City of God

City of God
E.L. Doctorow
Random House, $25, 272 pp.

One evening not long ago, walking home from work, I stopped at a secondhand bookshop in Greenwich Village. My old copy of The Long Loneliness had split down the spine, and I wanted another just like it. The shop was not thronged; by now I know where the religious stuff is kept, on some narrow shelves in the back between the literary criticism and the psychology. The Dorothy Day book wasn’t there. But there were some religion books I hadn’t seen before, in half a dozen plastic milk crates on the floor: a hundred books in all, the dust jackets neatly covered in plastic. Here was Karl Barth in English and in German. Ronald Knox’s Enthusiasm. Paul Tillich’s Theology of Peace. The Pope from the Ghetto. The Underground Church. Christian Yoga.

Clearly somebody had sold off a whole library, had brought in books that had been bought with care over the years. As I sorted through them, half kneeling, half squatting, I wondered who had sold them and why, but my mind had already supplied a scenario. A priest had lost his faith. I pictured him puttering in an empty church at midweek when it came-the knowledge that Christianity could no longer hold him-perhaps all at once like a hailstorm, perhaps subtly like dust settling on the doorsill. So out with the cardigans went the theological library. The priest, after the appropriate season of doubt, moved on.

That priest could have been the protagonist of City of God. The...

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About the Author

Paul Elie, an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own (FSG), is writing a book about the music of Bach in the age of recordings.