Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Good Book and a Bad

In response to Emily’s email, I enclose my views of The book thief by Markus Zusak.
I gave up after 100 and something pages of this: the context is always the most important thing to me and here the setting is fascinating and the issues significant. But the style is so irritating and there is so much of it that I’m sure I can find a better book about this period in German history. Earlier this year there was quite a bit in the press about Hans Fallada and Alone in Berlin, so I may try that. Anyone read it?

I’ve had a lot of enforced reading this past two weeks which has done wonders for my ‘to read’ shelf. I thought some of you might be interested in a VMC by Willa Cather. I review all my VMCs or risk forgetting everything within days, so have included it here in case anyone wants to borrow it. I’m not suggesting it as a blog book, but am happy to lend.

Death comes for the archbishop
Willa Cather
VMC 1981 (first published 1927)

Cather describes this book as a narrative rather than a novel: it is based on the real lives of French missionaries in SW America in the second half of the nineteenth century and incorporates stories and legends collected in the region. As such, it is a fascinating insight into that time and place when Indians were hunted for sport; when there was no way of communicating with the outside world save to ride the trail and when the Catholic church was the only civilising influence. The Church comes out well as do the two missionaries, Bishop Latour and Father Vaillant - a welcome antidote to my own prejudices and The Poisonwood Bible. Their sensitivity to their flock – Indian converts, Mexicans evangelised in the 16C by the Spanish and the white American frontiersmen comes over very convincingly. For example, Bishop Latour declined chilli seasoning but ‘hastened to explain that Frenchmen, as a rule, do not like high seasoning, lest she should hereafter deprive herself of her favourite condiment.’ p 30. Father Vaillant spent time near Tucson, where the people had, centuries ago, been converted by Franciscan friars but hadn’t seen a priest since. Vaillant was taken to a cave where all the paraphernalia of the mass was hidden and preserved. He describes this as a parable: ‘The Faith, in that wild frontier, is like a buried treasure; they guard it, but they do not know how to use it to their soul’s salvation.’ p 207

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, the writing, the stories and the insights. This is the first VMC I can remember that is not overtly feminist – this is not a story about women’s lives, though of course, they do feature, and as ever their lot is even more bleak than the men’s in this harsh world. Catholicism was certainly an opium for these masses, and not one I’d wish to have withheld.