News from the literary world: more things to read

Sherlock Holmes is back—again. We know from reading “The Final Problem” (1893) that Holmes fled to Switzerland following reports that Professor Moriarty’s accomplices were determined to kill him. But the evil professor tracked him down at the spectacular Reichenbach Falls, which Watson had described as a “fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house.” There Holmes and Moriarty fought till both plunged into the falls. But Arthur Conan Doyle had to resurrect Holmes because he needed the money. Now Holmes has been revived by Life magazine in an issue devoted to the Holmes phenomenon, with beautiful photographs and in-depth analysis. Now read the stories.

The Atlantic for March features a review by James Parker of the new biography of Dorothy Day by her granddaughter, Kate Hennessy, Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty. The reviewer enjoys a scene where young Dorothy, a cub reporter in a Greenwich Village pub, “cool-mannered, tweed-wearing, drinks rye whiskey straight with no discernible effect.” She’s with her buddy Eugene O’Neill in a bar called the Hell Hole. O’Neill, with a “bitter mouth,” recites Francis Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven”: “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days.” In response, Dorothy sings “Frankie and Johnny.”

Christian Century cover
Christian Century

In The Christian Century (2/15), Philip Jenkins defends the film “Silence” against those who argue that for all their heroism and sacrifice, missionaries like the Jesuits in the film pursued a nearly impossible goal in attempting to introduce a European religion into profoundly Asian cultures. As Kipling said, “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” The Jesuits, Jenkins writes, were an exception. They were “phenomenal linguists, and those skills made them valuable to courts and governments around the world,” and “at many points, Jesuit influence is essential to understanding the history of Asian societies.”

In The London Times Literary Supplement for March, Jessica Loudis reviews together three recent novels on migration, including Viet Thanh Nguyn’s The Refugees, which America reviewed earlier this year (2/20). She begins: “There are more refugees in the world today than at any time since the Second World War, and depending on where you get your news and opinion, this is either a humanitarian call to arms or a free-floating threat to the political order. Into the latter camp fall a growing number of European politicians and a certain American president who is either unwilling or unable to consider why a person might leave one’s country for reasons unrelated to criminality.” She quotes Pankaj Mishra, author of Age of Anger: “Refugees are being cast as both victims and villains, liable to steal jobs and live off welfare, if not worse. Having given up their former lives, it is argued, they have nothing left to lose.”

TLS cover

The T.L.S. scores again in its special anniversary issue (2/17) focused on the Russian Revolution of 1917, including a review of three books about the revolution, a biography of Rasputin and a biography of the last czar, Nicholas II, with the title Saint and Sinner. A most informative essay, “Writing in the Heat of Crisis,” by Caryl Emerson, reviews 1917, a compilation of prose and poetry written at the time of the revolution. She says of the editor, “Boris Dralyuk attempts a bold thing: to confirm us within the belly of the beast...all the while challenging the received notion that the Russian Revolution produced little literary art of lasting value in its early years.” In one entry, “The Guillotine” (1918), by the humorist who went by the psuedonym Teffi, a grimly humorous scene shows the upper class out of touch with reality. A woman drops in on a friend and says: “I only popped in to say goodbye. I’m due to be guillotined tomorrow.” Her friend replies: “What a wonderful coincidence! We’re all scheduled for tomorrow…. We can all go together.”

Any religious person who lived through the controversies of the 1960s will have read or at least heard about Harvey Cox’s classic, The Secular City. It sold nearly a million copies, put the word secular in a positive light and criticized the restraints of organized religion, encouraging the faithful to find holiness in the world outside the church. The Nation (1/30) has given four pages to a review of Cox’s two new books, The Market as God and A Harvey Cox Reader. The reviewer, Elizabeth Bruenig (a contributing writer for America), calls our attention to the disappearance of American Christian public intellectuals. Over the past half-century, she writes, many strains of Christianity have seen a “privatization of religious experience and discourse.”

Finally, The New York Review of Books, in two recent issues, takes up subjects also covered in this edition of America’s Spring Literary Review: “Under the Spell of James Baldwin” by Darryl Pinckney (3/23), which is a review of the documentary film “I Am Not Your Negro”; and “Betrayal in Jerusalem” by Avishai Margalit , which is a very long review of Judas, by Amos Oz.

Pinckney reminds us that Baldwin had disappeared from the political-intellectual limelight and that the revival of interest in him has been “astonishing.” He is particularly struck by scenes depicting “ordinary white people and their violent resistance to integration in the 1950s and 1960s. In the course of the film, we see howling young white males, some mere boys, carrying signs painted with swastikas and tracking demonstrators…. The violence has not been choreographed. It is sudden and raw. The hatred of black people is out there.”

Margalit, like the author Amos Oz, occasionally usesthe character Judas as a springboard for reflections on today’s conflicts in Israel. The central character in Judas is Shmuel Ash, who is the novel’s link between 1959, the year he enters Jerusalem, and the story of Jesus from the first century. This is a novel of ideas that turns on three people: Ben-Gurion, Judas and Jesus. Hence the themes of the founding of the state of Israel, the idea of betrayal and Judaism’s refusal to deal seriously with the challenge of Christianity. One of the characters considers the challenge of Christianity to Judaism is in Christianity’s promise of universal love. It is suggested that he speaks for Oz, who senses that many Jews resist the very possibility. Christians might ask themselves to what extent they believe in the all-encompassing love that Jesus lived and taught.

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