Books to give at Christmas - 1 of 4

Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
By Jamie Ford
New York: Ballantine Books, 2009

For the sheer pleasure of reading a well-written, simple story of first romance and enduring mature love, readers can hardly go wrong with this 20th century version of "Romeo and Juliet".

Situated in a west coast U.S. community divided by political and ethnic differences, the story-line wends its way through prejudices between Chinese and Japanese (because of their war in Asia) and between Americans and Japanese (because of their war with us). It is a story built on the strength of memories and thereafter sustained by them.

Our nation's shameful, ill-advised move forcing citizens of Japanese descent into camps away from the coast creates the major (but not only) fault line affecting the main characters. Further separations are the generational conflicts between traditional and contemporary lifestyles, and the result of a tragic personal betrayal. These give necessary contrasting pathos to what would otherwise be merely a story of pleasantries associated with young romance.

This is not "a girlie" story. The author is a man from the area steeped with these lingering memories; plus, the story is narrated by a Chinese lad, partner to the romance. Ford has superbly captured the simple "is-ness" of oriental culture. It is a beautiful story of persistence, with an amazing brand of serenity accompanying human emotions in the protagonist.

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Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul: How to Create a New You
By Deepak Chopra
New York: Harmony Books, 2009

Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am." In this book, Chopra is saying, "I think, therefore I can be."

Although not labeled as such, this is a book of generic spirituality quite probably compatible with every religion. Perceptive Christians may identify the themes of co-creation, incarnation, redemption, grace, and virtues—not, however, in their traditional robes.

Chopra, a trained medical doctor, effectively blends accepted scientific evidence with mind-body connections, producing a combination textbook and manual for achieving wholeness of person.

His basic premise is that, like it or not, every person is constantly evolving and has the (usually latent) power to direct that transformative process. The key to creating one's person and personal future lies in awareness, Chopra says. The transformation of which he writes is aimed toward "wholeness."

This work is neatly divided between considerations first of the body and then of the soul. It provides five "breakthroughs" for each topic as well as directions for achieving the healthy possibilities desired. Many anecdotes involving real persons provide concrete examples of these possibilities and add literary variety. It is a book intended not just for reading, but also for using.

Decades ago, Josef Goldbrunner, S.J. wrote: "Holiness is wholeness." That kind of holiness is the end-product toward which Chopra points.

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The Horrors We Bless: Rethinking the Just War Legacy
By Daniel C. Maguire
Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007

If Judaeo-Christian moral teaching requiring mercy and justice for all persons can't motivate us to stop the horrors of war, mere pragmatism should do the job,
says this author. In a distillation of his large body of work on the topic, he points out some of the historical failures, arguing that "war is for dummies."

It is naïve to believe that wars settle differences, he says; they merely spawn future wars. And, today the potential for ecological devastation may dissolve even the short-term difference between winning and losing.

Today's wars are not those of our ancestors; thus, traditional Christian principles of the "just war" provide little, if any, guidance now. They have been abused and can be skewed to sanitize war rather than to judge it. Simply pairing the word "just" alongside "war" fuels our illusion that war is rational, moral, and good as long as certain rules are observed, Maguire says. "War is state-sponsored violence" (and that includes our aggression in Iraq).

Realistically, he recognizes that tragic situations will surely arrive for which forceful, even violent, intervention may be necessary. In such instances he concedes reluctantly that: state-sponsored violence can then be justified, but "only in a community context with legal and internationally enforceable restrictions comparable to the restraints we put upon our police."

Anecdotes and concrete data in this work are very convincing of Maguire's thesis.

[Regina Schulte has a master's degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame and a doctorate in theology from Marquette University. Now retired from her academic (college and seminary) career, she continues her educational endeavors by writing and a variety of other endeavors.Regina's book reviews appear regularly in Corpus Reports.]

Other reviews in this series:
Books to give at Christmas 2 of 4

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