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Archive for the ‘religion’ Tag

Refugees, love and peace   Leave a comment

Exit West

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is part parable and entirely too timely.

Hamid’s story follows Nadia and Saeed who meet in an unnamed war-torn country. She is distanced from her family because of her strong desire for personal independence. He lives with his devoutly religious parents. The two fall in love as the world around them crumbles.

Through a series of doors, which conjure images of Alice in Wonderland or Platform 9 ¾ in Harry Potter’s world, the couple escape from one refugee situation to another. The settings include the Greek island of Mykonos, London and Marin, California. They are different and in many ways similar to one another. Of course, the common factor is the large number seeking refuge from countries all over the world.

Although, the narrative is important because the question of immigrants/refugees/asylum seekers is something facing most Western countries, it is also heavy-handed. There is no doubt this is a serious issue with no easy steps toward resolution. Ultimately, the story is less about Saeed and Nadia. They’re simply the vehicle making the journey but the matter of what to do with the influx serves as the passenger.

Hamid’s writing is stark, yet evocative. There is a sense of fear and relief from one passage to the next. There’s a feeling of hope, initially for Saeed and Nadia, but eventually for something larger. Yet, something in the telling of the story falls short. Perhaps, because it’s somewhat fantastical, but mainly because the characters never truly come to life.

Exit West
3 Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2019
231 pages

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Perceptions vs. Beliefs   4 comments

faith

When I first picked up Faith by Jennifer Haigh, I almost immediately put it down. I was afraid it was going to further magnify the bull’s eye on the back on the Catholic church, which is already too easy a target for many. Yes, Haigh’s book is framed by the possibility of a priest molesting a young boy, but it’s much more than that. It is, indeed, about faith in its many manifestations: belief, conviction, trust, reliance and loyalty.

Old school Catholics, priests, families and perceptions are all deftly portrayed by Haigh as she tells the story of Father Art Breen, a quiet, unassuming parish priest whose primary vice is that he smokes like a steam engine. Father Art’s story is told through his sister’s eyes. Sheila begins with her step-brother’s progression through school, details his seminary years, his parish assignments and how he came to be accused of molesting a second-grader. Sheila also shares details about her family background: her mother who is a staunch Catholic unable to find fault with her church; her younger brother, Mike, who immediately believes Art is guilty; and her own conflicted thoughts as she discovers she is unsure who and what to believe.

The setting is Boston in the spring of 2002, just as the news of numerous molestation cases begin to emerge. The reader is asked to consider Art’s innocence or guilt just as his family struggles with this question. It seems so unlikely, and that is exactly what makes the possibility real.

Faith
Four Bookmarks
Harper, 2011
318 pages

Frozen Days, Nights and Hearts   Leave a comment

The images of a very pregnant police investigator and the frozen tundra evoked the movie Fargo. However, these are the only similarities with Asa Larsson’s Sun Storm. Larsson, no relation to Steig of the Dragon Tattoo mysteries, has crafted a novel rich with imagery but lacking in true suspense.

Rebecka Martinsson is a tax attorney in Stockholm called home to Kiruna, in northernmost Sweden, to help a friend suspected of murder. The gruesome, ritualistic crime takes place in a church run by the pastors who long ago banished Rebecka from their community. The back story, including the strained relationship between Rebecka and Sanna, more a former friend than a true one, fill most of the pages. What’s noteworthy is how compelling this is. In fact, at several points it’s easy to forget a murder investigation is underway, or that a threat has been made against Rebecka.

Larsson’s writing is stark, like the landscape of which she writes. Yet, it is easy to imagine the corrupt church leaders, their disappointed wives, the aggrieved Sanna, and a friendly neighbor. Rebecka is both insecure and confident. She tries hard to maintain an emotional distance from the area she was forced to leave. These very efforts make her interesting, but not altogether warm and engaging.

The only completely likeable character in the bunch is Anna-Maria Mella, the female investigator. It turns out, she actually is somewhat like the Frances McDormand role in the Coen Brothers’ film: intelligent, caring and ready to give birth.

Sun Storm

Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2007
310 pages

Women of Conviction   Leave a comment

Depending on perspective, the good or bad thing about historical fiction is knowing
how something will end – at least generally. Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers
may have Masada in ancient Israel as its setting, but her novel about four strong,
captivating women is all new. It’s no spoiler to acknowledge that, yes, nearly every-
one dies; nonetheless, Hoffman’s characters are so vibrant and remarkable that
they make their home in our minds and hearts.

Hoffman typically combines the supernatural with the ordinary, but this is the first
time she blends these with history and religion. In her hands, the concepts are not
as incongruous as might be expected. Along with what could be perceived as a little
magic, other attributes shared by the women include survival, desire, love and relig-
ious conviction; these qualities move the fast-paced story toward its inevitable con-
clusion.

Hoffman clearly did her research. Rich with descriptive language of the harsh land,
the brutality of men, and Judaic traditions, Hoffman details the lives of the women
before and after their arrival in Masada. The four, Yael, Revka, Aziza and Shirah,
fill the pages with joy and heartache. They are of various ages, backgrounds, and
experiences; all are intelligent, sensual, even daring characters. Although each wo-
man shares her narrative, the voices are not that distinctly different.

In some ways reminiscent of The Red Tent for its portrayal of women in a Biblical
context, The Dovekeepers is a gripping representation not just about the existence
of faith but of its necessity.

The Dovekeepers
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Scribner, 2011
501 pages