Saturday, October 3, 2015

Book Review: My God and My All

My God and My All: The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi
By Elizabeth Goudge
Plough Publishing House, 2015
English, 310 pgs

The captivating story of the world’s favorite saint is now retold for a modern audience by one of the great novelists of our time.

Perhaps more than any other figure in Christian history since Jesus Christ, Saint Francis of Assisi has captured our imagination, for his is a story of extreme self-sacrifice, of love to God and man. How could this wealthy, handsome youth cast away all the advantages that were his by birth and choose instead a career of poverty and humility? How could he attract members of all strata of society to his mission? And how, when his order became established throughout Europe, could he renounce great personal power and humbly continue his life’s work?

Here is Francis, from his twelfth-century boyhood to his life as a missionary roaming the very boundaries of the known world. Here too are the men and women who followed him―Bernard de Quintavalle, the rich businessman; Peter Cathanii, the lawyer; Brother Giles, the farmer’s son; Lady Clare; and so many others―all drawn together by the personal magnetism and humble faith of their leader, all re-created by bestselling novelist Elizabeth Goudge against a rich medieval canvas.

My God and My All: The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi does not read like a traditional biography, rather presenting the life of the famous preacher in novel format. While this approach allows for author Elizabeth Goudge’s writing to flow in a more readable manner, there are times when it feels awkward to the point of unnecessary flattery. Use of “dialog” and first-person presentation takes an unwarranted license with the subject.

The author is clearly familiar with Catholic theology and presents Francis from that perspective – the acceptance of Francis’s canonization is clear as well as several other distinctly Catholic points. While this is understandable given the dominance of Roman Catholicism at the time, a more balanced approach as a biography would be welcome. Due to the odd format of the book (originally published in 1959) source citation and footnotes are nonexistent. Those who read from an evangelical perspective may stumble over usage (even the use of “saint” as a position, rather than a description of a follower and believer in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord).

It’s difficult to recommend this book to anyone other than those who are already reasonably familiar with Francis’s life. It does not serve as a scholarly work of biographical research and it’s frankly too dry as a novel. It’s that lack of format that hinders this from being a usable work rather than a mildly interesting diversion.

I received a copy of the book in exchange for a review on this blog and a commercial bookselling site. No additional compensation has been received and I was not required to write a positive review.

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