01-07-2008 - Traces, n. 7

Anticipating the Rimini

Messenger of Hope
The Canadian author desembarks at the Rimini Meeting to speak about paternity. While his latest work, Island of the World, has just been released in the U.S.

by Edoardo Rialti

This year, Michael O’Brien will attend the Rimini Meeting for the first time as one of the protagonists. He will introduce the novel Sophia House, recently published in Italian,while the U.S. is enjoying his latest work, Island of the World. It tells the story of a Croatian poet, from early childhood to old age, and his long physical and spiritual journey encompassing both Old Europe and the New World. Josip Lasta grows up in a small village, surrounded by loving people who help him grow and walk; he is a poor, simple, and happy child who already shows the gift of being able to express the depth of the heart of things and situations through images and words. With the advent of the brutal partisan gangs toward the end of WW2, his life is ravaged by a sudden and radical evil. In a matter of hours, everything that he holds dear is taken from him with diabolical cruelty. His happy island seems to have sunk to the bottom of the ocean once and for all; nothing is left for man but to drown in desperation. It wouldn’t be fair to reveal to the reader how the protagonist comes to show that that will not be the case. This poetic book challenges our heart and our gaze. It reminds us that too often we choose to forget, and that many are the lies and the false consolations around us that only try to deny things or sink us into oblivion. Life is indeed a never-ending collection of wounds–some suffered, others inflicted–that reveal the great original wound of sin in the life of man. Nevertheless, O’ Brien’s novel shows us how these very wounds are absolutely fundamental, because we can decide what to do with them. We can choose to apparently hide or deny them or, through them, we can cry out all of our need for help and love and discover that, indeed, there is Someone who loves us to the point of being wounded for us and with us. Our wounds thus become mysterious openings to receive this Love. Island of the World shows us, using the unique strength of art, how each human life is itself a message. Josip receives many messages, in the most unexpected places, thanks to many messengers who are able to navigate their way in the darkest prisons, by giving love and understanding.  Josip becomes a messenger of hope; loving and suffering for love, he becomes someone who has something to offer, something to say.
Thomas Howard has rightly drawn a comparison between the beauty, intensity, and depth of O’Brien’s last novel and the works of Bernanos and Mauriac. Peter Kreeft said that, reading this book, one can become a better and wiser person. One might  add that this book is a living word; a message that can shed light on our wounded souls, spurring them along on their journey through this island of the world, toward the true dwelling place of the heart. This story is a moving fictional documentation of what Pope Benedict XVI entrusted to us in his most recent encyclical, Spe Salvi: in it we are freed from so many puny false hopes and this allows us to search for, recognize, and welcome the only great Hope–that is, the certainty of an infinite Love for everything that we are and everything that we carry in our hearts. This book claims to mysteriously and authentically express the deepest features of the path of its readers: “I presumed to speak about your memory, your blood, your loss, as if it were my own.” It revolves around three fundamental questions, which repeatedly come up throughout the narration: “Who are you? Where do you come from? Where are you going?” Those questions renew our awe for the vastness and diversity of creation; for the painful and beautiful adventure of life; for the value of the narration, the various languages of things and people, and that deep “silence that is the voice of love.”