Nicola Barker

A Muslim’s insights into Christianity

Navid Kermani’s essays on art, life and faith are the most perceptive and engaging I’ve ever read, says Nicola Barker

I’m not a critic, I’m an enthusiast. And when you are an enthusiast you need to try your best to keep it in check when writing reviews, just in case your prodigious levels of excitement and, well, enthusiasm, threaten to overwhelm readers and only succeed in putting them off. Because people generally need a bit of room — to create some distance, establish a tiny bit of breathing space — in order to make their own considered decisions about the liable goodness or badness of a thing.

But shucks to all of that. Because I have to say this — I need to say this — out loud, in print: Navid Kermani has written one of the funniest, most perceptive, outrageous and engaging books about art, life and faith that I have ever read (and these are the kinds of books I most love to consume).

There. Yes. It’s wonderful. It’s cathartic. It’s transformative.

The premise of the book is a simple one: Kermani goes to look at some of the most significant (and not so significant — but still interesting or contentious) objects of Christian art in the world and boldly holds forth on them. He is a Muslim. He is of Iranian origin, but has lived much of his life in Germany. The book is translated — a couple of clunky moments in the first few pages and then, wow — just wonderfully. He is easy to read, but his insights are fierce and acute. What do I know of Montaigne, you ask? Very little, I answer. But enough to say that these charming, informal, clever little essays — which cohere almost effortlessly into a breathtaking whole — stylistically and emotionally remind me most of him. There can be no greater accolade, surely.

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