This review brought to you by: Indie Sister, the same girl responsible for my reading Neil Gaiman. I am always wary of Indie Sister’s book suggestions. Sometimes she says to read things like Coin-Locker Babies, which gave me terrible underwater nightmares, and which I have really tried hard to forget completely; and sometimes she says to read Neil Gaiman and gives me a massive huge new source of happiness.
I checked out A Canticle for Leibowitz a month ago, and I only finished it last night. I kept putting it off. I’m not the hugest fan of science fiction that there has ever been. Eventually I looked up Walter Miller on Wikipedia and discovered that a) he converted to Catholicism; and b) he struggled with mental illness his whole life before eventually committing suicide. These things gave me much more of a fellow feeling for Walter Miller, so I decided to read his book. And I loved it. He killed himself before finishing a sequel to Canticle, so THANKS A LOT, MENTAL ILLNESS.
Oh, this book was so good. Oh, I liked it so much. I don’t want to return it to the library. It’s set in the Southwestern United States many years after a world-wide nuclear war, following which there was a major backlash against technology and learning, which people perceived to have been the cause of the mass destruction. Leibowitz was a Jewish clever man who converted to Catholicism, founded a monastic order, and worked really hard with the Church to save books for future generations; and he was martyred. All this a long time ago. The first part of the book is set before Leibowitz is canonized, and a young monk discovers relics of him; and then the second part (possibly my favorite? I couldn’t decide) is set many years later, at the beginning of a sort of new Renaissance, and a scholar comes to the Abbey to study all the Leibowitz documents they have there; and the third part is about how everyone’s getting set to destroy the world. Again.
This book was so, so good. Really. With added poignancy because Walter Miller served in the Allied forces. And – my family made fun of me when I said this but here it is – I liked it that the Catholics weren’t all humongous jerks. Not because I am one of those people with a bumper sticker that says “I’m thankful for the thousands of GOOD priests”. I am not one of those people. I want to key those people’s cars. But because there are such a lot of bigoted, sexist, closeminded, insulting, rude Catholic priests around, and I always want Catholic priests to be nice and wry and morally upright; and it was nice to read a book in which most of them really were.
I just loved this book to pieces. I loved how each of the parts of the book mirrored an aspect of our history – the Dark Ages and the Renaissance and the modern times – and how religion fit into each of those times. That was neat. All circle-of-life-y. And I found the people in the books remarkably sympathetic, especially sweet innocent Brother Francis in the first part, all confused by how upset everyone was getting, and so sweet with the bandits and the relic – bless him. And I liked this:
The answer was near at hand: there was still the serpent whispering: For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods. The old father of lies was clever at telling half-truths: How shall you “know” good and evil, until you shall have sampled a little? Taste and be as Gods. But neither infinite power not infinite wisdom could bestow godhood upon men. For that there would have to be infinite love as well.
We have your bloody hatchets and your Hiroshimas.
We march in spite of Hell, we do–
Atrophy, Entropy, and Proteus vulgaris,
telling bawdy jokes about a farm girl name of Eve
and a traveling salesman called Lucifer.
We bury your dead and their reputations.
We bury you. We are the centuries.
And the last old Hebrew sat alone on a mountain and did penance for Israel and waited for a Messiah, and waited, and waited, and–
Yup. A Canticle for Leibowitz. What a good book. “We bury you. We are the centuries.” Wow.