A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller
Published by Harper Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollins
I can’t even begin to attempt a summary for this book, so I’ll give you the publisher’s summary instead:
In a nightmarish ruined world slowly awakening to the light after sleeping in darkness, the infant rediscoveries of science are secretly nourished by cloistered monks dedicated to the study and preservation of the relics and writings of the blessed Saint Isaac Leibowitz. From here the story spans centuries of ignorance, violence, and barbarism, viewing through a sharp, satirical eye the relentless progression of a human race damned by its inherent humanness to recelebrate its grand foibles and repeat its grievous mistakes. Seriously funny, stunning, and tragic, eternally fresh, imaginative, and altogether remarkable, A Canticle for Leibowitz retains its ability to enthrall and amaze. It is now, as it always has been, a masterpiece.
A Canticle for Leibowitz was the third selection of the year for the Faith and Fiction Roundtable, a group of bloggers who like to read faith-based books coming together to read six books this year and then discuss them. It was started and is moderated by the fabulous Amy of My Friend Amy fame.
Admittedly, this was a very tough book for me to get through. I had a difficult time getting engaged in the story or even caring about the characters. Had I not committed to reading it for this group I probably would not have finished. However, I can say that I’m glad I had the opportunity to read it and I’m proud of myself for slogging through when I badly wanted to give up at times.
One particular part of the story stood out to me as discussion-worthy. There is one section of the book in which people have been affected horrifically by radiation poisoning. They are so unbelievably damaged, so hurt, that they beg to be put out of their misery. There is one doctor who performs euthanasia on those who would prefer to die rather than suffer through their pain to their inevitable slow, agonizing deaths. Of course, there is also a priest involved who will not allow euthanasia to occur on his watch.
This stood out to me because I found myself agreeing with the doctor and getting mad at the priest. While I am a Christian, I come at things from a more secular viewpoint since I have only been following Jesus for a few years now. For most of my life, I believed in God in a sense but didn’t really understand what that meant and didn’t really care to follow Him. So when I read about people suffering so terribly, especially when they know for certain that they will die soon anyway – but slowly, and in agony – it makes perfect sense to me that if they request so, they should be put out of their misery when they ask. I have to believe that a good God, a perfect God, would not want His people to be in such unbearable pain. Why would He ever ask that of His followers? What good does that do, what purpose does it serve?
But then I remember – a life is a life is a life, and God does not condone the killing of any life, for any reason. He and He alone should be the decision maker as to who dies and when and under what circumstance. While I believe this to be true, I question its implications in cases such as the one presented in A Canticle for Leibowitz. I am left puzzled, trying to figure out what God really would prefer us to do in this particular situation. I don’t have the answer – I’m still inclined to go with my first thought on this one. How can He condone such suffering, especially when it comes to people who love Him with all their hearts? It doesn’t make any sense to me. But yes, killing is killing, no matter what the specifics are. There is no gray area here, at least according to His word. So I really don’t know.
That just goes to show you that even though I really didn’t enjoy this book, I got something out of it. And that is what makes the experience of reading so important.
Check out the other participants of the Faith and Fiction Roundtable:
Book Hooked Blog, Books and Movies, Crazy for Books, Ignorant Historian, Linus’s Blanket, My Friend Amy, My Random Thoughts, One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books, Roving Reads, Semicolon, The 3R’s Blog, Tina’s Book Reviews, Victorious Cafe, Wordlily