Books in Brief

March 2020

“When the snow starts melting, it melts quickly.” That’s how Lord Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, characterized the city’s fast-withering freedom under Chinese Communist control. Beginning in the early 2000s and intensifying under the rule of Xi Jinping, China has been steadily and stealthily undermining the promise it made to the world back in 1984 to grant the Special Administrative Region a “high degree of autonomy.” U.S. China expert Jeffrey Wasserstrom’s Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink is more than a succinct, richly researched history of the mass pro-democracy protests that began engulfing Hong Kong nearly a year ago. It’s also a meditation on the meaning of borders—and a cogent reckoning with what happens as they begin to blur or disappear.     

Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink
Jeffrey Wasserstrom
Columbia Global Reports
 $15.99 | 120 pp.

 

Can we ever be reminded enough about the legacy of St. Francis of Assisi? In this beautiful volume, the story of the blessed “Poverello” is retold through essays, prints, and photographs. Familiar frescoes of the barefoot friar, including the famous Giotto cycle, appear alongside images by lesser-known, though no less remarkable, artists. One is struck by the darkness, both visual and thematic, of the early Romanesque paintings that depict the saint’s life. Francis is perhaps best remembered for light-hearted episodes, which include his preaching to the birds and befriending of the Wolf of Gubbio. But these ancient icons testify not only to Francis's joy, but also to his suffering; clothed in black, somber-faced, he gazes at us with pierced hands and feet. 

Francis of Assisi
Engelbert Grau, Raoul Manselli, Serena Romano
Paulist Press
$89.95 | 208 pp.

 

“Teach us to align our will with what is,” Eliza Griswold repeats in her new collection If Men, Then. Her poems do seek a kind of peace: the quieting of ambition (“the opposite of every behavior we’ve been rewarded for”), a “finer caliber of kindness,” and “humor also known as grace.” They are at the same time agitated and resistant. They speak of ISIS and Boko Haram, Guantanamo and Hezbollah, ancient slayings and rapes. They describe boats of refugees “giddy with surviving war elsewhere,” unaware of trials ahead; a “father killed for his teeth”; apocalyptic “threads / of smoke rising on the horizon.” Observed violence mixes with myths, fables, translations, and religious texts, giving the reader a sense of a troubled but vigorous mind examining the world, craving interpretation.

If Men, Then
Eliza Griswold
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$24 | 96 pp.

Published in the March 2020 issue: 
Also by this author
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