Monday, October 7, 2013

Book Review - Mother Teresa, Kathryn Spink

Mother Teresa: An Authorized Biography (Revised Edition)


Kathryn Spink

Category: Nonfiction: Memoir: Faith; Christianity; Catholic

Synopsis: Spink recounts Mother Teresa’s life and works in Calcutta, India, and throughout the world.

Date finished: 12 September 2013

Rating: ***

Okay, I know it seems sacrilegious to rate a book about Mother Teresa three stars, but I have to keep remembering that I’m rating the book, not the subject. And the book, frankly, wasn’t my cup of tea. Although well-written, it was completely and totally uninspiring, and THAT is what I would expect in a biography about a woman who spent her life immersed in enormously selfless and loving work for the “poorest of the poor.” I saved this book for several months, for when I was hungry for a good life-affirming read. I was so disappointed. I wanted to stop reading, but I kept hoping it would get better. For much of the book, I was just waiting for it to end.

The book basically amounted to a chronological résumé of Mother Teresa’s work. It listed the countless Missionaries of Charity convents and humanitarian houses she established around the world. It included excerpts from her various speeches and numerous letters, as well as the text of her 1979 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Her views on the importance of prayer, the preciousness of family, the sanctity of life were discussed. Everything you ever wanted to know about the various foundations, the numbers of Sisters and Brothers, Co-Workers, etc.—and her guidance and advice to them—it’s all right here. But there is no heart, no spark. And while I understand that focusing on the personality of Mother Teresa was counter to her mission, including only occasional anecdotes regarding her character does her a disservice. You can describe a missionary of God without taking the glory from God. And doing so would bring more prayerful (and monetary) support to the work that continues in her name.

Additionally, I was frustrated by the dropping of Catholic terms that mean nothing to a non-Catholic. There was no glossary and no definition in the text itself. I have no idea what the difference between a postulate, novice, or sister is. I don’t know what a novena is. I don’t know what/who the Holy See is. I don’t know what “first profession” and “final profession” is. I think I kind of figured it out, but I could have figured it out incorrectly. How could the author not realize that not everyone who would pick up her book was Catholic? Certainly she knew that. Mother Teresa never discriminated between Hindu, Muslim, Jew, and Christian. She didn’t speak to one, she spoke to all. She didn’t treat one, she treated all.

I was also severely irritated by the author’s unconventional use of punctuation. All the quotes inside the punctuation marks. Ugh. I noticed it EVERY TIME it happened. It was distracting. Also, she didn’t follow conventional comma usage, which was just weird.

There were times near the end of the book where the author—who knew Mother Teresa and had her blessing on her book project—would insert herself into the story. This was a bit strange. I also noticed that in the last few chapters when she discussed opposition to Mother Teresa’s work and relations, she was obviously defensive. This seemed incongruous and unnecessary and cast a shadow on the validity of the first 250 pages.

At present, Mother Teresa (now Blessed Teresa of Calcutta) is awaiting sainthood. A second intercession miracle must be validated before she can be canonized as a saint. (I think I have this right, but again, I’m unfamiliar with Catholicism.) Her work touched the lives of countless, and to those she wasn’t able to nurse back to health from starvation or sickness, she provided a dignified death. “A beautiful death,” she maintained, “is for people who lived like animals to die like angels—loved and wanted.” Her calling was to give “wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor” by recognizing Christ in each suffering person and to quench his thirst. She believed that in order to “understand and help those who have nothing, we must live like them…” She did “ordinary things with extraordinary love.” And her work continues.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
No. I’d recommend they try another biography.

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