Can a book about crime victims be described as "beautiful?" In the case of Transcending, by Howard Zehr, the answer is a resounding yes. Transcending is a beautiful collection of personal essays and striking photography that explores the intimate feelings of victims of violent crime.
Dr. Zehr, an internationally known advocate of restorative justice, proves again with this book that he is a leader in this area. More than many of his colleagues, Zehr holds steadfast to his belief in the importance of victim's rights and needs. While his contemporaries are inclined to move quickly into the benefits of restorative justice for the offender, Zehr maintains a conviction that victims must always come first.
As I read Transcending, I could imagine Zehr demonstrating acute listening skills with the survivors he interviewed. I suspect he may have squirmed at times from what he heard; such as a resistance to forgiveness by some survivors, an act Zehr advocates as a peacemaker and a proponent of the Mennonite faith. By declining to edit out bad grammar and even strong expletives that may be difficult for some readers, Zehr has maintained the integrity of this project.
My only criticism of the book is that it doesn't include more victims of crimes other than murder. Victims of child abuse, rape, domestic violence, and drunk driving death an injury deserved equal voices.
Zehr is fond of quoting Vaclav Havel, who said, "Transcendence is the only alternative to extinction." Either one moves toward getting better or is slowly killed by the killer, too. The 39 survivors who share their stories here make the choice - sometimes after a long personal war in darkness - to press on and make something meaningful from their experiences. Because their brief stories, usually 3 or 4 pages in length, are direct quotes, the collection is powerful and honest. The integrity of the words, coupled with the artistry of Zehr's images, result in a sense of having the victims in the same room. As readers, we can almost feel their arms around us and hear their words of encouragement. They seem to be saying, "I think you can make it, too."