An ambitious but somewhat confusing graphic novel that seeks to vindicate Teilhard’s works.

OVERKILL

THE VATICAN TRIAL OF PIERRE TEILHARD DE CHARDIN, SJ

De Terra explores the work and reputation of controversial French Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) in this debut graphic novel.

Teilhard was a divisive figure even in his own lifetime. His radical concepts of “hominization” (“the process leading to reflective life in mankind”), “noogenesis” (“the evolution of consciousness”), and “Omega” (“the point at which the universe will ultimately center upon itself and the climax of evolution”) were influential in the New Age movement, but his views on original sin led to his censure by the Vatican. With this graphic novel, de Terra presents the life of Teilhard, who died in 1955 during his de facto exile in the United States, as well as a fictional, posthumous trial at the Vatican in 2009. In the latter, the deceased Teilhard is charged with heresy and violations of canon law by conservatives who feel that his teachings may cause a schism in the church the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Reformation. Teilhard’s defenders are a pair of Jesuit priests named O’Malley and Azcona who are tasked with reconciling his teachings with Catholic orthodoxy. The story uses flashbacks of various moments in Teilhard’s life—including his experiences in World War I and his work studying Peking Man—and of other revolutionary figures in the history of the church to supplement a theological argument of great consequence, not only for the reputation of Teilhard, but also for the direction of the Catholic Church in its third millennium. The author’s father, Helmut de Terra, was a friend of Teilhard’s, and Helmut’s first wife, Rhoda, served as Teilhard’s assistant for the last years of his life. De Terra bases this graphic novel on their accounts as well as on Teilhard’s prolific letters and publications, and he pieces together scenes using direct quotes and invented dialogue. He keeps the biographical sections intriguing, although readers may wish that he had taken more time in the early pages to explain Teilhard’s concepts and what made them controversial. Instead, he merely presents scene after scene of Vatican rebuffs. The trial itself often lags as various ill-defined priests debate points of theology, and readers may never be quite sure about the stakes of the argument at hand. Additionally, the book’s blending of fact and fiction will do a disservice to many readers, as it often will be quite difficult for them to know which events actually happened and which have been invented by the author. De Terra also exaggerates the cultural influence of Teilhard, comparing him to Martin Luther and placing him on the cover of Time magazine and on T-shirts. The book’s art by Villafuerte is perhaps its greatest selling point, as the page layouts and visual pacing do much to make each spread compelling and digestible. The glossy, full-color pages make this a handsome volume even if the content isn’t quite as thrilling as it might appear on first glance.

An ambitious but somewhat confusing graphic novel that seeks to vindicate Teilhard’s works.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-63885-9

Page Count: 260

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2017

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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