bookspluslife

July 30, 2017

Book: A Cantile for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:10 pm

imageAn unusual book. Unusual does not mean good. Just unsual. Cannot figure out if it a science fiction or whether it is a funny book but it falls short on both counts. Story starts in a desert.

 

A novice priest, Father Francis meets a lonely girdled pilgrim in the middle of a desert. It is a world full of monsters, and he is worried that it is one.  When he notes that it is a pilgrim and when the pilgrim offers him bread, he weakens from his vow of fasting and takes it. He gets into a comical fight with the pilgrim when he drops the bread but the pilgrim inspects his shelter built out of stones for protection from the wolves and offers advice.

 

After the pilgrim left, Francis picks the stone that would be a “perfect match” for the missing piece for the shelter as the pilgrim had identified, and discovers an old room inside. We slowly discover that this is a post apocalyptic world where the survivors shun all technology, destroy all books and revert back to primitive living, turning to Latin as the common spoken language. They worship a saint called Leibowitz, who seems to be just a nuclear holocaust survivor.

 

When Francis discovers sacred documents by the great Liebowitz himself (a shopping list, and some mundane entries by the looks of it) he is overwhelmed. The abbot does not believe him and orders him back to the abbey – never mind completing the Lent silence and fasting.

 

Some parts are hilarious. Where the prior tries his utmost to get Francis to admit that the old man was a figment of the latter’s imagination and no such old man existed. Why? because the old man had simply disappeared (he went towards the abbey but never reached there), he looked and even wore clothes fitting the description of the Blessed Leibowitz himself who was dead aeons ago, and more important, the stone which he picked for Francis was carved with his initials in an arcane sign that Francis was not even aware of. Rumours and panic swirled across the abbey and the Father Abbot cannot have that, can he?

 

Francis the simpleton’s confessions and the pained experience the Prior goes through in hearing inane “sins” are very funny. He stays a novice for years because the abbot refuses to promote him into the order. Finally that happens when a representative of the Pope himself confirms that what Francis found may be very valuable and he is admitted into the order and asked to copy and illustrate (handwritten) books.

 

He seems to be copying a circuit diagram of a sort though he does not understand what it is.

 

His fame spreads and he is asked to take his illustration to the Pope and goes on an ass and is waylaid by robbers. Getting some money to pay them off, he returns with the Pope’s blessings but the story here abruptly ends and another story begins. This is of Marcus Apollo, who is convinced of the imminence of War.

 

His confidante is Brother Claret. There is Thon Taddeo, who is a scholar. The abbot now has a monk who is trying to rediscover lost science and has made a dynamo that powers a carbon bulb.

 

A scholar comes with armed men and there is intrigue and war going on – a lot of mixed up ideas like this pervade this part of the book. The old man that Francis met seems to be at least seven hundred years old and is a friend of the current abbot of the monastery, Dom Zerchi. Some parts of it are, frankly, boring.  The world seems to be repeatedly getting close to annihilation is the theme. There not one but two nuclear wars, the first one nearly wiping out all humanity and causing all knowledge to disappear, which is what we see in the beginning of the book and the latter starting down many centuries after Francis, now revered as Saint Francis of Utah, died.

 

This spans generations and has characters featured earlier referenced in a deified form or otherwise altered form later; in that this reminds you of Cloud Atlas. But then that is unfortunate because it tells you how lovely Cloud Atlas was, and how inadequate this is in comparison.

 

Father Derchi is trying to stop the doctor from recommending death to hopelessly fried victims of radiation. Understandable; but when the good doctor disobeys, he says ‘If I see you again I’m afraid of what I may do.’  I thought that was a bit odd, coming from a compassionate Father.

 

Anyway, he sends monks in an unscheduled spacecraft flight to a populated planet and then gets trapped in an explosion. A woman vendor of tomatoes has an extra head whom she calls Rachel that seems to hang uselessly by her side. There are some poignant moments but unfortunately they are few and far between and there are countless ramblings in the middle like the sample above. You get lost even trying to understand the purpose of the book.

 

2/10

–   – Krishna

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