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Most families have one significant story that would hearten many if it were known. Happily for us, the American author Olivia Hawker picked up one around her husband’s dining room table and enfleshed Anton Starzmann within the pages of her historical novel, The Ragged Edge of Night (2018). A humble man, Anton lays bare his conflicted soul, enters fully into the challenges that beset him, laughs and cries from the core of his being: overtures that endear him to the reader.

And yes, this is another story oozing from the wound of World War II, from 1942 to 1945, set in a backwater hamlet, 40 kilometers from bomb-strafed Stuttgart, Germany. From the opening paragraphs, tensions chilled this reader: Anton’s selflessness as former Franciscan friar, husband to Elisabeth, stepfather to her children, and the scrutiny of Herr Franke, the hamlet’s collaborator; the innocence of developmentally challenged children and their killers; the “normalcy” of the hamlet’s lifestyle within bombing range of nearby Stuttgart; Anton and the pastor’s covert resistance with the Red Orchestra that plots the death of Hitler.

Within these tensions, Anton and Elisabeth skirt the edges of their marital and parental responsibilities within their deepening relationship.

Offsetting these tensions, however, are the bronze bells ringing from the belfry of St. Kolumban’s Church—hope infusing the evil that gags them.

Two salient points emerge from this reading: the farmers’ frequent laments of not having resisted Hitler’s menace, rendering them passive and horrified. And through bartering homegrown produce and livestock at their weekly market, no one starved.

Should hard times befall us, I shudder.

 

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Jews, centuries-old enemies of Muslims, still draw the disparaging term fox, with its connotations of evil: stealth, thievery, cunning, and wanton killing. However, twenty-six year old Mohammed al Samawi from Yemen has published The Fox Hunt – A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America (2018), and through this experience, tweaked this pejorative.

Raised in Sanna, Yemen, by strict Shiite parents, Mohammed excelled in his studies, a compensation for his stroke-damaged limbs, caused when an infant. Computer skills enhanced his academic pursuits that were colored by the imams’ interpretation of the Koran; their authority was never questioned.

However in 2012, Mohammed’s beliefs were shaken when one of his professors at the Canadian Institute offered him an English bible. Shocked by its revelation of God’s compassion that also filled the pages of the Koran, he shunted his career toward international business and set out to locate a Jew while working for the NGO, Partner Aid. A year-long hunt, in secret, ensued, until he bonded with Daniel Pincus, also attending the Muslim Jewish Conference in Bosnia. There, he also met like-minded peers, intent upon creating dialogues with warring factions in their Middle Eastern countries.

However by 2015, Mohammed’s passion for peacemaking precipitated death threats on his personal cell.

It was Daniel Pincus and others on social media who helped Mohammed escape from the flames of the Shia-Sunni civil war raging near his fourth floor apartment. For thirteen harrowing days, holed up in his bathroom, he prayed and responded to emails of his own Justice Corps.

Thus Daniel became the fox as depicted in the parable ascribed to the Jewish scholar Rabbi Akiva in second-century Caesarea, with which the author concludes this riveting memoir of transformation.

 

 

“Auggh, such a sissy,” taunted my brother as his hard ball ricocheted off my catcher’s mitt, slammed into the swing seat across the yard, and rolled to a standstill on the ground. “You’ll never learn—No matter how hard I try to teach you!” Tears smarted my brown eyes. I wanted so hard to please him, even though any ball hurled in my direction caused me to hold out my hands, shut my eyes, and pray.

That experience still surfaces, but within different packaging. Instead of hard balls whistling through the air, word-projectiles sting, catch me off guard: They hurt, bad.

One example is the language wrapped around infanticide in our country. Last week legislators in the Vermont House voted 106 to 36 to legalize late-term abortions. H0057 states that women have the right to elective abortions up until birth and strips away rights of unborn babies. “A fetus shall not have independent rights under Vermont law,” so the law blithely states.

So what has happened to words, enervated of substance, homogenized for the unthinking? As long as words conform to the script of the image-makers, they pass for truth.

To return to the Vermont legislators and their heinous bill—I shudder. Every sentence evidences their jaundiced spiritual faculties, their woeful lack of imagination. Visualize their gall in spearheading this nascent effort to influence other state legislatures to do similarly.

Happily, I no longer shut my eyes and pray when nasty word-projectiles sting. They keep me fully awake and I must respond.

 

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