Sunday, December 16, 2007

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

I originally posted this review on my blog, but Carrie asked if I would post it here as well. I apologize if someone else was hoping to post it; since the book wasn't one of my choices, I was hoping not to step on any toes.

Simply put, Huck Finn is a classic. It's one of those books that everyone should read at least once in life, and possibly more than once. Due to my own educational choices, I managed to read it once in high school and then twice in college (in separate classes, no less). But I can't complain. The first time through was a little tricky, particularly with the dialect, but the story only grows in analytical potential with each reading. The best thing about Huck Finn is that there are so many angles from which to approach it. There are the characters, the relationships between and among characters, the setting, the role of the raft (I'm not kidding--this is what lit people spend their days doing), the socio-economic considerations, the racial considerations, and the list goes on. I even had one teacher who made the startlingly apt comparison between Huck and Jim's voyage down the river and Dante's journey through hell, forever cementing my love for this book. Were I specializing in American literature, I could probably spend the rest of my career writing about Huck Finn alone, and I feel certain I wouldn't exhaust the material. Now, that's when you know you have a good book.

What makes this story so special is its unique place in literature. Literary critics often consider Huck Finn to be the first truly American novel, and rightly so. This is arguably the first novel by an American writer that embraces specifically American themes. In many ways, literature reflects landscape. I had a teacher (a different one, I think) who pointed out that European novels are called "drawing room novels" for a reason: there really wasn't anywhere for the characters to go, so all action takes place in a small setting and within a clearly defined society. In American literature, however, there is a tendency to send characters on a journey of escaping or, even more significantly, to drive all action westward, indicating an escape from society. In Huck Finn, both elements occur. Huck and Jim travel downriver, and then at the end of the story, Huck decides to throw off the bounds of society all together and go West. These themes were not necessarily unique to the American psyche prior to Twain, or unique even to Twain's writing before Huck Finn, but it was this book that established their influence within American literature.

I realize that where Twain is concerned, controversy follows. I remember when I was first reading Huck Finn in high school, my dad commented with some irritation, "Twain? He was an atheist!" Well, who knows. And more importantly, who cares. As a student of literature, I'm not in the business of dragging an author's religious or moral beliefs (or lack thereof) into my interpretation, unless said beliefs demand attention in the story. And, of course, sometimes they do. There are some writers who are unable to separate ideology from art. But then these tend to be poor writers, because they are not trying to produce art but instead are generating propaganda. I honestly believe that the best writers can produce art--which I equate to the presentation of truth and beauty, whatever the medium--independent of their beliefs. This is what makes a book like Huck Finn great. Where this book is concerned, it doesn't matter what Twain believed in or what his personal life may have been like (and I've heard some rather seedy things). For a comparison, I'm not a fan of many of the ideas/moral positions of W.B. Yeats, but that doesn't make him any less a great poet.

Apologies for the rant. After reading Carrie's post (on her blog) concerning The Golden Compass, this topic has been on my mind and seems appropriate for a discussion of Twain, who has undergone his share of censorship over time. As far as Huck Finn goes, my recommendation is basically that everyone should read it: for those who haven't already, it should go on the reading list, and for those who haven't read it in a while, it should be dusted it off and experienced all over again. I promise that there are gems to be discovered within the pages.

(And as a note of interest, the title of the book is correctly Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, without a preceding "the." No, I don't know why. And, yes, everyone gets it wrong.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

God's Smuggler, by Brother Andrew

This is a Must Read book for any Christian. You want to talk about living the Christian life, wholeheartedly devoted and trusting in God for every single thing? This is a man who lived it and did it. Brother Andrew was born in Holland in 1929 and, as far as I can figure, is still alive. (Maybe LT can enlighten us a bit more on his whereabouts and activities now?) LT suggested this book as Brother Andrew began a mission smuggling Bibles into communist countries, which is a topic near and dear to her heart.

BTW, Brother Andrew calls himself such in part because it was safer for him to drop his last name, enabling him to continue his work with more anonymity. I don't really get into the "brother/sister so-and-so" stuff myself, but I can see why he would choose to be titled as such.)

I really don't to spend a lot of time focusing on the book or his particular story because I think this is one that you just need to read. I will, however, say this much: God used the story of Brother Andrew's life to reveal to me that I am not living wholly devoted. I trust far more in myself and my own abilities to carry the day, than I do in God. I think of my life in terms of "What I Can/Want to Accomplish" rather than "What God Wants to Accomplish With Me."

I am not saying buy me a plane ticket to China with a suitcase full of Bibles. I AM saying that the planner recognizes that she needs to not plan so much and she needs to see where God wants her to go and what He wants her to do before she takes a step in any direction. Make sense?

What impressed me the most about this book was that B. Andrew relied on God to meet the needs and go the distance to see that His will and His plan was carried out. If ever there was a need that arose, it was entrusted to God. This is a man who was Spirit led. This past year I've read and thought a lot about following the Spirit. I've approached it theologically, thoughtfully and tried to be more discerning about who and what it is that I'm listening to when making decisions. However, God's Smuggler suddenly made things clear in a practical way. It inspired me to make a list of the things that I want (or think I do) to see happen in my life (to me and through me) and really lay that list before God and see what the plan is. I thought I was looking for Him, but I'm not certain that I really was.

I do admire the work of Brother Andrew and think he is very brave. Maybe he wouldn't say so, but it does require some courage to go about doing what he did. Some might say that it is unfortunate that in writing this book he virtually put an end to his participation in carrying the Word into various countries. Suddenly he put himself on the map and put his name in the spotlight. This automatically eliminated his ability to travel unnoticed. However, his work continues.

If you are interested in learning more about his work, you can go to Open Doors International website at:

This is also not the only book that B. Andrew wrote. I've copied and pasted the list of his other works here for your convenience:

Brother Andrew; Sherril, John; & Sherril, Elizabeth (2001). God's Smuggler. Chosen Books. ISBN 0-8007-9301-3.
Brother Andrew (1974). The Ethics of Smuggling. Tyndale House Publishers.
Brother Andrew & DeVore Williams, Susan (1990). And God changed his mind. Chosen Books. ISBN 0-8007-9272-6.
Brother Andrew; Becker, Verne (2002). The Calling. Revell. ISBN 0-8007-5838-2.
Brother Andrew & Janssen, Al (2004). Light Force. Revell. ISBN 0-8007-1872-0.
Brother Andrew; Sherril, John; Sherril, Elizabeth; featuring Jars of Clay (2001). The Narrow Road: Stories of Those Who Walk This Road Together. Baker Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8007-5793-9.
Brother Andrew & Janssen, Al (2007). Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ. Fleming H. Revell.

I'm particularly interested in reading "The Ethics of Smuggling" and his latest booked, "Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ." If anyone else out there has read either of these two books, I'd enjoy hearing about them.

Andrew has a relaxed style of writing that is personable and comprehensive. I think you will get a lot out "God's Smuggler." Again, I would encourage you to read it and thank LT for recommending it to us in the first place!