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Lessons for young in biography of famous author

November 18, 2014

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coverThe adventurous, creative life of French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry ended much too soon during World War II, yet it was a life that gives credence to the saying “short but sweet.”

Writer and illustrator Bimba Landmann captures both sentiments in graceful words and thoughtful artwork in her biography of the author of “The Little Prince.”

Aimed at young people age 7 and up, this Eerdmanns Book for Young Readers is a history lesson — and maybe an art and literature lesson, too — in just 34 pages.

Imaginative drawings on each page force the eye to spend as much time on them as on the text, and the text is superb, filled with picturesque, near-poetic phrases.

They bring little Antoine from his dreamy early life through adult adventures on four continents, and leave one with the feeling they know this amazing man whose vivid spirit brought the world one of its great stories.

Grandparents, if there’s a book lover in the family, this would make a wonderful gift.

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Who was ‘O’Shaughnessy,’ anyway?

October 23, 2014

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That Great Heart-coverBy Bob Zyskowski

In St. Paul, the name “O’Shaughnessy” graces a handful of buildings at the University of St. Thomas, including the library, education center and football stadium, and at St. Catherine University there is the architectural masterpiece of the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium.

Who this O’Shaughnessy was and how he came about the financial means to support Catholic higher education — plus an amazing variety and staggering volume of charities and individuals — is told in an enlightening new book, “That Great Heart: The Story of I.A. O’Shaughnessy.”

It’s a rags-to-riches tale: Ignatius Aloysius O’Shaughnessy, born in 1885, the youngest of 13 children of a Stillwater bootmaker, graduates from the then College of St. Thomas, becomes the largest independent oil refiner in the United States, makes millions and gives millions away.

Where he started, how he grew his businesses, how and to whom he donates — and especially what motivates him — gives readers an insight into the man behind the buildings.

It makes for good-paced reading, thanks to the journalist’s writing style of author Doug Hennes.

Hennes, vice president for university and government relations at St. Thomas and a former reporter and editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, never met O’Shaughnessy.

He was a freshman at St. Thomas in the fall of 1973; O’Shaughnessy died at 88 in November that year. The oilman’s funeral was held at the Cathedral of St. Paul, and a memorial Mass was held on campus.

“I remember looking out a window from one of the buildings at St. Thomas at what seemed to be an endless procession of black limousines,” Hennes said. “I’ve always been fascinated by the guy.”

Decades later Hennes wrote about O’Shaughnessy for the
St. Thomas magazine and helped with a video about him. That sparked an interest in Hennes to learn more about I.A.

Boxloads of letters

At the Minnesota History Center he discovered 14 boxes of O’Shaughnessy’s correspondence and newspaper clippings, all in files organized alphabetically.

The material painted a picture of the man who is likely known to few who enter the buildings that bear his name.

“Some material even surprised family members,” Hennes said.

IA-St. Thomas football portraitThose surprises include facts such as:

— O’Shaughnessy played on the first St. John’s football team that beat rival St. Thomas, was dismissed for drinking beer (at age 16), went to St. Thomas and became a star for the Tommies.

— As part of a marketing effort, his Globe Oil Company sponsored a basketball team, and players on the Globe Refiners made the bulk of the U.S. squad that won the gold medal in the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

— For a short time he was a part-owner of the Cleveland Indians.

— He was offered the post of U.S. ambassador to Australia but turned it down.

How O’Shaughnessy made his millions is interesting: He borrowed money to finance drilling and refining projects and either paid back investors or bought them out when the projects succeeded.

He played a major role in the development of the oil industry in the Oklahoma and Kansas area, risking building a refinery at the height of the Great Depression.

He eventually used a vertical marketing strategy to not only drill for oil but to refine it for multiple uses — gasoline, kerosene, burning oils, turpentine and lubricating oils and greases — and to distribute it under the Globe trademark to 600 independent dealers in 12 states in the middle of the country and into Canada.Globe Oil truck

“He was pretty sharp,” Hennes said. “He had a shrewd business sense — he had an instinct about what would work and what wouldn’t. And he hired really good people to run the operations.”

O’Shaughnessy was an early adopter of new technologies and methods, and also understood the need to keep employees happy. After starting to give Christmas bonuses, he felt compelled to continue the practice even in years when the company lost money.

Generous beyond measure

Still, it is O’Shaughnessy’s charitable contributions that are the real story behind the man.

“He gave to everything,” Hennes told The Catholic Spirit. The files contain letter after letter of requests for loans and donations, he said. If he decided he would give, he’d write yes and an amount right on the bottom of the letter and write the check right away. Many are for $100 here, $200 there.

“If he was saying no,” Hennes said, “there would be a letter, because he’d always say why.”

 

IA-St. Thomas library mortar work

Outside the O'Shaughnessy Education Center at St. Thomas.

Outside the O’Shaughnessy Education Center at St. Thomas.

While O’Shaughnessy donated millions for buildings at the University of Notre Dame as well as St. Kate and St. Thomas, he often donated only if organizations  raised a matching sum.

“He really saw himself as trying to leverage other gifts,” Hennes said. “He was willing to give, but he wanted to get other people involved, too.”

His faith and his understanding of stewardship both come into play in giving.

Hennes quoted him, “The Lord has been good to me, so I figure I might as well spread some of my money around where it will do some good.”

There’s much more, including O’Shaughnessy’s part in the war effort during World War II, his commitment to his parish —
St. Mark in St. Paul — and the meeting with Pope Paul VI and Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh that led to O’Shaughnessy financing one of the pope’s dreams, the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in the Holy Land.

I.A. O'Shaughnessy and Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh at a private meeting with Pope Paul VI at Castelgandolfo.

I.A. O’Shaughnessy and Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh at a private meeting with Pope Paul VI at Castelgandolfo.

About the book

“That Great Heart” by Doug Hennes, Beaver’s Pond Press, Edina, Minn., 2014; 259 pages.

Events

Doug Hennes (2014)A book launch will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, in the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium on St. Thomas’ campus in St. Paul. The event will include a reading, reception and book signing by author Doug Hennes.

Other “That Great Heart” signings include:

— Noon-1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5, bookstore, Terrence Murphy Hall, St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus, 1000 LaSalle Ave.

— 11:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 6, Anderson Student Center, St. Thomas’
St. Paul campus.

— Sunday, Nov. 9, after 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Masses, St. Mark’s Church, 1976 Dayton Ave., St. Paul.

— Saturday, Nov. 15, 11 a.m.-12:45 p.m., St. Patrick’s Guild, 1554 Randolph Ave.,
St. Paul.

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Life’s mysteries, from another point of view

October 15, 2014

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images

“God should hang up a mailbox for people to send questions and complaints.”

When your world turns upside down, it may pay to look at it that way.
Young Anna does just that — and takes her grieving father along — in the subtly worded and creatively illustrated “Anna’s Heaven.”
Anna coverTranslated by Don Bartlett from the Norwegian, this picture-heavy and text-terse Eerdman’s Book for Young Readers would make for an interesting parent-child reading time, especially in households dealing with the death of a loved one.
The dialogue between father and daughter mixes the realistic and magical, often terrific role modeling for parents trying to cope with the curveballs life throws.
Stain Hole, both author and illustrator, includes interesting questioning of the role God plays in life’s mysteries.
“Why can’t he who knows everything, who can pull and push and turn over clouds and waves and planets — why can’t he invent something to turn bad into good?” Anna says.
“God should hang up a mailbox for people to send questions and complaints,” Dad answers.
Take this journey to the upside-down world. Oh, and look for Elvis and Pablo Picasso in Anna’s version of the hereafter.

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Asked to speak at a funeral?

October 13, 2014

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Her9780879465322Ae’s a valuable little booklet to have on hand should you or someone you know be asked to speak about a friend or loved one at a funeral.

“To Say a Few Words: Guidelines for Those offering Words of Remembrance at a Catholic Funeral” won’t take you more than 15-20 minutes to breeze through the 36 pages, and the final third are sample talks, so author Michael A. Cymbala makes his points concisely.

Those points are clear. The first is that your remarks should reflect the sacredness of the Christian message, and anyone who has been present when an inappropriate comment or anecdote has been told at a funeral can attest to what crosses the line. Cymbala gives the example of a young man who, while speaking about his father, “opened a beer can to demonstrate his departed father’s ‘favorite sound.’ ”

A veteran Catholic music director, Cymbala helpfully notes that dioceses and parishes differ about when a remembrance of the deceased may be delivered, so finding out the local rules and the order of the service is important. Even more important is the content of the remembrance and knowing that it isn’t to be a eulogy. There is never to be a eulogy at the funeral Mass, he writes, pointing out that the rubric for the funeral rite allows for someone to speak “in remembrance of the deceased before the final commendation.”

While a eulogy is a tribute or high praise, a remembrance at a Catholic funeral is to “support the celebration’s focus on the Christian message.”

While you want to mention the background, accomplishments, family life and other aspects of the deceased’s life, “try placing these stories within the context of the faith life, generosity, spirituality and good-heartedness of the deceased. Offer thanks and praise to God for blessing the departed with the gift of life an those who know and loved him or her.” He adds: “The moment calls for words that link the person to the good things God provides to all of us.”

The three sample talks offer great ways to work faith and spirituality into a remembrance. You’ll find them touching even though you don’t know those about whom they were written.

And a final point: “The words you fashion and offer will serve to console a hurting world and honor a beloved friend. Those same words may well be remembered and referenced for many days to come.”

“To Say a Few Words: Guidelines for Those offering Words of Remembrance at a Catholic Funeral” is available for $4.95 through the publisher at http://www.actapublications.com.

 

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Voyaguer life comes alive for young readers

October 3, 2014

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20458471“Waters Like the Sky” is a quick-paced little piece of historical fiction that goes into amazing detail what life was like on the lakes and rivers of North America for the adventurous Frenchmen who sought to make their living in the fur trade.

It’s an interesting tale that the mother-daughter writing team of Nikki and the late Agnes Rajala has crafted. Aimed at an audience anywhere from middle school to early high school, it could be a good teaching tool for those trying to help young people grasp the history of the area in and around the Great Lakes on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.

With the consequences of the French Revolution as background, the story about a boy named Andre takes readers from French-speaking Canada onto the canoes of the voyaguers and into their lifestyle and traditions. What’s obvious is the painstaking research that went into the writing; the level of detail is tremendous.

How to paddle — “Do not dig! Never dig! Dip, pull and swing. And sing” — the trials of portaging, and the medicinal value of local plants are just a few of the bits of voyaguer life that are packed into the story.

The North Star Press book makes for a literary learning experience, and a religious one, too. Andre’s tasks as clerk of the voyaguer team offer a lesson, showing the value of education even in the wilderness. He prays, too, both prayers of petition and prayers of thanksgiving, and a Catholic priest plays a small but pivotal role in the drama.

For those working on the history of Minnesota, as the state requires for sixth graders, reading “Waters Like the Sky” will be a fun way to learn.

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Breuer and the Benedictines build a church

October 2, 2014

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Here’s the story of how a famous architect and the liturgy-reforming monks of St. John’s Abbey collaborated to create a very special modern church in the middle of Minnesota.

abbey church coverFor more than 50 years, motorists and passengers on I-94 some 60 miles north of the Twin Cities have seen an enormous concrete structure peeking above the treetops to the south as they near the exit for Collegeville and St. John’s University.

The flat trapezoid, the row of bells and the cross in the cutout at the top are a beacon for the modern wonder of a church below.

Now the story of how that massive architectural masterpiece came to be has been captured in a University of Minnesota Press book, “Saint John’s Abbey Church: Marcel Breuer and the Creation of a Modern Sacred Space.”

Victoria M. Young, with access to never-before-seen archives from both the abbey and the architect, tells the story of the development of the history-making worship space. Young is a professor and the chair of the art history department at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

As she gives the behind-the-scenes details of the planning for and building of the Abbey Church, Young persistently reminds readers why this worship space is architecturally significant.

Several keys to success

Nestled as it is in the middle of the country, far from the architectural centers on either coast, the Abbey Church was:

  • Designed by a famous architect, Marcel Breuer.
  • The architect collaborated with his client — the Benedictine monks at St. John’s Monastery.
  • Their collaboration called for the use modern materials, modern engineering and modern construction methods.
  • Their goal was to create a worship space for the modern Catholic liturgy, the laity-including Mass that the monks themselves had experimented with and championed as leaders in the 20th century liturgical movement.

abbey monks & architects“The collaboration between the Benedictines and Marcel Breuer and his architectural team reveals important themes in mid-century religious architecture,” Young noted.

“Central to the subject is how the building operates as a vessel for the reformed liturgy, reconciling the visions of a modern architect and the traditions of his monastic patrons.”

Liturgical leaders

Beginning in the 1920s, St. John’s had become the American center of the liturgical movement due to the passionate efforts of its monks, notably Father Virgil Michel. The reform liturgy stressed the participation of the laity in the Mass, the use of the vernacular (the language of the people instead of Latin) and the repositioning of the altar so that the priest faced the people as he led them in prayer.

The result was that Breuer designed a worship space with no pillars blocking views and no seat more than 85 feet from the altar.abbey drawing interior

“This building project announced the Benedictines as leaders of liturgical reform within monasticism and confirmed Marcel Breuer’s position as one of the most innovative architects of the mid-century,” Young wrote.

“Their relationship was an architectural collaboration of the highest level. Knowledgeable clients carefully delivered a plan for reinvigorated worship and liturgy to a skillful architect, who sensitively shaped a space to support it.”

With access to letters between Breuer and the monks and to the architect’s handwritten notes on drafts of the design plans, Young is able to answer questions such as why did the monks want Breuer, and why did Breuer want the job.

Ahead of the liturgical curve

With the project first beginning in 1953, construction started in 1958 and completed in 1961, the building of this modern worship space preceded the promulgation of the new liturgy by Pope Paul VI by several years.

“The Benedictines were looking beyond their history as they planned their church,” Young told The Catholic Spirit. “Both the monks and Breuer took a leap of faith.”

Although he was a well-regarded architect, Breuer had never designed a church, she said.

“Architects want to explore different things, different building types,” Young added. “Designing a church was really interesting to him.”

Breuer also liked the project because the commission was for a campus master plan. “He liked the scale of the project,” Young said.

And the monk’s desire for a modern church allowed for the use of modern materials, specifically concrete, just coming into fashion for architectural design after World War II.

“Breuer loved the ability to shape and create space,” Young said, “and concrete gave him the ability to do that.”

Building the Abbey Church also put St. Paul construction company McGough on the map. “Larry McGough told me that it changed their company,” Young said. The experience that McGough’s team derived from developing new ways to build and the notoriety from having built the Abbey Church set McGough on a trajectory to do other large projects.

An architect who listened

The author repeatedly pulls readers back to one point, that it was the collaboration between the Benedictines and Breuer that was crucial to the outcome.

Breuer was one of five architects with great reputations who the monks invited to Collegeville to discuss their vision for the church they wanted to build. It was April 17, 1953.

“A powerful moment occurs when Breuer comes to St. John’s and he doesn’t speak much the whole first day,” Young said.

Instead, Breuer asked questions and listened to the Benedictines about their vision for their church. That was the kind of collaborative relationship the monks sought.

“They wanted to engage a designer of great character,” Young wrote, “someone who would listen as well as inform, a designer with whom they could collaborate to create significant monastic and liturgical space that would serve their order for the coming century.”

As a result, during the three-year construction period many modifications in Breuer’s design were made because of input from the monks.

“Shaping space around the new liturgy was, for the Benedictines, central to their role in the Catholic world, and their church needed to uphold this mission,” Young noted.

The full story

“Saint John’s Abbey Church,” while underscoring the compatibility of Breuer and the Benedictines, includes no small amount of space to the tensions that rose as the project went on.

There’s significant coverage of the disagreement about who should design the most significant work of art in the building, the huge stained glass window that makes up almost the entirety of the north wall. Breuer wanted Bauhaus artist Josef Albers; the monks chose Bronislaw Bak, a
St. John’s faculty member.

abbey window“Even today,” Young pointed out, “Bak’s window is still a source of debate for the monks and scholars. “Many at Collegeville wonder how Albers’ window would have changed the space and feeling of the church.”

Nor does the book ignore that fact that not everyone likes the Abbey Church.

“Not all were ready for such a brazen statement within religious architecture,” Young pointed out.

“For many, modernism was not an appropriate building style for the Catholic faith.”

Critics used terms to describe the Abbey Church such as “devoid of beauty,” “utilitarian” and an “ecclesiastical garage.”

abbey photo of interiorOthers, however, admired it, calling the Abbey Church “the most exciting thing in church architecture since Michelangelo’s great dome,” “one of the great sacred buildings of our time” and “a milestone in the evolution of the architecture of the Catholic Church in this country.”

Young, a member of Our Lady of Angels parish in Minneapolis and a Minnesota native who grew up in Comfrey in the southwestern part of the state, said that although she specializes in modern architectural history, she appreciates more traditional church designs as well.

Church architecture typically reflects the vision of “a group of people trying to figure out what would be good for that moment,” she said. “There’s a reason why it exists.

“When people say, ‘This is not a vessel for the liturgy,’ I say, ‘Have you been there?’ ”

Related events:

  • VictoriaYoungFriday, Oct. 24, 7 p.m.: Evening Prayer in the Abbey and University Church in Collegeville, followed at 7:45 p.m. by a talk by author Victoria M. Young, “Breuer and the Benedictines: A Modern Collaboration,” in the Abbey Chapter House. Book signing and reception afterward.
  • Saturday, Oct. 25, 10 a.m.: Tour of the Abbey and University Church by Victoria M. Young. 11:15 to noon: Book signing in the St. John’s University bookstore.
  • Sunday, Nov. 16, 2 p.m.: Reading, reception and book signing in the sanctuary of Christ Church Lutheran, 3244 34th Ave. S., Minneapolis.
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Connecting St. Francis with Pope Francis

September 25, 2014

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When Saint Francis saved the ChurchTake a refresher course in what it means to be Catholic.

Read John M. Sweeney’s new book, “When Saint Francis Saved the Church.”

Sweeney packs reminders about what faith, saintliness and the life of a Christian are all about into just 156 pages of this small Ave Maria Press book (not counting acknowledgements and notes). There are highlighter-worthy phrases, sentences and paragraphs galore, great food for thought and a bounty for discussion.

Sweeney’s hook, of course, is the connection between St. Francis of Assisi and the newest Francis on the Catholic scene, Pope Francis.

Throughout he links the revolution that St. Francis started to the hope that many in the Church today, what — entertain? predict? — with the pope who chose to be the first to adapt Francis is his papal name.

Sweeney writes about Francis of Assisi, “His spiritual vision from eight centuries ago is already familiar to anyone paying attention to Pope Francis and the changing atmosphere in the Catholic Church today.” And he adds:

“Many of us are watching carefully, and participating willingly, as that edifice softens into something less predictable, more godly. If something monumental happened 800 years ago to revive the Church, then it can happen again today; and the spirit that animated the earlier conversion may be quite similar to the spirit at work in the Church today. Much depends on what we ourselves will do.”

In sharing the historical background and development of Franciscan spirituality, the book points out dozens of interesting details of Francis’ thinking, including:

  • Faith is not something done only inside the walls of the church. Instead, “Faith today is readily seen as concerned with many things other than what you believe — it includes hope, passion, family, love, story, virtue, commitment, and identity, all of which may seem more important than matters of creed.”
  • St. Francis was relatively uninterested in theological debates and creedal statements. “When he states his beliefs in his writings it is most often regarding how one is supposed to behave toward others and the created world, not a matter of pure doctrine.”
  • The Gospel is not something to believe as much as it is a vocation to a changed life.
  • For Francis  there were no “others.” He responded to each person he met as if he were already a friend, developing a simple kindness, openness, neighborliness and looking out for their needs, an approach that is part and parcel of gospel living.
  • Francis befriended without judging, noticed and responded to people’s needs and expressed love for them simply because that person had been created by a God who says that every created thing is good.
  • Contrary to the prevailing thought of his time, he didn’t see the world as evil but instead embraced it.

Not a dissenter, a nonconformist

Sweeney writes that Francis of Assisi “rebranded” the idea of sanctity. He was never a disobedient son of the Church, although he was as nonconformist who had his own priorities.

He advocated for humble dress, fasting as part of one’s regular diet, grace before meals, nonviolence, hospitality and prayer. Sweeney notes:

“He placed such a priority on personal prayer, contemplation, charity and loving-kindness because the habits of the heart are important to God, as well as to the faithful who want to know God better.”

And all these things we not just for the friars of his community but for ordinary believers. That was revolutionary during Francis’ era, when the Church felt threatened by individual expressions of faith and priests were taught that they were the primary mediators between God and their parishioners. Along with forming the Order of Friars Minor that we know as Franciscans, Francis wrote a Rule for laity — Third Order Franciscans — that included many of the principles of his Rule for the friars, plus gathering together as community, aiding the sick and caring for those who die. These practices all became to be known as spiritual acts.

Francis lived during the height of the Gothic era, when it was believed that religious people should turn away from the coarseness of the world and lift eyes and minds upward, toward the rising height of steeples and images of angels and saints, the world to come. Francis found beauty in the ordinary things of the world.

Sweeney connects St. Francis with Pope Francis in the way that both seems to be advocates of a Church that is at times unpredictable, threatening to some, a Church listening to the Spirit. Francis the pope “meets people face-to-face as equals. He touches people who might seem untouchable. He loves to laugh. He is not afraid of change.” Pope Francis, Sweeney posits, “has begun to return the Church to a Franciscan understanding of friendship, relating to the other, poverty, spirituality, care and death,” and is “leading the Church toward greater humility; revaluing poverty, especial by his own example; and preaching as a last resort to explain the values that he wants to uphold as most important for Catholics and for all people.”

Pope Francis, in Sweeney’s mind, “is calling us to recreate God’s Church to better foster the art of true gospel living.” And he writes:

“Who knows what the next few years will bring. As a Catholic who is interested in the positive role the Catholic Church can play in sanctifying the world, I’m anxious to be part of the vision that Francis realized long ago and conscious that we live in a world ready for our making today.”

 

 

 

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A gift book for budding readers and writers

September 22, 2014

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Roget coverLovers of good writing, those who chew on words, savor their sounds, relish the way they strike pictures in the mind or prompt emotions, those are the kind of people who will want to pick up “The Right Word” and buy it for all the young readers and writers they know.

Author Jen Bryant’s bright-and-tight prose fits well with this young person’s version of a biography of Peter Mark Roget, whose famous thesaurus, first printed in 1852, continues to be updated and published more than a century and a half later. It’s a life story worth knowing.

And Melissa Sweet’s creative, playful illustrations make for just as good reading as she pulls in definition after definition from Roget’s lists of the synonyms for words. When young Peter tells his mother he is “fine,” for example, Sweet’s silhouetted caricature of the boy considers if “fine” is the right word for how he feels, and bubble thoughts including possible options like “glad,” “cheerful,” “well,” “dandy,” “never better,” “splendid,” “middling,” “nice” and “happy as the day is long.”

This Eerdmans Book for Young readers is a splendid way to introduce anyone age seven and up to one of the writing world’s riches.

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Guilt: Too heavy a burden? A must-read novel

August 26, 2014

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How much guilt can you live with?

Knowing you’ve done something illegal and even hurtful, can the fact that the wrongful act also has brought joy be enough to overwhelm that guilt? And for how long?

M. L. Stedman brings those question out from hiding in the superbly written drama “The Light Between Oceans,” a New York Times bestseller that will soon come to movie screens.

Stedman’s setting of a lighthouse off the southwest coast of Australia and the small town that is its closest port takes readers to virgin literary territory. That’s always attractive, of course, to discover new lands through the written word.

But it’s the story that Stedman weaves that will grab readers’ attention and hold it for 322 pages, and the question she leads us to ask: What would we do?

The light coverOn that lonely island with the lighthouse between the Indian Ocean and the Great Southern Ocean below Australia, 100 miles from the nearest land, a married couple suffers through three miscarriages, the last very recent.

Then a dinghy washes up. In it is the body of a man. Although he’s dead, in the boat a baby cries, wrapped in a woman’s shawl. So the test begins.

Should the lighthouse keeper report this unusual event, or can the child become the baby he and his wife seem to be unable to create? Will he risk his career or, by dutifully telling the authorities about the child and the dead man, risk earning the scorn of his wife, who already has seen the baby’s arrival as a miracle from God?

Despite his misgivings, they keep the baby, pretending the wife has given birth. But how long with the charade last? How long can a person stand knowing that another woman is heartbroken and nearly insane from the loss of her infant child?

“The Light Between Oceans” is a wonderful read, a piece with both droplets of foreshadowing and unexpected turns of events, a testament to hope and prayer, an in-depth delving into joys and sorrows, into human nature and families, into life itself.

 

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A period piece you’ll relish reading

August 20, 2014

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The Time In BetweenDo you savor good writing?

The slow-moving action of “The Time In Between” perfectly fits this lengthy, detail-filled novel. It lets you soak up the lovely writing and the exquisite translation from the original Spanish into beautiful English.

It lets you absorb the tenor of the times and the emotions of characters into whose lives you’ve been dropped for 600-plus pages.

Hemingway and others have written about the Spanish civil war, of course, but Maria Duenas decorates with ornamentation, flavor and the style of the period in contrast to the straightforward, unadorned sentences of Hemingway.

Fashionistas will appreciate the detail Duenas shares as she portrays the life of the seamstress turned spy in the chaotic 1930s as Spaniards moved from their own tragic war into observers of World War II all around them.

There’s drama, mystery, romance and unexpected turns of events — all the pieces that drive readers to keep turning pages. People even pray and go to church, something rare for modern literature.

Hats off to Daniel Hahn for bringing this 2009 novel to readers of the English language. Only once did I feel as though he’d missed the mark.

Just as I was admiring the beauty of the translation, he has an old Moroccan woman threatening the suitor of the main seamstress character sounding like a thug straight from the streets of south Philadelphia. Just had to laugh.

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