Monday, June 30, 2008

Fr. Elijah

I just finished reading Fr. Elijah by Michael D. O'Brien, whose painting and writing I discovered last winter. Although at first I found the novel to be overly talky and rather slow going, before long I couldn't put it down. There are some beautiful, even visionary passages relating to the title character's memories of the war (he is a Jewish convert, a Polish Hasid who had been hidden by a righteous gentile in Warsaw before his protector was arrested and deported to Auschwitz - the young boy who would become Elijah escaped), and some absolutely gripping scenes of subtle psychological battle - warfare, really - between the forces of Christ and Antichrist.

It is also a novel that is shot through with an ethos of intense suffering on the level of the individual soul, and with the notion that suffering is redemptive and even beautiful; one of the images toward the end, in a scene in which Fr. Elijah has an epiphany in the desert, is of the light of heaven shining through the holes in Christ's hands as He holds them over the world. This is one of the few novels (along with The Brothers Karamazov and Clara by Janice Galloway, about the great nineteenth-century pianist Clara Schumann) that I truly regretted coming to the end of.

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