“Islamic fundamentalist groups, in particular ISIS, have ravaged parts of Iraq and Syria and brought those countries’ already decimated Christian population to the verge of extinction. In Egypt, Christian Copts face legal and societal discrimination. In Gaza, which in the fourth century was entirely Christian, fewer than one thousand Christians remain.”
Sobering statistics like these set a grim backdrop for The Vanishing, war journalist Janine di Giovanni’s fearless account of what the book’s subtitle calls “Faith, Loss, and the Twilight of Christianity in the Land of the Prophets.” There can be few better suited or equipped to tell this story than di Giovanni, who has previously reported on the genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Syria and is a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.
The Vanishing is neither a chronological record of Christian withdrawal nor a geopolitical analysis of religious trends. Instead, di Giovanni offers a kind of requiem for a disappearing religious culture, a tale rendered all the more heart-wrenching for having been written during some of the worst months of the COVID-19 crisis. The book skillfully manages to combine an overview of the rise and precipitous fall of Christianity in its ancient homelands, moving accounts from believers sticking it out there, and a deeply personal grieving over the withdrawal of the faith from its birthplace.
Di Giovanni’s narrative begins and ends amid the lockdown in Paris: “I light a candle,” she writes. “I pray for those who are sick and for those who have died. Ordinarily, I am not a prayerful person. I am a proud sinner, in fact. But faith is coming back to me ...1
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