I just stayed up much too late to finish reading A Place of Brightness, by Keith Massey.
Have you read it? Read it! This is a must for anyone interested in the possibility of an Orthodox Christian literary genre. If you read it, we can talk about it! I’m eager to hear other views of the book and to discuss it.
I promise to avoid spoilers. Even without touching on the finer points of the plot (and it had some fine points!), there are many things to say about this novel.
The story follows a Romanian family through the years before, during, and after the 1989 revolution ending Communist rule in that country. Dr. Massey, the author, is an Orthodox Christian, and many of the characters are as well, but this never becomes a literary pitfall. The novel never develops an agenda or strays from its path. Romania is an Orthodox country. The Orthodox characters are what they are naturally. It is an observation, drawn from life into the realm of fiction with remarkable effect.
One of the most striking characteristics of this novel is the natural quality of the characters, especially their dialog. They do extraordinary things, but they sound just like we do, even at the high points of their adventures. They are intensely life-like.
Dialog is the primary means the author uses to reveal the personalities and meaning of the characters. Much of what we know about them comes to us through what they say, and how they say it. It’s so easy to read that I found myself skimming along and then realizing the implications of what had been said, which would suddenly unfold in layers beneath the apparently simple, natural words. Whereupon, the book would fall into my lap for several seconds while I followed the string of ideas that had suddenly come to light.
But in most cases, a few seconds was all the time I could spare for reflection. I was too busy finding out whether my favorite characters were about to be shot!
Another fascinating aspect of this novel, historically and perhaps theologically, was its portrayal of the results of evil. Communist rule in Romania caused many overt evils during its time, but the book does an excellent job of tracing the cascade of less obvious effects that went on years after communism was nominally gone from the country. This is especially apparent in the lives of the main characters, although it can be observed in the culture around them as well.
This subtext in the novel partly accounts for the plot twists that keep you guessing all the way to the end of the book. The context prevents easy answers and simple resolutions, and as you read the book, you can see how the complexity and brokenness result directly from the darkness that came before them.
But the most stunning thing, for me, about the book was the simultaneous presence of Orthodox theological undertones and spy-thriller action and drama. There may be other books out there like this, but I’ve never seen them!
Now go read it! This is great fodder for a conversation on Orthodox culture, Orthodox literature, Orthodox historical fiction, communism and Orthodoxy…..but you have to read the book so we can talk about it without giving away the ending.