For an-end-of-the-summer escape into fiction, look no further than two recent novels from Ignatius Press: Tobit’s Dog ($19.95) by North Carolina native Michael Nicholas Richard and The Leaves are Falling ($19.95) by British author Lucy Beckett. Both offer absorbing stories, clear writing and theological questions.
Tobit’s Dog: 4 out of 5 stars
Tobit’s Dog re-introduces one of the most mysterious Old Testament books to the modern reader. The story follows Tobit and his family, black Catholics in the Jim Crow south, through suffering and faithfulness. After Tobit is struck with blindness and injustice, a stranger appears. Claiming to be a distant relative, Ace Redbone carries word from a successful cousin that he would like to repay Tobit’s earlier loan. Tobit’s son, Tobias, travels with Ace to meet the cousin as this news comes at an opportune moment for the family. The pair hitchhike through the North Carolina woods.
Those familiar with the Book of Tobit won’t be surprised by an incident with a fish or a love interest that arises, but much of the rich detail of the novel will still surprise. In addition to the primary narrative that closely follows the biblical story, a Southern tale of injustice unfolds. In fact, the death of a young boy, seemingly by lynching, sets the entire story in motion. The mysterious circumstances surrounding his death are revealed even as Tobias’s romance with the beautiful Sarah grows.
Finally, dog-lovers won’t be disappointed in Okra, Tobit’s dog, who journeys with Tobias and Ace. Richard excels in describing Okra. Anyone familiar with dogs will delight in the accuracy and familiarity in the language.
The Leaves are Falling: 4 out of 5 stars
History lovers will revel in the story of Joseph Halpern, a young musician living in the English countryside at the close of World War II. Joseph lives in the safety of a landed estate, training horses for a family that spends most of their time in London. The security fits uneasily with the sorrows and dangers of his past. He comes from Vilna –a city of Poland at the start of the war and of Lithuania when it ended –rendering Joseph a boy without a homeland. Orphaned by the Russians and left homeless by the Nazis, he survives much of the war in the forest. Despite the kindness of his employers, Joseph is isolated by his past experiences.
The novel follows Joseph as he enters adulthood and navigates life as an Eastern European Jew in post-war London. The story brings to light political, moral and religious questions. In the course of the novel, Joseph speaks to a communist German about the Soviet Union and witnesses a kind German soldier make a life for himself in rural England. He talks to English gentlemen who don’t understand the danger he would face if he returned to his home city, and to a Polish officer about Jews in Poland. He once again faces danger when Lithuanians join his work team.
Throughout it all, Joseph learns to pray, attempting to understand his relationship with his father as well as his father’s relationship with God.
While World War II is a much-visited historical event, the details presented in the novel will be new to many readers, illuminating a distinct aspect of that complex event, including the realities of goodness amidst grave evil.