The Sign of the Cross

The Sign of the Cross : Travels in Catholic Europe

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Between 1990 and 1994, Colm Toibin made a series of trips through Catholic Europe. His journey led him into close contact with people from all walks of life, from priests to politicians, from the intellectually open to the spiritually bigoted. He then set down his impressions in this beautifully written book, filled with personal detail set within its historical context. "Colm Toibin writes beautifully in a spare style that allows for plain description, high humour and effects that are carefully toned. He is at once an honest, uncertain pilgrim with a press card and a sense of devilment, and a son on an Oedipal trail". ("Irish Times"). "A mixture of autobiography, travelogue and journalism which tantalizes the reader with what it withholds as much as it entertains and instructs with what it describes..."The Sign of the Cross", like all good writing, is a treat". ("Independent on Sunday"). "This book describing Colm Toibin's journey is written with the novelist's familiar clarity and wisdom. It is as much a record of the European Catholic psyche in different political climates as it is an introspective pilgrimage to see what stuff Toibin's own faith is made of". ("Daily Telegraph").show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 256 pages
  • 128 x 192 x 18mm | 158.76g
  • Pan MacMillan
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 0330373579
  • 9780330373579
  • 191,891

About Colm Toibin

Colm Toibin was born in Ireland in 1955. He is the author of five novels, most recently The Master which was shorlisted for the 2004 Man Booker Prize. His non-fiction includes Bad Blood, Homage to Barcelona and The Sign of the Cross. His work has been translated into seventeen languages. He lives in more

Review Text

An Irish novelist (The Heather Blazing, 1993, etc.) and journalist reports on his visits to centers of Catholic devotion in Europe, as he attempts to make sense of his own conflicted relationship with the faith he has abandoned. Beginning with reminiscences of his Irish upbringing, Toibin takes us to Poland, France, Italy, Spain, the post-communist worlds of the Balkans, Lithuania, and Estonia, and to Great Britain. Much of the material has been reworked from pieces written for the Irish press, and the result, though occasionally uneven, is a stimulating blend of vivid travelogue and passionate inner searching. We read of Holy Week processions, such as those of Seville, with their life-size statues of the crucified Christ and the sorrowful Virgin, accompanied by brass bands and hundreds of hooded penitents. We follow our author in the pilgrimages to Compostella and up the rugged heights of Croagh Patrick in Ireland. Midway through his narrative he tells of his searing experience in group therapy, when he first acknowledged his grief over his father's death and, in spite of himself, found the sign of the cross emerging from his psyche as a healing symbol. Throughout his travels, Toibin has the keen eye of an intrigued skeptic: What does all this mean to these people? How can they believe in it? Only once, when he is blessed by Marija, one of the young visionaries of Medjugorje in Croatia, does he briefly move beyond his own experience of Catholicism as a form of social control. Always the outsider, he interviews many interesting people, such as Catholic Slovakian intellectuals and prominent English converts from Anglicanism, but he holds back from speaking to, rather than about, the very people whose devotion so disturbs and fascinates him. A very Irish view of Europe and Catholicism, likely to appeal to those whose inner search also takes them beyond themselves. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Review quote

"'Colm Toibin writes beautifully in a spare style that allows for plain description, high humour and effects that are carefully toned. He is at once an honest uncertain pilgrim with a press card and a sense of devitment, and a son on an Oedipal trail' Sean Dunne, Irish Times"show more
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