"It is a reminder that there are times when resistance, violence, even death, are preferable to tyranny...I am an inadequate leader. I have allowed my people to come to the brink of such violence, to a confusion between the wrongs that some have done to us and the wrongs that some among us now advocate that we do in return...Remember that, no matter which government rules us, we remain a free people, free in our minds, free in an unfree state."
A few pages later he's taken into custody. He's told it's protective custody, but is it? And just who is it they are they protecting him against?
A popular blurb on Moore's novels declares he was Graham Greene's favorite living novelist; of the half-dozen Moores I've read this is easily the most Greene-ean. There is nothing wrong with that by me. Cardinal Bem has to make sense of various factions, all with their own agenda: unions, Security Police, church officials of at least three different political stripes, Communist officials of the state--the Prime Minister is an old schoolmate--but also those officials' Russian minders. Some of them want violence, and some of them want to avoid it at any cost. But as Bem notes in his speech above, sometimes avoiding violence at any cost is, in fact, a cost too high. But I don't want to give away Cardinal Bem's final choices.
Moore did not foresee how close the fall of the Iron Curtain actually was in 1987, but then almost nobody did.
'...the tyranny of an age when religious beliefs have become inextricably entwined with political hatreds...'
I thought: which age isn't that? But of course Moore was from Northern Ireland. He may very well have known that to be a problem that wasn't ever entirely going away.
The novel was shortlisted for the Booker its year, but lost out to Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger. I quite liked Moon Tiger, but I probably would have picked this. I thought The Color of Blood was very good. This may very well have just rocketed up to be my favorite Moore, though such comparisons are always silly and it's been twenty years since I read Judith Hearne and Ginger Coffey so I might rethink that if I reread them. Highly recommended.
And while Moore emigrated to Canada, became a citizen, was living in the US when he wrote this book, and it's a book about somewhere in Eastern Europe, he *was* born in Northern Ireland, so...I think we get to count it!