Maria Shenbrunn was born in Moscow and in 1975 moved to Israel with her parents. She spent five years working in various agricultural kibbutzim. She has a cum laude degree from Jerusalem University majoring in the history of the Crusades. In the 1990s she worked as a press secretary at the Jewish Agency for Israel. Since 2000, she has lived in the USA with her husband and daughter.
Maria Shenbrunn published her short and long stories (also under the pen name Maria Amor) in major literary magazines such as Jerusalem Journal, Druzhba Narodov, Belles-lettres, Dialogue, Booknik, etc. Three of her stories were included in the AST collection One Woman, One Man. Maria Shenbrunn is a popular blogger writing for Live Journal and Facebook.
In 2015 her debut historical novel The Iron Franks came out from AST Publishers and won her the Terra Inñognita Prize for her “unique cultural achievement and ceaseless work in preserving the diversity of man’s cultural and scholarly space.”
Brins Arnat, published in 2016, is an independent work but also a sequel to The Iron Franks. Both novels are devoted to the history of the medieval Crusade.
The Iron Franks, historical love novel.
300 pp. in Russian. AST Publishers
Terra Inñognita Prize
Set in the 12th-century Levant, as well as in our day, this reader-friendly novel looks at the roots of the discord between the Islamic and the Judaic-Christian worlds and talks about the reasons for the failure of the Crusades. This historical background provides the setting for exciting adventures, intrigue and love stories, interspersed with scenes from the disturbing present-day situation in the Middle East, thus intertwining human fates and histories.
Forty years after the Crusaders’ conquest of the Holy Land the merciless and mighty Franks invade Levant where everybody is fighting against everybody else: Christians against Moslems, Sunnites against Shiites, Greeks and Armenians against Latins, and sometimes even mothers are fighting their own children. One of the Christian principalities in Syria, Antioch, is ruled by the egotistic and authoritative Alice who ceased the throne after the death of her husband while the lawful successor, her young daughter Constance, suffers humiliation and lives in constant danger. Constance’s Armenian nanny predicts that one day Constance will come to power and change the fortunes of all the crusading states. At the age of ten Constance marries the handsome knight Raimond de Poitiers and together they courageously defend Antioch from numerous invaders while at the same time navigating among Damask, Greek Byzantine, and Armenian Cilicia. However the clever intrigues weaved by the Franks come to nothing and the Saracens are defeating the crusaders on all fronts.
In desperation Raimond appeals to his former homeland for help. Louis VII and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine arrive in Syria to lead the Second Crusade. The beautiful and flighty Eleanor supports her uncle Raimond with all her heart which leads to a love affair between them. The week-willed French king regards Raimond with increasing coldness and Constance wishes to get rid of her rival at any cost.
Love competes with duty, passions verge on hate, East and West battle for supremacy while people on both sides are facing difficult choices. To keep her beloved husband Raimond Constance makes a fatal move which leads to the defeat of the Christians. No one is happy and Raimond is despised by all.
There is a parallel modern-day story line of Nika and Itamar, two young Israelis who are the spitting images of Constance and Raimond, and thus the 12th century meets the 21st.
The crucial historical period of the Crusades is described from different points of view: the Latins, the Moslems, and the Byzantines. Through the adventures and emotions of the characters the author shows the inevitable factors determining the opposition of East and West and the emergence of fanatical Islamists in our times. The author is a professional historian specializing in the medieval history and particularly the Crusades. The novel is based on old chronicles, Moslem and Armenian manuscripts, and on scholarly papers by leading medievalists.
“I gulped this poetic novel at one go and was really impressed with the author’s fertile imagination which immerses the reader into the atmosphere of the battles and politics of the age and the everyday life of the emerging new epoch brought about by the Crusades. She revives for us the realities of the distant historical past which reminds us occasionally of our own times in its good and evil actions, its passions and archetypes. We observe the same intense love, betrayal, military adventurism, merciless cruelty, fanaticism, intellectual courage, mean intrigues, and noble humanity. It was useful and instructive for me to learn about all this.” – Yuz Aleshkovsky, prize-winning author
Brins Arnat, historical novel, sequel to the above.
300pp. Ridero Publishers.
The novel continues the story of the Crusades involving the same courageous women and daring knights. The enterprising and brave knight Renaud de Chatillon, mentioned in Arabic chronicles as Brins Arnat (Prince Arnat), arrived in Palestine in 1147. He was irresistible for women and a menace for men, he could not care less about moral norms, did not believe in anything, and always got what he wanted at any cost. He was determined to shatter the Eastern world and obtain glory all over the Western world.
He won the heart of the widowed princess of Antioch Constance who was convinced that this extraordinary man will give her marital happiness and, moreover, protect the desperate crusading states from the onslaught of Saracenes. However, the princess cannot marry a simple knight, and so Constance unleashes internecine strife in Jerusalem in which a pretender to her hand suddenly perishes which enables her to marry Renaud de Chatillon.
The upstart meets with contempt from the higher echelons of the Latin East. To defend his honor the ambitious knight commits a number of cruel and destructive actions: he subjects the Patriarch to torture, devastates Cyprus, ruins the Franks’ military campaign, and much else. After the attempted murder of Constance’s relatives he loses her support irrevocably. At some point the mutinous knight becomes a stumbling block in concluding a vitally important peace treaty with Byzantine and so he has to be removed.
As a result of a daring foray he is captured and tied up to a camel’s tail. No one comes to his help as he is placed in a cold and damp dungeon in Aleppo where he spends sixteen years. Captivity reforms Renaud bringing out his better qualities, such as courage, resourcefulness, faithfulness to friends, quick mind, readiness to learn from the enemy, and even selflessness. Influenced by his comrades-in-distress and by the Jacobite bishop of Aleppo, Brins Arnat turns into a responsible war leader and an uncompromising enemy of the Saracenes. His thirst for revenge sustains him in captivity. In captivity he is working out a new strategy of fighting a superior enemy.
In the absence of her wild husband Constance manages to marry her daughter to the emperor of Byzantine. However, Constance is soon overthrown as a ruler and goes into exile. Previously domineering and arbitrary she becomes sympathetic to people’s misery and turns into a champion of peace between the Franks and Syrian Christians as well as Byzantines. In the last years of her life she finally acquires peace of mind.
Meanwhile the Latins’ situation is increasingly desperate: now they have to resist the successful army of Saladin who enjoys a great reputation all over the Moslem world. Renaud de Chatillon’s antics are long forgotten and he is glorified in legends as a heroic martyr famous for his exploits around Levant. The new generation looks up to him as a fierce warrior who can defeat the enemy. Finally he is released from captivity but he has been deprived of power, his possessions, and his family. To rise in the world again he can rely only on his personal qualities and his hate for the Saracens. He manages to persuade the king of Jerusalem to attack Saladin, and for the next eleven years Renaud de Chatillon becomes a key figure in the opposition of East and West. Finally the aged knight is defeated at the Battle of Hattin, the Christian army is almost completely destroyed, their leaders captured, and Brins Arnat is personally beheaded by Saladin. Thus the Holy Land becomes Islamic territory.
That was an epoch of outstanding generals, immutable faith, and all-consuming passions, when a woman’s love and an extraordinary man’s hate could determine the result of the struggle for Palestine.
“Maria has created an accessible and honest history of the 12th-century Crusades, combining, as befits a historical novelist, great public events with private histories of people who enfused their epoch with their passions and courage, their cunning and nobility.” – Denis Dragunsky, prize-winning author