Friday, March 19, 2010

"The Knights of Rhodes"

I finished "The Knights of Rhodes".   It involves swords and diameters of canon balls, etc. as well as God;  this might very well be your type of thing.   The characters and their words live in my mind now, and with Bo Giertz putting it together, that's really worth it.

See the book again here and do note that the first review you can view was done by "simul", which is me, :) (that is simul justus et peccator, of course).  You can buy the book on Amazon or borrow mine.  You can also purchase it from the publisher.

This was my review:

Bo Giertz, Swedish Bishop, must have been a wonderful pastor and shepherd of souls, on top of being a first rate theologian and a humble Christian himself. As in the "Hammer of God", in "The Knights of Rhodes" he combines narrative with history, theology, soul care and worship in his own unique way of writing a novel. Of all this mingling of strands and lines of thought, Giertz' understanding of human beings in relation to God and His comfort, is his most profound contribution. Through the characters we learn something about ourselves, how we view ourselves, how we related to each other and how we can find strength and forgiveness in God's word and sacrament.

The story is set in the Eastern Mediterranean in the early 16th century, where we learn initially of the death of the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitallers in the fortress on the island of Rhodes. The new Grand Master is elected and prepares to do battle with the Turkish invaders. Many details are provided regarding the preparation for and conduct of the hostilities. Many characters are introduced. Many of them are true historic figures; all of them occupy different positions and stations, which teach us about the way the society on Rhodes worked. Through the characters we are introduced to many types of conflicts, issues and fears and the way people tried to resolve them.

I did find that I needed to read the book twice to catch all the different characters and their conflicts sufficiently well enough. There is so much material introduced with not much introduction and quick change of scene, that one needs to be a little patient and prepared to spend enough time absorbing the events and personalities. As someone told me, the book is a "Masterpiece". Like with any masterpiece, you discover more layers and depth with each reading. Many parts of the dialogues could be memorized because they are profound. Again, they gain in this profundity for the reader when one understands the characters well enough. Many of them only come onto the scenes twice or so, and you have to remember what was going on with them and spend some time thinking.

One of my favorite characters is the War Judge, who is in charge of torturing people for the Knights. He is a cultured man who loves to practice his beautiful, studied Latin, but seems to catch no ironies related to his work, life and point of view. Even as he is driven from Rhodes, he is speaking Latin filled with superlatives "sagacissimi", "crudelissimi". Yet, he does not understand. -- We can be so blind. But then, how could he be any different and still torture people as his life's work?

The Grand Master is a very special figure, almost Christ-like, relying on the Father, God's word and still betrayed in a Judas-like fashion. In the end his formation is complete. He sacrificed his ambition for the people. The translator summarized the whole story as a narrative of the theology of the cross. We see it most plainly in the Grand Master.

I should not give it all away. There are many more characters, introduced often in a sketch-like fashion. And yet we learn something deep or ironic about each of them, which teaches us also about ourselves and God.

Throughout the story, we also are provided images of the nature of the weapons, the fortification, the warfare, the Islamic enemy and the life and point of view of the Knights. One finds oneself wanting to learn more about the crusades to get a better background.

All of Bo Giertz' books deserve reading because of their depth of understanding of the human condition, of sinfulness, of suffering, of Christ's completed saving work on behalf of mankind, of right care of souls and right teaching and worship. I am a little familiar with writing that has been translated into the German language. We can be grateful that this book "The Knights of Rhodes" is now available in English.


Steve Martin said...

I will get a copy (sooner or later).

I hear the translator is quite the fellow!

Brigitte said...

Well, did you AT LEAST read the review?