Heroes and remembrances
BOOKS: SUMMER READING | Historical fiction and poetry ranging from heavy to humorous
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My Father’s House
(Europa Editions 2023)
This first novel in Irish author Joseph O’Connor’s Roman trilogy centers on priest Hugh O’Flaherty during World War II. As the Nazis take over Italy, O’Flaherty creates a so-called choir in Rome, giving cover for his band of resisters to plan the rescue of Jews and others. O’Connor’s literary style is rich, with sensual descriptions of character’s lives and places, including (at times) immoral activities like drinking, cursing, and sexual liaisons. Christians will appreciate the courage of the “choir members,” but offensive material makes reading a chore at times. Still, O’Flaherty—who isn’t perfect—acts heroically. An audiobook adds depth to the tale’s ending, but O’Connor can’t match the power of masters of the genre like John le Carré. —Emily Whitten
Why Do You Dance When You Walk?
(Cassava Republic 2022)
Walking one day in France, a curious 4-year-old Béa asks her father about his limp. The question forces Aden Robleh to recall his traumatic childhood in Djibouti. The novel is set in a time when the African nation was a territory of France where locals crowded into the lower city while the “French-from-France” lived in permanent houses. Aden recalls a childhood with his sick and feverish frame and a mother unwilling to deal with him. He once stumbled across a religious book that Christians had given his uncle. Even as a Muslim, he drew strength from the stories of Zacchaeus and Jesus. He eventually left Djibouti, but it was Béa who helped him shed burdensome memories. Note: Includes some detailed sexual content. —Onize Ohikere
By the Rivers of Babylon: A Novel
Michael D. O’Brien
(Ignatius Press 2022)
Like O’Brien’s previous offerings, his latest novel records a man’s geographical and spiritual odyssey. By the Rivers of Babylon follows the prophet Ezekiel, from Jerusalem into Babylonian captivity and his reckoning with life as a slave. His struggles with hardship and life under pagan rule offer lessons for Christians seeking to live faithfully in a modern Babylon as we listen in on the prophet’s thoughts. After the killing of his friend: “The desolation stretches onward week after week.” And yet trusting God in the midst of loss: “What is left is patient endurance. And prayer of the will, choosing to pray in the face of darkness, though heaven remains silent.” O’Brien’s work is imaginative yet accessible.—Steve West
Musical Tables: Poems
(Random House 2022)
Former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins can make even memento mori funny. “I’ve grown old,” he quips in his newest book. “Now my own name / rings a bell.” Collins, 82, has spent his career making poetry accessible for a new generation, and by now he’s earned enough reader love to sell a $26 book you can devour in a single afternoon. In his new, tiny, rereadable poems, the titles do the heavy lifting. See “The First Straw”: “The camel felt nothing / as it stood outside the tent, / its nose lifted in the thin desert air.” On page 48, that’s all you get. But brevity is the soul of wit. Collins notes: “Just as I might trust an abstract painter more if I knew he or she could draw a credible chicken, I have faith in poets who can go short.” —Chelsea Boes
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