Sunday, 20 April 2014

Faith in Literature: What a World War II Novel Taught Me About Resurrection

While perusing old books in a popular local market near my Church last year, I stumbled across the works of Alberto Moravia. He may not be the most popular of European authors, but his work undoubtedly deserves more recognition. After finishing “Roman Tales”, I picked up the classic “Two Women”. The book is a gem on its own literary merits, but what I want to emphasize today is how Moravia brings in elements of resurrection in this novel.

An Overview

Don’t be afraid of a spoiler alert, for no review in the world can ruin a good reading experience. “Two Women” is set during WWII, and it is a fictional first-person account of Cesira and her daughter Rosetta, who have to leave Rome as the war begins. On the way to their ancestral home in Ciociaria, the women encounter financial troubles, sickness, emotional trauma, and so much more. In the most gripping point of the novel, the young Rosetta is violated by a group of soldiers inside a desolate church, right under the picture of the Madonna. Ultimately, the women make it back to their home, to which I’ll return in a while.

Why I Connect With the Story

I am not a woman, and have never seen war conditions, but I was instantly hooked on this book, because:
·         I am a student of linguistics, which is why I aspire to read world literature
·         I have a keen interest in history, which is why WWII holds special relevance for me
·         I was in the novel!

Yes, a character in the novel, Michele (at whose residence the women stay for the greatest duration), is my namesake (Michael is my second name). But more striking is the fact that Moravia’s ‘Michele’ is an idealist, a preacher, and a misfit in his circle. At one point, he gathers an audience consisting of his family, the two women, and some peasants to read out the story of Lazarus and speak about it, much to the boredom and indifference of the listeners. I have been there, especially during my early days in faith. If you get to read the novel, you will come across some shades of my personality as well!

‘Resurrection’ of the Two Women

War brings out the worst in people. Cesira has to lie, cheat, and steal her way out of situations to protect herself and her daughter, while Rosetta, once being violated, goes into a rampant spree of immorality as if she doesn’t feel any shame anymore. Just at the end of the novel, the women travel with a young man named Rosario (with whom Rosetta engages in immorality with) who is shot to death. But the women stay indifferent, and hop on another ride with a stranger. In this time of complete insensitivity and indifference, Cesira and Rosetta have a life changing experience, and here I can’t help copying the text:
“At last, at the farthest end of the wide green plain, there appeared...the suburbs of Rome. And beyond this streak, rose the dome of St.Peter’s. God knows how earnestly I had hoped, to see that beloved dome again on the distant horizon. That, for me, was not merely Rome, it was life in Rome, the serenity of days lived at peace with oneself and with others. Far away on the horizon, that dome was saying to me that I could now return home confidently and that, even after so many changes and tragedies, the old life would take up its course again. It also told me that I owed this new-found confidence to Rosetta, and to her singing and her tears. And that, had it not been for this sorrow on Rosetta’s part, there would have arrived in Rome, not the two unoffending women who had left it a year before, but the thief and the prostitute which they had become, during the war and because of the war.
Sorrow. Back into my mind came Michele, who was not with us .....and I remembered the evening in the hut at Sant’Eufemia when he had read aloud to us the passage about Lazarus, and had been so angry with peasants who had failed to understand anything, and had cried out that we were all dead and waiting for resurrection, like Lazarus. At the time Michele’s words had left me in doubt: but now I saw that Michele had been right; and that, for some time now, we two, Rosetta and I, had indeed been dead, dead to the pity that we owe to others and to ourselves. But sorrow had saved us.... we had emerged from the war which has enclosed us in its tomb of indifference and wickedness, and had started to walk again along the path of our own life....

The women who were devastated inside a church find solace in the sight of St.Peter’s dome. And the story of Lazarus, once considered boring and repetitive, comes to life and gives them the hope to move on.

That is what resurrection is. It is hope for the world, a world corrupted by collective and individual sins. Resurrection is hope for real people with real problems, something that I'm sure most sermons today will miss.

Jesus didn't rise from the dead just to enter his Glory and enjoy the privileges of Kingdom. He rose from the grave so that we never lose hope. “Because I live, you also will live!”

To end this piece, here is a non-fiction of version on the same theme, narrated by Ravi Zacharias:
“Billy Graham once told of meeting Konrad Adenaur, the mayor of Cologne who was imprisoned by Hitler for opposing the Nazi regime and who later became the highly regarded chancellor of West Germany from 1949 to 1963. Adenaur looked Graham in the eyes and asked, ‘Do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead?’ Graham said, ‘Of course I do.’ To which Adenaur replied: ‘Mr. Graham, outside of the resurrection of Jesus, I do not know of any other hope for this world.’ (The Case for Faith pg 214)

Happy Easter!
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