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World Magazine Book Review

Four novels

by Caleb Nelson

August 19, 2017

Doula: A Story of Love

by Teri Ong

This John Bunyan–style allegory describes without mushiness the romance between Christ and the individual soul. Doula (Greek for “slave”) narrates the tale of a servant girl in Satan’s household who hears a knock on her door and opens it to find a white-robed shepherd named Soter (Greek for “Savior”) with eyes like flames of fire. Christians will see themselves in Doula, and the book’s depiction of Soter—an extraordinarily difficult thing to do well—is just right. Sin, temptation, and evangelism are beautifully allegorized here, too. Ong recounts only a half-dozen key episodes from Doula’s life. Most readers will want more.

Stars in the Grass

by Ann Marie Stewart

Nine-year-old Abby McAndrews narrates the desolation that grips her family when her 3-year-old brother is killed by a car. Her father, the pastor of Bethel Springs Presbyterian Church (“BS Pres” for short), withdraws. Her mother moves out, and her 15-year-old brother turns to alcohol. If losing a child is your greatest fear, Stewart’s novel will administer some shock therapy. The book contains heavy doses of humor and hope, but its struggles are real. In the prologue, Abby hints about the time her family “crossed a crevasse of pain.” To read Stars in the Grass is to cross it with them.

General Escobar’s War: A Novel of the Spanish Civil War

José Luis Olaizola

Olaizola’s novel was published in Spain in 1983 but not translated into English until last year—probably because the novel presupposes readers’ knowledge of Spain’s geography and the events of the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War. Those unfamiliar local details fade into the background, because the book is really a profile of Gen. Antonio Escobar (1879-1940), a devout Catholic and man of honor trying to do the right thing as his country falls into chaos. Escobar was a historical person who fought fascism and lost. This fictionalized journal proves him, vulnerabilities and all, to be worth remembering.


Robert Harris

Who will be the next pope? Harris’ expert plotting shapes the angling, maneuvering, and even voting into a first-class political thriller. But the ending left me feeling cheated. He makes the new pope a holy person who’s faced evil and overcome it, yet was born intersex and thus is genetically female. Yes, a woman who was born looking male could end up in church leadership. But it’s wrong to imply, as Harris does, that since a few people suffer from a medical condition that makes their sex hard to determine, sex differences don’t matter.


Canadian doctor Patrick Taylor’s “Irish Country” books will interest fans of Rosamunde Pilcher, Maeve Binchy, or Jan Karon. Set in the village of Ballybucklebo in the 1960s, the novels feature Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, much-younger doctor Barry Laverty, and quirky villagers and their medical problems. The novels are best read in order because the characters change over time. Christianity figures in some of the stories and is important to some characters, though neither O’Reilly nor Laverty are believers. An Irish Doctor in Love and at Sea (Forge Books, 2015) is No. 10 in the series. It alternates in time between WWII, when O’Reilly was a young naval doctor and newlywed, and the 1960s when he’s remarried and dealing with painful memories. Although the book has lots of interesting stuff about WWII, the characters could be confusing if you haven’t read at least one of the earlier books. —Susan Olasky



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