Escape Routes by Johann Christoph Arnold (Plough Publishing, £9.99). First published 15 years ago, this thoughtful book by a well-known pastor of the Bruderhof Community explores the hope offered by the Gospels to those “who feel trapped in life’s hells”. Combining his own experience of growing up in a remote community in South America with the apostolic work of people such as Dorothy Day, Arnold offers a distinctive evangelical voice to those struggling with memories of abuse and other psychological wounds. “Will we choose to love or not? Everything else pales beside this crucial question,” the author concludes.
From Hus to Luther: Visual Culture in the Bohemian Reformation by Katrina Hornickova (Brepols, £70). The notion of every last Hussite being addicted to iconoclasm during the 15th century is hard to dislodge but, as this splendid volume reveals, violence against religious art was only a marginal aspect of late medieval Bohemia’s culture. The chapters here explore the Hussite tradition. The gap between theological pronouncements and local religious practice is highlighted and a subject that rarely gets much of a mention in broader histories is brought into sharper focus.
Joan Chittister by Tom Roberts (Orbis/Alban Books, £20). Describing this biography as Chittister’s “journey from certainty to faith”, Tom Roberts charts the events that took this woman from her Benedictine convent and wearing her religious habit to the forefront of women’s rights and to becoming an eloquent advocate for justice and peace. Chittister admits that staying in the Church is “full of pain, frustration, disillusionment and far too often, even humiliation”. But she stays in, she says, because “the sexist Church I love needs women for its own salvation”.
The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil (Picador, £14.99). Long regarded as one of the triptych of great modernist novels, alongside Joyce and Proust’s, Musil’s epic is also the least read. That is a shame, as it’s the most readable. Picador has done a fine job in producing this rare single-volume edition, making it perhaps a little less daunting. Set in the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian empire, this “plotless” novel revolves around the celebrations of the Emperor’s 70th year on the throne. Writing during the Second World War, Musil, relentlessly ironic and arch, lashes out at the old Europe burning in flames outside his window.
The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £10.99). Following his two superb books on Stalin, Montefiore takes on the entire Romanov dynasty. With 20 tsars or tsarinas, the Romanovs have firmly cast their shadow on modern Russian history. Montefiore begins with the Rurikid tsars, of which the most famous was Ivan the Terrible. We then move from the club-wielding reformer Peter the Great to his grandson Peter III, who was so hopelessly insane that his wife, Catherine the Great, had him assassinated. This is a brilliant look at power, privilege and statecraft.
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