John Cooper's Reviews > Brendan

Brendan by Frederick Buechner
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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, not by the story, though it's a great story as well.

The legend of Brendan, who is called the Navigator and whom some believe to have reached the Americas, is a collection of tall tales, told here with little attempt to tone down their miraculousness. It's not important to believe that these things happened in real life; it is important that as with any fantastic tale, from Jonah to Star Wars, you cooperate with the story and not resist it or scoff. There are marvels, but the jewels of the book are its characters, the people in Brendan's orbit. I'm certain at least one of them will speak to you in a special way. For me it was Malo, a bitter and mean man who is at first impossible to like. When I found out what cruelty had made Malo so bitter, the harshness of it almost turned me against the book. But when he eventually came to something like peace, the insight that healed him put a catch in my throat. For you, no doubt, some other character or incident will have a similar force.

This is an earnest book but not a sentimental one. If you have trouble telling the two apart, beware.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
March 21, 2016 – Finished Reading
October 29, 2016 – Shelved

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