Morris West, VisionaryApril 30, 2014
"So I've sorted it out with God. I have no problem with faith, because faith to me is the acceptance of the whole, incomplete mystery. I am content to live with the mystery. I am part of it."
- Morris West
Morris West, novelist and playwright, would have turned ninety eight on the twenty sixth of April. He passed away fifteen years ago.
Born in St Kilda, Victoria, West became renowned for books that focused on the role of the Roman Catholic Church in international affairs. He was a Vatican correspondent for the Daily Mail, which would influence his literary career. He was also a resident of the Christians Brothers order, but he left without taking final vows. Perhaps West liked that certain period in history, when the Church played an active role in political affairs. It was a thing of the past during the twentieth century, but the Australian was privy to what was going on inside the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, the official seat of the Pope, and the Apostolic Palace, his residence. His novels are far from Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons", which was about a conspiracy within the holy grounds.
"The Shoes of the Fisherman" was arguably his best work. It was prophetic, as the lead character was a humble Ukrainian pope whose faith was about to be tested in a major global crisis. It was first published in 1963, prompting some to wonder if West had foreseen a certain Karol Józef WojtyÅ‚a, who would become pope fifteen years later. (John Paul II would also be the first non-Italian pope since Pope Adrian VI, who passed away in 1523.) Kiril Pavlovich Lakota was no ordinary fellow, having spent twenty years in a Siberian labour camp. Then circumstances brought him out of the gulag and into the Vatican. More unforeseen events followed, one of which was the Papacy. As Pope Kiril I, the Third World War was about to happen, partly due to the severe crisis in China. So the chance to do some charity - and sacrifice - came. Everyone was confounded by what he did.
The novel was a success, but this didn't turn the heads of critics back home. It wasn't surprising, as their job was to be objective. Perhaps there was more expectation in West's case. Another reason was the genre, in which West became a household name. It would be an exciting topic in Europe, fascinating in America. Maybe Australians were more laidback. West didn't take it hard, though. His books were translated into twenty seven languages and sold more than sixty million copies worldwide.
West was working on "The Last Confession", his final novel, when he died. According to Chris O'Hanlon, his son, his father had been suffering from heart problems for some time.
"We're pleased he died that way," O'Hanlon said. "I really think he would have wanted to."
Time can be a fair judge, so public opinion (in Australia) on West's works can change in the near future.
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