Once in the West: Poems
Christian Wiman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
We were hard-pressed to settle on one poem from this forthcoming collection to include in this issue (see page 19). It’s not just the apt metaphor – a skipping stone, a bee beating the glass, “one tatterdemalion dandelion / adrift in the air / like happy ash.” Nor is it Wiman’s way with words: where the perfect modifier is needed, he’s not afraid to conjure a new one – try “stabdazzling darkness, icequiet.” No, Wiman is one of our favorite poets because his work is suffused with an authentic, hard-earned faith, where one can find the sacred in a desert or an alley, fraternity in a road crew or a rest home, and doubt and assurance in the same breath. Wiman, a former editor of Poetry magazine who now teaches at Yale, has been battling cancer, so the wistful, elegiac mood running through many of these poems comes as no surprise. Nor does the recurring theme of prayer:
I said I will not violate my silence with prayer.
I said Lord, Lord
in the speechless way of things
that bear years, and hard weather, and witness.
Silence Once Begun: A Novel
Jesse Ball (Pantheon Books, 256 pages)
In this ingenious new novel set in Osaka Prefecture, Japan, eight old people vanish from their homes without a trace. In a wager at cards, a twenty-nine-year-old thread salesman named Oda Sotatsu agrees to sign a confession taking responsibility. At that moment he takes a vow of silence which he maintains throughout his imprisonment, trial, conviction, and execution. But why? In the absence of the central character, our narrator, a foreign journalist named Jesse Ball, is left to piece together conflicting accounts from Sotatsu’s family and associates. Who is telling the truth? Whose truth?
Clever in its construction, but devastating in its implications, this is more than a commentary on the limits of criminal justice. Ball dedicates the book to Kobo Abe and to Shusaku Endo, whose profound 1966 novel Silence, filled with the silence of God and the fickleness of man, finds an echo here. And unmentioned but never far away is the innocent Jesus standing silent before Pilate, or before Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor.
The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas
Anand Giridharadas (W. W. Norton, 336 pages)
Proving that real life can be as compelling as the best fiction, Giridharadas, a New York Times columnist, tells the intersecting stories of Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Bangladeshi immigrant working in a Dallas minimart, and Mark Stroman, a red-blooded American who seeks to avenge 9/11 by shooting foreigners at gas stations. Ten years later, Bhuiyan, the only survivor of the shootings, is moved by his Muslim faith to show mercy to his attacker, and even campaigns – unsuccessfully – to stay Stroman’s execution and free him from death row. With attention to detail and admirable empathy for both his subjects, Giridharadas traces the making of these two men and their efforts to rebuild their lives. Which is the true American? We are forced to reflect on the possibility that both are.
No Irrelevant Jesus
Gerhard Lohfink (Michael Glazier, 342 pages)
This is a wonderfully readable collection of loosely connected reflections from a first-rate New Testament scholar, each casting light from a different angle on Lohfink’s underlying insight: that discipleship is never a solitary affair. On the personal level, the author reveals his own journey toward Christian community in a fascinating and challenging account that causes the reader to take stock of his or her own faith. Combining academic acumen with an accessible style, Lohfink addresses such perennial questions as: How does Jesus’ death actually save world? What are we to do with Christ’s fragmented body? How are we to relate to those of different faiths? In what sense is the gospel good news for the poor? This book offers a full meal to savor on one’s own or to feast on with others.