The National Catholic Review
Genocide Uncovered; Ignatian Insights; Avian Awareness

The Holocaust by Bullets

A Priests Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews

By Father Patrick Desbois

Palgrave/Macmillan, 272p $26.95

Not a book for the fainthearted, this is nonetheless a noteworthy and needed addition to Holocaust literature. Desbois is secretary to the French Conference of Bishops for relations with Judaism; in 2004 he founded an organization called Yahad-in Unum that investigates the mass killings of Eastern European Jews by the Nazis from 1941 to 1945. Traveling with a team to Ukraine in 2007, he visited numerous locations and interviewed surviving witnesses (many of whom had been conscripted by the Germans to “dig”) to the humiliation and calculated murder of more than a million unsuspecting Jews. With the assistance of an interpreter, a ballistics expert, a photographer and an archival researcher, the author recounts in vivid, unflinching detail the methodical torture, shooting and burial of Jews (some still alive) in huge open pits throughout various small towns and villages. These were not isolated sites, but in full view of local villagers of all ages, the victims’ non-Jewish neighbors and even friends. A chilling refrain underlying all the testimony presented is that “the earth moved for three days.” History is indebted to Father Desbois and his team for uncovering the truth and bringing to light a dark, almost forgotten chapter in the story of Nazi atrocities.

Patricia A. Kossmann

A Friendship Like No Other

William A. Barry, S.J.

Loyola Books. 203p $14.95

What is Ignatian Spirituality?

David L. Fleming, S.J.

Looyola Books. 113p $12.95

One of my favorite kinds of books is the short book written by an expert in the field. Why take hundreds of pages to get to the point? Two fine new examples of this genre, in the spiritual vein, are A Friendship Like No Other, by William A. Barry, S.J., and What Is Ignatian Spirituality? by David L. Fleming, S.J. Both books, models of clarity, are superb. Barry’s book deepens a theme that the author, a veteran spiritual director and writer well known to America readers, has been pondering for years: God desires our friendship. Through the artful use of passages from the Old and New Testaments, examples from his own life and his capacious reading of literature, Barry invites us to return that friendship to both God and his Son. In one his most provocative passages, he meditates on the “parent-child” model of relating to God. It is a useful image, albeit one that can encourage believers to think of themselves as little children. Barry suggests another model for adult believers: “I propose that the relationship between an adult child and his or her parents is a better image of the relationship God wants with us as adults.” You could spend days—an eight-day retreat!—meditating on that insight, one that is characteristic of this warm and wise book.

What Is Ignatian Spirituality? covers slightly different territory; it is also one of the shortest introductions to Ignatian spirituality I have ever read. The editor of Review for Religious and an experienced spiritual director, Fleming offers bite-size chapters on love, pilgrimage, prayer, work, discernment and sin, each highlighting an aspect of the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Fleming expertly weaves into his book, as through a tapestry, stories from the life of Ignatius and examples from his classic text, the Spiritual Exercises. Like Barry, much of Fleming’s writing not only explains but reveals: “Imaginative prayer makes Jesus of the Gospels our Jesus.” This is one of those statements, common to both books, that makes you think at once, “I’ve never thought of that!” and “That’s exactly right!” Fleming’s is the perfect book to give to someone who asks his title question. How lucky we are to have these two experienced guides offering to lead us along the way of Ignatius, and how lucky we are that they have followed the lead of the homiletics professor who gave his class excellent advice for giving a good homily: “Be clear, be brief and be gone!”

James Martin, S.J.

Of Parrots and People

The Sometimes Funny, Always Fascinating, and Often Catastrophic Collision of Two Intelligent Species

By Mira Tweti

Viking. $25.95

First of all, do not laugh at the author’s surname if this is your first encounter. She is an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker, whose previous book (for children) was hailed by Jane Goodall as “a masterpiece.” The famed African grey parrot named Alex (also the subject of a new book), who was the subject of a years-long research project, showed humans how smart parrots really are. Tweti’s book is both fascinating and shocking. In addition to exploring human emotional connection with these long-lived avian species, as well as their intelligence, it serves as an exposé of widespread violations of animal rights, mistreatment of birds in captivity and threats to many endangered parrot species in the wild. There is a huge market for these so-called “exotic” pets and big money in illegal trapping and trade; but, as the author also notes, there is “a growing epidemic of unwanted [domestic] parrots.” She first reported her research in a story for The Los Angeles Times Magazine (“Plenty to Squawk About”), which won a special award from the Humane Society for outstanding investigative journalism. An insert of black-and white photos tells the story as clearly and vividly as Tweti’s text. The concluding chapter sounds a wake-up call, raising public eco-consciousness about the results of unchecked deforestation on parrots’ habitats. This book deserves a wide readership.

P.A.K.

Book Briefs is written by Patricia A. Kossmann, literary editor, and James Martin, S.J., culture editor, of America.