Sometimes you have to pity Literary Editors. Or, to put it another way, one of life's small pleasures is seeing how newspapers review books written by their own proprietors. I always thought the Telegraph should just have asked Conrad Black to review his own books and like to think that he'd have done it well. By which I mean he'd have done it entertainingly.
But pity poor Carol Herman, literary editor* of the Washington Times. Sensibly, I think, she must have concluded that asking an outside reviewer to write a notice for the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's autobiography would risk trouble. Nobly, then, she took one for the team and gave the paper's founder and owner the respect he properly deserves:
Faith, family, freedom and service are the pillars of the Rev. Moon's worldview and work. Through this canvas of often dramatic incidents and his personal observations, this reader came away with a better understanding of the Rev. Moon and his ongoing efforts on behalf of world peace, including the creation of enterprises such as New Hope Farms in Brazil, established to help eradicate hunger.
The Rev. Moon's commitment to nature conservancy and the world's water supply are given ample and interesting attention. His discussion of the possibilities for an International Peace Highway linking Korea and Japan through an underground tunnel and a restructuring of the United Nations undoubtedly will lead to fruitful debate and work in the years to come.
But it is the Rev. Moon's candor when addressing the most difficult times of his life that one remembers, notably his imprisonment in the federal correctional institution in Danbury, Conn., on July 20, 1984, and the events leading up to it.
There is much interesting information throughout the book, and it is difficult to select which anecdotes and observations to include. However, many of the most vivid images that remain with the reader come from the Rev. Moon's descriptions of his childhood in the opening chapters of the book:
"I would often fall asleep in the hills after playing there. My father would be forced to come find me. When I heard my father shouting in the distance, 'Yong Myung! Yong Myung!' I couldn't help but smile, even as I slept. My name as a child was Yong Myung. The sound of his voice would awaken me, but I would pretend to still be asleep. He would hoist me onto his back and carry me home. That feeling I had as he carried me down the hill - feeling completely secure and able to let my heart be completely at ease - that was peace. That is how I learned about peace, while being carried on my father's back."
In a book that is notable for its imagery and poetry, this remains.
Actually, this is very well done indeed. So well done, in fact, that a proprietor blessed with some degree of self-knowledge (or an awareness of journalism) might suspect that a sentence such as "His discussion of the possibilities for an International Peace Highway linking Korea and Japan through an underground tunnel and a restructuring of the United Nations undoubtedly will lead to fruitful debate and work in the years to come" might be taking the piss somewhat. So too, for that matter, could this: "There is much interesting information throughout the book, and it is difficult to select which anecdotes and observations to include."
In other words, the Washington Times has threaded this needle in expert fashion.
*Or, as the paper terms it, "Books Editor". When did the title "Literary Editor" become unfashionable? And what was wrong with it?
[Hat-tip: Jack Shafer via Twitter.]