Award-winning Australian author Sarah Krasnostein describes her latest work The believer as “the human song of the unreachable” and how “the stories we tell ourselves” help us face the world as it is and as we would like it to be.
She takes us on a grand tour of the world as she spends time with six disparate and seemingly unrelated people and their communities whose belief systems operate outside of what most of us would call ordinary life.
There’s Annie, a “death doula,” who helps terminally ill people face their destiny with dignity and comfort by overcoming fear and despair. Ironically, Annie’s life has itself been filled with trauma and death, and Krasnostein paints a sympathetic and deeply touching portrait of her and all those around her, inviting the reader to ask the hard questions we can find it too uncomfortable to pose.
In contrast, there’s Vlad and his band of paranormal researchers who don’t believe death is the end and spend time in haunted buildings in an attempt to communicate with “the other side.” For them, death is not the end. They use high- and low-tech ghost-hunting technology to convince the lost spirits to respond, imploring, “If someone is dead…could they turn up the lights on this meter to confirm?”
In Kentucky, we meet the science board and advisors of the Creation Museum, where visitors are guided through sophisticated exhibits illustrating biblical truths such as The Flood, which they say really happened and from which Noah saved two of each animal. Moreover, the world is only 7,000 years old and dinosaurs were concurrent with human civilization. “It’s clear, it’s Scripture, it’s not rocket science!” they exclaim.
Krasnostein walks a very careful line between religion and belief, with forays into both the divine and the devastating. Its chapters about Lynn, a woman who has just been released from a 30-year prison sentence for the murder of her physically abusive husband, follow her as she apprehensively attempts to join society but is unconditionally welcomed by a small church community. This contrasts with chapters that revolve around a deeply religious Mennonite community that sings carols in subway tunnels and does missionary work in an unseemly New York neighborhood. They seem to barely make progress in their goal, but are nonetheless filled with expansive joy.
The way the writer brings out the humanity of these different believers is lyrical and full of imagery that allows the reader to glimpse the hearts and minds of people passionate about what they believe, even in the face of opposition from friends, family, society as a whole and, of course, factual reality.