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MISSIONARIES are vastly misundstood--even by themselves. So when Raymond Weaver from his cloistered Morningside attempts to place the spark of real life in the bodies of some soul savers at Kurodani in the Island Empire, one feels an interest akin to that aroused by a study of any community of gods or devils, not yet quite understood by the world at large.
One is not disappointed. Mr. Weaver, in a rather loose, often eccentric style, paints a delightful picture of a far from delightful picture of a far from delightful existence in the Black Valley. Here East meets West with as little mutual comprehension as Mr. Foster found in India. The pointed spire of the Compound Church pricks a sky too old to mind such petty prodding, and the Reverend Alurid Wilberforce's proselyting pricks even less effectively the soverign sufficiency of heathenism and of life. Tragedy grimaces from the Inland Sea, tragedy, modified at intervals, by humor, satiric, satisfying. And when one sees the figure of the old preacher and priest. Alurid, pathetic in his own futility, planning the lives of his family and friends quite with out success, when one glimpses his wife, dying of cancer, slowly and with the help of a remorseless and unscientific God, one feels the throb which comes with appreciation of depths really plumbed.
But the stage, after all, is small; the characters too often, unreal. Alurid himself appears a bit inflated by his author's fervor in creating him. His son, Gilson, in his love for the little Japanese girl, is not always completely convincing. The story itself often lacks clarity, becomes entangled in the mazes of an evident flair for originality. Yet it is interesting, at times, revealing. And any novel which includes a character like the good Captain Horn who had one very bad night must eventually satisfy, even as does this one from the many refreshing descriptions of the many refreshing descriptions of the Ladies of the Compound. "As a preliminary to speech she pressed the extended fingers of a small freckled hand against her uncorseted hip. Hers was the type that iniquity might have made voluptuous; but godliness had left her merely dowdy."
Raymond Weaver's first novel is decidely a success. He has occasionally let satire better truth; he has even let it better niceness. But he has also illuminated the lives of the dwellers in a strange land, the devotees of a strange religion, and done so with precision and tact. That celibacy does not always prelude sanity; that religion does not necessarily preface morality are obvious facts. Yet a book like "Black Valley".
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