How Green Was My Valley
For the most part, I loved this book. It’s the story of a Welsh coal mine told by a boy grown to old manhood. Llewelyn’s command of language is masterful: he preserves as much as possible the Welsh way of speaking (and uses all original names with a pronunciation guide in the back of the book), and his work flows like a beautiful song. So is his grasp of the human experience. The lessons Huw Morgan learns from (and about) his parents, his pastor, and his friends are incredibly deep and powerful. In fact, for the first three-fourths of the book, I was convinced it would be something Tim and I would read aloud to our children. While not explicitly Christian, it is very much set in a Judeo-Christian framework, portrays strong family values, and handles some difficult questions very well. However as Huw Morgan matures, so do the issues he experiences, and the last quarter of the book becomes much more morally complex (a few specifics: Hew makes love with a young woman in the context of a very irresponsible relationship that he doesn’t seem to live to regret; the pastor that is extremely influential and respectable to Huw in his youth is implied to be having an affair that is portrayed very sympathetically). In many ways the beauty of what Huw has learned as a boy is undermined by the way he acts as a man. And he’s not alone; to some extent, the same could probably be said for all of us. Still, I was disappointed by the change in tone. Some of the problem (and I’m still not sure how much) is admittedly my own: I like seeing the world through rose colored glasses, and Llewelyn makes that impossible. However, he does not (or so it seems to me) take into account God’s perspective of Huw Morgan’s manhood in the same way he does his boyhood, and I think the book would have been more consistent to the end if he had. Still, I think it’s well worth the time as a deep, thought-provoking reflection on life.
The Buffalo Soldier
This book let me be ‘in the world, but not of it’–I got an insider’s look at sinful behavior without having to participate. I really appreciated that about Bohjalian’s writing, and it’s the main reason I would ‘recommend’ this book even though it does not even pretend to come from a Christian worldview. It was a well written tale of bad choices leading to impossible moral dilemmas (affairs, anger, deceit, excuses, self-justification), but without the (needless) sordid, graphic details of so many depictions of sin. Not a classic like How Green Was My Valley, but still a national bestseller. The book had some pretty good things to say about family and life, in the end, too; although for being so “morally complex” (from the back cover), it tied up (a little too) neatly. At least it was raising questions about morality! Although pro-life ad pro-family, the book wasn’t very pro-father. There were a few strong male figures in the book (including some heroic historical figures), but they still couldn’t quite compensate. There was a hand full of crude terms, but I can’t remember any profanities.
Dogwood is a little more dramatic than realistic (a page-turner that has depth, although I don’t think I can call it deep). It has some superb things to say about sacrificial love and forgiveness, and it says them cleanly and entertainingly. It’s published by Tyndale and thus I suppose falls under the category of Contemporary Christian Fiction. One thing that I’m seeing more and more of in Christian writing is an anti-religious-establishment sentiment. I’ve sensed it all the way from Flannery O’Conner on down, and I sense a little bit of it here in Dogwood. Now, I know that the Christian church has failed in many ways and requires some serious re-evaluation–starting within the very hearts of those who profess to follow Christ. So I understand what these authors are trying to say–it’s perhaps even a variation of the message Jesus brought to the Pharisees–but I don’t think that the correct response to the problems within the church is to make attendance/involvement in worship optional or irrelevant to one’s Christian walk. Going to church will not get you to heaven–there are many people in the pews every single week who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus–BUT still God commands us to assemble together in certain ways; true followers of Christ will strive to obey!
East of the Mountains
I checked this book out of the library when I realized that Guterson was the author of a book-turned-movie that I’d seen and enjoyed (Snow Falling On Cedars–a great film ((except for one out-of-place crude racial slur, see one of my favorite movie review sites pluggedinonline.com for more information)) that was slightly reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird). I know books and movies can be very different from one another, so I was curious to see what kind of author he was. (Incidentally, according to the dust jacket, he also wrote a book titled Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense, which predisposed me in his favor.) On the whole, I remain undecided. This particular book had about an equal number of pros and cons–it has a strong pro-life message told in a unique way, yet it’s not squeaky clean (some drugs, some crude language, some implied premarital sex); it deals with some deep themes (widowhood, suicide) yet isn’t incredibly well written. All of the other books I’ve reviewed in this post had at least one strongly redeeming quality that made them noteworthy in my mind; this one isn’t a bad or worthless book by any means–it merely failed to strike me one way or the other. I will say that I’m planning to read at least one more book by Guterson to try to help me make up my mind about him, so that means this book obviously wasn’t enough to scare me off forever!
So. That’s all for now. (Although I have a few more percolating on the brain for another post…reading is one of my most favorite hobbies!) I’d be really interested to know if any of you have read any of these books, and what you thought. Also, if anyone has any recommendations, I always appreciate those as well!