The National Catholic Review

Culture

July 2016

  • July 27, 2016

    In the academic world, it sometimes seems untoward for religion scholars to be enthusiastic about religion. It’s fine for specialists in the social sciences or arts to revel in some particular school of thought. But, it seems to me, a certain distance is expected from the religious studies expert—to view the subject of the transcendent as an entirely human construct.

    In his new book History and Presence , the historian Robert A. Orsi argues for an approach to...

  • July 22, 2016

    “Behind all joy lies the cross.” It is hard to cite anything else as provocative, or enigmatic, as that single line of dialogue in French director Anne Fontaine’s The Innocents . It is a line that leaves one profoundly disturbed. And bewildered. Is the speaker, Sister Maria (Agata Buzek), offering up a morbid allegory for all Catholic thought? Or a shorthand psychoanalysis of one convent’s worth of tortured souls?

    “The Innocents,” which concerns nuns who have...

  • July 19, 2016

    David Means, the author of four critically acclaimed collections of short stories, has written his first novel, and it is a tour de force of imagination. Freudian psychology, de-centered Vietnam vets and nonsensical bureaucratic language are rich ores for a novelist to mine. In particular, the languages of bureaucrats and stoners, entwined with one another, set up a hilarity that is almost joyful until we realize how soaked in menace the story is. We may...

  • July 19, 2016

    Another character-driven novel by Jonathan Franzen, Purity proposes a system in which morality is a performance and a frustration of desire. His newest book was highly anticipated after the success of The Corrections (2001), which won the National Book Award, and the highly praised Freedom (2010). Since Corrections Franzen has worn all the laurels as the darling of American letters. The hype is well deserved, though, as he continues the tradition of the large...

  • July 19, 2016

    Thanks to Isadore Nikunge, I can attest to the power of international perspective when it comes to troubling moral issues.

    In the early 1960s, Isadore was a foreign exchange student at Fordham University. He had come from Kenya (the actual Kenyan nation, not the State of Hawaii). Our family, living two blocks west of Fordham, befriended him.

    At the time, folks like Malcolm X were bluntly...

  • July 19, 2016

    On Sept. 5, 1941, Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane” went into general release in the American market. On its 75th anniversary, coming in the light of this election cycle, it is eerily relevant, even timeless. In short, it is the story of a media manipulator who strives to turn his celebrity into elective office. Draw what parallels you may.

    The opening segment is an obituary of Charles Foster Kane, presented in the...

  • July 13, 2016

    The story in The New York Times was clear and dramatic. In 1838, the Jesuits of Georgetown College in Washington sold 272 slaves to help cover the school’s dire financial situation. Other schools had held and sold slaves, it reported, but the Georgetown sale “stands out for its sheer size.” Other news outlets picked up the story, and on May 20...

  • July 11, 2016

    On May 23, 1921, “Shuffle Along” opened in New York and made history. It was the first show to have an all-black cast, playwright, composer and lyricist present an honest-to-goodness musical—not a minstrel show or a vaudeville performance, but a show with a plot and, even more shockingly, a romantic couple in the lead, in the style of the operettas of the day. During its debut, the show was not booked into one of the standard Broadway theaters around the Times Square area, but in...

  • July 7, 2016

    W hen my brother Dave and I were very young our father, a journalist who, probably because he couldn’t afford college, had gone right into newspaper work when he returned from World War I, would grow agitated when he saw us reading comic books. I remember him saying he had read all of Dickens and James Fenimore Cooper when he was young. He may have exaggerated on “all” of Dickens, but his library attested that he read voluminously. I keep a dozen of his own...

  • July 6, 2016

    What is Pope Francis’ favorite word? Judging by his papal motto, the title of his recent book and the name of the Jubilee Year he kicked off this past December, I’d be willing to put money on “mercy.”

    “Mercy” was not a word I used or thought about much before Pope Francis started saying it all the time. But since he invited everyone to a year to “contemplate the mystery...

  • July 1, 2016

    Over his decades-long career, the author Roald Dahl penned 19 books for children, including James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr. Fox . His wild, dark and fantastical stories told us the truth about life while still making us want to laugh and bounce on the bed. Children were his main characters, the heroes and heroines of his books. He valued, precisely as children, our cleverness, imagination, sense of humor and ability to endure; and so,...