Saturday, December 11, 2010

Book Review: Star Bright! A Christmas Story

Star Bright! A Christmas Story
Author: Andrew M. Greeley
Mass Market Paperback, 208 pages
Published November 1, 2004, by Forge Books
(first published 1997)
Genre: Christmas romance

What a delightful introduction to the work of Andrew Greeley this novel is!  It’s magical, mystical, tender, and humorously romantic.

The magic comes from the heroine, the unusual and gifted Odessa Tatiana Alekseevna.   Her besotted boyfriend, who narrates their story, deftly makes her come alive for the reader; she is a luminous beauty, a highly talented artist, and a mystic who is on very intimate terms with God.  

Jack Flanigan is an Irish-American Catholic boy.  Tatiana is Russian Orthodox, born in Russia.  Greeley not only highlights their cultural differences, but delves into their religious ones as well, through their funny dialogues.  I found myself chuckling at several points.  Still, Tatiana comes off as a very spiritual, shy person.  Jack, on the other hand, portrays himself as a somewhat inept, rough-around-the-edges Irishman, but the reader knows he does not see himself very accurately.    

With the pretext of perfecting his already perfect Russian, he starts meeting her at a certain Harvard campus bench every day.   He also watches her interacting with children who also sometimes meet her at the same bench.  He is delighted to discover that Tatiana is a storyteller of the first order.

Jack’s growing relationship with Tatiana is also contrasted with the one he has with his endearingly dysfunctional family.   One day, the idea is born: he will take her home with him, to spend Christmas with the Flanigans.  Tatiana’s parents are gone, after all, and she is all alone in the U.S.  Furthermore, she has no other relatives back in Russia.

The resulting interactions of Jack’s family with the young mystic are not only hilarious, but touching and sweet as well.  Odessa charms them all, and Jack is even more in love with her.  She transforms his normally contentious family into a group of people who actually begin to enjoy the beauty and holiness of the Christmas season.  Because of her, they grow closer to God, as well as each other.

The book concludes with hints that “Ivan the Wonderful” (“Ivan” is the equivalent of “John” in Russian) and “Aunt Tati” are destined to live a very long and happy life together.

This novel gave me what I was looking for – a spiritual lift, a glowing feeling of joy, hope, love and warmth.  Isn’t this what the Christmas season is all about?  Greeley communicated this message more effectively than he could possibly have done through a sermon at Midnight Mass!

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