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3.93  ·  Rating details ·  583 ratings  ·  68 reviews
An acclaimed author interweaves history and legend to re-create the life of a complex man of faith fifteen hundred years ago. Winner of the 1987 Christianity and Literature Book Award for Belles-Lettres.
Paperback, 256 pages
Published May 16th 2000 by HarperOne (first published 1987)
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Average rating 3.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  583 ratings  ·  68 reviews

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Kathy Disanto
Jan 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Envy is a nasty emotion. That said, I would cheerfully walk five ... no, make that ten miles through the snow barefoot, every day for a month, to be able to write one tenth as powerfully as Beuchner does. This book is so full of rollicking, flesh-bound, bumbling-but-believing humanity, it threatens to burst the covers and swallow you up. Brendan may not be ten feet tall and bullet proof, but he's you and he's me and he's every believer forced to face the fact that his best will never be good eno ...more
Nov 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I read this book at a critical time in my life. I had just become Greek Orthodox after having been an Evangelical and then Lutheran Christian.

This book came at a time when I was having trouble with hagiography (biographical writings about the saints focused on their ministries) and its preference to see only the holiest aspects of a person's life. Perhaps I am too much a product of my culture, but I'm a person who needs to see how a saint has overcome his or her failures to become the saint we
Jane Mettee
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Frederick Buechner is a master story teller. His use of language and his characters are absolutely stunning. Part history, part fantasy, part adventure,
part spiritual journey. Brenden (484-577) was a Catholic priest who became a saint. He and his friends were early followers of Christ in Ireland. Brenden was
educated by St. Ita and ordained by Bishop Erc. His sister Brigid had her own monastery.
In an attempt to feel worthy, do penance for his sins and to imitate Christ’s sufferings he practiced
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
This took me way longer to read than it should have -- possibly because I had no prior knowledge of this saint, and didn't know where the plot was going -- but I was swept up in Buechner's vivid storytelling. A perfect St Patrick's Day read.
Jan 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I wasn't prepared to give this book 5 stars. I enjoyed it but rarely loved it. Beautifully told, the story isn't necessarily beautifully shown. It's not very immersive, is easy to step away from and not think about again until the next reading. However, when the last page made me cry for a character I had such mixed feelings about, I knew Finn's story of Brendan had struck some power over me. I read Godric years ago and maybe remember enjoying it more as I read it but remember less about the sto ...more
Oct 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
Summary: This is a fictional account of the life of St. Brendan, often known as the Navigator. Buechner traces his life from being taking by St. Erc at one through his early years, the establishment of his leadership in founding Clonfert and in making kings, and most of all his marathon journeys, one lasting seven years.

I grew up near a St. Brendan's school, which was just across the field from the junior high school I attended. I never had any idea of the colorful life this saint lived, nor his
Richard LeComte
Aug 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Frederick Buechner followed up his classic "Godric" with this tale of a sixth-century saint, Brendan the Navigator, as told by his close friend and aid Finn. Buechner's faux-Gaelic prose makes the novel somewhat difficult to read at first, but once one gets used to the slightly off-kilter rhythms, the story emerges as one full of humor, fantasy and poignancy. Brendan, taken from his parents at age 1, is raised to be a priest just a generation after St. Patrick has brought Christianity to Irelan ...more
Nov 03, 2007 rated it really liked it
A tour de force of language and character. Frederick Buechner synthesized a 6th century Irish/English and took with it the legends surrounding Brendan the Navigator, the 6th-century Irish monk who travelled to North America with a small crew of monks, by means of a modified curraugh.

The book is partly about this voyage, but mostly about the inner voyage of a human struggling with life, faith, and longing for what he cannot have in this life.

Tim Severin , The Brendan Voyage, a modern day explore
BC Batcheshire
Dec 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I identify as an atheist - and I loved this book. The religious themes do not in any way diminish the value of the story, or impede the ultimate value of the work - this ultimate value being, in short, that to love a man is to know him, and all the more surely to love our fellowmen we must learn to open ourselves to unvarnished knowledge of their true individual character, each in their own accord.
I'll also praise the imagery therein, as the author's skill in poetry is his greatest service to t
In the words of my second favorite Presbyterian (Frederick Buechner, second to Mr. Rogers. Because, Mr. Rogers.) our protagonist Brendan is "a shipwreck of a man." I have not read many retellings of literal saints but I have tried. I simply never finish them, you see. And my complaint is consistent: the weird is absent. There isn't enough funk gumming up the storytelling gears to keep them from grinding it all down into insignificance. A given story of a given saint may show legitimate piety and ...more
Aug 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brendan is a sometimes whimsical, sometimes stern blend of history, fairy tale, and old-fashioned Tall Tale. The book is in the spirit of the ancient accounts of Brendan of Clonfert's life, when Christian chroniclers accepted the fantastic without batting an eye, from the existence of sea monsters and Faerie-land and it's myriad denizens to the bizarre and far-fetched "Christian" miracles of the sort you see in Dark Ages or Medieval writings. Buechner takes all that and runs with it, fleshing ou ...more
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my first Buechner book and it won't be my last. The language was earthy, the syntax (that of the narrator, Finn) awakens one's inner Irishman (everybody has a little Irish in them, right?). Buechner's descriptions put me in mind of the glowing illustrations in an illuminated manuscript. This is a world fantastical, harsh, and still very pagan. The main conflict revolves around Brendan's longing for Tir-na-n-Og, essentially heaven, and all those he loves who've preceded him there. The "n ...more
Dan Glover
Jul 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
A story of a saint imaginatively told as if by a life-long friend and companion. As with Godric (which I liked more than Brendan), this is the story of the life-long transformation of a saint who, the older and saintlier he becomes, the less worthy of sainthood he believes himself to be: from sinner who sees himself as a saint to saint who believes himself to be a miserable sinner. The voice Buechner narrates this story in (Finn) distracts at first but slips beneath notice after a short while. T ...more
Jul 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Brendan is an unusual tale in the form of an immram (Irish navigational narrative), full of both whimsical and profound moments, and, increasingly, mercy. It tells the story of Brendan, an Irish saint and seafarer seeking the glory of Christ in his search for Paradise.

This book was a delightful surprise. I started it out of loyalty to the author - I have enjoyed his other works - but not terribly excited about the premise. It took me about 1/4 of the book to be won over, and when I finished it,
Aug 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Heart-warming, playful, deeply reflective, irreverent and reverent all at once. Buechner masterfully fictionalizes the life of Ireland's Saint Brendan. His tale is woven with small miracles, self-loathing and forgiveness, the problem of suffering, the brokenness of the world and the power of friendship. My only regret in having read now this and his other fictionalized hagiography ("Godric") is that there are no other such books by Buechner left. Looking forward to exploring his other fiction an ...more
Milan Homola
Sep 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Very interesting story. I wasn't sure what to expect. I almost gave it up around page 60 but I pressed on and I'm really glad I did. Good moral to the story it just takes awhile to get there. Some good quotes: a judgmental character says "I'm as crippled as the dark world." Main character replies "if it comes to that, which one of us isn't." " To lend each other a hand when we're falling, perhaps that's the only work that matters in the end."
J. Alfred
Throw Irish mythology non-homogeneously in with Christian theology and then add The Odyssey, sort of. And then a bunch of Buechnerian stuff about how faith never actually appears to be rewarded and human evil is impossible to contemplate alongside assertions of God's goodness so on. And then say bombastic words like "pizzle."
It's pretty good.
A bit uneven - some parts I loved (5 stars), while other parts were 3 or 4 stars. Not a book you read for plot so much, but rather a meditation on a certain way of life in a certain time and place (of which it is very evocative.) It's also a meditation on the beauty and sorrow and wonder and craziness of life. The prose is just wonderful in parts - it's well worth reading for that.
Sarah Tisdale
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Whew. I didn’t know I needed this book today. I read it so fast and am grateful for the way this man writes. It reads as an ancient tale told in a voice of a mere mortal witness friend. I also didn’t know it was based on a true person. Or really anything about it. I think no expectations helped me tremendously to be surprised and heart achy and cackling at different points throughout the story.
Albert Norton
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is startlingly good. Buechner knows what he's writing about. I felt like I was in medieval Ireland the whole time. If you've ever found yourself wondering at the level of religious devotion in ages past, read this book. Read it regardless, it's an adventure.
Aug 07, 2019 rated it liked it
I want to give this 2 stars but I can't because it's my namesake St. Brendan. While a fictional tale of the true stories of St. Brendan that could be fascinating, I found the writing tedious. However, at times it was brilliant. It was hard to finish but I'm glad I read it.
Damien Rappuhn
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Amazing book. A fun, deeply engaging and emotional journey into ancient Christianity.
Jan 20, 2014 rated it liked it
This deserves more than three stars, but lately I've been unreasonably stingy.

Buechner strikes gold once again with this unusual tale of the saint Brendan, a 10th century Irish Catholic priest whose life is hallmarked by the many fantastic tales told about him. Separated from his uneducated parents at a young age and raised by nuns and monks, he set off on a journey by both land and sea in his early twenties at the urging of a friendly old nun, Ita.

Like all of Buechner's work, this novel is mad
Mar 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
In the beginning, Brendon read like a Celtic version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn--in fact, I began to think of it as The Adventures of Brendan/Finn, since Finn, a traveling companion of Brendan's, serves as first-person narrator. The similarities: both involve a journey, there are encounters with idiosyncratic characters, and the stories are told in vernacular (sometimes which is quite amusing).

The novel takes a turn, however, when Brendan sets out to sea on his famous voyage in the ho
John Cooper
Oct 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
For me to deeply love a book of fiction these days, it has to impress me at the sentence level, and does this one triumph! Written in the first person by a companion of the sixth-century Irish Saint Brendan, it's as vivid and warm and lusty and funny and tragic as the soul of Ireland itself. It reads like a transcription of a spoken tale, alternately grave and deadpan whimsical. It astounds me that an American Presbyterian could capture this voice. I kept reading because I was drawn by the voice ...more
Mar 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was an book. I'm glad I read the J.Philip Newell one first on recommendation by Phil (not Phil brother-in-law, Phil). :)

I'm not sure how to like it on the 5 point scale. It took me a bit to adjust to the style, which is very appropriate to the subject matter and point of just took me a bit to adjust to it. There are a lot of gross, and by gross, I mean, expansive or ... pervasive and yet also... unsettling in a primitive/kind of disgusting way (? you k
Apr 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Part history, part fantasy, part epic, part tall tale, this book left me feeling a bit dizzy. I appreciated the research and creativity that went into the story, and the writing was great. But the content tended to be a little too crass and (ahem) earthy for my taste, although I'm sure it captures the pre-Christian/post-Roman Irish culture rather well: severed heads on pikes, Druid magic, vulgar fertility rites, sea sickness, a mid-ocean conversation with Judas Iscariot, chess games with a blind ...more
May 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Found this title from a quote in another book. This one is a novel about a real St. Brendan who was born in 484 in Ireland. I could actually hear the Irish lilt in the words as I read. Set in the time of King Arthur, this is the story of Brendan, a baby taken from his parents to be raised with the monks. His life if a journey full of adventure and travels through Ireland and out to sea. He spends his life searching for Tri na n Og, Terrestrial Paradise and the tale is fascinating. Meetings with ...more
Janet Kim
Feb 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people that like good story-telling.
Recommended to Janet by: Jason Toth
I loved the concept of this book--taking a medieval legend and extending it to novel proportions. The language was beautiful and archaic with some curious recurring motifs. The chapter/section written from the point of view of the titular character (I love the word "titular") was particularly lovely. At certain times I was slightly reminded of Tolkien and you can interpret that however you want to (good or bad). It's just an observation, not a judgment.

Oh, and the person who recommended this boo
Allie Sheets
I have never heard the name Brendan before I read this book. I did my research after reading this book, and I found out that this is based on Saint Brendan, one of the first monks to reach America. This book follows Brendan during his life through the eyes of his life long friend, Finn. When I think of monks, I usually imagine a bunch of men praying for days one end. However, Brendan did much more than praying. He traveled a lot. He went from city to city to talk about the word of God. He also w ...more
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Frederick Buechner is a highly influential writer and theologian who has won awards for his poetry, short stories, novels and theological writings. His work pioneered the genre of spiritual memoir, laying the groundwork for writers such as Anne Lamott, Rob Bell and Lauren Winner.

His first book, A Long Day's Dying, was published to acclaim just two years after he graduated from Princeton. He entere

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