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Madame Zee [Paperback]

Pearl Luke
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 12 2007
New Page 1

“The details and beauty of her opening passages, her religious attention to historical accuracy, is reminiscent of Robertson Davies’World of Wonders.”—The Globe and Mail

From early childhood, Mabel Rowbotham knows that she is different. She is struck by visions and premonitions that disturb her dreams, haunt her waking hours and stay with her long after she emigrates from England to Canada. Although desperate to understand these powerful episodes, Mabel hides her gift behind a facade of normalcy.

But Mabel is not destined to be normal. Her quest for understanding leads her to the Brother, XII—founder of one of Canada’s most infamous Utopian colonies. Here, Mabel fully transforms into the complicated and enigmatic figure of Madame Zee and ultimately finds an explanation for the mysterious knowledge that has shaped her life.

A popular reading group choice, Pearl Luke’s acclaimed and sensitive re-imagining of this enigmatic figure was a Flare and Chatelaine book-club pick. It now includes a fascinating P.S. section with information about the real Madame Zee.

Product Details

Product Description


?Precise and elegant, with a measured tone that beautifully balances the often bizarresubject matter.? (the Gazette (montreal))

About the Author

PEARL LUKE has an M.A. in English Literature from the Universityof Calgary. Burning Ground, her first novel, won the 2001 CommonwealthWriters’ Prize for Best First Book (Caribbean and Canada Region) and was afinalist for the Georges Bugnet Award, the Chapters/Robertson Davies First NovelAward and the Libris Award. She became interested in Brother XII and hismistress, Mabel Rowbotham (Madame Zee), after watching a documentary about theirextraordinary lives. Pearl Luke lives on Saltspring Island, BC. Visit her online at

Customer Reviews

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4.0 out of 5 stars Captivating April 26 2007
Pearl Luke won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 2001 for her first book, "Burning Ground." The reason for her choice is quite obvious as we read her second, "Madame Zee."

Luke's prose is incredibly graceful, brimming with fresh metaphors which ornament a captivating plot. For example, anyone who has read much Canadian literature has heard every "Prairie Sky" metaphor 20 times over. Luke, however, miraculously conjures something unique as she likens the huge Saskatchewan sky to an "enameled blue bowl upturned over the entire province." Luke's writing is full of similarly vivid and memorable passages.

"Madame Zee" is a fictionalized biography of the woman born as Mabel Rowbotham. This novel chronicles the journey from her childhood home in England to a position as a schoolteacher in Saskatchewan, and finally to British Columbia, where she becomes involved with Brother Twelve, an infamous cult leader.

History tends to cast women in conventional and restrictive roles -- Madonna or whore; savior or siren. Madame Zee is no exception: she is uniformly vilified as a cruel sexual predator. However, very little is actually known about this mysterious woman who always carried a whip. Zee is nudged out of the historical spotlight by the charismatic Brother Twelve.

Luke questions the one-dimensional quality of Zee's reputation, and uses her novel to create a rich and complex character out of this shadowy woman. The enigmatic Madame Zee is replaced by Mabel Rowbotham, a young woman who wrestles with the significance of her clairvoyant visions and searches for a place where this talent will be accepted.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely Aug. 19 2010
This book got into my bones. I love what the author set out to do: create a fictional life for an actual woman, a woman remembered for her cruelty. That Pearl Luke chose to make Madame Zee a sympathetic character only renders the story more believable. How much of a person - their compulsions, loves, tragedies - might be dismissed by a single adjective: cruel? But Luke doesn't take the easy path. She mixes a prodigious imagination with telling historical detail to suggest how decision and circumstance etch a life, and that even those gifted with preternatural vision cannot know themselves completely.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Madame Zee July 5 2006
What a great read! Ms Lukes articulate writing style has flourished since Burning Ground. I loved it from the first pages right to the end. It is refreshing to indulge in Lukes Madame Zee a very compelling adventure of the life of Mabel Rowbotham. From England, Saskatchewan and Florida right to the Vancouver Island setting. I could smell the cedars with Lukes visual descriptions of the west coast. The history of Brother XII was intriguing as I had no idea Canada had cults in the 1920's. Delightful all the way through, I look forward to Lukes next Novel!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, beautifully written Dec 7 2011
I read this book quite some time ago, and unfortunately cannot remember details of why I loved it so much. But I did love it. The writing was exquisite, and the psychological insights were very interesting to read. I also thought the characterizations were excellent, especially Madame Zee. I love historical fiction, especially intelligent historical fiction, and this was a very intelligent book. The story itself is fascinating, but in the wrong hands it could very well have fallen flat. I like that Pearl Luke made Madame Zee, who could easily be a very off-putting character, likeable. I trusted the research that went into this book, and felt I was reading a true account of the times. Well done!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A to Z July 22 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A fascinating FICTIONALIZED retelling of Brother,XII and his second, Mabel Rowbotham,aka Madame Zee. Although based on truth, Luke even states in the afterpages of my 2007 trade paperback that this was the fourth version she had drafted.

I was fascinated by this story after reading a review in a book blog I follow, and tracked down a used copy. I had never heard of Brother, XII or Madame Zee, real live people who lived the the first part of the 20th century .

Luke explains that she gave Zee many siblings and a fairly intact family, something Ms. Luke found out later wasn't the case. In the book, the memory of a death by fire of an older sister is what drives Mabel to a life fascinated with death and the afterlife, connecting her with theosophists, clairvoyants and eventually the utopian community of Brother, XII.

The other thing I saw here was how a charismatic leader becomes "co-opted" by his own special nature, and his/her responses become more and more bizzare until the group/cult morphs into unrecognizable chaos. We see things like this historically all over the globe, mostly in hindsight, and we wonder why, and what lessons can be learned, until another leader comes along.

I KNOW that another reviewer said the last five pages seemed to them like a whole other "tacked on end", but, for me, they were the hindsight of Zee's life looking back at utopia.

This is a fascinatingly disturbing book. I loved it
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Madame Zee Oct. 18 2009
By A. Doke - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a beautifully written book and a compelling story. I couldn't put it down.
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