In 1549, Jesuit priest Francis Xavier, two companions, and a Japanese translator entered Japan, seeking to bring the Gospel into those islands. Within 30 years, some 150,000 Japanese had become Catholics. The Church continued to grow until the early part of the seventeenth century, when Japanese Shoguns began a series of persecutions, torturing and executing many Christians, and forcing tens of thousands to apostatize.
Some 30 years ago or so, William Styron — the acclaimed author of novels like The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice — visited the University of Virginia, the setting for some of his first novel, Lie Down In Darkness. I was living in Charlottesville and decided for the first and only time in my life to stand in line and have an author sign a book for me.
This is a monumental work. Ann Miller Woodford has gathered an astonishing amount of information, including old letters, church records, unpublished and previously published histories, mementos and dairies. She has spent some seven years, visiting family elders, cemeteries and the abandoned sites of churches, factories and villages.
There aren’t many successful horror fiction writers who are described as comical and/or whimsical. The terms seem incompatible. You don’t expect to discover that your vampire tale is full of snickers and puns. Besides, it is a rare gift to find a writer who can combine humor with gore; terror and giggles. Well, Robert Shearman can. In fact, he have a half-dozen popular titles out in England, and now his reputation has spread to America. Saddle up, folks! This is going to be fun.
We Americans are noted for our ignorance of world geography.
Few of us, I imagine, could distinguish Iraq from Iran on a map of the Middle East. Few of us could inform some inquisitive soul of the terrain of Afghanistan, though we have now spent years fighting wars there. Most of us, one would hope, could locate Mexico on a map, but what about Ecuador or Bolivia?
In recent years, I have been surprised to learn that it possible for books to win prestigious awards, honors and endorsements of major literary critics only to abruptly disappear long before they reach the shelves of a bookstore. However, sometimes literary entities like the New York Times objects to this abrupt dismissal of what was judged to be a “significant work.” What happened? Frequently, an author or critic appears and attempts to giving worthy works “a second chance.”
As some readers of this column may know, I have spent the past six weeks in Europe, specifically the British Isles and Italy. Below is an accounting, by way of lists and some short reviews, of books carried here, bought here, read here, and left here.
In recent years, literary works that are classified as “investigative reporting” have not only become best sellers, but have lingered on the shelves for decades. Examples are Capote’s In Cold Blood, Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song and Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter-Skelter. All were in-depth non-fiction works that go under the classification of “crime fiction.”
So, Scout (Jean Louise) comes back home to Maycomb — where “everyone is either kin or almost kin”— at age 26 and after being “away” and living in New York City for several years. Sixteen years have gone by since we last heard from her in the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird, and the Maycomb she comes home to isn’t the same Maycomb we know from the 1960 novel.
When we think of American writers living and working overseas, most of us turn to those authors who lived in Paris. We recollect Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, that fine account of his life in Paris in the 1920s; we imagine Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald making the rounds to such bars as La Rotonde and Les Deux Magots; we conjure up Gertrude Stein; we think of Sylvia Beach’s bookshop Shakespeare & Co., later brought back to life by George Whitman. We think of Henry Miller drifting in Paris in the 1930s and of writers from the 1950s and 1960s like James Jones and James Baldwin.