A Canticle for Leibowitz

Just a day after I had written about joining a book-club again, Sword & Laser announced their assignment for September which turned out to be “A Canticle for Leibowitz”. I had never heard of this book before but it seems to be a quite common reading assignment in US schools. The premise sounded interesting too so I started immediately.

The novel had been written as a collection of three novellas in the late 1950s and depicts a post-apocalyptic future where humankind has only just barely survived a nuclear world-war. You learn about a small group of monks in a single and remote abbey that tries to preserve history in order to prevent it from repeating itself. With the monks being the main protagonists of all three stories the focus is on the conflict between religious and secular forces over the course of nearly 2000 years.

I really liked the way these stories were told esp. since the author leaves it mostly up to the reader to decide if there are actually good and bad people here or just people. Both, monks and scientists, have valid points but also do some things that might be considered evil depending from where you’re coming from. There, each story clearly influences the next and there are one or two references back to previous characters. Perhaps a bit too few but it’s also understandable given that there are usually around 500-600 years between each novella.

The book being heavily focused on a Catholic order also makes heavy use of Latin quotes. Entertaining at first it eventually made me skip quite a few paragraphs simply because they only seemed to provide little additional insight into what was going on. As the story takes place in North America it also feels a bit strange that English was mostly lost over time but every monk still speaks Latin despite their main history-collection probably consisting mostly of English texts.

In some areas the author also tried to use a more artistic writing style which is kind of fitting for the religious setting but - as with the Latin paragraphs - eventually just made me skip many paragraphs. It often didn’t feel worth the cost of making the text harder to read and understand.

In the end, “A Canticle for Leibowitz” was a quite entertaining read that - even-though it was written so long ago - doesn’t feel dated. It probably helps that post-apocalyptic stories usually don’t need a lot of science besides what actually caused the catastrophe. It’s definitely something nobody should feel bad of at least giving a try.