I began to read The Last Monk of Tibhirine and find that it is hard to put down. But don’t read it until you know the story of Tibhirine – either from the 2010 film Of Gods and Men (a hit with both critics and movie-goers) or from the book The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love and Terror in Algeria. The film was magnificent, showing the lives of nine Trappist monks who lived in the midst of a mostly-Muslim village in Algeria as civil war unfolded around them and ultimately engulfed them. It is both a suspenseful and deeply moving story. (See trailer below)
Two of the nine members of the community survived; one has since passed away. Freddy Derwahl, a Belgian poet, author and journalist who had stayed with the monks at Tibhirine for a short time to “try his vocation” as a Trappist. He knew Br Jean-Pierre from that earlier time, and was able to fit readily into the rhythm and life of the monastery in Morocco where Br Jean-Pierre continues to live a life of prayer and simplicity in a largely Muslim country. The book mingles Derwahl’s journal of his days at the monastery with Br Jean-Pierre’s story of his youth, vocation and the events at Tibhirine.
One of the translators, Ruth Cape, described the book well:
“The book is a thought-provoking and fascinating cross-cultural and cross-religious dialogue,” Cape said. “It is about endurance, absolute commitment, forgiveness, and the vulnerability of the human existence. … In stories that he shares with Derwahl, the monk reflects on what really happened.”
This book is special because of the passage of time. Br Jean-Pierre lives daily with the memory of his murdered confrères, who photos are present in the new monastery. He has prayed and meditated on their life together, the choices they made, and its meaning. Where the film Of Gods and Men is a witness to the meaning the events had at the time, this book adds the insight of one who made the decision to continue the same life in a similar location.
The writing (and the translation) is beautifully done. Paraclete Press has certainly done the English-speaking world a great service by publishing this book.
- A timely moment to see Of Gods and Men (catholicherald.co.uk)
- A letter from Trappist nuns in Syria: “Blood fills our streets, our eyes, our hearts” (atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com)
- Heroism in “Of Gods and Men” (patienttrust.wordpress.com)