I’ve found a fine old novel by a writer hitherto unknown to me. I can’t recall where I heard about the book or the author, but I checked the Spokane Library and the book was there so I requested it. It’s called A LEGACY and it was written by Sybille Bedford and published in 1956. It takes place in pre-WW I Germany.
It came home from the library yesterday along with some other, more immediately compelling books like the new biography, HERSHEY: Milton S Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams (2006), by Michael D’Antonio; an E X Ferrars mystery, LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT (1978); and THE WORKS: Anatomy of a City (2005), by Kate Ascher. The last, by the way, is a fascinating (and excellently illustrated) analysis of the transportation, communication, sewer, garbage, and power systems of NY City.
I picked up A LEGACY this morning because I was immobilized with Miss Woodhouse in my lap (I’m too soft-hearted to move a sleeping cat) and the book was to hand.
To begin with those testimonials you find in the front of paperbacks are a little out of the ordinary. Here are the first two:
“One of the very best novels I have ever read.” – Nancy Mitford
“A book of entirely delicious quality.” – Evelyn Waugh
Miford and Waugh think the book is first rate? For me this is like Ted Williams flacking Corn Flakes to a 12-year-old.
And I think they may be right. The novel grabbed me from the first paragraph and won’t let go. From the book cover:
“The Kaiser’s Germany is the setting of this, Sybille Bedford’s first and best-known novel, in which three families – one from solid, upholstered Jewish Berlin, the others from the somnolent, agrarian Catholic south – become comically, tragically, irrevocably intertwined. ‘Each family,’ writes the author, ‘stood confident of being able to go on with what was theirs, while in fact they were playthings, often victims, of the now united Germany and what was brewing therein.’”
The books on my Lenten Reading short list include two books by Elaine Pagels, THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS (1979) and BEYOND BELIEF: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2003.) Also suggested were GOLDEN MOUTH: The Story of John Chrysostom—Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop (1995), FATHER JOE: The Man Who Saved My Soul (2004), and LIFE TOGETHER: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community (1954), by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Unfortunately, I don’t own any of these books and the library isn’t forthcoming with those I have requested.
So I have looked at some of the books I do own. I have two books by Hans Kung, but ON BEING A CHRISTIAN (1974) is 720 pages long, and DOES GOD EXIST? An Answer for Today (1978) is 838 pages. I also considered MORAL MAN AND IMMORAL SOCIETY: A Study of Ethics and Politics (1932) by Reinhold Niebuhr, which is short, but exceedingly dense. I know Lenten Reading isn’t supposed to be light going, but flagellation went out with the Spanish Inquisition.
I looked briefly at THE CHRISTIANS AS THE ROMANS SAW THEM (1984) by Robert L Wilkin, CHRISTIANIZING THE ROMAN EMPIRE (AD 100-400) (1984) by Ramsay MacMullen, and THE FIRST URBAN CHRISTIANS: The Social world of the Apostle Paul (1983) by Wayne A Meeks. Those I put in Box 101 with PAGANS AND CHRISTIANS to be read, perhaps together, another year.
Wilhelm suggested a book by his late friend, Jim Kittelson, LUTHER THE REFORMER: The Story of the Man and His Career (1986.) That was very tempting.
Finally, I found JESUS THROUGH THE CENTURIES: His Place in the history of Culture (1985) by Jaroslav Pelikan and MERE MORALITY: What God Expects of Ordinary People (1983) by Lewis B Smedes.
After a lot of thought I’ve decided to read both the Pelikan and Smedes books. One is a history of Christian doctrine and the other is a guide to ethics. They have about 400 pages between them, and divided into the 40 days of Lent that is 10 pages a day, which seems about right.