Saturday, July 13, 2013

2013.07.04 — The Divine Economy of Salvation by Priscilla Uppal; Finished 2003

This is a belated review in that I read Divine Economy of Salvation in 2003. DES was one of those great little serendipities that I enjoy so much, in that I stumbled across it in my local library. Well, stumbled is not accurate. I heard it call my name as I was glancing at the books on new acquisitions shelf. And I was so glad to have been there to discover it.

Priscila Uppal
Random House (Canada)
2003. ISBN 9780385658058

I loved the book! But, at the time I read it I put off my usual practice of buying my own copy of a library-read book that grabbed me by the short and curleys.

When I did go to buy it, I found it was out of print, at the time and for many years subsequently. (It appears that it is now back in print.) I purchased it this year with a gift certificate to (And I will here say that that was my first purchase from them, and I found it to be an experience worth publicly praising. I would do it again, and would recommend other on-line purchase phobics give it a try.)

This is a beautiful read. I was blown away by the power and complexity and poetry of the language and ideas.

It is told as a reflection to a childhood and, interwoven within that the story is also told from the point of view of that childhood, of a murder. The language that describes the brutality of children in childhood is soft and exquisite. I found myself savouring the language as if it were a fine chocolate or spirit. I'd re-read passages, and pause to enjoy the language and the irony of its beauty in contrast to the events being remembered.

This book isn't filled with histrionics or melodramatic angst. It is about a person's quiet but persistent quest for some kind of spiritual redemption after discovering, as a child, the evil that man can do because she was that evil.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough to people in love with language and quiet reflective reading on the psychology of spiritual redemption.
BELLA is SINGING, HER thin body like a candle in the darkness of the church, her braids like curls of wax. Her arms are raised up to the heavens, and a bright white light shines down from the rafters. There are other singers, hazy outlines swaying in the background, their voices muffled. Bella is clear, her voice piercing the air like a swift bird flying through an open window in winter. She sings with confidence, as if the church were empty, her own heart fixed on a spot beyond this time.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the World

Have Mercy on us
The song is a round, but all the voices are Bella's. She is her own chorus, the notes sombre and haunting, the pubescent girl growing older as each new voice enters the chant. I am alone in the confessional, gazing at her through the screen that should house the priest. "The Lord be praised," I whisper, but there is no man there to receive me, only Bella's lungs filling with air and exhaling her song.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the World

Have Mercy on us
As she nears the end of the hymn, her many voices slowing, steadily softer in tone, the white ghosts behind her lower themselves onto their knees. Bella screams, her hands against her stomach. Blood appears and she looks down at them with her dark eyes as if her fingers have sinned against her, their tips like foreign objects in her sight, bloody wet flowers sprouting from the nails, pricking her flesh. I try to open the door to the confessional to help, but it is locked. I can hear the trampling of footsteps towards the doors. "Why are you leaving her there?" I yell, pounding the weight of my body against the wood, the small compartment filling with smoke, the screen sizzling. "She's burning! She's burning!"

I wake to the deep rumble of thunder breaking in the winter sky outside. Wet snow against my window in the darkness like tiny hands. I am parched, my throat sore and scratchy, the air in the room dry. A flash of lightning, and the silver candle holder on the dresser is momentarily illuminated as if standing in judgement, its long body a sparkling robe. I put on my housecoat, turn my back on my accuser, and decide to fetch a glass of water from upstairs.

The hallway on the first floor, unlike mine of grey stone, is plaster. There is a washroom in the basement, a single toilet and basin, but no shower. I walk between the white painted walls, lined with wooden engravings of palms and crosses, and pause by Sister Josie's door.
Sister Josie and Sister Sarah, both in their fifties, comprise a convent of two. They are virtually inseparable: take their meals together and say their prayers in unison. It is fairly common knowledge that in the night one might make her way into the room (93-4).

I read this around the same time I read Ann-Marie MacDonald's amazing book The Way the Crow Flies. I mention this because these two books are a nearly perfect pairing of complementary ideas and themes, told from completely different perspectives.
Those being personal redemption, injustice, and an exploration of the brutality of children, a theme we squeamish adults would rather pretend did not exist.

The Divine Economy of Salvation is brilliant, and is still sitting in my top 20 all time favourite books. (And I will be posting a review of The Way the Crow Flies.)