Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf ~ Featuring  Ian Caldwell and Elaine Neil Orr

 

By Lynn Willoughby

The Fifth Gospel – Ian Caldwell 
Ten years ago Caldwell collaborated with Dustin Thomason and they wrote a wonderful book called “The Rule of Four”.  When I saw that Caldwell had finally written a new book, I couldn’t wait to get started.
This is an intellectual thriller set inside the walls of the Vatican.  A mysterious exhibit is scheduled for the Vatican museum when the curator is killed and his research partner’s home is robbed.  Father Alex Androu, a married Greek Catholic priest who lives in Vatican city with his five year old son, is drawn into the mystery.
I don’t pretend to know anything about the various branches of Catholicism, but the research for this book must have been vigorous.  I did not know the differences between Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Catholics – who do indeed marry.
However, the crux of this novel is really about the exhibit of a mysterious fifth gospel – called the Diatessaron, and what it will reveal about a controversial relic.  The attendance of both Roman and Orthodox priests at the exhibit is, in itself, very controversial.  Then there is the trial of the priest accused of murdering the curator.
We learn how the ancient legal system of the Catholic church, still used in Vatican City,  has no presumption of innocence, no jury, no right to face one’s accuser and no rights for the defense lawyer to ask questions. Because the murder took place in the Vatican – a tiny independent country inside Italy, the trial is also handled internally.
The research, in several languages, done by Caldwell is amazing.  It is …”a feast of biblical history and scholarship and a moving family drama.”
It is not a breeze to read this book.  It makes you think and it makes you think about the characters long after you have turned the last page.
  • The Rule of Four
A Different Sun – Elaine Neil Orr
Stories have been written before about women following their missionary husband to some far off land to change the world.  Some are better than this one – “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver, comes to mind.  And I’m sure there are some worse than this one.
Emma’s father is a slave owning, wealthy, Georgian plantation owner so her life has been sheltered.  What would bring her to marry a man she hardly knows and is twenty years her senior?  What would make her want to leave for the long journey to Africa to become a missionary?
This book, while it doesn’t have much of a storyline, does bring Africa to life.  Emma meets an African “family”, has her friends, quickly adapts to the food, the heat, the flies and mosquitoes.  She soon realizes that wearing a corset, several crinolines and a netted bonnet is truly a waste of time and makes her hot!  She grows to understand the people, their languages and their traditions.  She seldom judges, unlike her husband Henry. The Yoruba people like her.
Henry, on the other hand, is often ill, takes charge of hunting a rogue elephant – the first he has ever seen, is always restless and does not approve of Emma’s friendships with the locals.  His illnesses, both physical and mental, are a never ending burden for Emma as she come to realize she cannot depend on Henry.  She is on her own.
Like “A Passage to India”,  “Cry the Beloved Country”,  “Hawaii” and countless other, Orr takes a complex political subject like slavery and makes it human, thus losing its taboo.  Best of all in this book are the descriptions of natural beatuy.
  • Gods of Noonday
  • Subject to Negotiation
…………….and several others
Who Knew?
The Yoruba sacred blue beads show us their trading practices and connections as far away as the Gold Coast.

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