**spoiler alert** This book must get two separate ratings, I feel. It was amazing (which is the five-star assertion). But also, I liked it (which is t**spoiler alert** This book must get two separate ratings, I feel. It was amazing (which is the five-star assertion). But also, I liked it (which is the three-star assertion). Rather than getting it wrong from both sides and making an average, I will embrace the duality of Woolf herself and give it both, and neither.
It was a house full of unrelated passions, thinks Lily Briscoe upon returning to the Scotland summer home in search of closure. The woman artist stands on the lawn facing the house, trying to finish her painting after years of neglect. She feels she has escaped somehow, the life that these people, with their unrelated passions, have led. She pities them, and yearns for them.
To the Lighthouse is about "subject and object and the nature of reality." It is about "nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which is knowledge." It is about fear and need, unresolved.
It is about beauty, and it is heartrending, broken beauty. "It was love, she thought, pretending to move her canvas, distilled and filtered; love that never attempted to clutch its object; but, like the love which mathematicians bear their symbols, or poets their phrases, was meant to be spread over the world and become part of the human gain."
It is about Virginia Woolf, and about lost humanity. Men, women, husbands, wives, children, friends, artists, all in her eyes and within her own life story, are answering or not answering the questions. What is truth? What is love? Why are we here? It is about choosing one's own way, and leaving others free to do the same.
I see gushing reviews and know that Woolf's writing deserves the praise. But her answers to the questions, espoused by so many now, have not resolved the fear and the need. Oh, that the world would come to know and glorify God, and find in Him all the abundance He freely offers through His Son, Jesus Christ!
"'You know what you are? You're an expatriate. Why don't you live in New York? Then you'd know these things. Coffee is good for you. It's the caffeine"'You know what you are? You're an expatriate. Why don't you live in New York? Then you'd know these things. Coffee is good for you. It's the caffeine in it. Caffeine, we are here. Caffeine puts a man on her horse and a woman in his grave. You know what's the trouble with you? You're an expatriate. One of the worst type. Haven't you heard that? Nobody that ever left their country ever wrote anything worth printing. Not even in the newspapers.' He drank the coffee. 'You're an expatriate. You've lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes.' 'It sounds like a swell life,' I said." The following exchange occurs in a Paris cafe between the protagonist, Jake Barnes, and his often-drunk friend Bill. (But they're all often drunk in this book.) Both men are writers, and both, as well as most of the other primary characters, are American expatriates in the aftermath of World War I. They do exactly what Bill jokingly accuses Jake of doing above, and very little else. A casual reader might take in Hemingway's terse prose, sparse dialog, see his indolent characters, and wonder what on earth the point is here, and how on earth is this great literature? Or he may feel, as I do, that the terse prose and sparse dialog seem full of innuendo and implication, and the stories not being told are even more important than the ones that are. Understanding the extreme self-destruction of the expatriate community required me to do additional research, reading accounts of what they had experienced in the trenches and field hospitals of World War I. As a friend mentioned, PTSD wasn't "a thing" then, and men and women who had seen unspeakable horrors were expected to come home and get regular jobs and move on, although their whole moral code, or what they had assumed to be theirs, was shaken to pieces by the devastation they'd witnessed. So these Americans didn't go home, where they would be expected to go back to normal. They stayed in Europe and drank themselves to death, became obsessed with sex, sat around in cafes, and tried to forget everything. So, on the surface, the story goes: expatriates drink themselves silly at cafes in Paris. Lady Brett Ashley sleeps around with lots of guys, and Jake wishes he could be with her but he was injured in the war and can't perform. Jake gets mad at his Jewish friend Robert when he sleeps with Brett. Brett's fiance, Mike, isn't happy about it either. Jake and Bill go fishing and drink more. Robert pesters Brett and Mike. They all go to Pamplona and drink even more. Bullfights. Drinking. We hate Robert. Brett seduces young bullfighter. Yada, yada, all is vanity. Under the surface is a more sympathetic, if not a happier, story. Each character is running from something. "Liberated" Brett is really terribly needy, who, having been abused, is now desperate to retain control of each relationship by withholding her true self and leaving whenever she likes. Jake's impotence defines him; having bought into a culture obsessed with sex, he can never be satisfied, even for a moment. He is angry when faced with this, and finds one outlet in the gory, impassioned world of bullfighting. Robert didn't go to war and still has a moral code of sorts, and so he can never fit in with his set, no matter how hard he tries. He brings out the worst in all of them, but he doesn't know when to leave. There is one less depressing part of the story. When Jake and Bill get away from the others to fish, at least they're out in nature doing something with an end other than a hangover. They also meet an Englishman there who had been in the war, and the time seems to be cathartic for them all, which is quite a shift from alcohol and sex as the sole medications for what ails them. It is a relief from the otherwise unending strain, "all is vanity." By far, the most appealing aspect of this book is Hemingway's writing style itself. He gives credence to the adage, "less is more." His acerbic wit seems sometimes angry but always restrained, and very well timed. Somehow, as few words as he uses, I feel I understand him through his writing. I am sorry for him, and a little angry with him, but I understand him....more
This novel was completely engrossing and very well-written (for escapist literature). The story explores loss and isolation, fantasy and restoration,This novel was completely engrossing and very well-written (for escapist literature). The story explores loss and isolation, fantasy and restoration, and ends hopefully, despite a lot of heartache along the way. Ultimately it is a mystery, with a little bit of romance as well, where generations of women from an unknown family lineage discover the dark secrets of their heritage and learn to embrace life. I wish there had been a little more humor, but apparently Kate Morton likes her characters tragically dysfunctional, devastatingly wounded, or just plain nuts, which leaves little room for laughs. I gave it a high rating because it really was a well-woven yarn, which drew me in enough that I wasn't bothered by its slightly formulaic style until a while after I'd put it down. I will say that I figured out the "big shocking twist" of the story simply ages before she meant me to...but still enjoyed the read! Now, on to something great where the tale serves the truth and not the other way around....more
I can see why some people love this book. It's engaging, easy to read, interesting, mysterious, and emotional. It touches women in an integral place bI can see why some people love this book. It's engaging, easy to read, interesting, mysterious, and emotional. It touches women in an integral place by causing us to examine our own relationships with our mothers (and on a lesser level, husbands and sisters) and how those important women have helped to shape us. Our book club had a good discussion over its themes, including the way people respond to trauma, the importance of communication, the absolutely bleak situation in Leningrad during the Seige, and much more. We also collectively agreed that there were some hokey elements--the twist at the end and the epilogue (which I will not spoil for prospective readers), for example. Kristin Hannah is obviously a talented writer, did a great deal of good research, and has a heart for the bonds between women, especially those who experience hardship together. I was thoroughly involved in the story, which brought me to tears. So why, now, am I so ambivalent about the book? The ending had something to do with it, I'm sure. Also, for me, it was a little bit like watching and enjoying a movie because it happens to be on TV, although you wouldn't have paid to rent it. It was not great literature, but it was an interesting book....more
How can I describe how wonderful this book is? It's so wonderful that I could be in a complete stupor of new baby sleep-deprivation, my brain would liHow can I describe how wonderful this book is? It's so wonderful that I could be in a complete stupor of new baby sleep-deprivation, my brain would literally be turning itself off, and I would keel over with the book in my hand. It's so wonderful that it took a woman who had formerly considered all things Western quite boring and made her want to watch a John Wayne movie. That's 27 years of aversion turned around, folks. It's wonderful. The story is one of faith, family, adventure, and loyal love. The characters are the Land family, Jeremiah (the father), and Davy, Reuben, and Swede, his children, with Reuben as the protagonist. Each major character is so rich and demands that you care about him/her. The setting is Minnesota and North Dakota in the 1960s, and the plot centers around the family's response when Davy is arrested for killing two boys from his school. I could try to offer a play-by-play, but I'd rather just say that, although the story is exciting and touching and poignant, Enger's writing makes literary magic. Each page is a joy, and I found myself putting the book down after certain turns of phrase simply to say, "wow!," and then pick it back up again. This book will be one for me to read and reread, a modern classic for sure. ...more
Another book club pick, this book gets a strong 3.5 stars. I didn't expect to enjoy it at all--I mean, it's billed to be about an elephant and her keeAnother book club pick, this book gets a strong 3.5 stars. I didn't expect to enjoy it at all--I mean, it's billed to be about an elephant and her keeper at a washed-up zoo. But it turned out to be about more than that: real characters, each with defining moments, baggage, fears, and quests for purpose that made me understand and feel compassion for them. It also represents a variety of psychological/chemical disorders in its characters that made for very interesting reading for this former psychology undergraduate. The main character is an elderly black man named Sam whose love for Hannah (this elephant) keeps him working long past his body's ability to continue. He is loyal, loving, and quite philosophical despite several tragic life experiences. And yet, I connected just as much with the secondary characters and even (in a very frustrated way) to the villain, the zoo's dysfunctional manager, Harriet. I found the spiritual elements of the book to be intriguing as well. Many of the characters had a desire to relate to God in some way, and talked about their conceptions of Him openly. The way each person tried to fill the 'spiritual gap' was both interesting and sad. The ending is hopeful on many levels, and so is the spiritual element meant to be, but from a Christian standpoint it still represents futility. Even so, from a worldly perspective, the sense of purpose and hope in this book was very strong, and I appreciated much it had to offer....more
What a wonderful book! What stands out the most to me is Hardy's ability to paint word pictures--he does a fantastic job establishing the setting of tWhat a wonderful book! What stands out the most to me is Hardy's ability to paint word pictures--he does a fantastic job establishing the setting of the English countryside, more rural than any of Austen's settings, a place where time seems to stand still. Both of his protagonists seem so real and experience believable development throughout the novel (that is, staying themselves while learning to control their baser impulses). His use of dialect is a source of much humor throughout the book, especially contrasting the well-spoken Bathsheba with her least intellectual farm hands, who stutter and have the tendency to spend much of their conversation on wild tangents rather than speaking concisely. But, contrasted with his use of humor, Hardy expresses unspeakable tragedy with amazing beauty and wisdom. By the time the book comes to resolution, the reader has had the opportunity either to empathize with or at least to understand each major character on a deep level. This was a book club pick for us, and some of the ladies found it difficult to get into at first, but I think anyone who has grown accustomed to the slower pace of 19th century British literature will find a lot to appreciate in the 'wordy' beginning, which contains a lot of Hardy's personality and personal wisdom. I did! ...more
I was amazed to learn that Ray Bradbury wrote the initial version of this book in only nine days--it seems to me that his insight into society, the reI was amazed to learn that Ray Bradbury wrote the initial version of this book in only nine days--it seems to me that his insight into society, the relationship of our cultural degradation with our growing lack of contemplation, and even the workings of the human psyche would have been the product of a much lengthier effort. Then again, it is clear that Bradbury wrote what he had studied around him, and simply threw it a few hundred years into the future. The result is quite startling, and hard to ignore. (Can YOU envision a world with wall-sized televisions, earbuds, sensory overload, moral decline, and a general consensus that if we can't agree on something, we should just pretend that it doesn't exist? Yeah.) I also enjoyed Bradbury's ability to write real characters (although they are 'real' in an imaginary world, and some have more depth than others). Far from being a dry treatise on censorship, this book allows the reader to experience Montag's awakening, feel the challenge of arguing with Beatty (the novel's human villain), and mourn for the hopelessness of Montag's lopsided relationship with his wife. I'm glad this book is required reading for so many schools these days, and recommend it as a part of a well-rounded education in school or in life! ...more
Having bought the trilogy of "The Hawk and the Dove" series, and having enjoyed the first book so much, I was really eager to continue on. The WoundsHaving bought the trilogy of "The Hawk and the Dove" series, and having enjoyed the first book so much, I was really eager to continue on. The Wounds of God starts much like The Hawk and the Dove did, with the same style of a "meta-tale," many of the same characters, but some new themes. I did enjoy this book. However, about midway through, Melissa and her family (the protagonists in the present) simply dropped off the scene! These stories were supposed to be their family's tradition, truer in some senses than others, meant to explain their heritage of faith. I really felt the loss of this aspect of the book, since Melissa's reactions to these stories were an important part of the way the reader related to them. As the title suggests, this book also places an incredibly high emphasis on the physical sufferings of Christ. This didn't surprise me, since the symbol of the Catholic church is a crucifix, but the feeling seemed to be that the fact that Christ once and for all defeated death and now reigns at the right hand of God does us no earthly good. It seemed to serve the purposes of the characters better to remember Him in agony, so that they could identify with Him better. That may sound nit-picky, and I really do understand the comfort that can be drawn from the fact that Christ partook of our sufferings. However, the preponderance of "God's wounds" in this book really does miss the lessons we learn from knowing where Jesus is now, and what the bearings that has on the way we live out our walks. I may read this book again, or I may not...for me, it fell somewhat short of the Wilcock's first offering....more
Wow! I really enjoyed this book. I think the correct term is "meta-tale," or a tale within a tale. The protagonist, Melissa, lives in the present, butWow! I really enjoyed this book. I think the correct term is "meta-tale," or a tale within a tale. The protagonist, Melissa, lives in the present, but the main focus of the book is on stories of 14th-century monks her mother tells her, which have been passed down through the generations of her family. Each tale has the feeling of a vignette, but they all hold together nicely. Whatever Melissa is facing in her everyday life, she can learn from and is encouraged by the lessons the brothers learned in their journeys of faith so long ago. As for Wilcock's treatment of the Christian faith, I found her very insightful. She deals with a wide spectrum of its elements--from faith through suffering, to gaining an eternal perspective, to loving one another despite faults, to the genuine application of theology to how we live each day. Of course, the biblical basis for the monastic lifestyle itself is a bit of a mystery to me, but that's another story! The writing took a little getting used to, but as Christian fiction goes it was pretty good. Maybe it helped that Wilcock is British. :) I do heartily recommend this book, and will read it again. ...more
This book is oh, so good! It's completely recreational reading, which very much hit the spot, but it reminds me of Jane Eyre, one of my favorite classThis book is oh, so good! It's completely recreational reading, which very much hit the spot, but it reminds me of Jane Eyre, one of my favorite classic novels of all time. Of course, reflecting the needs of its modern audience, it is even more suspenseful than Bronte's novel, and I couldn't put it down for the final third. (I did suspect several of the plot twists, but not every one, and not to the detriment of its enjoyment.) I highly recommend it for afficionadoes of mystery, suspense, romance and/or the displaced governess. ...more
(Note--this book really hangs somewhere on the under-side of three stars for me. Also, this review is written from an orthodox Christian standpoint--I(Note--this book really hangs somewhere on the under-side of three stars for me. Also, this review is written from an orthodox Christian standpoint--I'm not qualified to offer any other.) "If God is good, why does he cause or allow us to experience painful circumstances? Perhaps he is not good. Or, perhaps he just isn't powerful enough to protect his creatures from pain." These are the difficult questions, natural to many of us, that C.S. Lewis attempts to address in this book. It is one of his earliest works as a Christian, predating Mere Christianity by three years. Because of this, and because he takes a mostly-apologetic stance rather than simply addressing what the Bible has to say about pain, a significant number of his ideas reflect his secular academic background imposing itself upon the supernatural. But I will start with the positives first: The chapter entitled "Divine Goodness" is truly excellent. It addresses the idea that God's goodness and the fact that He perfects his children through trials go hand-in-hand. It brings into perspective our cultural tendency to assume that God must be a "senile grandfather-type" who just wants everyone to have a good time. His arguments are intellectually and scripturally sound, and I believe this chapter can stand alone for many believers struggling with trials of various sorts. Secondly, I appreciated the times when Lewis qualified his views as "simply opinion," "a layman's ignorant perspective," "subject to correction by real theologians," etc. This is a message he sent often in Mere Christianity as well, and it shows a measure of humility that (from what I learned in Surprised by Joy) did not come naturally to him. On the other hand, in this early book, the places where Lewis so qualifies his opinions are rather few, and he presents some things as fact which most Christian theologians and a respectable number of scientists deny. Most prevalently, his belief in the Theory of Evolution permeates two chapters of this book--"The Fall of Man," and "Animal Pain." In the first, Lewis treats the Biblical account of Adam and Eve as a doctrine rather than a narrative, and posits that somewhere in the evolution of the species, mankind (in whatever number) were given souls and became "Paradisal Man." At some point, by some means, Paradisal Men fell. The tragic result of Lewis' false assumption is that he consequently has no understanding of the Scriptural concept of a federal head--"as 'in' Adam all died, so 'in' Christ we can be made alive together with Him." If Adam is just the mythical name for "Paradisal Man," that "in" really doesn't make any sense, and the word "in" is admittedly mysterious to Lewis. The second chapter (on "Animal Pain") argues that the animal species cannot have experienced its first pangs at the fall of man, since the evolutionary record shows us that carnivorous behavior in animals predates humanity. He posits that perhaps Satan, who seems to have fallen before the creation of mankind, might have corrupted creation first, and mankind second. Again, this completely ignores the narrative of biblical creation, which bears no trademarks of a parable or myth as far as Scripture goes. I realize it was not Lewis' intention to be cavalier about Scripture, and indeed many of us in modern Christendom have at one time or another been deceived by compromising doctrines that claim to be intellectually superior to orthodox Christianity. However, Lewis' belief in Evolution was not the only area this type of deception occurred. He also posited that, because Christ lived in a human body, with a human brain of an average size, He may well have spoken historical or scientific error without impugning his Deity. In this context, Lewis mentions that we might take as truth Jesus' teachings about the Devil because they don't contradict any verified scientific findings, only our cultural beliefs. Truly, it is a great mystery that Jesus "grew in wisdom" as well as in stature, and we know He was not always or perhaps ever omniscient in the body before being glorified at His resurrection, but we also know that He possessed knowledge well outside the reaches of the human intellect (many places in Scripture tell us that he knew people's thoughts), and I cannot easily count the number of references to the Christ as "perfect." Add to that the fact that Scripture declares itself to be perfect (2 Timothy 3:16), and it becomes clear that the idea of Jesus' having spoken error at all, and that error then being recorded forever to misdirect us in the infallible Word of God, is quite contrary to the precepts of our Faith. These compromises with the secular climate in which Lewis lived were disheartening, and at times as I read I actually felt sick to my stomach. The chapters that were neither excellent nor nauseating seemed at times beneficial and at times self-indulgent. I don't believe I would have felt so strongly if I didn't so respect the man God made Lewis as he continued his Christian life. I'm so thankful that his reliance on Scripture certainly grew as he matured in his walk, and his likeness to the world around him lessened. I reassert the value of the chapter entitled "Divine Goodness," but urge extreme caution and a discerning eye when reading the rest.
This book promised from the beginning to be a very entertaining and enjoyable read. It was my first Sayers novel, and I was very pleased with Wimsey'sThis book promised from the beginning to be a very entertaining and enjoyable read. It was my first Sayers novel, and I was very pleased with Wimsey's character, who seemed oddly to combine the genius of Sherlock Holmes with the foppishness of Woodhouse's Bertie Wooster. It was full of quotes from great literature, including very interesting Bible references (which were not blatant at all), but around the middle I felt the story was getting a little too gory for me. There were some lovely characters, but the whole "homicidal maniac" thing turned me off. I was tempted to give this story a "2," but I am inclined to think well of Sayers because of her work in classical education, and also because my mom loves her so much. I'll give the Lord Peter mysteries another try sometime....more
This was not Lewis' best work, but its lacks can be understood in light of what else we know of him. First, he wrote it as a brand new Christian, haviThis was not Lewis' best work, but its lacks can be understood in light of what else we know of him. First, he wrote it as a brand new Christian, having rejected worldly philosophy but not having lived much of the Christian life yet. Having read his later work, Surprised by Joy, I recognized many autobiographical elements relating to his own philosophical journey away from Christianity, and then back toward it. However, there were other elements I did not recognize, which seemed to be an attempt to generalize the landscape of philosophical reasoning as it relates to God's Truth. Some of it was insightful--his understanding of things "North" and "South" of the narrow road correlating to either the cold, hard, and unfeeling exaltation of thought or piety, or the unyielding pursuit of thrills, religious or pagan. Other parts were very obscure--Lewis himself later described these parts as "needlessly obscure"--parts which were an attempt to describe his own journey allegorically, a journey which he later discovered was quite uncommon within Christendom. I also remembered the comment of a professor I met who had studied Lewis extensively, saying that the academic community in which Lewis worked hated him with a passion. Unfortunately, some of his characterizations in this book probably contributed to those feelings. I was thankful for his afterward in the edition I read that apologized for that "uncharitable temper." True, he himself had been deceived by these philosophies, saw them warring in his own community, and (quite naturally) wanted to debunk them. He just wasn't very gracious about it. I was also quite curious about the residents of "Puritania," where John was born. They didn't resemble any Puritans I've read, as they were obsessed with talking about rules, although private conversations showed they really did find the rules a bit much. They lived in a land of contradictions and didn't seem to mind it at all. I know that Lewis returned to the Anglican church of his youth after his conversion to Christianity...perhaps his view of the Puritans was prejudiced by his denominational ties. In any case, it was quite inaccurate. I love C.S. Lewis--the 'little Christ' he tried to be as years went on, the unique talents he possessed, and the way he submitted them to his Maker as he grew in grace. In light of that love, and my genuine fascination with the life and writings of this man, I have to say that this allegory fell short of the one for which it was named. For an uplifting and inspiring understanding of the journey to the Celestial City, read Bunyan; to understand C.S. Lewis' thoughts about philosophy and God, read Mere Christianity and Surprised by Joy. In my opinion, you can do both very well without The Pilgrim's Regress....more
This was another book to which I would give 3.5 stars; I would have liked to have given it a 4, but I get grumpy about secular humanism. It was such aThis was another book to which I would give 3.5 stars; I would have liked to have given it a 4, but I get grumpy about secular humanism. It was such an interesting book, though! I read it twice in a row, since I was going to be leading a book club discussion on it, and I felt I really benefited from the second read-through. The first was nice, without pressure to identify themes or arguments, and I focused more on the funny and heartwarming elements of the story rather than the tragic. The second read-through gave me a chance to put myself into more of those heartrending circumstances and try to think through what made each of the characters think the way he/she did. I was also able to develop a relationship with my favorite character, Isola Pribby, and to identify what appeared to be the themes and arguments of the book. The main message is optimistic—humanity is ultimately capable of overcoming terrible circumstances, provided we show personal generosity and tolerate one another’s “differences” (defined very broadly). Humanity possesses great endurance, strength, hope, potential for sacrifice, generosity, and any number of other positive traits, and the authors and main characters seem to feel that these qualities are intrinsic to us, rather than being faint reflections of our awesome Creator. I really enjoyed the writing style; the letters back and forth were quirky, informative, and each writer had his/her own clear voice. I appreciated the strong desire of the authors to be understanding and not to form snap judgments of people—even the Germans who occupied Guernsey were not all “in on it,” as one of the book club ladies phrased it. I did feel they were rather selective with which character qualities or behaviors rendered a person “loveable” or “unlovable.” Since the primary quality exalted in this book was personal generosity, it seemed that as long as someone possessed that in some measure, they could do pretty much anything else and still be loveable. On the other hand, someone who was judgmental or behaved selfishly may have had any number of more positive qualities, but we don’t want to know about them. One of the primary metaphors for this schema (exalting personal generosity and freedom from convention) was the interaction of the characters with various literary figures. Each of the primary authors mentioned—Charles Lamb, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, and even, as an inverse example, Anne Bronte (since she suffered from the oppression of “overly-conventional” family members)—exhibited both the willingness to understand and help people and some level of distaste for “convention” (which some of us might redefine as “morality”). The point is that our lifestyle choices are our own affair, but we will be judged by how we treat others. (I disagree—I believe we are accountable to God for both.) As for God, the book treats Him as largely superfluous, except on the off-chance that there is such a thing as predestination, which, in light of the horrors of Nazism, would make “God the Devil.” It is understandable from a certain vantage point that one would draw that conclusion, but I am thankful for the example of Corrie Ten Boom and many others who were able to praise God even in a concentration camp (we are reading The Hiding Place for our next meeting). At any rate, there is no evidence that the authors of this book esteemed anything or Anyone higher than humanity. I don’t wish to focus too much on the negatives, but just to recognize them—there was so much that was enjoyable and informative, and a lot of very funny parts. It was good for me to interact with this book, both for what I learned from it, and also what I learned through it, analyzing its arguments and debating with it in some ways. It was definitely a worthwhile read, but, as in all things, should be read with an examining eye. ...more
What a wonderful, insightful, heart-breaking book. I am kicking myself for misplacing my notes--sitting here six weeks after finishing it, I know theWhat a wonderful, insightful, heart-breaking book. I am kicking myself for misplacing my notes--sitting here six weeks after finishing it, I know the first layer of nuance has fled my mind. Set in America during World War II, right before Israel became a sovereign state, this book asks many poignant questions: what does it mean to be a Jew? a father? a son? a friend? what is the reason for suffering? how do you save a soul? teach or learn compassion? Rich in symbolism and deep in heart, the story of two sons and two fathers from two different sects of Judaism presents these questions, picks them apart, and puts them back together again, teaching the value of listening and empathy. Nevertheless, the overwhelming sense with which I left the book was sadness, because the Jewish doctrine of suffering is so entrenched and so seemingly unanswerable (at least within the confines of Judaism). Whether the characters were Hasidic or simply "followers of the Ten Commandments," suffering defined them. This was exemplified in the grievous choice Reb Saunders made in raising his son Danny, as well as the Zionist activism of David Malter. The sons, although raised in America--a nation that tends to reject suffering--,both took up this banner in their own ways, choosing to climb into the trenches of pain in order to comfort and guide the hurting. With what? The argument of the story is "with compassion." It was a good argument. But I continue to be impressed that, if there was any hope to be offered to the suffering, these two families couldn't agree on what its source was. David Malter, the Zionist, was convinced that, if the Jews did not make their own meaning for their suffering, it would be meaningless. Reb Saunders believed it was all a precursor to the coming of Messiah--really, suffering was an exalted rite of passage to him. The book leaves the question of the meaning of suffering unanswered, the question of the source of hope undetermined, the salvation of a soul an object of human guesswork. I thoroughly appreciated this book, but part of the reason why--although it was well-written, engaging, and full of pathos--is that it made me appreciate another Book and its Author even more. Jesus Christ is my Source for hope, my Meaning in suffering, and the ultimate Answer for Israel, Jews, and the world.
"And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." --Romans 5:5-8...more