A Review of “Katharina and Martin Luther: The Story of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk” by Michelle DeRusha
by Clark Roush, Ph.D.
I was dually drawn to this book being interested in both religious and music history. I could not have predicted what a “can’t-put-it-down” read awaited me. Before you think, ‘oh yeah, another book on Luther!’ let me assure you this is not the case. Michelle’s exhaustive research and masterful story-telling give us an up close and personal look at the separate and combined lives of this couple as no other document has done.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the excellent forward to the book. It really sets the stage well for what follows and is extremely well-written.
Katharina’s biographical material is fascinating. When combined with the brilliant informed speculations and poignant writing of Michelle, this book invites you into the lives and places that shaped Katharina before and during her marriage to Martin. If you want to learn how a Reformation feminist was formed – this read is essential. The story that unfolds shatters every stereotype one might have about Katharina based on the status of women in those days. This lady was strong-willed, determined, and a force to be reckoned with. Being invited into her life is a treat, and like a treat, the reader always wants more.
Michelle has taken what could be dry biographical data and breathed life into it. You will experience Katharina’s home life, the decision of sending her to a monastery (made without her knowledge or consent), her daring and risky escape from that monastery, and her meeting of and eventual marriage to Martin.
It is probably not possible to talk about their marriage to the exclusion of Martin’s revolutionary and reforming ideas, but to have those presented with the backdrop of wife and family was enlightening. Martin’s “women’s role” bark was apparently worse than his bite, as the Luther abode was really quite progressive for its time. It was fascinating to follow them through their journey of falling in love, because that it not how the marriage began.
Possibly the most amazing part of Katharina’s life, and the one that showed her most legitimate strength and gumption, was her life after Martin’s death. Michelle draws us deep into the emotions Katharina no doubt felt trying to hold her family together and provide for them in a time where a woman was defined only through her relationship to a man.
I am reticent to give too much away, but I can promise you an engaging, intelligent, informative, and inspiring journey through the pages chronicling this window into the Luther’s lives and relationship. I recommend Michelle’s book without reservation, and want to thank her for sharing her acquired knowledge, heart, and linguistic acumen with us. Not just everyone can take a string of factoids and weave them together in a way that tells a captivating story. Michelle does exactly that. Treat yourself and read it.
Clark Roush, Ph.D.