Pope Nobody the Great

In Stemmle’s novel, the first black pope appoints a seemingly ordinary, long-married Catholic American couple to promote a worldwide interfaith peace initiative.
 
This Roman Catholic what-if isn’t as somber (and long) as Morris West’s best-seller of yesteryear Shoes of the Fisherman (1963), though folks with long memories may find some parallels. One distinction: Stemmle revisits the long-married, sexually active senior couple Don and Deb from his Geezer Sex!...A Love Story (2014), here on a very different mission. In the near future, the death of a (post-Francis) pope inspires the Vatican hierarchy to announce the surprise election of the first African pontiff, former Cardinal Peter Mbuti of Nigeria. Liberal-minded churchgoers and laity activists Deb and Don impressed Mbuti during an encounter earlier in his ministry. Now, using his papal authority, earthy, unpretentious Peter—who swears and munches junk food and admits he doesn’t really know what he’s doing in this new job—summons the two Americans to Rome. There, “Pope Nobody,” as he comes to call himself, orders the two to use their knack for communication and bridge-building in an interfaith effort to unite representatives in the three great monotheistic religions—Christianity, Islam and Judaism—as part of a concerted attempt to quell the world’s ongoing wars, most of which seem to spring from religion (particularly an awful lot involve Muslim radicals). The results, building up to Vatican III, are somewhat static, via descriptions of a series of globe-trotting meetings and clerical conferences. But characters are well drawn, not just walking bundles of op-ed pieces, as they converse extensively on religious differences and how to use faith to defang the most violent fringes of radical Islam. To Stemmle’s credit, there is no fairy-tale ending or miracle-mongering finale, just a glimmer of hope. For what it’s worth, other hot-button issues such as abortion and homosexuality get left behind.
 
An instructional narrative keyed to those tolerant worshippers who might sport a COEXIST bumper sticker.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5117-7688-2

Page Count: 344

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2015

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THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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