The Restless Flame by Louis De Wohl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Having dropped The Brothers Karamazov and realizing I will have to resort to Cliff Notes before my book club meets in August (there's a first time for everything), I am moving on to the next BIG BOOK they chose. The Confessions by St. Augustine.
Now I love St. Augustine. He is my first "saint pal" so to speak. However, I've tried several times to read The Confessions and always gotten bogged down in the early pages. (I must add this was not due to the book itself but to the fact that I got tired of Augustine going on and on about his tutor beating him when he was young.) As I was girding my mental loins for the prospect of throwing myself into the fray again, a Goodreads' friend recommended one of Louis de Wohl's Christian historical fictions.
I tried de Wohl some time ago and found it very simple. Certainly nothing to match my beloved Samuel Shellabarger or Kenneth Roberts. Not even on the par of such Christian historical fiction as The Robe, Ben Hur, or Quo Vadis. (I now believe that perhaps I read one of his books written for younger readers.)
However, I checked out the beginning pages of the recommended book on my Kindle and found that it was more complex and interesting than my long ago sample about Helen and the cross, if I recall correctly. At any rate, in an attempt to get in the mood for The Confessions, I got The Restless Flame from the library and have been enjoying the way de Wohl brings Augustine, Monica, and others to life. This was enhanced by the fact that, having read Saints Behaving Badly I know that Augustine's steadfast friend, Alypius, was a real person who had to fight a serious addiction to blood sports. And so this makes it ring even more true.
The middle of the book was rather slow as it centered around Augustine's philosophy, teaching, and rhetoric of Manichaeism. But such was Augustine's life so I can't really complain about that. It was rather inspiring to see how seriously these young men took the search for Truth and philosophy. I really looked forward to the part where Augustine and Ambrose met. The author surprised me on that bit but seeing how Ambrose stood his ground against the emperor's mother was a treat. This book was thought provoking, stretched me mentally as I jumped with Alcypius behind Augustine from one philosophical concept to the next, and inspired me in its depiction of Monica and Augustine overall.
I've seen many people saying that de Wohl's books are really just for young adults. I'm not sure that is the case. True, this one isn't 600 pages with exhaustive details of Roman, Carthaginian, Milanese, and African living at the time. But that isn't always needed to get a good feel for a person. This one gave this fully adult reader just what was needed.