The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

Anne Fadiman’s 1997 book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures won her literary prizes, national attention, particularly from the medical and social work communities, and many similar accolades. I read that the the book is required reading for first year medical students in many American medical schools, and I am convinced after reading the book, that it should be required reading for all doctors and medical students. It should also be required for spiritual “doctors”, missionaries and pastors, especially those who relate to refugee populations or who attempt to minster cross-culturally.

The book tells the story of a Hmong family from Laos and their difficulties with the medical system in Merced County, California, as it related to their epileptic daughter, Lia Lee. However, the story is much more than just a history of tragic misunderstandings across cultures. Ms. Fadiman also intersperses a great deal of the history and folklore of the Hmong people, and she explains some of the deep cultural differences between the Hmong and the Americans who welcomed them into this country. The story of Lia Lee and her family shows how those differences became insurmountable walls that led to Lia’s eventual “living death” of entering into a persistent vegetative state for the final twenty-six years of her life.

Hmong spiritual practices such as shamanism and ritual sacrifice clashed with modern medical practice. Hmong beliefs in patriarchy and demons causing sickness conflicted with doctors who believed that their authority and medical education entitled them to prescribe what treatment Lia should get. The doctors expected Lia’s parents to trust them and follow their directions. Lia’s parents expected the doctors to “fix Lia” and then leave them alone to care for her as they saw fit. Neither the doctors nor the parents were listening to the other, partly because of the language barrier, but even more because of a cultural barrier that made them disrespect and distrust one another. As a result of miscommunication and stubbornness on both sides, Lia became “quadriplegic, spastic, incontinent, and incapable of purposeful movement. Her condition was termed a persistent vegetative state.’

My thoughts about this story tended toward the spiritual, even though the very few brief mentions of Christians or Christianity in the book are uniformly disparaging. How would I talk about Jesus or share His love with a Hmong neighbor? To begin to communicate the love of Christ to a person of a very different background and culture would take what Eugene Peterson called “long obedience in the same direction.” (The phrase actually comes from Nietzsche, of all people.) I would have to put myself and my own feelings aside and live my life before God as a loving and patient and understanding neighbor, always being ready to give a reason for the hope within me. In fact, that’s what we are going to have to do more and more as our culture moves away from a Christian consensus such that there’s a deep cultural chasm between Christians and almost anyone else that we try to love and evangelize. We have to be patient and kind and persistent and faithful.

And we have to be willing to fail, and leave the ending to God and His mercy.

Lia Lee 1982-2012
Lia Lee died on August 31, 2012. She was thirty years old and had been in a vegetative state since the age of four. Until the day of her death, her family cared for her lovingly at home.

The Envoy by Alex Kershaw

The Envoy: The Epic Rescue of the Last Jews of Europe in the Desperate Closing Months of World War II by Alex Kershaw.

On Saturday morning, I went to this protest at Planned Parenthood, Gulf Coast, the site of the largest and most lucrative abortion facility in the United States. On Saturday afternoon and evening, I read The Envoy, the story of the final months of World War II in Hungary and the genocide organized by Adolf Eichmann as a “final solution” to the “Jewish problem” in Hungary. Even though, as Jen Fulwiler writes in this piece, the analogy between the Jewish Holocaust of World War II and the abortion holocaust of the United States (and much of the developed world) is not complete or tidy, the parallels are obvious and undeniable. In both cases, a class of people were/are “dehumanized”, spoken of and then treated as less than human, unworthy of basic human rights and protections. (Bob DeGray on The Christian Response to Dehumanization)

The more I read about World War II or about Hitler’s Holocaust, the more I realize that I have huge swaths of ignorance about what took place during that time. Did you know that during the summer of 1944, when it was becoming clearer and clearer that the Germans were losing the war and that the Russian army was headed toward Budapest, Eichmann insisted upon continuing his program of exterminating the Jews of Hungary? During that summer, from May to August, over 500,000 Jewish men, women and children were transported to Auschwitz, mostly from Hungary’s provinces, outside of Budapest itself. The deportations were suspended in late August because the Romania had surrendered, putting the Russian army only weeks away from Budapest. However, after the Germans blackmailed Hungary’s puppet regent, Miklas Horthy, into resigning by kidnapping his son and holding him hostage, the Arrow Cross, Hungary’s viciously anti-Semitic Nazi party, took over the government. “The pogroms began that evening. Hundreds were pulled from their homes or off the streets and slaughtered in plain sight in the first hours of the Arrow Cross regime.” (p.160)

Then, Eichmann returned to his pet plan for liquidating the Jews of Budapest. When he couldn’t get trains to transport the Jews to Auschwitz, he forced them to march to the Polish border on foot, by the thousands. Many died on the way, and others were killed as soon as they reached Poland. Even though Eichmann (and everybody else) knew that the Russians would soon take Budapest, he was intent on killing as many Jews as possible before the Nazis were defeated.

All these details were things I didn’t really realize about the Holocaust, not set in context as they are in The Envoy. I had heard of Raoul Wallenberg; I read an account somewhere of his using his Swedish diplomatic immunity and his ingenuity to save Jews. However, The Envoy puts Wallenberg and his heroic work to rescue the Jews of Budapest into perspective. I was amazed at Wallenberg’s courage and that of many others during the latter half of 1944, and I was surprised and saddened to learn of Wallenberg’s fate after his work in Budapest was over. Probably, Wallenberg never knew that many of the Jews he rescued with fake diplomatic protection did survive the war, and he may very well have thought that no one knew or cared about his attempts to rescue at least a remnant of Hungary’s Jewish population.

Reading the story of Raoul Wallenberg and the Jews of Budapest made me remember that many of us, maybe most of us, will never know in this life the results of our attempts at kindness, courage, truth-telling, and goodness. Sometimes those actions bear fruit many years later. Sometimes Satan deceives us into thinking that our actions don’t really matter, that no one is listening, nothing is changing, no one cares, and evil wins. But God wins, and goodness outlasts and extinguishes evil, and our actions, for good or for ill, do matter. One man, or even a group of men, may not have been able to save all the Jews from the evil that was Hitler’s and Eichmann’s final solution, but one man and his co-conspirators made a difference. And I am determined to use my one voice and my one life to do whatever I can to make a difference for truth and justice, too.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose.

The Newbery honor and National Book Award winning author of Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, Phillip Hoose, has chronicled the fascinating true story of a group of Danish boys who jump-started the resistance to the Nazis in Denmark during World War II. Knud Pedersen, a pastor’s son, joined with his high school buddies to harass and subvert the Germans who were occupying Denmark. They stole guns, burned German vehicles, confused signage, posted graffiti,and cut phone lines, among other acts of sabotage and resistance. And they acted when almost no one else in Denmark was resisting the Germans at all. Pedersen says they did it because they were ashamed of Denmark’s easy capitulation to the Nazis and the collaboration that characterized the Danish response to the German occupation.

“I kept asking myself: How on earth could I lie on the beach sunning when my country had been violated? Why were we not as brave as Norway? Had Denmark no pride?”

Eventually, the boys, who after all were just boys with no military or resistance experience, were arrested and imprisoned. But they became an inspiration to the adults of Denmark who began their own resistance movement. Mr. Hoose credits Knud Pedersen and his Churchill Club with “setting the ball in motion” and making Denmark “a hotbed of resistance.”

I would have liked to have read more about the religion “ghosts” (hints about a religious or Christian influence that aren’t fleshed out) in this story. Pedersen’s father was a pastor, but we are never told what denomination or what that fact meant to Knud Pedersen. Pedersen tells how the boys decided that they would have to be willing to kill Germans in order to form an effective resistance cell, but he never says anything about how they reconciled the violence they were willing to commit with their Christian background or faith. In fact, it is hinted, but never stated, that perhaps Knud Pedersen and his brother, who was also involved in the Churchill Club, didn’t have much faith or Christianity to reconcile. However, perhaps they did, but the author doesn’t tell us about it. Pedersen is filled with hatred: for the Germans, for the Danish collaborators, and for his jailers. A struggle with what to do with such hatred in a Christian context is never mentioned.

Religion ghosts in the text:

“Holy Ghost Monastery . . . would host Edvard Pedersen’s Danish Folkschurch and provide living quarters for the Pedersen family.” Folkschurch?

Most of the boys of the Churchill Club attended Aalborg Cathedral School, presumably a Christian private school?

Knud Pedersen: “Each Sunday morning Jens and I practiced shooting the guns in the gigantic open loft at the top of the monastery during father’s church services. We would lie on our stomachs, waiting for the music to swell, and when it did we’d blast away, firing at targets positioned in the hay on the other side of the loft.” So the boys didn’t attend church services?

Pedersen on Christmas in prison: “I wanted to cry, but I had forgotten how. I finally discovered that by softly singing Christmas songs in my cell at night I could make the tears flow down my cheeks. I sang every song I knew and wept the whole next day.”

Knud Pedersen, describing the end of the war for him: “Father distributed hymnals. I ended the war at the monastery chapel just a few meters away from the room in which the Churchill Club was born–singing hymns with the men of my K Company group. I was eighteen.”

Knud’s brother, Jens, “struggled with depression.” “He died in a hospital after a very unhappy life.”

After the war, Knud Pedersen wrote a memoir about the Churchill Club. His father, “Edvard Pedersen, arranged to have a secretary type the finished manuscript, but—unbeknownst to Knud and his club mates–he had the typist cross out all the curse words just before publication. This angered the group when they finally saw the book.”

These ghosts/hints are interesting for what is not mentioned: no prayer, no consolation from remembered Scripture or Biblical truth, no Christ or Christian commitment. Judging from a quick skim of his blog, Mr. Hoose himself seems to have Buddhist sympathies, so it’s understandable that he would not be as interested in the Christian underpinnings or lack thereof of the Churchill Club and its members. But I was. Unfortunately, since Mr. Pedersen died in December of last year, 2014, I can’t ask him whether he rejected or found strength in the faith of his parents or what exactly that faith was.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler is a book about teen heroes, young men who decided that if the adults wouldn’t do anything for the honor of Denmark and the confusion of her enemy, the German invaders, they would. As such it’s an interesting and exciting portrait of youthful zeal and even foolhardiness which can sometimes trump an adult over-abundance of caution and planning. I just would have liked to know more about the boys’ foundational thinking, about what motivated them and sustained them, or didn’t sustain them, through prison and life after the war.

Down Ryton Water by E.R. Gaggin

Down Ryton Water is a 1942 Newbery Honor book about the Pilgrims–published back when children’s books were really meaty and challenging reads. It’s 369 pages of pilgrim wanderings and family building and moving and rearranging and traveling and birthing and marrying.

The (sainted) Pilgrims come across as real people with personalities and foibles and humor and salty language (nothing that’s shocking for nowadays) and full lives. The book focuses on the Over family: Mother Orris Brode Over, a gardener and herbalist; Father Matt Over, a farmer; Young Matt, five years old as the story opens in Scrooby, England; and baby Remember, “the damp woman child” as Young Matt calls her. The family soon grows: Young Matt’s young uncle John Brode, an adopted orphan child named Winifrett, a new baby boy born in Holland and named for the Dutch St. Nicholas, and later a young Native American teen named Wisset, all join the Over family.

It’s a book about family and about continuity of that family amidst pilgrim upheavals and separations and reunions. I found it encouraging and full of wisdom nuggets:

Orris to Young Matt upon the occasion of the Overs leaving Scrooby for Holland: “Strangers and pilgrims on the earth. That’s what we are . . . Because pilgrims, my lad, are strangers in a strange land. And so will we be–and my poor simples! Pilgrims wander about the earth in search of the blessed vision that keeps ever out of reach, just ahead of them. . . . Our vision is a place to live where we may have freedom to think, freedom to worship, and freedom to dig in the muck once more.”

Uncle John, when the Pilgrims are leaving Holland: “Freedom must be earned; it must first be understood and then fought for. It must be forever guarded, lest it slip away. It is the most precious thing in life.”

William Bradford at the first Thanksgiving: “We have been in a race for life. But a halt must be made in such a race sometime. A halt to consider what has been accomplished with God’s help, and to give thanks to Him for His blessings. A halt for–for–well, for laughter and feasting and pleasantry. Both young and old need a bolus of merriment now and then to keep them in good health.”

When Young Matt is building himself a house, his uncle John tells him: “Get some beauty into the design! No dwelling is too simple for beauty! There’s a correctness for every need. In building, as in garments.”

This fictional family of Pilgrims, the Overs, shows young (and old) readers the vicissitudes of life in colonial America as the first Europeans came to settle in the New World. It would make a good November read aloud book for upper elementary or even middle school children. And for skilled readers in that age group who are interested in history, this book would also be a fascinating and challenging independent reading choice. The book is long and descriptive passages abound, so patience and a tolerance for such is required. I found it a good antidote to the internet-based reading that I often get accustomed to and have to wean myself from in order to read deeply and enjoy fully the reading that I do.

The Wonderful Year by Nancy Barnes

I found this book at a local public library, and I was rather surprised to discover it in the middle of the vampires and the magical worlds and the middle school angst: a realistic, turn of the century setting story, published in 1946, about an only child, Ellen, who travels from Kansas to Colorado with her lawyer father and her adventurous mother to start a fruit-growing farm. The family is also in search of a rest cure and healthy situation for Father, who has been prescribed fresh air and exercise to alleviate the pain in his neck. Ellen, who is a worrier like her father, is reluctant to leave her friends in Kansas, but Mother is excited about the the new venture and soon talks Ellen into joining in her eager anticipation.

Ah, I see now why the book is still on the shelves at the library; it won a Newbery Honor in 1947. And I would say the honor was well-deserved. The pace and atmosphere of the story is reminiscent of Ruth Sawyer’s Roller Skates or of the Betsy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, especially the older Betsy books in which Betsy goes to middle school and high school. Ellen is eleven as the story begins, and she has her twelfth birthday near the end of the book, but as only children tend to be, she’s somewhat mature for her age. One of the themes of the novel is about growing up and staying a child and not growing up too fast nor being too impatient to leave one’s childhood behind. Ellen makes friends with a fifteen year old boy, Ronnie, who lives nearby, and there is some understated tension about whether the two can remain friends and comrades in adventure when Ronnie is so much older and interested in girls his own age while still enjoying Ellen’s company as a friend. The interpersonal give and take is very well written, and I would love for my early teen and pre-teen girls to read the story and then discuss the possibilities that are suggested about boys and girls being friends and not having to get jealous of one another or have crushes.

Another area for discussion would be the “sexist” and “feminist” stereotypes that the characters seem to take for granted. Boys don’t cry. Girls need to be more like boys, tough and hardy, if they are to be seen as equal partners in adventure. It’s important for a girl to “find her own place, stand on her her own two feet, and not cling to anyone.” Are these true lessons? How is Ellen “like a girl”? How is she “like a boy”? Are these really even useful descriptions?

At the risk of being sexist myself, I would recommend The Wonderful Year for girls ages eleven to thirteen who want to read more about girls in other times and places. Fans of Betsy-Tacy, the Little House books, the American Girl series, or other girls-in-history realistic fiction should enjoy this coming of age story. And Colorado readers would especially enjoy this look at the history of Colorado settlement and farming. The illustrations in the book are by author and illustrator Kate Seredy, and they are quite lovely in their own right. Pen and ink, or perhaps pencil, drawings show Ellen and her family and friends in the thick of their homesteading experiences, and the expressive faces and captured actions add a lot to the story.

I would love to have a copy of this book for my library, and I’ll be adding it to my wishlist, which is growing much too long for the available shelf space in my library.

Take Wing by Jean Little

I’ve been talking to several families who are trying to teach their children, mostly girls, about friendship—how to make friends, how to deal with “mean girls”, how to forgive, how to take the initiative to make and heal friendships. It’s hard stuff for adults sometimes, much harder for six to fourteen year olds who are apt to misinterpret nonverbal communication, take offense easily, become shy and inhibited, or on the opposite end, be inconsiderate and even rude to one another.

Take Wing is an older book, published in 1968, for middle grade readers by Canadian author Jean Little. It’s primarily about ten year old Laurel Ross and her eight year old brother James. Laurel realizes, even though no one else in the family agrees, that James is different, slow to learn and immature for his age. Then when Mrs. Ross breaks her hip and has to stay in the hospital for months, everyone in the family, including Aunt Jessica and cousin Elspeth, must come to terms with James’s problems and try to find out what to do to help him. So James and his “mental retardation” (the term used in the book which would need to be discussed and reinterpreted in today’s terminology) are the main issues in the story.

However, the book is also about friendship and how to make friends and how to resolve differences and misunderstandings. Laurel and her cousin Elspeth start to become friends when Aunt Jessica and Elspeth move into the Ross’s house to help out while Mom is in the hospital. But it’s a false start, marred by a series of missteps and crossed wires. Finally, Elspeth and Laurel learn to communicate with one another and restart their friendship. The same kind of misunderstanding and hurt feelings has been holding Laurel back from being friends with the girl down the street. The road to mending this friendship also takes communication and some courage on the part of both girls.

I would really like to hand this book to a couple of eight to twelve year olds I know. It’s a quiet, gentle story, but I think it might be good bibliotherapy for some sensitive, insecure, and easily discouraged young ladies who need an extra push to “take wing.”

This poem by Jean Little, who “has been partially blind since birth as a result of scars on her cornea and is frequently accompanied by a guide dog,” is featured in the book. From the poem and the book and Mrs. Little’s other novels, I would guess that Jean Little knew what it was like to be different and a bit diffident when she was growing up. And perhaps she can teach some of us, adult, teen or chlid, to “endure through the (friendship) journey’s stress.”

A friendship is a fragile thing
Like the dust of the moon on a butterfly’s wing
Presuming on it is like trying
To keep a butterfly from flying
You cup your hands, try not to clutch
But it is crippled by your touch
By all the self-involved demands
Implicit in your closing hands
Yet, deep in love, there also lies,
The bravery of butterflies.
Butterflies go through nights of storm
Migrating to a land that’s warm.
They drift in brilliant frailty,
Testaments to mortality,
And all the while, they own the strength
To mount the wind and come at length
Home again, their loveliness
Enduring through the journey’s stress.
A treasured friendship also can
Survive the blundering of man.
Although it is a fragile thing,
It has the courage to take wing,
Dare to ride the dark, and come
Bravely home.

Arcady’s Goal by Eugene Yelchin

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote the essay “Live Not By Lies” in 1974, just before he was arrested by the Soviet police and exiled from his country. My Saturday Review friend Glynn led me to the essay in a review he wrote.

Arcady’s Goal is the story of a boy in Stalinist Russia who has been raised on lies. Arcady lives in an orphanage. The director of the orphanage lies about how the boys are treated and skims the provisions from the government, meant for the orphans, to feather his own nest. The inspectors of orphanages go along with the lies. Everyone is complicit, even the boys themselves, who show off their soccer skills to earn a bit of favored treatment. When Ivan Ivanych comes to the orphanage, disguised as an inspector, but really a bereft father looking for an orphan to adopt, Arcady makes an impression. But can Arcady and Ivan break through all the lies, the ones they have been told by the government, the ones they have told to survive, and even the lies they have told themselves, to make a real family built on trust?

Born and educated in Russia, author Eugene Yeltsin left the former Soviet Union when he was twenty-seven years old. His other children’s novel set in Communist Soviet Union, Breaking Stalin’s Nose, won a Newbery Honor. His writing style in this book is stark and unadorned, like the subject. The descriptions, like the illustrations, are gray and without much hope, although Arcady’s courage and tenacity shine through even in the soccer games he plays so well. And yet the book has an almost implausible happy ending as Arcady and his adoptive father do manage to form a connection.

Perhaps I am a pessimist, but I don’t know if I can believe that it so easy to change from believing and participating in The Lie to confronting lies with the truth. Easy or not, I do believe that I and especially my children are going to find out very soon what it is like to live in a culture permeated and ultimately ruled by lies and half-truths. In fact, we are already faced with the choice of whether to participate in the lies our society is telling or to stand up and declare the truth. There will be a cost for the latter decision, and there may not be a happy ending in this life.

“And the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, but not with any help from me. . . . So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice: Whether consciously, to remain a servant of falsehood—of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one’s family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies—or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one’s children and contemporaries.”

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The Island by Gary Paulsen

Book #1 for the 48-hour Book Challenge
202 pages, 2.5 hours

I’ve never read Gary Paulsen’s Newbery Honor young adult novel, Hatchet, although I have read a lot about it and seen it recommended frequently. It’s a survival story, about a boy who grows into manhood by surviving in a harsh natural environment. According to Wikipedia this “coming of age by surviving in the wilderness” theme is a frequently repeated one in Paulsen’s more than 200 novels:

“Much of Paulsen’s work features the outdoors and highlights the importance of nature. He often uses “coming of age” themes in his novels, where a character masters the art of survival in isolation as a rite of passage to manhood and maturity.”

The Island tells the story of Wil, a teen who, with his parents, moves to a rural area of northern Wisconsin near a lake, Sucker Lake, with an unnamed island in the center of the lake. Wil sees the island while riding his bike, and he also finds a small rowboat conveniently abandoned on the shore so that he is able to row out to the island by himself. On the island, Wil discovers something about himself and about the world that he tries to put into writing, or into drawings of wildlife on the island, or into words of explanation for his parents and for his new friend, Susan. He is somewhat successful in his writing and drawing, less so in his verbal explanations.

The Island is an odd little book. I can see myself recommending it to teens who are adventure and nature lovers and also quite thoughtful, even philosophical. I’m not sure how often that combination of characteristics coincides. Not much happens in the novel; there’s a lot of description of the natural environment and quite a bit of philosophical musing. I would think the pace of the story would be a bit slow for many young adult readers. There’s a hint of romance, but it’s not really developed. The characters themselves, Wil and Susan, nip any budding of romance, in the bud so to speak, since Wil is on a quest of sorts to know and understand the natural world and himself. He doesn’t really have time for romance.

I enjoyed reading about Wil and his search for understanding and enlightenment. The spirituality or philosophy in the book felt rather like Buddhism or nature worship, even though religion is never mentioned nor is any deity invoked. I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone, but for discerning readers there might even be some nuggets of truth. The natural world is given to us to point us to the Creator. Wil doesn’t have any experience of God, but he does begin to understand himself and his place in the world of The Island. Perhaps that’s a start.

Footnote: My mass market paperback copy of The Island is autographed by Gary Paulsen “for Kelli”, and the book itself is dedicated to Mike Printz, the librarian whose name adorns the Printz Award for Young Adult Literature.

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The Collapse by Mary Elise Sarotte

The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall by Mary Elise Sarotte.

World Magazine just published its annual issue on books, and one of the books chosen as a runner-up for book of the year in the history/biography category was The Collapse. Coincidentally, I had already heard of the book and requested it from the library and had it in my stack of TBR books in the cradle next to my bed. (Since I have passed the years of child-bearing and baby-rocking, my handmade wooden cradle now serves as a books-to-be-read repository as it awaits the advent of grandchildren.)

I can see why The Collapse made World‘s shortlist of best books. It is a stunning account of a moment in history, a moment that changed history. And, as the author points out over and over, it could easily have not happened or have happened very differently. Inexorable violence, intimidation, and renewed repression could have been the operative words to describe the events of October and early November 1989 in Berlin and in greater Germany; instead, Ms. Sarotte uses the adjectives “coincidental” and “unexpected” and “improbable” and even, blessedly, “peaceful”.

In her book, Ms. Sarotte tries to explain how these many, many serendipitous events combined to allow or even produce the opening of the Berlin Wall and eventually the reunification of East and West Germany. The “why” is beyond the scope of the narrative and perhaps beyond the understanding of mere authors and readers. Sarotte does reiterate many times that the collapse of the Wall was not inevitable.

“The Wall’s opening was not a gift from political elites, East German or otherwise, and was in no way predetermined. It resulted from a remarkable constellation of actors and contingent events—and not a little courage on the part of some of the individuals directly involved—that came together in a precise but entirely unplanned sequence. And the larger, successful peaceful revolution surrounding the opening was a truly rare event, one to be considered carefully, not discounted. The history of 1989 shows just how many things have to go right for such a revolution to succeed.”

I am left with some questions of my own, questions that will never be answered this side of eternity, but that are nevertheless interesting to me from a Christian perspective:

The dissident movement in East Germany was birthed and nurtured in the churches of Leipzig and Berlin. Many of the dissidents were not believers, but were nevertheless willing and thankful to use the churches and their “peace prayer” meetings as a shelter and a staging area for demonstrations and peaceful protests against the East German government. Could the peaceful success of the revolution and the reordering of Germany’s culture and government be credited in part (or even in whole) to its genesis as a prayer movement? Perhaps God answered those repeated prayers for peace and justice?

What do historians and politicians mean when they talk about being “on the right side of history”? In the book Soviet leader Chernyaev says of Gorbachev: “He sensed the path of history and helped it to follow its natural path.” Impersonal History nevertheless has a will and a flow? How can this be? (It’s the same way that evolutionists talk about Nature doing this or that. How did Nature become a Force with a will and purpose? And do we humans discern that purpose?)

In a bigger way, could all of those fortuitous events of people being in the right place at the right time or absent from the right place at the right time or able to communicate or unable to communicate, all of those things that had to go right, could they have been orchestrated, not by politicians or revolutionaries, but rather by God himself? Maybe the lesson here is that the “remarkable constellation” was not “entirely unplanned”—just unplanned by man? Man proposes; God disposes.

The Collapse is not a book about God, just as the book of Esther in the Bible hardly mentions God—unless you have eyes to see the hand of God in all of history. I think it much more likely and believable that God is working His purposes out in the course of history than that History itself has an undefined will and an inscrutable purpose.

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Julia and the Art of Practical Travel by Lesley M.M. Blume

Ms. Blume writes “odd and quirky”, and this one definitely fits that description. It’s funny at times, but the underlying situation, the 1960’s and a child deserted by her hippie druggie mother, is way too serious for a humorous novel. Throw in a voodoo queen in New Orleans, bullies in a fancy elite school for girls, naked people in Greenwich Village in NYC and in Haight-Asbury in San Francisco, an odd ranch with all-Chinese cowboys in Texas, an ever-present Brownie camera, and a bewildered aunt/guardian, and it’s a fun road trip sort of story, but fairly unbelievable and sort of sad in places.

I also kept thinking the story was ending, and then there would be one more episode, and yet another, and another. It felt as if the author didn’t know where to stop. Or maybe I just didn’t want to know as much as I did. The novel is all about finding home and making a family, but it took Julia and her aunt an awfully long time to get to that end, even though the book itself is not that long, only 180 pages.

Anyway, if you’ve enjoyed any of Lesley M.M. Bloom’s other novels for children, such as Tennyson or The Rising Star of Rusty Nail, you might also enjoy this odd and quirky entry. I thought it was OK, but nothing to write home about.

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