"'There is no other life,' my mother said."
Early in his teaching career the school established, reluctantly, a few scholarships for the impoverished, who are generally blacker than the elite, and one of the students they took in, on Fr. Michel's recommendation, was the orphaned Jean-Paul Cantave. Cantave becomes Fr. Michel's boy, his Petit. Cantave is a brilliant student, who goes on to become a priest and join the Albanesian order, studying in Europe, and finally returning to Ganae to help his native land.
And become its president.
It's still the era of liberation theology, though just barely. John Paul II is pope, and the future Benedict XVI is head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, and they have little brief for left-wing priests in politics.
There are no Albanesians, there is no Ganae, and--it is a novel--there is no Jean-Paul Cantave. But the Albanesians are more or the less the Salesians, Ganae is more or less Haiti, and Cantave is more or less, though probably less, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Well. Aristide's own story is not yet ended. No Other Life came out in 1993, so Moore couldn't know its complexities, but he clearly has some understanding what they might be like. Aristide had been elected president of Haiti in March of 1991 and turfed in a coup later that year. Cantave faces a coup as well. Is Cantave a good man? What does it mean for a priest to be a good man in a dire political world? Dedicated to this world or the next? Fr. Michel's mother had encouraged him to become a priest, but on her deathbed has a crisis of faith, and declares to her priest/son there is no other life. But does Fr. Michel believe that? His own faith doesn't seem to be rock-solid. The ending gives a hint of the conclusion Fr. Michel came to, but remains ambiguous.
I thought this was very good. Like The Colour of Blood that I read earlier this year, it's a novel of a man of faith facing a difficult political situation and wondering what to do.
It just so happened that I was reading about the Plain Style in an entirely different book (Timothy Steele's introduction to The Poems of J. V. Cunningham). Moore is the absolute master of a spare, pared-down style. Steele quotes Cicero (from Orator):
"He follows the ordinary usage, really differing more than is supposed from those who are not eloquent at all. Consequently the audience, even if they are no speakers themselves, are sure they can speak in that fashion. For that plainness of style (orationis subtilitas) seems easy to imitate at first thought, but when attempted nothing is more difficult."
This could equally have applied to Moore. But it makes him difficult to quote, because it all looks so danged ordinary.
I admit to having found Moore uneven in the past, and until this year I thought his best books were about terribly sad lives of poverty and limited scope (Judith Hearne, Ginger Coffey) and so difficult to read for their subject. But The Colour of Blood and No Other Life make it clear he's got another very sharp arrow in his quiver.
It would be Brian Moore's 100th birthday this year. Cathy at 746books is hosting a readalong.