Tuesday, December 22, 2020


I've recently read two books lent to me by someone who tends to choose some things I might like or that could offer a different type of reading. I believe I've said before, some choices end up being a lot more interesting than others. 

The following two were by different authors but both touched the theme of religion, one more than the other. One is fiction and the other non-fiction. I had read Paulo Coelho before, I liked two of his most known books quite a lot but I tried others which weren't as compelling. The non fiction was unfamiliar to me although I had found the theme mentioned in other books.

I'll just leave a few sentences on each one but it's the kind of books I probably won't be re-thinking about that much in the future, since the content - apart from the basics - wasn't that memorable.


A stranger arrives at the remote village of Viscos, carrying with him a backpack
Portuguese cover

containing a notebook and eleven gold bars. He comes searching for the answer to a question that torments him: Are human beings, in essence, good or evil? In welcoming the mysterious foreigner, the whole village becomes an accomplice to his sophisticated plot, which will forever mark their lives.
A novel of temptation by the internationally bestselling author Paulo Coelho, The Devil and Miss Prym is a thought-provoking parable of a community devoured by greed, cowardice, and fear—as it struggles with the choice between good and evil.

Comment: In this book we meet a cast of characters playing a game to prove how much they give in to temptation and evil. A stranger arrives at a small village and puts into motion a situation where it seems there's no way out but for someone to be guilty of a crime. Or can the goodness in people prevail? I found this to be a very predictable tale, written in the usual style of the author but unlike other books, this was a little bit more preachy when it comes to his ideas of religion/spirituality. The characters had a background for the most pat but I still found them dull and unappealing. For devoted fans, I'm certain this worked out well but in my opinion this was just average.

Grade: 5/10

A MISFILED DOCUMENT discovered accidentally in the archives of the Third Reich by a young historian working on his doctorate was the genesis of this book. It was a dispatch from the German embassy at the Vatican, stating that Pius XII had requested a special concert performance of the Berlin Opera Company in Rome. The date was March, 1941, by which time the Nazis' practice of euthanasia in mental hospitals, their oppression of Poland, and their segregation policy against the Jews were widely known. Saul Friedlander asked for the other Vatican files in the Wilhelmstrasse, and eventually decided to publish a collection of documents. Many of these were unavailable even to the author of The Deputy, the play that has aroused a continuing international controversy over the silence of Pope Pius XII in face of the Nazi mass murders.
Portuguese cover

Among these documents, most of which are secret German dispatches between the Vatican and the Reich Foreign Office, are the original, harrowing Kurt Gerstein eyewitness report of concentration camp gassings; a moving letter from Eugene Cardinal Tisserant about the fall of France; a fruitless appeal to the Pope for a few words of moral support from the President of the Polish Government-in-Exile, and another from the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem; the Vatican's official statement on race, and many others. While this book cannot possibly present completely a story which is still unfolding, it offers primary historical evidence, linked with terse, objective comments by the author, in a lasting contribution to the record. It is, at the same time, a moving, exciting, and suspenseful (even though the outcome is known) account of a contemporary tragic dilemma.

Comment: For a long time, many have wondered how Pius XII, the pope who dealt with the changes in Europe during WWII, had maintained such a low profile when it was becoming more and more obvious the kind of atrocities the Nazis were perpetuating. Should the fact the man who had always loved the German culture couldn't now, as pope, publicly denounce the crimes for some reason? I found this an interesting read, the author is an expert on the theme and he has supported the content included with reliable sources. Basically, this is the chronology of what happened and the content is the letter exchanges between several entities, including the Vatican, on what was going on in Europe. Is this valuable content? Without a doubt! However, I expected more conclusions to be met but it seems that, even with all the things said in this book, it's still not possible to reach absolute conclusions on the pope's motivations. This feels a little redundant if one can't have more precise information or closure. Nevertheless, what is obvious from the pope's letters is already disturbing.

Grade: 6/10

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