Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh
Set on an island very similar to Majorca in a time reminiscent of the 15th century, Knowledge of Angels is an exploration of morality and intolerance. The novel's action centers around the islanders' relation to two outsiders, who each by their very presence of each draws into question the status quo.
Palinor is a foreign nobleman who washed up on the shores of Grandinsula after a boating accident. While he wants nothing more than to travel home, but officials are unable to issue Palinor the necessary paperwork because he will not indicate a religious affiliation. When Palinor refuses to sway from his atheistic position, a notated theologian and educator is brought in to convince him of the existence of God.
Amara is a preadolescent girl who was raised by wolves. Discovered by shepherds in the mountains, Amara is displayed as a novelty to those who would pay to see the wolf child until she is rescued by a devout teenage boy worried about the state of her unbaptized soul. After Amara is baptized by the cardinal (to satisfy the boy), she is consigned to a community of mendicants. Since Amara has never been exposed to religious teaching, the cardinal hopes to learn from her whether or not the knowledge of God is innate. The nuns are ordered to care for her physical needs and to civilize her, but never to mention God in her presence.
Though the two outsiders never meet, their stories are linked by a chain that solidifies when an inquisitor appears on the scene, causing problems not just for Palinor and his apologist friend, but for the island's religious head as well.
As is usually the case with novels that have more than one storyline, I was more interested in one (Amara's) than the other and sometimes found myself skimming through the dense philosophical debates of Palinor's sections to get back to Amara and the nuns more quickly.
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994, Knowledge of Angels is extremely thought-provoking. With many questions raised and few answered, readers can't help but continue to ponder the novel long after they close its covers.