by Jerry Yellin
Speaking as a Christian, this was a disturbing novel to read on a number of levels. The Christ I believe in is benevolent and inclusive. There are no power plays, no superiority, no desire to control my nation.
I kept reminding myself that this was a novel—a place where writers have free rein to create any world we desire in order to share a story to provoke discussion and encourage readers to think.
The Letter will do that for you.
My copy of the paperback, as happens with books that stir my mind, is dog-eared and notated throughout.
The premise is a letter delivered upon the death of a woman where she tells an elderly man that he has a son—a son raised with a Christian fervor that excludes every other religion as inferior and requiring elimination.
The catch? The elderly man is Jewish.
Page 6: “If we cannot support any person of goodwill regardless of his personal beliefs, religious or otherwise, we will not find men of passion or good will to fill the elected offices in our country.”
Page 72: “Don’t you think that the teaching and preaching of the [Catholic] Church led to the Holocaust?” This was the moment that I started to wonder if all Jewish people think that Christian people in any way supported what Hitler did.
When I was an adolescent and first learned about the Holocaust, I asked my Catholic mom why anyone would do that to Jewish people. She said that some people blamed the Jews for Christ’s death. I looked at her, pondered a moment and said, ‘That was thousands of years ago.” She said, “Yes, it was,” and that she didn’t understand it either. Jump forward to my forties when I had a German friend and I asked him about Hitler. He said that he was angry that Hitler had made it hard for him to be proud to be a German. He is also one of the least prejudiced people I have ever known—open to knowing anyone, no matter where they grew up, what their religion might be, or the color of their skin.
We are taught the lessons of our parents and our peers. I always hope they are good lessons.
Page 87: The priest, Peter Carmody, says, “…no human being has the right to sit in absolute judgment of another. The role of religion in our life and our relationship to God, and to each other, must be forgiveness.”
On page 98, Carmody states something people seem to forget, “He [Jesus] never stopped preaching as a Jew.”
Page 140: offended me when a Rabbi said, “The word should be ‘crucifiction,’ for the story has never been true but it sold well.” Christ’s crucifixion is the basis for my religion and beliefs.
With the president we have in office and my recent disappointment in a local congressman who professed to being a strong Christian and then resigned when it came out that he’d been having an affair, this paragraph was potent:
Page 208: The Christian wife of the narrow-minded politician is speaking to him: “As for me, well, I just hope that this [news of his split religion] will open your heart and mind to the qualities that Jesus was born with, came to us with and died with and stop following the quest for fundamental Christian domination of the world. Our country needs to reconnect, stop the internecine struggle for domination and control.”
I didn’t know Christians were trying to take over the world, but it’s an interesting perspective.
On page 216, the wife brilliantly winds things up when talking to her husband and his Jewish half brother, “Life is not a tennis match, gentlemen. One does not live for rewards or winning records. One lives to fulfill God’s gift to humanity, to do what is right for everyone, not just for your own religion or political part. If the two of you can’t understand and accept that then what hope can we have for the future?”
Near the end, on page 222, the father of the two above is discussing the cataclysmic things that men have done, such as the dropping of the atomic bomb. He says, “Their [the Japanese] belief system was shattered into reality. They learned that all Humans are the same. Today the belief system of countries, individuals, political parties and the worship of deities that separate us will lead to the delivery of the next pebble that will destroy humanity.”
A truly provoking novel, The Letter will leave an impression on you—whether you want it to or not.