February 13th, 2007
One of the most interesting things about From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple is the fact that the author’s great-great-uncle helped relieve various monastic libraries in Athos of priceless religious manuscripts on a trip to the area in the 1840′s. From the former Byzantine empire, to recent Latin American political history, here are this month’s reads.
From the Holy Mountain, by William Dalrymple
I like good travelogues because if they are well-written, they have an opportunity to provide unique insight by blending historical settings and events with modern perspective. From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple is an account of his experiences while traveling through the eastern Mediterranean in 1994. His goal was to retrace a spiritual journey undertaken by a 6th century monk, John Moschos, who traveled around the Byzantine empire before the subsequent introduction and growth of Islam. Along the way he provides a glimpse of what life is like for the remaining Christian population still living in the Middle East today. This book is more the account of a quest by a young, Cambridge-educated Roman Catholic Scot than travel narrative, as Dalrymple shares many of his personal views along the way. His account takes the reader from northern Greece to Turkey, through the Holy Lands, and finally to Egypt. Along the way, he recounts his encounters with what remains of the Christian faith in those predominantly Islamic countries- ancient monasteries, monks bitterly aware of their shrinking numbers, and a small minority of Christians trying to co-exist with their neighbors. These encounters range from funny to tragic and everywhere in between, but are always relayed from a humanistic point of view. For folks that want to learn more about some interesting chapters in Christianity’s history not taught in high school, this is a good book.
Looking for History- Dispatches from Latin America, by Alma Guillermoprieto
Until I picked up Looking for History- Dispatches from Latin America by Alma Guillermoprieto, the most I knew about recent Latin American history was that Columbia is synonymous with drugs, and most of the governments are portrayed as corrupt on the news. After reading this collection of 17 essays (all previously published) I feel like I have a much better perspective on the political struggles, violence, and pure confusion that surrounds life in Columbia, Mexico, and Cuba. I learned about important political figures (past and present) including Evita Peron, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Vicente Fox. I gained a deeper understanding of the absolute madness that is guerrilla warfare by reading about Colombia’s right wing death squads and the rebels who live in the hills, and how they actual co-mingle their ranks. I got the sense that this author knows the history of these countries fairly well. Guillermoprieto was born in Mexico, has lived in places like Columbia and Brazil, and currently lives in Mexico City. I’ve been told that another one of her books, The Heart that Bleeds, is even better. If you want a good collection of well-written essays that at least scratch the surface on this subject, you will enjoy this book.
Entry Filed under: Book Reviews