The Believer


Sarah Krasnostein is an incredible writer, and her previous book, The Trauma Cleaner, won just about every award it was eligible for. The Believer is a more diffuse project than Trauma Cleaner, but it's just as wonderful to read and ponder. Trauma Cleaner was focused on one woman's extraordinary life story; The Believer encounters six different individuals or groups, who all have one thing in common -- they all have faith in something. Krasnostein spends time with a 'death doula' and one of her clients at the very end of life; a group investigating paranormal phenomena; some creationists; a woman who spent 35 years in jail after killing her abusive husband (it was quite startling to come across this story so soon after reading The Mother, but it was a total coincidence...); a family of Mennonites; and believers in UFOs.

The UFO section centres on the disappearance of Frederick Valentich, a 20 year old pilot who vanished over Bass Strait but reported seeing mysterious lights and an inexplicable craft moving above him before he went missing. My father was also based at Moorabin Airport at the time, and I can remember discussions about this incident in my childhood; Dad always believed that Valentich was unknowingly flying upside down.

In every encounter, even where Krasnostein seems completely sceptical about her subjects' beliefs (particularly with the Mennonites and the creationists), her gentle but rigorous attention is notable. She is motivated by a desire to understand, not to judge, and even where it's impossible for her to see any way across the divide, she tries her utmost to reach out a hand. In these days when we are all so quick to pronounce and condemn, this book is a salutary corrrective. The Believer may not provide the most scholarly or coherent narrative, but it's definitely a fascinating and absorbing journey.

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