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

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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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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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