SAINTS AND VILLAINS by Denise Giardina

SAINTS AND VILLAINS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Giardina, whose previous novels Storming Heaven (1987) and The Unquiet Earth (1992) offered thoughtful, provocative considerations of the struggles of American labor, surpasses herself with this powerful re-creation of the life and martyrdom of German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (190645), who participated in a plot to kill Hitler and was executed at Buchenwald in the waning days of the war. In a crisp, flexible style that skillfully alternates past and present tense, Giardina creates a compelling image of a pampered boy whose gentle nature was indulged by his prosperous family (and was nurtured by Dietrich's closeness to his twin sister, Sabine). Despite his inability to become a conventional believer, the boy grew up convinced of the morality of religious observance, and this lavishly developed story gives detailed attention to Dietrich's studies at New York's Union Theological Seminary (with Reinhold Niebuhr), his horrified encounter with American racism, his pastorates in England (where he befriended T.S. Eliot) and Germany (where he was endangered when his increasing criticisms of Nazism climaxed in the ultimatum that his countrymen choose ``Germanism or Christianity''), his service in German Military Intelligence, during which he worked against his superior officers, and a long period of imprisonment and interrogation prior to his death. This was a life lived very much in the world, and Giardina characterizes in moving depth the two women Dietrich loved and lost, as well as a vivid host of confederates and enemies, including the cautiously accommodating pastor Martin Niemîller, and the SS officer and later Judge Advocate Alois Bauer, a brilliantly imagined character whose cat-and-mouse games with his prisoner give the story a tremendous climactic charge. Giardina has the gift of making intellectual argument excitingly dramatic, this time with a dozen or more passionate exchanges in which the fate of civilization and the responsibilities of citizens are memorably debated. A big novel in every sense of the word, and a triumphant portrayal of one of the century's authentic heroes.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-393-04571-4
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1998




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