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Brendan: A Novel Paperback – May 16, 2000
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From Publishers Weekly
An artistic triumph to rivalthe award-winning Godric and Buechner's other outstanding works, this novel about St. Brendan the Navigator reads like inspired biography. Finn, Brendan's friend, recounts events from the saint's birth in 484 until his death at age 94. The chronicle convincingly recreates Ireland of the times and, even more impressively, the many people involved with Brendan: Bishop Erc, "weaned from druidry by the sainted Patrick," at the sound of whose name "the angels wet their holy breeches," and Maeve, the warrior woman whose spit cracks a stone in half, are just two of the company Finn brings to vigorous life. From Brendan himself, the reader learns about the wonders and disappointments of his fabulous sea voyages in search of Tir-na-n-Og, "Promised Land of Saints." Ribald humor, piercing sorrows and miraculous moments join seamlessly in Buechner's latest literary feat.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Ribald humor, piercing sorrows, and miraculous moments join seamlessly in Buechner's literary feast."--"Publishers Weekly""Strikingly convincing...sinewy and lyrical."--"New York Times Book Review""A grand, gaudy tale."--"The Atlantic""Exuberant...proves the power of faith to lift us up, to hold us straight, to send us on again."--"Washington Post Book World""A lusty, bawdy, teeming, festooning, dancing marvel of a book for anyone who cares about Ireland or Christianity or paganism or history or sailing or--reading."--Thomas Cahill, "Los Angeles Times Book Review"
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Brendan's story is related here by his long-time friend and travelling companion Finn -- excepting for a section of the book that deals with Brendan's first voyage, from whom Finn is excluded by the mishap of falling overboard as the ship leaves Ireland. This part of the story is related through Brendan's written accounts of that time.
Taken from his parents soon after he was born by Bishop Erc, a relation, and placed into the hands of the Abbess Ita for the purposes of his education and upbringing, Brendan seems destined for a rich spiritual life from an early age. Forever seeking to grow closer to God, he takes as a quest the search for the earthly Paradise -- Tir na nOg (The land of the Young) of Irish legend. He makes two sea voyages in search of this blessed land -- his adventures are many, as are the epiphanies experienced by him along the way. On his second voyage, legend has it that he may have reached as far west as Florida -- predating even Lief Ericsson's discovery of America by 400 years or so.
Brendan's spiritual struggles are even more arduous than his seafaring ones. An earth-bound human being, he is frought with contradictions -- as are we all -- and his battle to rationalize them with his deep-seeded faith is not one without its casualties, both within him and among his earthly companions. He is wracked by guilt and sorrow as a result of the choices he makes in his life -- and his search for meaning, and for ways to serve God, continue until his death.
On page 216-17 of the novel he comes to a seemingly simple thought -- but one that is deceiving in its simplicity, an all-encompassing flame burning at the spiritual heart of our life's purpose. He is in a conversation with a Welsh monk who is obsessed with transcribing the sins of the world to paper. Gildas, the monk, says 'When the Day of Judging comes, there'll be so many sinners running about some may escape the flames altogether. My work is to set their names down here with all their sins written after them so the angels don't let a single solitary one slip through their fingers.' Brendan is saddened by this focus on man's evil -- his work, as he sees it, is more to help the poor folk, to offer aid and succor where he can. The following portions of his conversation with Gildas is moving and poignant: '(God) wants each of us to have a loving heart. When all's said and done, perhaps that's the length and breadth of it...To lend each other a hand when we're falling. Perhaps that's the only work that matters in the end.'
Brendan passes through -- and witnesses -- much suffering, as well as joy, in his life. He has come to be honored and revered as a saint for the works he did, for the life he lived. He would have ridiculed this elevation, most assuredly -- to his final breath, he considered himself a 'black-hearted sinner' -- but his example is one that can be followed...not one of a perfect man (for none of us can claim that), but of one who reached beyond his imperfections to embrace those around him with the love that dwells within us.
Buechner's novel is a joy to read and experience -- uplifting and entertaining at the same time, full of spirituality, humanity and adventure.
I'm familiar with Brendan's story, and this novel does the story great justice. It's engaging and entertaining, playful even.
I'm even more impressed with the author of the story and will certainly read more Buechner.
4.5 stars. I'm rounding up because it starts and ends well; many members of the Celtic Christian community with whom I worship also love this novel.