On Living by Kerry Egan (Penguin Life, £12.99). Egan, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and a hospice chaplain, has written an uplifting book on the lessons of life revealed to her by her terminally ill patients. Describing their stories as the “spiritual work of dying”, she records the hopes, regrets, sorrows and wishes of these men and women as they attempt to reflect and make sense of their past while poised on the threshold of eternity. One of her patients, Gloria, told her earnestly: “The Holy Spirit sent you to me. Maybe [my stories] could help someone.”
The Holocaust: A New History by Laurence Rees (Viking, £25). Although the facts in this narrative aren’t new, the author has brought together the different strands of the developing Nazi strategy against the Jews of Europe: these included exile, then expulsion, then containment, then slave labour, all leading up to the “Final Solution”. Using original interview material from Holocaust witnesses, this history deserves to be re-told, if only to remind us that a supposedly civilised country can become depraved under a perfect storm of particular circumstances.
The Sleeping Witness by Fiorella De Maria (Ignatius Press, £12). A murder, a Benedictine priest and long-buried secrets linked to World War II are just some of the ingredients in this exciting new novel by Catholic author Fiorella De Maria. Taking her cue from GK Chesterton’s Father Brown, the author introduces us to an unlikely detective in kindly, unassuming Father Gabriel, who thought that “like a soldier … a monk should carry around with him only what he truly needs”. Deftly describing a small village of inhabitants whose later lives are still overshadowed by the War, De Maria has produced a gripping crime story.
The Half-Shilling Curate: A Personal Account of War and Faith 1914-1918 by Sarah Reay (Helion, £19.99). While there has been a plethora of books about the First World War during this centenary period, this one offers a fresh and intriguing twist as it focuses on the Rev Herbert Butler Cowl, a Wesleyan army chaplain for most of the war. Using an assortment of the chaplain’s own personal letters, photos and writings, Reay vividly illustrates the pressures of war, and of being divided between faith in serving God and the needs of the army. Beautifully put together, this is much more than a mere testimony of the power of belief amid the hell of Flanders.
The Good Bohemian edited by Rebecca John and Michael Holroyd (Bloomsbury, £25). These letters of Ida John, wife of the painter Augustus John, which have been co-edited by her granddaughter, show the emotional struggles of a young Edwardian woman caught up in a passionate relationship with a man who was later to share her with his mistress, Dorelia. She died aged 30 of puerperal fever after the birth of her fifth son. Her letters show her generosity of spirit as well as how hard it was to accept her husband’s womanising.
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