- Strangers in a strange land
With the United Kingdom criticised for opting out of a European Union plan to resettle thousands of migrants from Africa and the Middle East, what should be the Christian response to immigration and does Scripture offer any guidance?
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In 1998, the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, published, under the name of its president, Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, We Remember: A reflection on the Shoah. Lauren Faulkner Rossi incorrectly describes the document as Pope John Paul II’s formal apology “for the Church’s failure to challenge the Nazi regime openly during the Holocaust”.
There are fashions in worship as in all else. As the world grows smaller and more crowded, so we have fewer Christian anchorites and hermits (or other saintly sorts living down caves or up desert pillars) and fewer monastic vocations. This year, however, there have been reports of a sharp increase in the number of women choosing to become nuns in Britain.
A long time ago, when I was just starting out in journalism, an older, experienced editor gave me the following piece of advice: “A good story is about sex, power or money. A great story is about all three.” By that yardstick, Gorsky is a great story.
As every Italian schoolchild knows, Dante Alighieri’s allegorical journey from Hell to Heaven by way of Purgatory, The Divine Comedy, opens on Good Friday in a supernatural forest at nightfall. Dante, a figure in his own epic work, has lost his way in middle age and is alone and terrified in the “dark wood”. The classical poet Virgil, sent by Dante’s muse Beatrice, is about to show him Hell.
A self-effacing, slightly built man who feels ill at ease in the limelight with a predilection for hour-long sermons. Hardly the stuff, you’d think, of a five-star preacher – but then Oscar Arnulfo Romero has always defied neat and easy categorisation, as the hundreds of thousands who will gather this weekend in San Salvador, El Salvador’s capital, for his long-awaited beatification, will testify.
In Britain, we are generally used to fast train rides. Even London to Inverness can be done in fewer than 12 hours. A day’s journey in Russia, by contrast, can move you a mere blip on the map, though many sprawling cities, villages and vast lakes may have been passed.
This novel centres on a classic fictional set piece: a warring family at Christmas. It’s 2005, and the Madigan siblings, Hanna, Constance, Emmet and Dan, have travelled far from the County Clare of their childhood, but are still in thrall to their impossible, widowed mother, Rosaleen.
On Boxing Day, 1170, Henry II was in Bayeux, worrying about his troublesome Archbishop and famously appealing for someone to rid him of “this turbulent priest”. Four knights galloped to the coast, found a boat to take them over the wintry Channel, then thundered on to Canterbury.
This novel, written in the 1980, is a wonderful evocation of boarding house life in mid-50’s London.
In this dazzling work, Noel Malcolm presents Venice, Dalmatia, Malta, Madrid, papal Rome and Istanbul in their hour of glory.
One might see the work of the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist Garry Wills as a series of salvos against blithe assumptions that theologians are inclined to make about the unchanging continuity of Catholic teaching and tradition.
In the crowded field of memoir-writing, the novelist, dramatist, film-maker and all-round man of letters Carlo Gébler holds a particular place of honour.
This novel addresses two common, often overlapping and sometimes contradictory concerns among today’s millennial generation.
Ever since its issue, in June 1215, Magna Carta has been the object of exaggeration and make-believe. Those who were present at Runnymede began the mythologising by carrying away from the scene of negotiations not just the great charter but a series of written memoranda, drafts and other scraps of parchment.
A priest is a contradictory thing. Set apart but radically available, the servant of his parishioners and the subordinate of his bishop, he upholds the teachings of the Church while caring for people whose lives are often at variance with the proclaimed ideal.
How much of life is spent wishing we had spoken more truthfully of our feelings? To call this dark and difficult emotion regret is too easy; it is rather the sadness of waste: of a failure to communicate with those who mean most to us while we live.
Mention the word “famine” and for many the Band Aid single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” comes to mind. It is now over 30 years since the release of that record, and while many of the artists who featured on it have faded from memory, the threat of famine still pulses in people’s minds.
The great strength of this compelling book is that it manages to make large and abstract arguments while conveying a sense of the lived experience of the Irish revolution. With one hand, Maurice Walsh widens his lens, while simultaneously he applies a magnifying glass with the other.
Corruption? Isn’t that something that happens in poor countries, or in a fabulously wealthy international football association based in Zurich? Not according to this engrossing book, which argues that the answer to the question posed in the title is that Britain is very corrupt, bordering, in fact, on the status of bandit country.
Chicago’s gilded Age had its blemishes, as this story of the murder of Dr Patrick Cronin in 1889 gruesomely illustrates. Cronin was caught up in a struggle for control of the secretive and powerful Clan na Gael, an organisation which sought home rule for Ireland by force.
These days, even the smartest hotels do away with bedroom minibars. Luckily, at Hotel Arcadia they still exist, and one of them proves to be a godsend.
Politics has always been about personalities. Historians tried to persuade us that the key development of the sixteenth century was the triumph of institutions, and a move away from “medieval” informality. Geoffrey Elton detected a “Tudor revolution in government”; others charted the “rise of Parliament”.
Picasso was not being entirely ironical when he claimed that the most important quality of a great painting was that it should be very expensive. Art dealers, gallery owners, auctioneers – not to mention many painters – would all concur.
There are good times and bad times to visit Durham Cathedral. Sunny afternoons in August are best avoided: the place is likely to be packed and you’d find more serenity in a shopping mall. Chilly mornings in January are a safer bet. It is then that, with a little luck, you can experience the cathedral’s greatest gift: the opportunity to step back in time.
You can’t fault the cover, which is really delightful: a red damask wall, hung with works by Watteau which the paper jacket reveals in enticing details through pierced and framed oblongs, beneath endorsements by Barbara Trapido and Elizabeth Gilbert.
Authors of the best-known fictional reworkings of the Jesus story – most recently, by Philip Pullman, Naomi Alderman and Colm Tóibín – have all put their own individual spin on it. Richard Beard, in contrast, firmly roots his novels in the gospel texts. Yet this has imposed no limits to his inventive powers, as was demonstrated by his Lazarus is Dead, which was stunningly original, yet firmly based on John’s account.
David Brooks’ last book, The Social Animal, was subtitled “A Story of How Success Happens”. Its message was essentially that we, as individuals and as a society, spend too much time pursuing the wrong kind of success.
CARDINAL ARCHBISHOPS, who tend to die while still in office, rarely have time, even if they have the inclination, to write an autobiography (Cardinal Heenan, who wrote two volumes before his death in 1975, was an exception).
The jury is still out on whether the “Francis effect” arises from style or substance. John Allen, the Boston Globe’s seasoned Vatican-watcher, does not offer a verdict himself, but presents a wealth of evidence from the Pope’s first 600 days in this bouncily readable, even-handed, well-researched book.
On the cover, the word “Shall” in the title has been crossed out and replaced with “Will”. That little device usefully gets the casual reader hot and bothered at the outset: when should you use “shall” and when “will”?
Fictionalised biographies can be an uncomfortable hybrid, neither fish nor fowl. In the case of the artist Leonora Carrington, you get fish, fowl and good red meat served up all at once. However, the facts of Leonora’s life are so much stranger than fiction that more or less whatever is done with them is bound to be entertaining.
The story of the composition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is well known. A youngish Oxford don took Alice Liddell and her sisters up the river “one golden afternoon”, and told them a story on the river-bank which was later written down. And what a story!
The prospect of continued American global dominance has been the subject of lively debate since the British historian Paul Kennedy warned of the danger of “imperial overstretch” in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers in 1987. That was published after defeat in Vietnam and the Islamic revolution in Iran.
Let us begin at the end. Japanese novelist Minae Mizumura concludes her study of the impact of the global dominance of the English language with the observation, “If more English native speakers walked through the doors of other languages, they would discover undreamed-of landscapes.
Sitting in her bank manager’s office, a middle-aged spinster gets the shock of her life. Marie, a linen-shop assistant who lives simply with her widowed mother in a little house in Kettering, had only popped in to see if she had enough for a holiday in Italy. “You can have any kind of holiday you want,” says the young clerk.
Psychiatry works: that is the Good News that this book proclaims. “For the first time in its long and notorious history, psychiatry can offer scientific, humane and effective treatments to those suffering from mental illness.”
Western europe in the fourteenth century was a particularly turbulent place. Natural disasters in the form of famine and plague drastically reduced population levels and accelerated fundamental changes in economic and social relations.
The Novelist’s craft is evident in the pacing and tone of this biography of the hugely influential Richard John Neuhaus, founder of First Things, the conservative Catholic monthly which boasts of being “America’s most influential journal of religion”.
In 1964 there was a moment when the Kinks came close to beating the Rolling Stones into second place as Britain’s most successful group, behind the Beatles. Though that laurel was to be denied, they well deserve their spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame largely due to its songwriter Ray Davies’ standards such as “Sunny Afternoon”
“They did not know how to judge and could not agree what to consider evil and what good … They gathered together in armies against one another, but even on the march the armies would begin attacking each other, the ranks would be broken and the soldiers would fall on each other, stabbing and cutting, biting and devouring each other.”
In AUGUST 1948, a 33-year-old Cistercian monk in Kentucky was bemused and delighted to receive a letter from Evelyn Waugh. “Dear Brother Louis”, it began, “My criticisms were really personal … I didn’t like your criticisms of the Franciscans.
Back in the 1970s, I went to the same school in south London as a stockbroker’s son called Nigel Farage. He was not much liked by the Dulwich College staff, who found him cocky and opinionated.
Monica Baldwin, in 1914, entered a contemplative religious order. She was 21. She lived in strict enclosure until 1942, when she was dispensed from her vows. Having missed the First World War, she was now plunged into the middle of the second.
Patricia Duncker’s new novel arrived on my desk at the best possible time because I was halfway through re-reading Daniel Deronda and Sophie and the Sibyl is about its author, George Eliot.
Searching through the bookshop at an arts cinema can be lowering; film buffery can suck the life out of any movie. When Alfred Hitchcock was interviewed by François Truffaut and asked about the deeper meaning of his films, Hitchcock deflected his questions. His only aim, he said, was “to make the spectator suffer”.
Ambushed by guerrillas, a man is killed. His companion, a soldier, is injured. Nearby, a jaguar watches, then retreats into surrounding rainforest. A Jesuit priest saves the unnamed survivor and brings him to an Indian village.
Headlines that greeted the Church of England’s pre-election message – “Bishops’ political plea irks Tories”; “Tory fury over Church of England letter” – were a reminder of how tense relations can be between clerics and government. Similar stories were written last year after Archbishop Vincent Nichols,
John gray blames Christianity for peddling fantasies of freedom which mislead humans into multiple forms of intolerance. “All modern philosophies in which history is seen as a process of human emancipation”, he writes, “are garbled versions of [the] Christian narrative, itself a garbled version of the original message of Jesus.”
In this visionary short study, Peter Brown links two themes which are rarely brought together: Christian views of the afterlife between the second and seventh centuries, and the ways in which relations between God and the faithful, living and dead, were mediated by wealth.
The author of this little book about a decisive episode in the Battle of Waterloo told me that it was a kind of European version of Zulu – the film starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker. During the battle, the unremarkable farmhouse of La Haye Sainte, fortuitously placed in a strategically critical position, was defended against Napoleon’s forces by the 400-odd riflemen of the Second Light Battalion King’s German Legion.
Jonny steinberg, associate professor in the African Studies Department at Oxford University, is one of the leading interpreters of South Africa and its public institutions since the dawn of democracy. He has investigated its police and its gangsters, the drug culture and the HIV-Aids pandemic.
Michael Arditti has carved out a unique place for himself in current British fiction. He writes interesting and non-didactic novels about religion. Not only does he invent memorable characters and situations – a love story set in Lourdes, for example, or an investigation into the mysterious disappearance of a priest in the Philippines, which uncovers much of that country’s murky history
Over the past two years, Cardinal Walter Kasper has earned the unofficial title of chief theologian of Pope Francis. At Francis’ invitation, he addressed the February 2014 consistory of the College of Cardinals on a theology of the family, and the Pope has praised the book on mercy that Kasper gave him a few days before his election.
In his last months, interviewers would ask Christopher Hitchens how he was. “Well, I’m dying,” the great anarch would say, and then, after a delicious pause, “… but so are you.”
From its first issue in 1859, The Irish Times was the newspaper of the Anglo-Irish, the 3,000 or so Protestant ascendancy families. Considered British in Ireland and Irish in Britain, many only felt at home on the Irish Sea. From 1922, with the establishment of the Irish Free State, it was a bastion of Protestant Ireland, along with the Bank of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, the Royal Dublin Society and the Guinness brewery.
Imagine leaving ordinary life behind when you are just 17, never to enjoy the changing seasons or human company again. Imagine entering a dank cell attached to a village church, and even having burial rites performed over you before the door is nailed shut behind you.
A church historian at the University of Münster, Professor Hubert Wolf is an eminent authority on the archives of the Holy See. He leads a team of scholars publishing online at www.pacelli-edition.de the reports, contained in the Vatican’s Secret Archives, that Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, wrote while papal nuncio first in Munich and then in Berlin (1917-29).
The fifties. What do they conjure up? Women with impossibly tiny waists and conical breasts, wholesome kitchens where Mummy rather contradictorily seems to be using all the latest products of a fledgling consumer industry, effortlessly balancing the requirements of comfort-loving husband, rosy-cheeked children and her own beauty-queen status?
Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day established him as a novelist who could fathom the undercurrents of the British heart. His new novel goes deeper: it describes a Britain of the past, still linked to the tradition of knightly valour chronicled by Malory.
The nobel Prize winning author Elias Canetti observed that “all the great aphorists read as if they knew each other well”. They also often read as if they had access to each others’ notebooks. Was it Kafka or Chamfort who claimed “Revenge is so sweet one often wishes to be insulted so as to be able to take revenge”?
For nearly 50 years, from 1914 to 1963, the majority of able-bodied British men at some time in their lives underwent military service. How effective were these temporary (and often reluctant) conscripts as a fighting force? How did they respond to the rigours, irrationalities, discomforts and dangers of military life?
“She couldn’t bear to think that their family was just another muddled, discontented, ordinary family.” Turning Tolstoy slightly aslant, this is Abby Whitshank, a grandmother in her seventies, living with her husband Red in Baltimore, in the house Red’s father built.
Diana Walsh Pasulka begins with an anecdote. Giving a Lent talk to the Catholic student centre at her university, at Wilmington, North Carolina, she began to speak on the subject of her research, Purgatory. She felt a tap on her arm and Sr Mary, an Ursuline nun said: “Purgatory is not a doctrine of the Church any more, is it?” And, the author adds: “The question was posed as a statement.”
THE THOUGHT of Thomas Merton – energetic, argumentative, irresistibly curious – turning 100 is incongruous. It is difficult to imagine him as an old man. Born on 31 January 1915, his death in Bangkok in 1968 swept him away in his heyday. It is the image of him then, posing for photographs with a youthful-looking Dalai Lama, that is fixed in our minds.
“on Love of all subjects, writing can carry conviction only if it is born of everything that a man has in him to say about it.” John Cottingham’s Philosophy of Religion made me think often of this remark by Bernard Williams. Writing in his characteristically clear, thoughtful and gently passionate style, Cottingham carries conviction precisely because he exercises this kind of generosity.
In 1953, during his Hollywood exile, Aldous Huxley ingested four-tenths of a gram of mescaline and waited to see what would happen. When he opened his eyes, he recalled, “I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his own creation”. In other words: pure California neon dust. Huxley was 59.
Robert Macfarlane tells us that Landmarks, his fifth book, has been years in the making. All his life he has been drawn to writers who describe landscape and natural life with truthfulness and precision rather than in merely general terms. This unlocks its mystery and power, and enables us to behold nature with wonder.
There is a desperate relevance to this book; its author has a Jewish mother and a Palestinian father, and she tells the story of the courtship, marriage and fractured lives of a Jewish girl and a Palestinian boy.
The rules of theological correctness in post-Reformation Europe were very strict. It was argued, for example, that you should have as little as possible to do with those on the opposite side of the confessional divide.
Women tend to write domestic novels, it’s sometimes claimed, while male authors are more likely to tackle “bigger” issues. For his fifth novel, as if taking aim at such gendered preconceptions, Andrew O’Hagan seems to have attempted one of each: a female-focused story, gentle, interior and elegiac, and a male narrative that could not be more ballsy.
Rosemary has an extraordinary sister, Fern. When Rosemary is five, Fern suddenly disappears. The rest of this enthralling novel (shortlisted for the Booker Prize last year) deals with the fall-out: Rosemary’s grief that turns her from a cheery, loquacious child into a silent, friendless observer on the margins
Memoirs of Catholic upbringings, especially as told by celebrities, have a habit of hitting a sour note when they come to the Church, all blame and reproach, a bad experience that they have managed to put behind them. But Mary Portas offers the opposite.
Is there anything, anyone, more irritating than the self-styled “spiritual but not religious”?
Were T.S. Eliot’s character to be judged solely on the basis of the most recent volume of his letters, the verdict would not be kind. The first to be published since his widow Valerie’s death in 2011, John Haffenden pays tribute to her and her editorial work.
The acknowledgements at the end of Amy Mason’s debut novel start with the conventional words of gratitude: “I would like to thank …” but then she immediately adds “(most of these should also be apologies)”. Mason ends her list with the name Stefan Brugger – but again, subverts the convention with another rider: “(unless he dumps me, then please cross this one out)”.
As all Tablet readers will know, the title of this book comes from Bonhoeffer, rather than Hugh Grant. The theologian, facing execution in a Nazi jail, wrote, in the light of the ugly new world that had been ushered in, “Who is Christ actually for us today?”
In the end for Samuel Beckett, it all boiled down to a question of words, and the fewer the better. The pared-down prose of a late fable like Ill Seen Ill Said was in some ways a distillation of the whiskey-fuelled blarney that Beckett had absorbed as a student in his native Dublin in the mid-1920s.
Carcanet press is a benefactor of mankind, or at least, the reading public, or that bit of it which rates Muriel Spark as the genius she was. Last year, it reissued her extraordinarily insightful writing on Mary Shelley, which did justice to the lady’s originality, though Shelley didn’t come terribly well out of it.
William Gibson is considered something of a prophet of the near future, a status he attained with his 1984 novel Neuromancer, which foretold of a world dominated by cyberspace, technology and wanton capitalism.
Four years out of Oxford, Oscar Wilde was probably the first person to attain celebrity in its modern sense: he became famous for being famous.
The truth of the cliché, variously attributed to George Bernard Shaw or to Winston Churchill, that the Americans and the British are “two peoples divided by a common language” becomes more apparent with every year that passes.
Many of us believe we have a novel in us. Very few act on that conviction, beyond jotting down the odd paragraph and dreaming. And the number of those who actually make it into print are dauntingly small. So hats off to Tom Vaughan – a collateral descendant of Herbert Vaughan, the former proprietor of this newspaper who went on to become Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.
Many of us believe we have a novel in us. Very few act on that conviction, beyond jotting down the odd paragraph and dreaming. And the number of those who actually make it into print are dauntingly small. So hats off to Tom Vaughan – a collateral descendant of Herbert Vaughan,
Few things were as damaging to the cause of English music as the monopoly of music printing and publishing that Queen Elizabeth I granted to Thomas Tallis and William Byrd in 1575. After one unsuccessful publication, they produced almost nothing, and instead of the widespread dissemination of many scores...
“Madera was as heavy,” Perec begins. “I grabbed him by the armpits and went backwards down the stairs to the laboratory.”
The only British writers to have stuck up for Jewry “before the days of Hitler”, according to George Orwell, were Charles Dickens and Charles Reade. Orwell had forgotten George Eliot, whose Daniel Deronda was portrayed as a good Jew.
Mainly because of the First World War, the Vatican in its efforts on behalf of peace became “a new force in international affairs”, as John Pollard observes.
To most visitors Italy is simply the land of la dolce vita: fine arts and fine wines, lakeside villas, cypress trees and delectable Mediterranean food.
Writers’ biographical notes tend to be stingy: they name a few works and sometimes go so far as to disclose where the writer lives.
The German novelist and short-story writer Hans Fallada (1893-1947) was an expert on how to survive imprisonment in the cause of writing.
If this is a Woman adapts the title of Primo Levi’s memoir of Auschwitz, If This is a Man. Sarah Helm’s book is a history of Ravensbrück concentration camp, the only Nazi camp built for women. Situated north of Berlin, the camp claimed between 30,000 and 90,000 Jewish and non-Jewish lives. Levi’s friend Lidia Rolfi was deported from her native Italy to Ravensbrück in 1944, where she was set upon by dogs, starved and made to slave in a Siemens electrical plant.
This is a hair-shirt autobiography, punitively self-critical. One of our finest literary satirists and critics marks his eightieth birthday by tracing his life from humble beginnings to his first major success, aged 40, with Changing Places in 1975.
“I think it’s the subject, don’t you?” said Antonia Fraser’s publicist on the way to an interview in 1969. The extraordinary success of Mary Queen of Scots had put them all on the back foot. Few people had expected the 36-year-old daughter of Lord and Lady Longford – and married mother of six – to write serious history.
Some years ago, coming out of my husband’s funeral, a friend handed me a copy of C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. She was a close friend, no stranger to pain; someone I trusted. I learned also to trust this book.
Sapiens tells the (or rather, one possible) story of human history, arguing that it has been decisively shaped by three revolutions: cognitive, agricultural and scientific.
Shami Chakrabarti describes herself as a “professional teenager”. She certainly has a knack of stripping away layers of pretence and getting to the heart of some very difficult questions. As a young barrister, she worked for the Home Office – deep within what she now calls The Dark Tower.
Daniel Kehlmann’s 2005 novel Measuring the World achieved both critical acclaim and huge international sales. His latest novel, like Justin Cartwright’s Other People’s Money and John Lanchester’s Capital, tackles the financial crisis of 2008, yet is perhaps more ambitious than either in its merciless dissection of the whole fabric of modern society.
There is much on which to reflect, and much with which to argue, in this engaging and provocative book. Maggie Ross, an Anglican solitary, is trenchantly anti-institutional, anti-dogmatic and anti-clerical. She describes institutional Christianity as a return to the Temple, the post-ninth-century Eucharist as magic, not sacrament, and the tabernacle as “God quite literally in a box”.
I was born in Liverpool and so from an early age knew all about King Cotton, who reigned in Manchester next door but whose realm was really Dixie, the antebellum American South of black slaves and Gone with the Wind, fine manners and horrible cruelty all rolled into one.
“In those days we were used to Soviet dissidents being bearded, grave, and poorly dressed, living in small apartments, filled with books and icons, where they would spend all night talking about how Orthodoxy would save the world. And here was this sexy, sly, funny guy, a cross between a sailor on leave and a rock star.”
Another mystery for Lynn Shepherd’s nineteenth-century detective Charles Maddox, and another superlatively clever take on a literary monument. Charles’ great-uncle sorted out Murder at Mansfield Park (pace Jane Austen), and he has himself pulled skeletons from the cupboards of Dickens’ Bleak House (in Tom-All-Alone’s) and tracked down the poet Shelley’s doppelgänger (in A Treacherous Likeness).
Now 85, the father of sociobiology, the world’s expert on ants, Edward O. Wilson has been hailed by some as the new Charles Darwin. In spite of the grand title, his latest offering is a meander through Wilson’s well-furnished mind rather than a systematic attempt to unravel all the mysteries of life.
THIS CONCISE, penetrating book must surely be the valedictory work of the most eminent political scientist and diplomatic practitioner of our age, now in his ninety-second year. It is the summation of an extraordinarily long career spent reflecting on, and directly influencing, the course of international relations.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I was reminded of this popular, too frequently ignored saying when I read this ambitious, thought-provoking book on original sin. Any salvation in Christ must be a salvation from something, a positive answering some negative.
During his lifetime, Pablo Neruda, the Chilean Nobel Laureate, held various diplomatic positions abroad and served as adviser to President Salvador Allende. He was hospitalised at the time of the coup d’état led by Augusto Pinochet and died of prostate cancer shortly afterwards, on 23 September 1973.
In an essay in 1945, George Orwell recorded a series of remarks, generally hostile, about Jews that he had heard in the course of the previous year or two. Among these was that of an “intelligent woman on being offered a book dealing with anti-Semitism and German atrocities”.
What do you write after you have written a history of the world? Not everyone would think of moving on to a history of Germany. But Neil MacGregor’s sequel to A History of the World in 100 Objects – like its predecessor, the richly illustrated companion to a British Museum exhibition and to an addictive series of radio broadcasts – is not just a history.
In November, the Irish Government unveiled plans for the centenary of the Easter Rising. The launch featured a video called “Ireland Inspires’’ which, bizarrely, made no mention of those who fought and died in 1916, but instead culminated with footage of Brian O’Driscoll scoring a try. Meanwhile, in the same week, ...
John lanchester here provides the tin-opener to the money men’s can of worms. The most memorable of his facts (listed in alphabetical order) comes under S for “Seventy-Two”.
Many in these fact-lite days will know nothing of Giordano Bruno. Some will remember a statue in the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome; they may have a vague idea of a freethinker born out of due season, a kind of Don Cupitt or Richard Holloway of the Italian Renaissance, and a victim of the fire of the Inquisition.
Not many serious books about culture and epistemology begin with a ghost story from a Cambridge college – a narrative exemplary in both atmosphere and inconclusiveness. But the point of this unorthodox opening is not to make us wonder whether ghosts exist so much as to wonder what makes such a story believable.
One of the great pleasures of recent gothic revival scholarship is that its personalities have begun to emerge. For some reason both Georgian and arts-and-crafts architects are introduced as human beings: that’s always been part of their story.
It would be a very long bookshelf indeed that would accommodate all the books with the name Waugh on the spine. Teresa Waugh, widow of the late and much-lamented Auberon, although not a blood relation, has successfully adopted the family business and would take up a respectable amount of space on that bookshelf herself.
Tolkien’s Beowulf is a mixed work, both in readability and nature, for reasons which a quick tour through Tolkien’s publication history helps make clear. Although a visit to a good bookstore will often reveal shelves and indeed cases of works by J.R.R. Tolkien, within his own lifetime, the Oxford professor was renowned for not publishing.
More of a lake than an ocean in the canon of the earth’s raging deeps, the North Sea is small, grey and shallow. To Bede on the banks of the Tyne at Jarrow in the eighth century it was a well of the unexpected, most of it unwelcome. Farther south on the low, hazy shores of “holy” Suffolk a snake’s head prow on the horizon perhaps bespoke Leviathan, in this instance a Viking longship.
At the back of this substantial volume there is a list of biographies of Pope Francis. Nine are mentioned, five by Argentinian journalists. Also named are other recollections of Francis, including Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan’s reminiscences of the 2013 conclave and one, by a fellow novice of the Pope’s, intriguingly entitled Bergoglio and Me: lives almost in parallel.
When a child named Janet came to play with little Wendy Cope, she brought a cushion with her, from which she drew snippets of beautiful fabrics. “It was”, the older Wendy remembers, “wonderful.”
The opening is striking. A virus has released the computerised locks of Australia’s prisons, releasing their inmates. Because the security systems were mostly designed by American companies, the virus affects their jails too. A female hacker is apprehended, with echoes of the Julian Assange affair:
Having spent much of his adult life turning the grim raw material of his childhood into fiction, Robert Montagu was recently persuaded by the publisher Naim Attallah to tell his story straight. The result, written in just a few months, is as gripping as a thriller.
The long nights of winter are perfect for catching up on reading. Here some of our regular reviewers look back at books they have enjoyed over the past 12 months and select their favourites
Only a lunatic could enjoy strolling along Oxford Street in 2014. The bird-pecked remnants of kebabs, the chewing gum underfoot and the petrol-choked air add up to misery. Things could be worse, however. Spare a thought for our Victorian forebears.
Five years ago, The Elephant’s Journey by Portuguese Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, appeared. It told of the Indian beast’s overland travels from Lisbon to Vienna, centre of the Habsburg empire in the sixteenth century.
It’s hard not to see the case of the Bishop of Toowoomba, William Morris, as a David and Goliath battle between a plucky pastor of the outback and the implacable might of the Roman Curia.
“After 70 years,” wrote Robert Burton in The Anatomy of Melancholy, “all is trouble and sorrow.” But not any more. Rather, most of us can reasonably anticipate an extra decade at least, digging the garden, travelling to exotic places and playing with the grandchildren.
Francis Fukuyama will doubtless be remembered by posterity as the author of The End of History and the Last Man, which, shortly after the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, proposed that the world had achieved a final Hegelian synthesis in the form of free markets and liberal democracy.
So here we are, then, between the Chatterley band and the Beatles’ first LP, at the very moment when sexual intercourse was invented. It wasn’t, actually, the sexiest moment in our collective history: it was a time marked by periods of what was unironically called “restraint”, and by town planners,
Nella, a country girl, comes to Amsterdam in 1686 to live with her new husband, a wealthy merchant. The household is not what she expected. The husband is kind but distant, his sister is a menacing and drearily Calvinistic Mrs Danvers; the servants – an ex-orphan and a black ex-slave from Dahomey – are enigmatic.
Nostra Aetate (NA), the Declaration on the relations of the Church with people of other religions, was a surprise result of the Second Vatican Council, not foreseen in the original agenda. Interfaith relations were not a major concern for the Church at that time.
Rowan williams stood down as Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of 2012; 11 months later he delivered the Gifford Lectures that form the substance of this book. Like several of his predecessors as lecturer, he is not totally at ease with Lord Gifford’s call to expound a natural theology.
Few of its many observers, analysts, and visitors have remained indifferent to the Serenissima. To John Ruskin it was “the paradise of cities”; to D.H. Lawrence, “an abhorrent, green, slippery city”; and for the Italian Futurist poet Marinetti, “a magnificent sore from the past” whose canals he would have had filled with the rubble of the demolished palazzi and museums.
Immaculately kept yet heartbreaking, the Death Railway war graves in Thailand and Burma mark one of the worst atrocities of the Second World War. In 1943 the Japanese drove a quarter of a million slave labourers to establish a supply route from Bangkok to Burma. Around half perished.
W.B. Yeats was out of the country on the warm Easter Monday in 1916 when armed rebels took over Dublin’s General Post Office and proclaimed Ireland’s freedom. By the end of the week their fledgling republic was snuffed out, and the summary trials and executions began. Yeats was shocked but also powerfully, if rather reluctantly, moved.
What would you think is the underlying theme of the myths of J.R.R. Tolkien, exemplified by The Lord of the Rings? Good versus evil; martial heroism; the virtue of trees? Tolkien’s answer, late in his career, was “Death! Inevitable death.”
Anyone who has read Dorothy Parker’s devastating review of Margot Asquith’s autobiography may find it difficult to take the subject of this book altogether seriously. As she observed, Margot rubbed shoulders with the great and made sure everyone knew about it.
This is a small book – as small as some of the books which are its subject-matter – but, in the way of fairy tales, it is bigger on the inside than the outside: start reading it, and you are immediately in the company of Oscar Wilde’s mother, Sigmund Freud and Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter and Jean Cocteau, Italo Calvino, Keats and Matthew Bourne.
In England, Henry VIII broke with Rome for supremacy, not doctrine, and, having stifled dissent and put down the Pilgrimage of Grace, kept the peace; but the Reformation instantly split France like a sword because Francis I was too weak to prevent it.
On Boxing Day 1968, Philip Larkin settled at a desk in his mother’s house to treat Monica Jones (the most enduring and most troubled of his girlfriends) to a festive missive emblazoned with the heading “GLUM LETTER”.
Is it conceivable that Pope Francis would send Billy Graham, who turns 96 on 7 November, a birthday card? It is. But one also imagines that Billy’s son, Franklin, would be unimpressed. Over the last decade, Franklin has steadily scattered the goodwill his father built up over a half-century.
Peter berger is an inexhaustible fount of radical ideas, mellifluously expressed, about “modern” religiosity. He makes these ideas come alive with thought experiments and illuminating stories. Berger is also an influential political entrepreneur, who in apartheid South Africa, and now in religiously repressive China, conducts direct conversations with the power elites.
The events of 1660 provoked an urgent and unsettling question. Would Charles II take revenge on those who had fought against and killed his father during the 1640s? Ahead of his return to England, Charles promised clemency, but some likely targets decided to flee the country. They made the correct decision.
After all the brouhaha about Colm Tóibín’s last novel – from Booker shortlist to Barbican stage via Broadway “blasphemy” – Nora Webster presents a quiet corrective. Three times longer than The Testament of Mary, it examines everything that happens to a woman in the immediate years after bereavement, rather than meditating on all that led up to such loss.
There were saltires in the streets of Paris almost 600 years ago. They were sported by the adherents of John, the “fearless” duke of Burgundy, who took the city from the count of Armagnac in 1418. Men caught wearing Armagnac’s rival white sash were massacred and their bodies were stacked up “like sides of bacon – a dreadful thing”, in the words of a Parisian chronicler.
Although very different in approach, content and format, these books constitute two of the most important recent publications on medieval Irish history. Both represent the coming to fruition of the work of a mature scholar who has engaged with their subject for decades, indeed since childhood – both credit a parent for introducing them to what has become their life’s work.
The second volume of Alan Johnson’s memoirs start where the first, the much-lauded This Boy, left off. Our 18-year-old hero leaves shelf stacking and takes a job as a postman, first in Barnes, west London, and then in Slough on the capital’s edge.
“Middle-class problems” are currently trending on Twitter, with tales of lattes containing too much foam, shops running out of quinoa and unsatisfactory skiing holidays. A bit unfair, probably, but it kept coming to mind as I read Samantha Harvey’s third novel.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Society of Jesus. In 1773, under intense pressure from Catholic European monarchs, Pope Clement XIV suppressed the prestigious but also much maligned religious order “for the peace and tranquillity of the Church”.
The first fighting in the Second World War happened on Polish soil and continued there into April 1945. Poland was invaded first by Nazi Germany and then by Communist Russia.
John Boyne is the successful author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a story essentially for younger readers which made a compelling movie, starring David Thewlis as a beastly Nazi running a concentration camp and satisfyingly punished at the culmination of the film.
“I don’t belong to my era,” cried Olivier Messiaen in 1979, but he did, as we all do, whether he liked it or not. During his lifetime, biographers tended to take him at his own estimation.
Few dictators have filled the latter years of their rule with quite such a perfume of peace, prosperity and good governance as Augustus, whose second millennial celebrations have rumbled on throughout this year.
Bernardine Bishop died last year from a long illness, so it’s unsurprising that this posthumous novel is concerned with the themes of death and fate.
Spirit of place is a difficult essence to distil. Many excellent travel writers fail – for them the journey, the sensations of movement are paramount.
St thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae is a masterpiece of systematisation, universally acknowledged as the finest example of what was a relatively new literary form that had emerged in the late twelfth century.
How did she do it? Illegitimate, excommunicated, head of a disputed national Church, and, worst of all, a single woman – Elizabeth’s survival on the English throne for 45 years is one of the most remarkable political balancing acts of history.
In late 2012 the BBC ran in parallel two stories of major significance: the American presidential election and the emergence of the new Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party.
Born in suburban Middlesex in 1931, the poet and classical scholar Peter Levi is somewhat forgotten today, which is a shame. His father, Bert Levi, had Sephardic ancestors who sold carpets in Constantinople. In 1928 his devoutly Catholic mother, Mollie, had persuaded Bert to convert.
Marilynne Robinson’s exquisite, peerless novels are about nothing and everything. There is no one quite like this American writer, or quite as good as her.
Queen Victoria is one of the figures from British history about whom most people know something but few people know very much. She has come to personify what is popularly regarded as a golden age of imperial glory and economic supremacy.
David martin does not believe in “religion”; that is, he does not think that religious belief, practice and speech can be reduced to a neat corpus of essentials that can be treated as a discrete form of human activity.
In general – and increasingly over the past four decades – scholarship has tended to view the Crusades as above all an important element of medieval European history.
It will drive you up the wall, but do try to read this cracking novel.
“Paths not works” was the motto Martin Heidegger chose for the collected edition of his writings, and he elsewhere remarked that “paths of thought bear in them the mystery that we can walk them forward and backward – indeed the way backward alone leads forward.”
Who better to write about forgiveness than Desmond Tutu, head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, partially responsible for South Africa’s transition to peaceful racial co-existence after apartheid?
“Religion is the cause of today’s most vexing social problems, not least the plague of deadly violence gripping the planet.”
In an interview with an Italian newspaper in 2003, Muriel Spark observed: “It is my aim always to give pleasure.” And she did: is there anyone who isn’t captivated by her first (and best) novel, The Comforters?
Although Rowan Williams is sometimes accused of being “never knowingly understood”, this introduction to the basics of Christianity, emanating from his Holy Week talks to the people of his diocese in Canterbury Cathedral, is crisp and lucid.
Even his staunchest admirers would concede that Martin Amis has dropped some clangers over the years. But Time’s Arrow, his novel exploring the Final Solution, wasn’t one of them.
It is hard to deny that the Christian community’s view of itself as “Christendom”, now transformed into “Europe”, altered radically between the appearance of Luther in 1517 and the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648.
Feminism, ah, there you have me. Hydra-headed, it can seem that it has as many manifestations as there are commentators about it, or women who live it.
“I was never going to get out on my own,” says the narrator in Hanne Ørstavik’s searing portrait of a young woman’s sexual awakening. “
During the Darwin-mania of 2009, the think tank Theos (for which I work) conducted research into anti-evolutionary beliefs.
In his earlier two books, Rivers of Gold: the rise of the Spanish empire and The Golden Age: the Spanish empire of Charles V, Hugh Thomas staked a claim to match Fernand Braudel for narrative drive, detail, breadth and ambition.
Tom Mcleish relishes the earlier name for science, “natural philosphy” – in other words, “loving wisdom about nature”. In this fascinating book McLeish, professor of physics at Durham University, presents a rich and positive alternative to the sterile thesis of the “New Atheists” that science and faith are in perpetual conflict.
The defining moment in Harry Bucknall’s 1,411-mile walk to Rome came three weeks in, when he was suddenly confronted with Laon Cathedral. He had seen it growing larger on its hilltop as he snaked his way through the countryside on foot, then he turned a corner and was “assaulted by its sheer size … its beauty stopping me in my tracks”.
Novels about families in the stranglehold of religion have a way of ending badly. Madness, dysfunction, and apostasy are often followed by death. In Carys Bray’s touching first novel the usual order is reversed. A death precedes the collapse of a family, bringing in its wake madness, dysfunction and so forth.
Chesterton’s Father Brown holds an unexamined but stubborn place among the Great Detectives; the reissue of the five collections of stories featuring him is a chance to ask the embarrassing question, Is he, are they, any good?
Psychology, the science of the mind, only really began to coalesce into a respectable discipline towards the end of the Victorian era. It aimed to free our understanding of the mind from the shackles of superstition, and bring tidy scientific methodology to mystical speculation.
ONCE AGAIN Patricia Ferguson has set a novel in Cornwall. Many of the characters from her last book, The Midwife’s Daughter, reappear here, along with plenty of new ones, as Ferguson continues to trace the changing lives of women between the two world wars.
If you were a fan of pop music in the Sixties, you will remember Dusty Springfield. Born Mary O’Brien, a Catholic girl born in West Hampstead, her haunting voice was often to be heard on transistor radios, while her striking peroxide blonde hair and heavy eye make-up made her a symbol of Swinging London.
Very few people have singlehandedly translated the whole Bible into English. Even William Tyndale did not manage to complete the task. So Nicholas King’s translation is a remarkable achievement. It is also distinctive in that the Old Testament (which includes the “deuterocanonical” books) is translated from the ancient Greek version (the Septuagint), rather than from the Hebrew.
We live in the age of the selfie. Everybody can do it, and everybody does. It is hardly, however, the “examined life”. James Hall’s cultural history examines a different kind of looking at our selves, that of the professional visual narrator of both the inner and the outer life.
Mystery surrounds the Basques, their language and their history. Much of this is because their tongue is older than the Indo-European from which all the other languages of Europe descended, and because the earliest Basque written texts do not emerge till the late Middle Ages, having been passed on orally from successive generations for millennia.
Of all the qualities required to write a novel, confidence is one of the most vital. Philip Hensher has confidence in spades, not only in his reach but in his readers’ stamina. His self-assurance and brio invests The Emperor Waltz with quasi-Victorian breadth and length, and with stylish authority.
One of the things Pope Francis picks out in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is the importance of popular religiosity. It is now widely acknowledged that an unintended consequence of the transformation of Catholic consciousness at the time of the Second Vatican Council was a neglect of the ordinary forms of piety.
Napoleon had little affection for the Catholic Church, but, as Michael Broers points out, he “realised how central to French culture Catholicism remained”, so in 1800 he instructed his minions to negotiate a Concordat with the representatives of Pius VII.
IN 2005, when Kim Jong-il ruled North Korea, Paul French published a history of that repulsive but fascinating state. Now, with the third of the dynasty, Kim Jong-un, in charge, he returns to the theme at greater length.
THIS enormous novel is a nightmare to review, but one must try. Forgive the direct approach: if you keep reading you may understand.
The current and the previous occupants of the throne of St Augustine at Canterbury could hardly be more different. Rowan Williams, who served from 2002 to 2012, is someone of prodigious intellect, with a theological wisdom ranging across virtually the whole of the discipline.
GIVEN THE attention devoted to Pope Pius XII and Naziism in recent years, it is salutary to be reminded that his predecessor Pius XI grappled with much the same kind of challenges and dilemmas.
You might expect an introduction to The Divine Comedy written by one of the world’s foremost Dante scholars, an Australian-born, much admired academic in British universities for several decades, who has spent many a year working in the dark corners of libraries decoding manuscript after manuscript, to be astute and accomplished, perhaps even definitive.
Ruth Swain, 19, suffers from a strange undefined illness and lies in bed, in an attic room near the River Shannon in County Clare, where the skylight streams with rain. Surrounded by nearly 4,000 books inherited from her father, she is writing an unusual family history, seeking to understand the mystery of her poet father.
It’s the “new” bit in the subtitle that caught my eye. I confess to a slight hurt, as when I offer to lend my teenage son a treasured jacket and he groans, “Oh, Dad, that’s so last century.” Some 18 years ago, I wrote my own biography of the Devil, and of course thought it very new at the time.
Towards the end of his life, Bertolt Brecht explained that his commitment to theatre began “when I found other plays wrong”. It is tempting to believe that Stephen Parker embarked on his biography after finding previous efforts wanting.
In a a 2005 review of Richard Benson’s first book, The Farm, I described it as “a neat little tribute to a lost way of life” on the Yorkshire Wolds. I also lamented, “If only a miner’s son could emulate his achievement. Perhaps it is too soon, yet.”
Philosophers and scientists have yet to establish the point where mathematics meets metaphysics or where infinity becomes eternity. Such speculations and ruminations are not an obvious topic for a best-selling first novel.
A second President Clinton would probably be more accomplished at managing Washington politics than President Obama. But the speeches wouldn’t be as good
“I used to think my father had been assigned to us by the government. This was because he appeared to serve no purpose.” Ajay, eight, is about to emigrate to America with his mother and older brother Birju.
David suchet has been best-known for years for his TV portrayal of Agatha Christie’s detective Hercule Poirot. This recording of him reading every word of the New International Version of the Bible is an entirely different sort of tour de force. It is also wonderful. Suchet’s voice, freed from the stiff disguise of Poirot’s accent, is melodic but strong.
The title is intriguing. Whoever thought “virtue” could be ambiguous? But the fraught period during which the book’s protagonist, Gertrude van Tijn, was active ensured that matters were rarely straightforward, as Bernard Wasserstein so adeptly relates.
The getaway season is upon us, and with it the chance to get lost in a book. Here some of our regular reviewers choose the reads they’ll be packing for their holiday entertainment and enlightenment
A new autobiography charts 32 of the past century’s most eventful years in the Church
The Subtitle may seem to suggest that religious approaches to coping with pain have been superseded by the resources of modern pharmacology.
An old lady called Maud is pottering about one cold evening in her friend Elizabeth's garden.
This enormous book weighs nearly two kilograms and is roughly the size of a telephone directory.
What’s left? one asks, looking at the cover photo of a coy-confident Updike on the beach, with the beautiful young arrayed behind him. What’s possibly left to tell of a life that has been so insistently mined for fictional ore? The wives, the friends, the mistresses, the children have all appeared often and often without disguise.
Although it is only partly about grief, Scars is the kind of book you might buy for a bereaved friend. With fortuitous timing, my review copy arrived not long after I suffered a significant loss of my own. Reading it proved to be a useful experience and a healing one, but I had to persist.
History may be, as the historian R. G. Collingwood remarked, “a pattern of timeless moments”, but these three disparate books deal with very specific moments: key, catalyst years whose legacies are still with us, politically, socially and culturally.
It is staggering how little good recent theological writing on the Resurrection there is. You might expect that the pivotal element of the Christian Gospel would have been the focus of theologians’ attention for centuries; you would be disappointed.
Sometimes it’s tempting to take slang-soaked speech for a foreign language, particularly when it’s delivered with speed in a strange accent. “You dig, ole man, that from early bright to late black, the cats and the chippies are laying down some fine, heavy jive;
Post-war Catholic church architecture is beginning to attract attention from architectural historians. Its wider significance was not recognised, which meant that damaging changes to interiors and fittings were more likely to happen.
WESTERN AUSTRALIA, as the protagonist of this novel muses, is “big … thin-skinned. And rich beyond dreaming. The greatest ore deposit in the world. The nation’s quarry. China’s swaggering enabler.” Fremantle is the setting, and it’s slightly disturbing to see that Tim Winton’s observations could be echoed by inhabitants of almost any big Western city.
Pagan Britain isn’t just another way of saying “Prehistoric Britain”, the shadowy millennia from the first settlement of the island until Roman times and beyond; this wonderful book is precisely what it says on the cover, an attempt to say something about pre-Christian religion.
it is difficult to read this book undiverted by an imagined clamour of publishers and agents celebrating expected mass sales. Other noises off include the gnashing of other writers’ teeth as they wish they’d been the first to dream up the premise: a thriller set in a beehive.
IN DAVID Grossman’s unforgettable novel See Under: Love, the child of two Holocaust survivors finds that his parents refer to it as something that took place “over there”. The characters in Falling Out of Time walk to go “there” to find their dead children.
This is a wonderful book about memory and place, how they interact in our imagination and how our affective life is inseparable from our connection to the place in question. Here, the memories revolve around Patrick McGuinness’ accumulated visits to a small Belgian town.
Although I never met Keynes – I was eight years old when the great man died – I knew some of his Cambridge contemporaries. One of them, the late Sir Dennis Proctor, who worked as a civil servant on the wartime publication Full Employment in a Free Society, was a classicist who was bold enough to ask Keynes, a mathematician, whether one needed to be a mathematician to understand economics.
The Life of St Helia is a curious Latin work preserved as one of eight female hagiographies contained in a tenth-century Spanish manuscript copied in AD 954. The critical text given here is based on this and on a second tenth-century manuscript now in Paris; the critical edition and translation are mainly the work of Conti, the introduction and commentary of Burrus.
Stay is part a history of suicide and part a passionate plea against it. When two close friends took their lives, Jennifer Hecht, a poet and historian, wrote a blog. It was picked up by the Boston Globe, and the response was overwhelming, perhaps because suicide is so frighteningly common today.
He was, he acknowledged wearily, something of a writers’ writer; his wry, waspish semi-autobiographical novels were far more highly esteemed by his fellow scribes than read by the Richard and Judy-following public.
People still living under the illusion that football is nothing more that 22 human beings – usually males – kicking a ball around for 90 minutes should make this hefty tome by Andres Campomar part of their required summer reading, and without delay.
Atheism is complicated. There are different ways of rejecting religion – that’s taken for granted. The real complication is that, paradoxically, the Western tradition of God-rejection is shaped by religion itself.
Water is the most visible face of climate change. Global warming is causing floods and droughts, exacerbating problems resulting from population growth and increased levels of water consumption.
A couple of interesting new books on the notorious spy Kim Philby have recently appeared. You stand at the bus stop waiting for ages for a number 11, then along come two at once.
In the last few years, there has been no shortage of excellent books about post-independence India, among them Patrick French’s India: a portrait, Mark Tully’s India: the road ahead and, perhaps the most comprehensive, Ramachandra Guha’s India after Gandhi.
BBC Radio 4’s series My Teenage Diary is aired during the half-hour evening slot designated for comedy for a reason. Without the comedic frame, teenage diarists’ accounts of parental sleights, first loves, bodily sproutings and existential awakenings are cringe-inducing, if not excruciating.
This is the story of Josef, a Jewish boy who miraculously escapes from the devastation of wartime Lithuania, having lost all his family through the twin genocides carried out by the Nazis and the Russians. He is billeted on a bracing farm in North Yorkshire, an area which Lucy Beckett, who taught at Ampleforth for many years, has observed and loved all her life.
Just ten days after Oscar Romero became Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, Rutilio Grande, a close friend who was master of ceremonies at his episcopal ordination, was assassinated. A hail of bullets fired by a death squad killed him, his sacristan and his altar server as they drove to celebrate Mass in Grande’s home village of El Paisnal.
Once we are done re-examining the origins of the great European conflagration which broke out 100 years ago, attention will shift to how the West won that war, and then, as the cliché has it, “lost the peace”.
ALL THE MAJOR Christian Churches are in crisis over sexuality, whether concerning gender roles and ordination, or homosexuality; the teaching of doctrine, especially the Trinity, is often regarded as irrelevant; contemplative prayer and asceticism are marginal to the lives of most Christians.
Drinking with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, their fellow philosopher Raymond Aron pointed to his glass and said, “If you were a phenomenologist, my dear fellow, you could talk about this cocktail and make a philosophy out of it.
BarnabAs Kane HAS a herd of 43 cattle in the fields of Donegal. A fire in the byre in which his cows are housed kills every animal. Worse still, one of Kane’s most loyal friends attempts to save the burning livestock, and ends up dying in the blaze.
This biography is as substantial as its subject. John Campbell draws extensively on press comments and articles, personal letters from and to friends and colleagues, Parliamentary debates, books and diaries. The century Jenkins lived through was a century of words. Few people had a greater or more sensitive appreciation of words, written and spoken, and few enjoyed them more.
Fifty years ago, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Pope Paul VI met Athenagoras, the Patriarch of Constantinople. No one knew what would happen. No wonder. There had been no encounter like it since 1054, when Eastern and Western Christianity, for complex reasons, had gone their separate ways.
Hans Christian Andersen was so frightened of being buried alive that he never went to sleep without leaving a note on his bed to assure anyone who might think he had died that “Jeg er skindød”, or “I only seem to be dead”.
This unsettling novel, set in Victorian Manchester, focuses on the Moberley family, or, more specifically, on the women of the Moberley family. There is Elizabeth, who believes herself to be excellent wife material: “Not given to extravagance.
Richard Scorer’s account of the sexual-abuse scandals over the past 30 years makes distressing and depressing reading. Scorer is a leading specialist in child-abuse litigation. He has brought together a selection of case histories from the 1960s to the present day that illustrates turning points and recurring themes;
This generously illustrated book commemorates the 400th anniversary of the death of Domenikos Theotokopoulos, known as El Greco. The author is professor of art history at Madrid’s Universidad Autónoma, the curator of the current exhibition, the largest ever, being held at the Museum of Santa Cruz and in other venues in Toledo through to 14 June.
Desmond Seward’s The Demon’s Brood proceeds at a lively pace. The author’s preference is for a rather old-fashioned kind of history, focusing on kings: who they were, what they were like and what they did or failed to do.
Most of us fear failure. Timothy Brittain-Catlin’s pithy, rigorous and sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious account of the struggle for success in architecture is a disarming exploration of an unexplored aspect of this common fear.
First, a confession. The presiding spirit of Paul Bailey’s new novel, a paen to the pleasures of interwar Paris, is Marcel Proust. And I’ve never really warmed to his signature brand of sugar-dusted melancholy.
I don’t believe in God but I miss him,” Julian Barnes has said: a nostalgic sentiment quite different from Samuel Beckett’s anger at God’s not being there at all: “He doesn’t exist, the bastard!”
I have been reading Mary Kenny for years, ever since I began to read the newspapers. Then, back in the 1970s, she had a column in The Sunday Telegraph. As a boy of 13, I would always turn to that column first thing, and never found it anything less than fresh, original and thought-provoking.
The Spanish-Argentinian writer Andrés Neuman, who is still in his thirties, has already published 22 titles in a wide range of genres. His novels, short stories, poems and essays have won major European prizes. So why is his new novel, Talking to Ourselves (Hablar Solos) only the second of his works to find its way into English?
From “that Old Pyrating Dog”, William Dampier, the self-taught botanist and world-circumnavigating buccaneer, to Charles Darwin, the diffident country gentleman and Cambridge theology student destined, he thought, “for a quiet country rectory”, the course of modern natural history has been closely linked to ambitious voyages of exploration during the eighteenth century to the Pacific, South America, Africa and Asia.
Morality has become the great unspeakable. Pass a moral judgement and you will be accused of judgmentalism.
Every week, of every year, literary editors find among the haul of new books at least two about the world wars of the last century.
Yes, “Frei” really is Portuguese for Brother (as in “friar”) and Betto really is the same Brazilian theologian whose conversations with Castro were published as Fidel and Religion.
Jerry Hayes, perhaps the only Catholic to have his confession heard in the snooker room of the Savile Club, was one of the most clubbable Tory MPs in the bleak Thatcher/ Major years.
Writers of books about children’s literature tend to be over-earnest, perennially conscious of the possible scorn of those adult readers who have decided to put all aspects of this subject well behind them.
What on earth do we mean by “God”? David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian, public intellectual and controversialist – a kind of Eastern G.K. Chesterton – based in America.
Although we haven’t even reached the precise anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, already we are awash with books about it.
Novels cannot tell us how to live better lives: that is not what fiction is for. But life can teach us how to be better readers, as we see in Rebecca Mead’s clever and charming study of her favourite novel.
Has there ever been a time when women have not yearned to be beautiful and have not had recourse to unguents, creams and potions of all kinds in pursuit of that elusive goal?
Most of us associate Dorothy Sayers with the tales of her crime-solving detective Lord Peter Wimsey and popular mystery novels such as Gaudy Night or The Nine Tailors.
The “Elizabethan Catholic experience was a wide and wavering spectrum,” writes Jessie Childs, and she is absolutely correct.
Helen Oyeyemi is still a young writer but this, impressively, is her fifth novel (her first, The Icarus Girl, was written when she was still at school). Fascinated by myth and legend, whether Western or African, she crafts intricate, riddling tales of transformation and illusion, focusing especially on the richness of women’s experiences.
In 1942 Charlie Chaplin suffered what his biographer Peter Ackroyd calls “one of [his] worst domestic disasters”. It is a mark of what a zesty personal life Chaplin led that what follows (an old lover staked out his house, crashed her car in his driveway and forced him to sleep with her at gunpoint
As the subtitle suggests, the new book by James Martin, author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything is as much about the author and reader as it is about Jesus. We are taken us on a journey to find and experience the historical Jesus, walking in Christ’s footsteps through the Holy Land,
John Carey, once Merton Professor of English Literature at Oxford, is an impressive combination of the scholar and the popular man of letters. He translated Milton’s Latin work De Doctrina Christiana. He knows about Ovid and Renaissance poetry.
Veronese (1528-88) was born Paolo Bazaro, the son of a spezapreda (stone- cutter). His mother was the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman; it was then the custom for such discards to marry skilled artisans. Paolo, a sixth child, began by working for his father.
This is both a most ambitious and a most bizarre book, full of wisdom and startle and full of holes. Larry Siedentop, a lecturer in politics in Oxford for several decades and the author of a highly regarded study, Democracy in Europe (2001)
The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is a reminder to people like me of how uncertain we are about that period of history. Comfortable for years with generalisations about the whys and wherefores – I can remember older teachers at school reminiscing about the trenches in Flanders – suddenly our prejudices are challenged; our ignorance jolted.
With its selection of some of the best, and best publicised, works of art of the past two decades, this book will provoke lively debate. The American poet and critic Kelly Grovier both tells and shows us the extraordinary sea change in how contemporary art is perceived, and how radically different it is from the work in the Western tradition that went before it.
In 1991 John Milbank issued a provocative challenge to theologians enamoured of the potential of social science for expanding the horizons of contemporary theological enquiry.
This almost unbearable account of the treatment inflicted on the forest Indians of Latin America by fundamentalist Christian missionaries leads inexorably to the uncomfortable conclusion that Christianity and imperialism will be bedfellows ...
Aremarkably accomplished first novel by the Irish journalist Audrey Magee, this book tells the story of Peter Faber, a German soldier at the Eastern Front. Peter arranges to marry Katharina Spinell, the only daughter of a down-at-heel Berlin family hoping to progress under Hitler’s leadership.
Japan signalled its re-emergence as an economic power from the ruin of the Pacific War with the staging of the Tokyo Olympiad in 1964. With its harmonious shop-floor relations, tight quality control and “just-in-time” inventory systems, it subsequently became a model for industries in the West.
“Modern” can refer to a curious range of things: from “the time in which we live”, to a period in art history (beginning with Impressionism and ending in Pop Art), to a late-medieval position on universals (the via moderna as distinct from the via antiqua).
For a minor Edwardian writer, Frederick Rolfe, often known by his sometime pen-name Baron Corvo, has been lavishly provided with biographies, none wholly satisfactory, and most understandably focused as much on his colourful life as on his writing.
Set to the background of a north London increasingly settled by bankers and hipsters, a south of France infested by British expats, and a soulless Dubai where philistine traders abound, Completion tells the history of a disjointed, dysfunctional family bidding goodbye to a home steeped in bitter-sweet memories.
Amusing, thoughtful and exquisitely engineered, this book is a delight.
In 9 November 1977. I had stayed up too long and thought too much.”
How are we to read the Bible today? Enzo Bianchi’s answer, in this remarkable little volume ...
Here are two historical novels which deal with Communism, the first in China, the second in Europe, and both of which leave the reader in no doubt that the sufferings caused by Marxism are among
To say that this big, thick book of prayers is informed by a historian’s mind is not to condemn it as a trip into the past. Eamon Duffy does not want us to ape the worshippers of the late fifteenth century, whose religious life he brought to life 20 years ago in The Stripping of the Altars.
Even during his lifetime (1865-1959) the art critic, aesthete and picture entrepreneur Bernard Berenson suffered a catastrophic loss of prestige after it was revealed he had a secret agreement with picture dealer Joseph Duveen to “authenticate” Old Masters ...
Sophia Waugh is the daughter of Auberon and the granddaughter of Evelyn, and she has inherited the literary gene of that marvellously prolific family.
Lest anyone doubt it, the fourfold occurrence of the word “story” in the short first paragraph of Hanif Kureishi’s new novel should dispel any notion that The Last Word might be its author’s swansong.
Given the overwhelmingly secular and rather shallow tenor of the debate on Scottish independence, with both sides appealing largely to narrow economic self-interest, any injection of deeper considerations is to be welcomed.
Although Vincent Nichols cannot have been pleased by the long wait for his appointment as a cardinal (almost five years), he should spare a thought for his sometime predecessor at Westminster, Francis Bourne, who had to wait almost 12 years before being similarly honoured.
There is a curiosity to this political thriller which first strikes the unsuspecting reader on page 7, when our hero, Will Flemyng, a Foreign Office minister, makes for “the phone box on the next corner”, assembles a pile of coins, and rings his brother.
The question here is St Augustine’s, pondering the wondrous miracles of the saints. A more fundamental question – “what’s a saint?” – is posed by the devils in Newman’s Dream of Gerontius. They supply their own answer: “a bundle of bones, which fools adore”.
This is an infuriating book. Its subject is fascinating: the revelation of how many artists have produced work on Christian subjects during the last 100 years is (even to an art historian) both surprising and hopeful.
In a brief career the intriguing, bedazzling Flannery O’Connor produced two acclaimed novels, Wise Blood and The Violent Bear it Away, and a slew of short stories, 17 of which have been included in this handsomely bound, boxed and illustrated edition
Evolving “as a natural consequence of scarce vital resources and the struggle for survival”, “strategy” was until comparatively recently an essentially military concept, denoting a way to win a campaign by a judicious mixture of force, forethought and deception.
Lent, and Lenten reading, will soon be upon us. This year has the usual crop of new titles, both predictable and unexpected.
The Occupy Wall Street movement remains difficult to assess, over two years on. On one level, it was just an expression of extreme left-wing rhetoric about the need for a new social order; the airing of the same old half-truth that capitalism and war are evils we must urgently oppose.
First published in 1976, The Alteration imagines an alternate 1970s England in which there has been no historic break with Rome: Martin Luther had become Pope, and Arthur Tudor and Catherine of Aragon had produced a son. England is still Catholic, frozen in time.
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When Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, died in 1904 he was just 44 years old. Had he lived to see the establishment of the State of Israel 44 years later, he would most likely have been elected its first president.
Every big quake is followed by tremors. So it is with atheism: having survived the earth-shattering experience of New Atheism, readers are now gently rocked by a variety of publications by, about, against and for atheists.
This thoughtful and concise book is the fruit of industrious research and bears all the marks of a labour of love. It invites comparison with Peter Parker’s The Old Lie: the Great War and the public-school ethos (1987)
Writing the story of daily life at Elizabeth I’s court, especially of what went on in the Queen’s private chambers, is an excellent idea. It is fascinating to learn about what Elizabeth liked to eat
In 1924, the novelist Thomas Hardy was 84 years old. Married to a much younger woman (his second wife, 45-year-old Florence) he became infatuated with a beautiful 27-year-old actress called Gertrude Bulger...
The Allied generals who fought the First World War’s Battle of the Somme would seem rather unlikely candidates for a revival of historical reputation. A “byword for criminally disproportionate military slaughter” – the battle wrought 622,221 Allied casualties – to achieve only a six-mile advance.
Martha Nussbaum continues to impress by the sheer energy of her engagement with all that it means to be human. In this wide-ranging but ultimately unsatisfying book, she sets out to fill in some of the gaps in the political reasoning of John Rawls
Perhaps we haven’t been alive enough in Britain to the sunflowers in Van Gogh’s work. From today to 27 April there is a rare opportunity to see two of the original group side by side:
It is the future. The Italy of bunga-bunga parties and revolving-door governments has been replaced by a stern Catholic group, led from the Vatican and enforced by a team of crack priest-detectives dedicated to the pursuit and capture of euthanasiasts and abortionists.
Following the screening of a documentary film, Faith of our Fathers: In Search of the English Martyrs, parishioners were asked how they would respond to such persecution were it to occur today. It seemed a purely hypothetical question.
The central thesis of this book has two poles. One is that Christians should fully accept a pluralistic state, and should do so on Christian, not pragmatic, grounds. Free choice is God’s gift to us which he always respects;
Nicholas Shakespeare opens this fascinating book by writing of the fascination his aunt Priscilla exerted on him in his childhood. Priscilla’s beauty was enhanced, he tells us, with a glamour akin to the “timeless allure” of Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie.
The world knows Steven Patrick Morrissey, co-founder of the 1980s indie rock band the Smiths, by his surname alone. He’s the child of Irish Catholic parents who emigrated from Crumlin, Dublin, to Manchester in 1958, the year before he was born.
Kate Cooper’s preface is a remarkable piece of autobiography that explains how and why a professor of ancient history came to write this book about early Christian women.
What exactly is going on in Mexico, a country where some 80,000 people have been killed in the war against drugs?
This enjoyable novel scrutinises the “new aristocracy of money”: bankers, financiers, PR men.
Two contrasting, intensely personal accounts of the harrowing twentieth-century history of Central Europe deftly navigate the shadowy territory between memoir and fiction.
In March 2007, 15 sailors on a Royal Navy frigate were seized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards while patrolling the Shatt al-Arab waterway.
Professor Corrin’s study is narrowly focused on Slant, a journal founded by a handful of Catholic undergraduates at Cambridge, which ran from 1964 until 1970, and its ramifications on the Catholic scene in England at the time.
For most Westerners, China is an enigma. Despite centuries of commentary, it tends to remain elusive, frozen in stereotype.
Darwin’s theory of evolution didn’t stop at animals and plants. According to J. David Pleins, professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University, California,
With a premise both simple and of limitless complexity, Bishop’s Move might be either tragedy or comedy.
Physics, they say, goes much deeper than any other science into the riddle of existence.
Here is a book for the Desert Island beside the Bible and Shakespeare. Brigid Brophy writes in such depth about Mozart that she also covers art, psychology, women, history and religion almost as a by-product.
What is charity? A random act of individual kindness? In its Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, the Second Vatican Council teaches that the Church “claims the works of charity as its own inalienable right and duty”.
There is no shortage of biographies of Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) and it is not difficult to see why. The author of Gulliver’s Travels leaves so many tantalising unsolved
This “astonishing compendium” catalogues the work of an artist described as “the father of new romanticism in English glass”.
What do ammonites and leaping fish have in common?
The playwright Seán O’Casey grew up amidst appalling poverty in nineteenth-century Dublin.
The dream odyssey of every footloose student”, is what the editors call the tripartite travel book that started with A Time of Gifts in 1977, continued with
As Jean Vanier points out, the Second Vatican Council “breathed energy and hope back into the Church”.
Mark Cocker has done it again. In 2005 he published Birds Britannica, in which he wove a tapestry featuring birds in the foreground but always with humans in attendance.
This massive work comes accompanied by enthusiastic endorsements from a dozen of the most distinguished biblical scholars in the English-speaking world.
Photographs of two British army soldiers giving Nazi-style salutes were published recently.
Regarded by some as the equal of Inigo Jones, Vanbrugh or Capability Brown, William Kent (1685-1748) was an accomplished and influential designer ..
When Joseph Conrad arrived in the Congo in 1890, he walked up a road “littered with the corpses of men who had been chained together and forced to build a railway”.
Although Jonathan Coe achieved acclaim in the 1990s with a series of expansive, bitter-sweet novels, his more recent output has been of a gloomier vein, and less enthusiastically received.
As 2013 draws to a close, The Tablet’s reviewers look back on the best of the past year’s reading
This may be the last of Hans Küng’s many books. He is 85 now, and not in good health. He did not want to write it, he says, but the crisis in the Catholic Church seemed to him so serious that he had no choice.
Migration is one of the most spectacular and controversial phenomena in the world economy, and also one of the least understood. In his new book, Paul Collier, professor of economics at Oxford University and a former director of Development Research
Here is the golden rule of manners, says Sandi Toksvig: “Do naught unto others what would cause pain if done to you.” That is absolutely useless as a guide to manners, and not just because of the weird “what”.
In a recent radio interview, the American writer Alice McDermott joked with her host about how long it has been since she released a novel: “The publicity people at my publisher were talking to me about platforms,”
Equal parts memoir, treatise, polemic and seasoned theological reflection, this cri de coeur from an Irish Methodist theologian transplanted to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, suffers from unevenness in tone and content.
Back in November 2011, I and other members of the Fawcett Society took to the streets donned in twinsets and red lipstick, buffed skirts and Marigolds to protest against government cuts which, we argued, threatened to rewind the battle for equality back to that pre-feminist era, the 1950s.
This is a record of the author’s many breakfasts with the artist Lucian Freud at Clarke’s restaurant, a few doors down from his Kensington Church Street house, amplified posthumously by many interviews with Freud’s friends, lovers, models and muses.
Eleanor Catton is not just the youngest ever Booker winner (in this infantilised era, 28 is literary babydom) but her novel is also the longest, at 832 pages pipping the mighty Wolf Hall.
In 1939 Joseph Goebbels issued an edict banning “intellectual wit” in Germany. An anonymous writer in The Times Literary Supplement responded that this would deal another blow to “those minor arts already on their deathbed – epigram and repartee”, adding, “one cannot help pitying the Germans …
The ancient Greek philosophers and the Greek tragedians began to think non-religiously about the human problems that had been the province of mythology and religion.
In 1940, Douglas Brown and Christopher Serpell’s The Loss of Eden (retitled If Hitler Comes: a cautionary tale seven months later) appeared.
Eighty-three Beals Street, in Brookline, Massachusetts, was where John F. Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the United States, was born in 1917, and since his mother, Rose Kennedy, restored it in 1967, the house has been a national museum.
Some readers will find this a rather sad book, albeit one with a genuinely honourable purpose – a Canadian catharsis.
Football managers are a strange breed. Many at the top end of the game are foreigners, very few are black, and a disproportionate number are Scottish, despite that nation’s conspicuous lack of football success.
When the little train murmured to a halt at Almorchón (a sort of Extremaduran Adelstrop, with a population of 32) “no one got off. No one got on,” Christopher Howse records.
Paul Hoggart has himself suggested that this book, his first novel, was written partly in irritation at The Da Vinci Code, and certainly, if Dan Brown knew any factual history, were able to conceive rounded, realistic characters who develop and grow...
In Nostra Aetate, Vatican II’s “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”, the Church abandoned centuries of Christian hostility to Judaism. The Church professed the Jewish roots of Christianity.
Fifty years ago this month, the Beatles released their second LP, just another of the things that happened on the same day as John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
Thousands of words have been written about the scandals that have beset the Catholic Church in recent years, so it’s good to see a detailed account of the Church’s outstanding contribution to international development. Or is it?
Gypsies and Travellers have endured unimaginable hardship and persecution for centuries, as Katharine Quarmby demonstrates in her meticulously researched book.
Ian Fleming’s death in 1964 came just as his creation James Bond was about to reach the height of his fame. Highly personal creation that Bond was, it seemed pointless for anyone else to try and pick up where Fleming left off.
What was Thomas Aquinas like in real life? We often live with shrivelled-up versions of ourselves and others, pigeonholing each other under always more narrow stereotypes and labels.
Sanin is an ardent, 22-year-old Russian nobleman. Travelling through Europe, he is captivated by Gemma, the demurely flirtatious daughter of an Italian sweet-maker whose family keep a shop in Frankfurt; she manoeuvres him into discovering he is in love with her.
It is worth establishing from the start that this is not a biographical study of Edward III, for which the interested reader will need to refer to W. Mark Ormrod’s excellent Edward III, published in 2011.
There are thought to be some 8,000 pre-Reformation churches in England and every county can boast a fine selection of large and small parish churches. Despite declining attendance at church services, it is probably true that they have never been more visited, and church crawling is an increasingly popular pastime.
In 1567, two young demoniacs in Brakel, Germany, started grunting like snuffling pigs.
When Sara Coleridge was about to marry her cousin Henry in 1829, William Wordsworth bought her a set of kitchen scales.
For 500 years the shrine of the goddess Artemis at Ephesos, Asia Minor, was one of the most important centres of pilgrimage and worship in the ancient world.
The history of the Irish revolution, once the preserve of its combatants, has been transformed over the past 40 years.
Laurence Olivier, as he appears in Philip Ziegler’s new Life, is a man of such raging oppositions that it is hardly surprising that his biographer seems unable to decide whether to like him or loathe him. The reader may be similarly torn.
You feel bad saying you don’t like Simone Weil. Referring to her in conversation is taken as code for a decent modern thinker’s gasping attempts to integrate the intellect and the soul.
This collection of stories about the Nazi era has just been translated into English, although the first story (which gives the collection its title) has been a mainstay of school and university curricula in Germany for years.
Wagner was born in Leipzig in 1813, a few months before Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Leipzig. He died in February 1883 having seen his last work Parsifal through to its first production, at his own “festival playhouse” in Bayreuth, in the previous summer.
“From the outset,” Geoffrey Treasure tells us in this impressive history, “the Huguenot story, essentially about faith, is also to be one of politics and personalities.”
As a young Catholic scholar-priest, Christopher Ryan was dean of St Edmund’s House, Cambridge. In 1986, he became an Anglican, leaving Cambridge to teach Italian studies full-time.
Not content with a long and distinguished career as a highly respected writer, journalist and broadcaster on religious affairs, Clifford Longley has now written a novel.
This is a book of considerable achievement and many delights; a meticulously researched work, which provides a deep insight into the religious culture of the Protestant community in Britain from the early years of the Reformation up to the beginning of the English Civil War.
Damian McBride was a clever Catholic schoolboy who got a good degree from Cambridge despite boozing and bullying his way through university.
More than 40 years after his death, L.P. Hartley (1895-1972) is mainly remembered for The Go-Between, filmed by Joseph Losey to Harold Pinter’s script, and his Eustace and Hilda trilogy.