on their way to Heaven, doing penance before they died.

I have two other novels -- one nearly finished -- that spin off this book. I joked around with Rainer about starting a "leper genre" and he has written about that in this piece.

The protagonist of my novel also likes bratwurst, which Rainer has mentioned in the article. On our time-travel jaunt around Zurich, we honored Martin's food preferences by stopping at the best place for bratwurst in Zurich, Sternen, where you can get a bratwurst, a roll, a beer or, (if you are me) a Rivella Rot.

We were joking around about how people might read the novel in the future and ascribe all kinds of symbolism to, uh, sausages. I said, "Well, sometimes a bratwurst is just a bratwurst!" and Rainer has used that line as a heading for a section in which he discusses the accuracy of my research. He writes about how I cannot really read German, but I managed to work out -- word by word -- the contents of many of the sources I used.

It was a great day -- and yesterday I was so happy to find this article (saved in an arcane folder of my computer) that I thought I had lost! If you click on the images, they will be large enough to read.

Series of Initial Letters I Drew for Martin of Gfenn

Book One -- St. Martins

Draw the chickens! The feathers can wait!

--> Eve in her innocence saw the serpent as one more lovely thing God had made for her.

“Kneel beneath this cloth,” instructed the Provost.  Somehow Martin’s gasping wordless confession had left him in a state of grace and this black cloth was his tomb. “No!” he cried in his deep and silent heart, “I am not dead. I am alive!” Mass was said for his soul, ending with the prayer that Martin’s soul rest in peace.

 Book Two -- Zurich

The city was a walled jewel between two blue strands of stream against a shining lake.
“Don’t stop now!” someone yelled. Making a grand gesture with his right arm, Martin slowly drew a ladder. The people cheered.
“Good work, young man!” said one old man in the crowd. 
“I knew it was the story of Jacob!”
Martin saw only the girl standing beside a chair waiting for her mother to be seated. Her brown hair was parted in the middle, drawn back from her face and covered with the lace-trimmed cap worn only by a maid. The pure whiteness of her skin was interrupted only by pink roses on her cheeks, and when she lifted her face to greet him he saw sweet blue eyes fringed with dark lashes above a friendly, open smile. Her lips were the pure carmine Michele said had no place in nature, and here it was, as natural as morning.

Book Three - The Sagentobel

“You may believe that you are Martin, an artist, but for some time you have been Martin, a leper. No man is whole until he is able to live as himself...” 
He came upon a tree that had outreached the competitive struggle of the maple, birch and pine behind it. A magnificent giant with a wide trunk of lucent green, awash in light, its lowest branches so far above the lower growth that they pulled sunlight to the wildflowers on the forest floor. Martin sat with his back against the tree. Above the highest branches, blue sky faded to lavender.

Book Four -- Gfenn

--> “There are no enemies, Martin, save Satan. The rest are teachers, God’s messengers. I found only Anna’s father, what was his name? He stood in front of a group all carrying torches, fiends in the darkness..."
--> He chose the darkest day, the shortest of the year. After breakfast he went directly to the chapel, his pouch filled with the good black charcoal he had made and what remained of brightly colored pastels he had made in Zürich. Above the small arched window, he drew the head of Christ, the window forming the body of the Lord. To the left of Jesus, Martin drew John the Baptist; to Christ’s right, St. Lazarus, the leper leaning heavily on his crutch, shaded from the heat by an apple tree. Each movement of Martin’s hand took his thoughts to this wall and restored his life. If the Commander didn’t like it, Martin had only to wash it away.