by Darcy O'Brien ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 3, 1998
Intended for a wide audience, this tribute to John Paul II, via a Polish-Jewish friend, verges on the literary equivalent of a dashboard saint. Known for his engaging accounts of true-life crimes (he won an Edgar for Power to Hurt, 1996), O'Brien here celebrates the opposite end of the moral spectrum in the person of the reigning pope. O'Brien wants to show that, hidden behind the image of ""moral scourge"" that ""secular intellectuals"" have laid over the pope, is a tireless worker for redress of Christian anti-Semitism. Largely through diaries of and interviews with John Paul II's Jewish friend since childhood, Jerzy Kluger, who now lives in Rome, O'Brien tells the story of youthful good will between the young Karol (Lolek) Wojtyla, and the Jews of his hometown, Wadowice, Poland; their shared suffering under the Nazi occupation; the pope's historic visit in April 1986 to Rome's Great Temple; and the slow process of talks, quietly promoted by Kluger, that culminated in the Vatican's official recognition of Israel in December 1994. O'Brien acknowledges the widespread impression of Polish anti-Semitism and, especially in his evocations of childhood scenes in Wadowice--one of these shows young Lolek responding enthusiastically to a cantorial concert in the local synagogue--helps to mitigate it. But serious students of Jewish-Christian relations will be disappointed with this sometimes chatty friendship story, which is more assertively Polish-Catholic than it needs to be. When O'Brien calls the French Jewish historian Jules Isaac ""the progenitor of all contemporary re-examinations and re-evaluations of Judaism in the time of Christ,"" because of his influence on Vatican thought, he ignores the earlier scholarship along the same lines of the Anglican clergyman James Parkes; and Jewish readers will squirm over the descriptive ""Polish-American"" applied to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. As for the pope, filtered here through others' adoring eyes, he remains as ""publicly aloof,"" in the author's words, as his office demands.
Pub Date: April 3, 1998
Page Count: 350
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1998
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