Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Sign of the Cross

David Horton's sequel to Legion of Honor, entitled The Sign of the Cross: a Novel, was published by Victor Books in 1997. Our heroine is again Isabelle Karmazin, a French Jew in 1943 who has fled the Nazis and is now in Switzerland. Other Jewish characters also appear in this book, including the Levy children and a Catholic nun at the convent "Our Lady of Zion," Sister Marie-Moises. (In fact all of the nuns that work in this convent were born Jewish but converted to Catholicism).

Here is the publisher's blurb:

"In prison for his resistance activities in World War II France, Marcel Boussant longs for freedom and Isabelle Karmazin, the woman he loves. Meanwhile, Isabelle is denied entry to America. When she meets Michael Dreyfus, a Swiss Jew, she readily agrees to his dangerous scheme . . . to whisk her off to U.S. controlled territory in North Africa. What she dared not hope for, however, is that Marcel would one day return for her. Historically accurate, this rousing adventure/romance tale demonstrates that true refuge is found only in Christ."

We meet a new character, Michael Dreyfus, who was born in Switzerland but grew up in America. "As a Jew, he felt a special affinity -- even a responsibility -- for those whose fate was linked solely to their race, his race. It was more than a general need to stand against anti-Semitism. Now that he had witnessed the evil firsthand, it had suddenly begun to feel personal. One day it might be him or someone he loved."

Malfaire, an evil character (you'd guess that by his name), says to his son:
"Jews aren't like us, Dede. They're dishonest, they're greedy, and they don't even believe in God -- not the real God, anyway."

As in the previous book, Isabelle again agonizes over how a righteous and all-powerful God can allow so much evil in the world:

"For years, ever since her mother died, [Isabelle] had refused to believe that the God she had often heard about -- this powerful yet benevolent supreme being -- could actually exist. If He was so good, then why did He allow her mother to die? And why all the pain? Why didn't He just heal her -- especially if He was so all-powerful? If He did exist, what kind of God could He be, anyway? Her father certainly hadn't encouraged any such belief. Superstition, he called it. Unscientific. A crutch for the weak and uneducated. Even her husband, Adam, was disdainful, especially of orthodox Jews. He simply could not understand blind adherence to some rigid set of arcane rituals. And Isabelle's own skepticism had been reinforced with each new tragedy in her life."

Oh, did we forget to mention that Isabelle is a widow?

Isabelle is influenced in a positive way by the Boussant family, who are French Protestant Christians. Even in the face of tragedy "their faith in a loving God remained firm. In fact, it had been that faith that had driven them to give her shelter, in spite of the danger. They spoke of their God -- and to Him -- as if He were some kind of all-wise friend. And it seemed so natural for them. How she had wished it were that easy for her." Isabelle is also influenced by the de Rocher family, who are Swiss Protestant Christians.

Michael Dreyfus'
"parents had seen to it that he and his sister, Beatrice, were ""raised Jewish," as his mom always said, but their circle of friends and acquaintances was by no means limited to the Jewish community. Nor was their life defined by strict religious observance. They attended synagogue on many major holidays, though not necessarily all of them. And of course, Michael's bar mitzvah at age thirteen had been a day to remember. But when Bea decided to marry a Gentile, the Dreyfuses, proud of their open-mindedness, agreed to the match, provided the children would be "raised Jewish." Michael himself had dated several Gentile girls while at Columbia University. And though his parents had never raised an outright objection, his mother more than once had offered to introduce him to "a nice Jewish girl."

Marcel tells Isabelle that it is not surprising to find her in church because, he says,
"I say a prayer for you every day.... Sometimes more than once." "Don't you think God will get tired of hearing about me?"... "You're just as important to Him as anyone." "I want to believe that," she said, "but it sure isn't easy.... I still have a million unanswered questions." ... [Marcel says], "But if you're like most people, you'll always have more questions than answers. Faith is more about acting on what you know than what you don't know.""

Theo says to Sister Marie-Moises, "I wish you wouldn't make it seem so, well, so nice to be a nun.... You said you wouldn't try to make us into Christians. You promised." "And you're afraid Lea might want to become one?"... I made a promise to God to give shelter to any Jewish children He brings our way. And I promised the rabbis that if they trusted me with their children, I would trust their souls to God. I have never tried to make anyone into a Christian, as you call it." (p. 258). ... "Besides," she continued, "you can't force anyone to become a Christian. It's strictly voluntary. "Well, Lea's a Jew just like Victor and me," Theo said, as emphatically as he could manage, "and we don't want to be anything else." "I respect that," she said, as she turned to go. "In fact, I used to think the very same way myself.""

Justine de Rocher gently but firmly proselytizes Isabelle several times throughout the book. She tells Isabelle that only Christ can solve her problems. At one point she says to Isabelle:

"A nation, no matter what its flag, can offer you nothing more than temporary peace and external freedoms, and even then its power is limited." "What are you saying?" [asks Isabelle]. "That I think you want the kind of peace that lasts. You want a freedom that inhabits your very being, that doesn't depend on circumstances. And it's no wonder you've been disappointed. The Swiss cross is all well and good. But it's a very pale image of the cross that stood on a hill outside Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago. Perhaps you've been looking to the wrong one for help."

At the end of the book, Isabelle converts to Christianity, symbolized by her wearing a small gold cross around her neck. "Isabelle, noticing that [Marcel] was staring at it, took the cross in her fingers and carefully touched it to her lips. "A gift from Justine," she murmured, "to commemorate something else I decided." And then she smiled. "It's why I'm not running away anymore."

She also decides to marry Marcel, a French Protestant Christian, as opposed to the other man who had shown an interest in her, Michael Dreyfus.

Wandering Jude speaks:

This is not a bad novel. Just sort of mediocre. Wandering Jude is not angered by the characterizations of Jews in this book, although as usual, he is disappointed that in yet another Christian novel the Jew converts to Christianity. It's so ... predictable. Even Michael Dreyfus' rejection of Christianity is predictable, since everyone knows that not all Jews will accept Christ, just the good ones. The evil Catholic named Malfaire is also a recurring character in Christian fiction featuring Jewish characters. There always has to be a villain, and in these kinds of books the villain is often a "false Christian" who can be contrasted with the "good Christians." The only surprise in this book is that there are some good Catholics (the nuns), but they are different than most Catholics like Malfaire since they are really converted Jews. And of course the real heroes in the story are the Protestant Christians who lead our heroine to Christ.