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Morris West and other Catholic novelists

Thanks to a brief Facebook conversation a couple of weeks ago with Phil of Brandywine Books, I’ve picked up a copy of The Shoes of the Fisherman by Australian author Morris West.  I first read it so many years ago that I don’t remember much about it except that it’s about the process of choosing a new Pope, and that I enjoyed reading it.

The book was first published in 1963.  The edition I picked up at the library is a 40th anniversary edition with a preface from West’s widow, Joy West.  The day the book was published, she and her husband attended a small celebration in the offices of William Morrow & Co. in New York.

After the celebration, they climbed into a taxi, and their Jewish cab driver told them, “I am so sad. That wonderful Pope John XXIII has just died.”

That was a remarkable coincidence, as the principal character of The Shoes of the Fisherman, published that day, was loosely based on Pope John XXIII.

At West’s request, their “very Jewish” cab driver took them straight to the nearest Catholic church.  He didn’t only drive them there; he went in with them to mark the passing of Pope John.

That tidbit from real life makes me even more interested in reading the novel again.  I suspect that I’ll add Morris West to my list of Catholic novelists whom I appreciate:  Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Graham Greene, J.R.R. Tolkien…

I’m not a Catholic myself, in case you were wondering.  But I do appreciate my Catholic brothers and sisters.

Edited to add: And I appreciate Christianity’s Jewish roots.  For an interesting look into that, check out novelist Athol Dickson’s nonfiction book, The Gospel According to Moses. I haven’t read it yet, but it looks very interesting.

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