James Carroll’s American Requiem


James Carroll's National Book Award winner is a fitting choice for Father's Day.

James Carroll's National Book Award winner is a fitting choice for Father's Day.

It’s Father’s Day today, so happy day to all of the fathers in the collective house.

In honor of the day, and of my dad, today’s book is James Carroll’s An American Requiem: God, My Father and the War That Came Between Us.

A former priest, prolific, elegant and scholarly writer and fervent pacifist, Carroll is one of Dad’s heroes.  He has written a column for many years for The Boston Globe and authored, among many other books, Constantine’s Sword, the magisterial work about the Catholic Church and the rise of antisemitism. 

An American Requiem is a remarkably personal work that opens with one of the most memorable scenes I have ever read.  A newly anointed priest, Carroll is redeeming his father, who was a “spoiled priest”-one who entered, but left the seminary.  Yet, with his parent in attendance and kneeling near the pulpit, Carroll uses the occasion of his first sermon to speak out against the Vietnam War, of which his father was an architect and which was carried out by the military in which his father was one of the Pentagon’s only civilian generals. 

His father is weeping. 

From this opening scene, Carroll takes us back into his childhood, part of which was spent in Western Germany, into the family history that shaped him and into the war that divided the Carrolls as it did so many other families.  One of Carroll’s was a draft resister, while another worked to catch draft resisters. 

In the end, though, the book is also about Carroll’s striving to know and feel deeply connected to his reserved and somewhat emotionally repressed father.  

I will not reveal the ending, but will say that the reader who gets there will feel rewarded and haunted by this searingly honest and elegantly written book.


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