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An Ocean Full of Angels: The Autobiograph of 'Isa Ben Adam [Hardcover]

Peter Kreeft

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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Waves of Fate 20 April 2011
By J from Boston - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As someone who has been greatly inspired by Peter Kreeft's writings and lectures, I was naturally intrigued when I learned about the publishing of his only "novel". So I waited patiently in anticipation of its release by St. Augustine's Press. And I waited. And then I waited some more... Then, beyond all hope, it arrived!

I am generally hesitant to post book reviews on Amazon (an act of mercy?). However in this case, as no one else has written a review, I feel obliged to break with convention and write a few words. This book deserves it. As the publisher has noted, "This is the damndest novel you'll ever read." This is not hyperbole. The publisher meant it, and so does this reviewer. "An Ocean Full of Angels" is like no other novel I have read, and on that account I hesitate to call it a "novel". All the better. As the subtitle suggests, it is more a collection of musings and autobiographical writings by the main character, a noble but proud young American Muslim named 'Isa Ben Adam.

Through 'Isa's collected writings, a plot unfolds, and a pattern emerges: waves. The "waves" approach one after the other peaking with key events and decisive action, in between troughs of apparent calm. This pattern is the steady ebb and flow of fate in a vast ocean of causes in which everything is ordained and interconnected. The footsteps of destiny approach steadily like waves on the surface of the water produced by the stirrings of some unseen hand. Creation is deep and mysterious, and it is filled with untold wonders, dangers and beauties. Behind every event in time and space, every apparent "coincidence", there are unseen forces at work. Behind the curtain that is a thin veil between worlds, angels and demons clash in the cosmic warfare between good and evil. The repercussions have a real effect in this world that is as sure as gravity---nay, surer. Whose hand is it that weaves the tapestry? Who is the conductor behind this great music?

The Providential workings of the Creator come into view through the progression of this book, and are tied together in the end. It is clear that ultimately one Hand holds the ends of the strings, and even evil is permitted so that a greater good may come by it (I recall the sage words: "Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker."). Kreeft shows this principle in action, as the connections between the many themes and characters in this book come into view.

My first impression? Gold. With each chapter, pearls of wisdom and beauty are strewn ashore, to be gathered by those who will. The style is both philosophical and poetic; it is at times low key and at others bombastic---and on the whole it is quite moving. This is Kreeft's philosophy of life distilled to its essence and made to come alive through the charachers, the story and the setting. "An Ocean Full of Angels" draws upon the legacy of such writers as G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, among others. It is imbued with the same spirit, and it is truly a breath of fresh air in comparison to the noxious worldview we must reckon with in these dismal times. It is his own attempt at re-mythologyizing, and re-cultivating a sense of wonder at the beauty and mystery of the world.

Yet the characters, the setting and the story are not just means for communicating Kreeft's philosophy. They serve this purpose, it is true, but much more than this, they come alive! I will make no guarantees, as each person will bring his or her own perspective into the experience of reading this book. But if you are at all like me, you will be captivated by this book; you will care about its characters; you will be fascinated and drawn in by the story; you will fall in love with the setting---and be moved the worldview behind it all. It will surprise you, and it may very well irritate a few raw nerves.

There is no doubt about it, this book is different. It is a fictional autobiography told---by a Catholic philosopher---through the eyes of a devout young American Muslim living on the outskirts of The Hub of the Universe: Boston! (my own neck of the woods). It breaks many literary conventions, and it is not "neat". To be sure, there are plenty of passages that are as poetic and profound as anything I have read. But there are also many others that are delightfully odd. If you thought the chapers in "The Fellowship of the Ring" about the journey through the Old Forest and the Barrow Downs were superfluous to Tolkien's story, you may not like parts of this book. But if you love Tom Bombadil---or Tolkien, or Chesterton, or Lewis---you will probably love this too. Some of the connections made in the plot may seem a bit forced, but I think this is the point: it is not mere coincidence at work here. If this is a put-off, it is only because we expect our fiction to be more orderly than reality.

So why "only" four stars? Simple. I am not confident enough in my own literary judgment to rate this work among the classics by giving it five. I would not do this book a disservice by giving a cheap rating. This is a profound and moving---if unorthodox---book, by a highly respected and influential Catholic thinker of our time. If you are like me, then you will greatly enjoy this book, and will be rewarded by repeated re-readings, which in itself is telling. There is a lot to digest here.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Ocean's a Heaven 26 April 2011
By Charles Schmidt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A great book is a book that can be read over and over again and the reader will still find it rewarding, because the book has a lot of depth. Using that standard, An Ocean Full of Angels (Ocean) is indeed a great book.

A great book will usually have a great theme, a good plot, good characterizations, creative writing, grand language and great ideas. Ocean delivers the goods in these areas.

The theme of Ocean is Muslim philosopher `Isa Ben Adam's search for wisdom. It's also about the culture wars in America and between Muslims and Christians. The theme of divine providence also runs through this ocean.

The plotting is intricate and full of surprising yet believable twists. This novel is somewhat similar to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, but the adventure here is not so much a physical journey as a spiritual journey through dark territory. Ocean is also like The Diary of Anne Frank in that it is autobiographical. Anne Frank's great lesson was her comment that "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are basically good at heart." `Isa Ben Adam's learns during his search for wisdom that "wise men think they are fools, and fools think they are wise."

Although the novel is primarily a quest through the great conversation of philosophy, it is also a touching love story between `Isa and Mara, a young girl he meets. Their love is reminiscent of that between Dante and Beatrice in The Divine Comedy.

The characterizations are superb. Kreeft paints characters who are intelligent, believable, and fully rounded adults, which is rare is current literature. Most of the protagonists are philosophers, and they are good people.

In regard to the style of writing, Peter Kreeft is clear, concise and creative. Although this novel is rather long, it seems to go by quickly. The many profound insights sprinkled throughout are easily grasped due to the clarity of the writing, which demonstrates that good philosophers don't have to be abstruse in order to be profound. Kreeft's style is similar to that of the fiction of C S Lewis and G K Chesterton, which speaks well of Kreeft.

Ocean covers many great ideas. The novel is about `Isa's search for wisdom and how he found it, and it addresses significant questions: What is wisdom? What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Is prayer effective? Do angels watch over us?

An Ocean Full of Angels is like the ocean itself - deep, beautiful, majestic and inspiring.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No Such Thing as Empty "Space " 9 May 2011
By Thomas L. Cook - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Heidegger's contention that "poetry is more objective than science" works its way like magic into Peter Kreeft's strangest book. (I take that back, If Einstein Had Been a Surfer is stranger, but that was originally going to be the strangest part of this book anyway.) And by 'strange' I do not at all mean to say, esoteric or inaccessible. On the contrary this book allows us to do what Charles Dickens does in his autobiography, to feel the strangeness of the everyday, to see the words "MOOREEFFOC" as written backwards on the inside of a coffee-room, and be hit by a pang of nostalgia for the world as it was originally experienced as a child. For in the mind of the child, say, of Dickens' mind as a child, the coffee-room he sat in for hours was only dreary by repetition. The dreariness was an illusion brought on by repetition. The thing in itself, seen on first glance, the thing seen as the poet sees it, is not dreary: it's as arresting and tangy as a fairy-tale or dream.

Kreeft's chapter on Nahant, the best chapter in the book in my opinion, achieves this effect beautifully. The fog that sits atop a hill reveals rather than conceals. The top of the hill that cannot be seen by the eyes outside, can be seen by the eyes within. And the eyes within are able to catch that rare glimpse of the real hill, the hill as it exists not in Plato's mind, or anyone's mind really, but, as it exists in God's mind and outside of God's mind, if we have eyes to see it. As the narrator and protagonist 'Isa spends time with girlfriend, he is more naked with clothes on. If at the wrong time, the clothes come off, nakedness does not reveal but conceals. Our inner eyes are clouded and the body eclipses the soul.

This is a metaphysical novel at heart, and a strong case against reductionism. It is about whether there are more, or less, things in the universe as religion sees it as compared with how science sees it. It is about a cosmology of bizarre and wild fullness instead of material emptiness. In this aspect, the book shines brilliantly. It is also unusually successful at getting us to sympathize completely with a devout Shi'ite Muslim: something I haven't seen any American books do... we are almost embarrassed briefly for our friend who calls his Uncle infidel and a loose college girl a whore. Because, on the other hand, he's the most interesting Muslim we've ever met as well. But that's also where I had some trouble with the book; I couldn't accept that such a strict Muslim had such far-reaching knowledge of Catholic literature, American culture. But perhaps that is my own problem. I haven't had any strict Muslim friends in my life, after all.

It's also effective in this book when the Calvinist comes across as a Freudian, and our feelings for a Muslim are turned upside down (not once, but twice!) But I give only three stars because some of the chapters (House of Bread) read as treacle and the panoply of characters that live together seem all too devout... I dunno. I had a hard time accepting it. Finally, AIDS wasn't named until 1982 but is mentioned in 1978, and an explanation for why Nahant is the center of the a Venn-diagram universe is repeated unnecessarily. I also wanted the story to go "underground" if you will but was let down in this expectation. Finally, the chapter on Nahant is a masterpiece (e.g. splashing water "muttering to itself, like an old hermit, endlessly picking fights with itself") but the chapter on Fenway is unbelievably out of place, and brings the quickening pace of the plot almost to a standstill.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read the book, not the reviews!! 28 Jun 2011
By Nick Palmer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Odd title for a review? Well, this is a very odd book. Read it, and enjoy the twists and turns with true surprise at the unexpected.

I suspect that most who choose to read it will do so based on Prof. Kreeft's reputation or body of work. Exactly right.

After you read it, then feel free to join in the discussion here and elsewhere.
5.0 out of 5 stars An Ocean Full of Angels 17 May 2013
By Michael - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is one of the quirkiest books I've ever read, but I need to say that I absolutely loved it. Its amazing in good books what sometimes jumps out at you, and there was a line that jumped off the page during the chapter on "Nahant, Ma", and that deals with America as the best country in the world, "because you can live the life you want to live, which is unique in the history of the world", this book meant a lot to me, and I will come back to it often.
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