The Week in Books 2008, No. 32

Irene Nemirovsky’s (author of Suite Francaise) Fire in the Blood is a short but elegantly constructed novel that presents the juxtapositions of youth versus experience, passion versus love, and choice versus generational fate. The book is structured like an inverted cone being unraveled – the broad beginning gradually tightens as we see the characters linked to each other and as Nemirovsky gradually reveals the devastating point on which the story turns. It’s difficult to discuss the themes without spoiling the plot, but one of the things that stood out to me was the way Nemirovsky used physical descriptions to enhance the feeling of the story and flesh out the characters and situations. The descriptions of water, darkness, chill air, and isolated houses contrast with warm, bright sitting rooms, ample fireplaces, and rose gardens. It’s hard to describe, but I admired the way that Nemirovsky chose perfect details to enhance the story in such a short book without wasting words or causing the pace to drag. Ultimately, the reader is left, with the characters, to ponder the nature of love – is it the impetuous “fire in the blood” of youthful and ill-considered passion that quickly flames out, or is it the quiet devotion of a long marriage? Nemirovsky’s position will be clear to you by the end, and I believe most readers will agree with it.

A Wise Birth: Bringing Together the Best of Natural Childbirth and Modern Medicine
considers how our culture of birth impacts the way we deliver children, and attempts to forge a middle way between traditional midwifery and modern obstetrics. The authors make excellent points about the differences between the way most women in America think about childbirth and the way European women or Amish women do or our great grandmothers did. The authors do an excellent job of examining how the background and culture of obstetrics leads to a culture of intervention and an attitude that birth is a medical event to be fixed, how the background and ideals of feminism made birth something to be controlled and manipulated and shunned, and how the high maternal death rates in the era before germs were understood gave rise to fear of the way birth works.

Each culture tends to throw out the baby with the bathwater so to speak, and the authors of “A Wise Birth” look at obstetricians and midwives who take the best of both worlds to work with birth rather than against it. Both authors are admitted feminists, but they practiced with the Amish, and came to see traditional gender roles as actually affirming and strengthening women. They note that when feminism sought to denigrate motherhood and childbearing, it actually stole respect and power from women, which I thought was a surprising conclusion for feminists to reach. This book is really not a how to manual and isn’t particularly encouraging or empowering if you’re looking for that, but if you’re interested in the history and development of childbirth trends, you might enjoy it.

Invitation to the Classics would be an excellent resource for high schoolers who are just encountering the classics for the first time, for homeschooling moms who wonder how to approach a given classic from a Christian worldview, or for college students who are looking for a brief idea of how to ground their study of a particular book or author in a Christian perspective. The book would also be a good survey for an adult who missed out on studying classics, but it wouldn’t be enough to suffice as a textbook or a Cliff’s Notes of each work – if you’re serious about reading the classics you probably would want a more in-depth commentary.

I really think this book works best at a high school level, because it suggests questions and points to consider while reading different classics, emphasizing Christian worldviews without getting into college or beyond level study, which would be more in-depth.

Because I read most of these works at a secular college, I thought it was interesting to read the short essays on books that are familiar to me but with a more Christian spin than I got in school. The book was a good reminder of books and ideas that I’ve enjoyed in the past, and for the most part was quite well done.

At long last I have allowed myself to admit that learning Greek is not a big priority for me at the moment. I think it’s a worthwhile pursuit, but I might put it off for a long time in favor of other things. It’s a good thing that life is long enough that we don’t have to do everything all at once, isn’t it? I think if you are interested in teaching yourself Greek, Ian Macnair’s volume would be a good option – I did read it even if I didn’t absorb all of it, and the method seemed doable and allowed for the reader/student to move at his/her own pace.

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