Review: The Confessions of Frances Goodwin by Robert Hellenga

The Confessions of Frances GoodwinWhen I saw that this book was about a retired Latin teacher who looks back on her life, I jumped at the chance to get it from a Goodreads giveaway.  I felt it was my obligation as a Latin teacher to read this book and I guess that Goodreads agreed with me because they chose me as a winner and sent me the book right away.

We first meet Frances Goodwin when she is cleaning out her classroom and looking over the artifacts of her thirty plus year career as a high school Latin teacher in Illinois.  The beginning of the book has many references to Roman history and Latin authors as Frances looks back at the topics she has taught in her career.  She also interweaves classical philosophy and history throughout her meditations on life.  When she takes a course in Rome on spoken Latin, quite a bit of the language comes up in the text, all of which is of course translated for the reader.

I expected to learn more of Frances’ career and her life at school, but this book actually centers around her life at home with her husband and daughter.  She meets her husband, Paul when she is in college and taking his Shakespeare course.  He is already married at the time so they have a passionate affair which she does not expect to last.  But they do get married and have a little girl named Stella.  Her traditional, Polish, Catholic family is horrified by Frances’ non-traditional relationship.

When Frances’ husband is diagnosed with lung cancer and her daughter Stella drops out of college and gets involved with an abusive boyfriend, she starts to wonder about the purpose and direction of her life.  She is constantly reflecting on the choices she has made and wondering what fate will bring her next.  Another poignant theme of the book challenges the reader to ask how far will one go to protect one’s child.  Frances and Paul feel helpless and frustrated when they interact with Stella’s abusive boyfriend Jimmy.  Is Frances the type of person to take extreme measures to keep her daughter safe?

Overall, the plot of the book was its greatest strength.  Frances’ choices, challenges and confessions kept me reading.  THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANCES GOODWIN is full of Ancient History, Latin and Classical references.  I recommend this book if you have an interest in the Ancient World and particularly in the Roman Poet Catullus.

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