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Why Angels Fall:
Victoria Clark traveled across most of Eastern Europe to write Why Angels Fall. Having worked for six years as a journalist in Romania, the former Yugoslavia, and Russia, Clark was fascinated by the Eastern Orthodox churches and keen to unravel their histories and beliefs. To do so, she journeyed from Mount Athos, to Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Romania, Russia, Cyprus, and finally Istanbul, interviewing clergy and other believers. We're treated to a series of vivid cameos, a few of whose subjects glow almost visibly with holiness, a few terrify, and many show qualities rare and needed in the West. As Clark puts it, after the ancient split between eastern and western Christianity, "each side lost something it could not happily do without ... at the risk of oversimplifying for the sake of clarity, western Christendom can be said to have lost its heart, eastern Christendom its mind."
Her keenness to explain Orthodoxy to Westerners stems from a fear that the continent is in the process of fracturing along a 1,000-year-old fault line, between the Catholic and Protestant west and the Orthodox east. The book combines high-quality, highly readable travel writing with a powerful mix of politics and religion. Most of all, perhaps, it demonstrates the power of history, and of different peoples' conflicting versions of history. Again and again, Clark finds the present in the grip of the past. In Serbia, for example, she cannot escape the legends surrounding the destruction of the Serbs' medieval empire in 1389, and the death of the venerated Prince Lazar: "the battle of Kosovo's interruption of Serbia's golden greatness has become a cataclysm to rival man's expulsion from the Garden of Eden in the minds of Serbs.... Prince Lazar is the key to understanding the Serbs' deep conviction that, however many wars they initiate, they remain a nation of victims and martyrs." --David Pickering, Amazon.co.uk [via]