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on 24 January 2017
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on 12 April 2016
Non fiction Toibin. Great
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on 9 October 2014
A fascinating, nuanced overview of the interplay between Catholicisms as they manifest in different cultures, political systems, and the humans who inhabit these very different worlds. Toibin's travels, in the end, take him home again where he finds "the end of history" and, perhaps, signs of change in a decaying value system. I loved it.
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on 25 November 2013
A really good read and informative - I like Colm's style - slightly out of date now but that does not detract from the interest and observation of the subject.
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on 31 August 2001
Toibin travels through various catholic regions of Europe generally at times of high catholic festivals. The journey takes us from an Irish past in the 1950s-60s to Croatia's nationalist catholicism, a Regensburg (FRG) theology professor, an Old Firm match in Glasgow (Celtic win), repeatedly to Poland and also to the Czech republic, eventually to Sevilla's local chauvinist and self contradictory catholicism where people are ardent socialists but still will just as fervently support the annual processions of the Virgin. The book is at its strongest when focussing on observing local culture, 'ordinary' people, getting involved in discussion with people. The various passages on papal visits tend to become slightly boring after a while. Some passages can be frightening and distressing, when catholicism and nationalism go so closely hand in hand (Croatia).
I was surprised that the author desperately tries to convince the reader that there is a problem with the fact that there are next to no catholics among the younger Scottish generation of writers. However, all his Scottish interview partners tell him, that they had never thought about it before and not a single one of them (not even the catholic) thought there was a problem. Toibin's obsession with possible discrimination seems strange and sectarian - about as absurdly out of place as if he had discovered that there were no left handed among Scotland's younger writers, and that the only explanation was discrimination...
There is a passage in the book which seems entirely out of place. This is the confession about the author's experience in a psychotherapeutic seminar. It looks as if writing it down and publishing it - no matter in what context - had been part of the therapy rather than he result of literary judgment.
Take away these small weak points and you'll read an entertaining and well observed book.
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on 4 December 2010
Excellent book by Colm Toibin. Can identify with many of his views. Fascinating chapters dealing with his visits to Croatia, Slovenia and Slovakia. In particular the various dialogs in Slovakia cast an interesting light on the emergence of Vaclav Havel and the subsequent split of Czech Republic and Slovakia. To be reading of his trip to Westport and the Croagh Patrick pilgrimage at a time of mass emigration from Ireland seems particularly relevant in today's (2010) circumstances. Also deals with Irish people's insecurities in dealing with English people. Very positively disposed to his Spanish experiences - and has clearly been influenced by his Hemingway reading in his youth.
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on 26 August 2013
There is a really interesting idea behind this book. Colin Toibin travels to a number of European countries in the early 1990s to experience "their Catholicism". His journeys extend from newly emerging post-Iron Curtain countries to the UK and Ireland. Everywhere is a degree of shared experience but also a lot that is distinct -- a not so catholic Catholicism.

This book is potentially an important record as European Catholicism faces a post-Communist world and into a new millennium. But it falls short. The book had its origins in a series of newspaper articles and this might be the root of its problems. What the author chooses to concentrate is fairly arbitrary, sometimes it is a religious service, sometimes about the people he meets, sometimes it is their ideas, sometimes it is the actual travelling or the alcohol he consumes. Often he misses telling us enough of about the religion itself -- what it means to local people, why they chose it or stuck with, why it is the same or why it is different across Europe. To be fair there is some of this but very unevenly so. Presumably the constraints of space restricted what could be included but the author's choices are very eclectic and inconsistent.

The size of the book means it is an easily digested bite size of reading. But there is much more that could have been told on the subject and it leaves a feeling on incompleteness.
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