September 3, 2015 | Rome, Italy | Clear 21°C
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Fiction

The Underground Man

Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer endures as a detective ahead of his time.

There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's brilliant stories eviscerate families seeking Communist-era roofs.

I Refuse

In a novel with autobiographical hues, Norwegian Per Petterson considers friendship and lost time.

The Dream of My Return

A paranoid Salvadoran expat in Mexico City dreams of going him — but conspiracies come first.

As Good As Dead

Elizabeth Evans' new novel is a powerful look at women friends "reunited" in name only.

Aquarium

David Vann's vision of family redemption starts magically, but grows foul with rage.

My Documents

Chilean Alejandro Zambra's stories move from fictional autobiography into handsome melancholy.

The Illogic of Kassel

Vila-Matas' latest translated novel is a voyage into self, art and literature with a gimpy happy ending.

Nonfiction

The Book of My Lives

Aleksandar Hemon's poignant memoir falters when family tragedy becomes its focus.

Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal

American writer Michael Mewshaw generously recalls Gore Vidal and his tumultuous times.




BOOK REVIEW
Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews
By James Carroll
Mariner Books, 2001. 756 pages

Novelist and former Catholic priest (but not, significantly, former-Catholic) James Carroll begins his search for understand of the Shoah by asking, Why is there a twenty-foot wooden cross in the Auschwitz death camp? The answer takes us back to the days of Jesus, the author's own childhood in Virginia, and the nearly two-thousand years of European history in between. Carroll presents a lengthy critique of "supersessionism," the long-held (and officially disavowed) belief that the Church usurped the chosenness of the Jewish people, and what he calls the "Christianization of the Holocaust." The great power shift took place after Constantine, the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity, won a decisive battle at the Milvian Bridge against Maxentius (the year was 312 C.E.) Legend — or tradition — says that the embattled Constantine looked up and saw a vision of the cross in the sky, embraced both the vision and the cross, and within a year of his victory had the entirety of the Western empire in the palm of his hand. Whether Constantine ever became a believing Christian is anyone's guess, but he prophetically deduced the rallying power of the cross and married it to military might. This shift changed the course of Western history and spelled disaster for the Jews.

Carroll's book takes a long look at each major step in the rise of the Church, from a tiny prayer group centered around the disciples and friends of Jesus to the Nicene Creed (which "put the crucifixion at the heart of faith and the death of Jesus at the heart of redemption"), Constantine's mother Helena and the cult of holy relics, the rise of anti-Jewish preachers like John Chrysostom, the "golden-mouthed," and culminating in the institutionalization of anti-Judaism. At each historical pivot Carroll suggests an alternative path, a way out which, had it been taken, might have led us down a different road.

The last part of the book is Carroll's call for a Vatican III, when "the Church must therefore preach the anti-Jewish texts of the Gospels — not against the Jews, but against itself." For Carroll Vatican II was a step in the right direction, but until the Church is able to confront its own history — including its own founding scriptures — self-critically, it will remain essentially a pawn of its own historical power.

Reviewed by Marc Alan Di Martino
Day and Boarding International High School in the Heart of Rome

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