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Book Corner December 2009

Winter Reading

Reviewed by Dr. Susan K. Hedahl


(1)  The German Mujahid
by Boualem Sansal. Translated from the French by F. Wynne
Europa Editions. Paris, 2008. Pp.228

This work brings together two historical expressions of fanaticism:  the Nazi processes of Jewish genocide and contemporary European Islamic fundamentalism.  This is a compelling and prize-winning novel about two brothers, Rachel and Malrich.  They are of German and Algerian parentage and are raised after the death of their parents in one of France’s ‘estates’ or immigrant slums.  After Rachel’s death by suicide, the novel tracks the political and gang struggles of Malrich, who finds in his brother’s diaries horrific revelations of their father’s Nazi involvements in the concentration camps.

Sansal has written a sensitive and frightening work that well documents the oscillating poles of good and evil and the means and choices by which human beings gravitate towards one or the other.


(2)  Stealing Fatima
by Frank X. Gaspar
Counterpoint Press:  Berkeley, CA 2009 Pp.  387

Gaspar writes out of his own upbringing in one of America’s eastern coastal Portuguese immigrant fishing communities.  The primary narrator is Father Manuel Furtado, suffering physical pains from former injuries and addicted to drugs and alcohol to kill the physical and spiritual pains with which he struggles.

In the close-knit village in which he was raised Father “Manny” is met with a visitor from his youth, a returned dying man named Sarafino.  Their mutual theft decades ago of a parish statue of Fatima is tied into the priest’s efforts to find God, Sarafino’s visions of the Virgin Mary and their quest to find out what happened to the statute they had buried.  The novel works through the events surrounding Sarafino’s dying (of AIDS) and the priest’s efforts to help him while trying not to lose his own soul.

The book is passionate, realistic about ministry and both tough and compassionate in its depictions.  Gaspar writes with a keen eye to detail, history and faith.  It is difficult to put this novel down once started since the reader is prompted continuously to wonder what redemption means in the village and among the characters Gaspar so lovingly describes.