As old as time itself, the promise of heaven continues to enchant our spirits and define our lives on Earth. It is also the source of inspiration for many of the world's greatest poems and writings. Thankfully, editor Carol Zaleski and husband Philip Zaleski (editor of Parabola
magazine and The Best Spiritual Writing series) realized the potential for this sweeping and beautiful anthology. Drawing from ancient myths, classic poems, everyday prayers, and even some high comedy, this collection manages to straddle the balance between reverence and irreverence. For example, reverence seeps from the stunning "Iroquois Mother's Lament" recorded in the 19th century as she speaks over the body of her son, promising a reunion in the home of their maker. Irreverence comes in tasteful waves, such as in an excerpt from Mark Twain's Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven
, where the frustrated captain has difficulty mastering his blasted wings.
Despite the variety of voices, traditions, and time periods represented (a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale stands beside a passage from South India's "Bhagavata Puraba"), the anthology hangs together, mostly due to the editors' thoughtful introductions and organization. Naturally, readers will come to this book with high expectations, but like its subject matter, The Book of Heaven delivers all that it promises. --Gail Hudson
From Publishers Weekly
Carol Zaleski, a professor of religion at Smith College, and husband Philip, editor of Harper San Francisco's Best Spiritual Writing series, have compiled a remarkable collection of writings about heaven. Heaven, the Zaleskis tell us, has belonged to theologians and priests; the Bible, ancient Greco-Roman myths and other sacred texts all tell the faithful something about what happens after death. But artists and literati have shaped our picture of heaven no less than the clergy, with Botticelli, Donne and others painting pictures and writing poems about the pearly gates. Nor is heaven just a Western fixation--Hindus, Confucians and Buddhists have also written, painted and sung about the afterlife. The editors draw on all these traditions, taking the reader from the opening of Dante's Paradise to Carl Jung's description of a near-death experience, from Cardinal Newman's discussion of the Virgin Mary's ascension into heaven to the Sutra of the Land of Bliss. Readers who find the likes of Newman too serious will enjoy Mark Twain's mocking Extract from Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven. If those selections are somewhat predictable, other readings are less familiar. Among the Zaleskis' more unusual finds is an excerpt from the chemist Robert Hare's 1858 book Experimental Investigation of the Spirit Manifestations, Demonstrating the Existence of Spirits and Their Communion with Mortals, in which Hare, assisted by a medium, summoned the spirits of George and Martha Washington and Henry Clay; the spirits then gave Hare an insider's view of the heavens. Regardless of how readers envision the hereafter, they are sure to enjoy this delightful collection in the here and now. (Apr.)
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