Faith, for many people, is a deeply personal thing: a set of spiritual beliefs that are inseparable from one’s identity. At the same time, especially in the context of organized religion, faith is defined by social customs—and this combination of private passion and public practice can sometimes be fraught. In one recent book, Jemar Tisby confronts racial divisions within his own evangelical Christian community. The artist Sandow Birk addresses anti-Muslim prejudice in the United States by framing passages of the Koran in visual symbols that are more widely familiar to Americans. And a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer reckons with the political and familial weight of a Jewish identity.
Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory was heavily criticized by some Catholic officials when it was published in 1940—yet its flawed protagonist gives a realistic portrait of faith and its challenges. And for Min Jin Lee, the author of Pachinko, the ethical questions raised in the Biblical story of Joseph provide inspiration for the moral physics governing her fiction.
Each week in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas, and ask you for recommendations of what our list left out.
This illuminated manuscript makes a sacred text familiar
“[Sandow] Birk’s American Qu’ran … places translated passages next to cartoon-like illustrations, connecting the work with some of the most quotidian of American experiences: shooting hoops after school, fixing a flat tire, burying a loved one.”
📚 American Qu’ran, by Sandow Birk
Invented disaster and the American Jewish experience
“The collapse of [a] marriage is one of the twin catastrophes that ground [this] hectic, sprawling narrative. The other is the destruction of Israel, an event foreshadowed in the novel’s first sentence that arrives, more or less, some 250 pages later in the form of an earthquake and a war.”
📚 Here I Am,by Jonathan Safran Foer
Revisiting The Power and the Glory during Lent
“[Graham] Greene’s dark novel and its deeply flawed protagonist offer a richer way to think of faith and self-reflection—one that average Christians might find more accessible and realistic than romantic narratives about belief.”
Last week, we asked you to recommend books that capture the threat of climate change. Stephen, a reader in California, says his teen grandson “devoured” Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science, a graphic memoir by Philippe Squarzoni. Felicity Plunkett, a reader in Sydney, Australia, describes Mireille Juchau’s The World Without Us as “a lyrical, compelling, and exquisitely orchestrated novel” that avoids “prevalent postures of didacticism and despair” in its portrait of a family’s trauma and resilience.
From the Forum
The Books Briefing is collaborating with The Masthead, The Atlantic’s premium membership program, to launch a books discussion group that—like each Books Briefing issue—is focused on a monthly theme, and driven by members’ reading tastes and recommendations. March’s topic was faith. @kashewfelt writes:
I wouldn’t mind reading something on Mother Theresa. While I hold her in high regard, I am fascinated by her struggles and doubts with faith, the legitimate criticisms regarding the constraints of her faith and the extreme poverty in India. Are good works alone enough if they don’t really change the ongoing reality of that extreme poverty?
For a critical take on Mother Teresa, another member, @gkru, suggests Christopher Hitchens’s The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, as the book that he loves “working into a conversation whenever given the chance.” Masthead members can read the whole discussion here, plus more conversations in the Masthead reader forum. If you’d like to become a member, here’s how to sign up.
This week’s newsletter is written by Rosa Inocencio Smith. The book on her bedside table right now is Another Kind of Madness, by Ed Pavlić.
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