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Saint Julian: A Novel

Walt Wangerin, Jr. strikes again.

Several people in the last few weeks have commented to me about how glad they are that they discovered Wangerin’s The Book of the Dun Cow here in the Rabbit Room. It really is a remarkable book, and I still can’t recommend it highly enough. It won the prestigious National Book Award when it was first published in 1978, and was only the beginning of Wangerin’s career.

I just stumbled on his most recent novel, Saint Julian, and was so captured by it that it bumped aside the other four books I’m reading. Last Sunday afternoon–a perfect Spring day–I sat on my front porch swing and read the last half of the book, savoring the careful prose, the pastoral tone, and even the look and feel of the book itself. The cover illustration fits the epic, vivid quality of the story perfectly, and the fonts (I’m a sucker for a great font) added just the right atmosphere.

Saint Julian is a re-telling of the ancient legend of the saint who was cursed with the prophecy that he would one day be the instrument of his parents’ death. Julian flees his home for love of his parents and embarks on a journey into war, loneliness, love, and of course, redemption. That this is a saint’s tale implies that redemption is coming, but the road Julian takes before it ambushes him is long and heartbreaking, making it that much sweeter when it comes. It’s dark, but this book was written with such talent, with such a strong, gentle hand, that I never felt anything but that this story was going to pull me close to the memory of God’s faithful mercy in my own life.

Eugene Peterson said of this book:

“Walter Wangerin’s storytelling never fails to take us into a world resonant with salvation meanings. With Saint Julian, the worst of which we are capable becomes stuff for the best that God can achieve with us. We read and realize, ‘Why, yes–even I could become a saint.'”

John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture:

“Saint Julian isn’t a ‘historical novel,’ nor is it a fable, but rather an act of literary sorcery–white magic, to be sure–whereby a medieval tale speaks to our present moment with a force like the ringing of a great bell.”

Walt Wangerin, though thirty years older now and sick with cancer, is still writing words that dance and whirl and fling color across the canvas of imagination; he is serving Christ with the gift of his pen; he is loving us with the stories he is writing. And because of the nature of stories, and words, and books, people will be blessed by the work of his hands for many, many years.

I write this wondering if Walt will stumble on these words, and hope that if he does he finds encouragement here.


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