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The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria [Paperback]

John Kiser
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 28 2003
The inspiration for the major motion picture "Of Gods and Men"
 
In the spring of l996 armed men broke into a Trappist monastery in war-torn Algeria and took seven monks hostage, pawns in a murky negotiation to free imprisoned terrorists. Two months later their severed heads were found in a tree; their bodies were never recovered.

The village of Tibhirine had sprung up around the monastery because it was a holy place protected by the Virgin Mary, revered by Christians and Muslims alike. But napalm, helicopters, and gunfire had become regular accompaniments to the monastic routine as the violence engulfing Algeria drew closer to the isolated cloister high in the Atlas Mountains.

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Few Americans heard about it, but the story gripped Europe (and especially France) during the summer of 1996: The mysterious kidnapping and murder of seven Trappist monks living in the Algerian village of Tibhirine at their monastery of Notre-Dame de l'Atlas. John W. Kiser III tells their story, or at least what parts of it can be known; much of what happened to them remains unclear, including the motives of their captors. Parts of The Monks of Tibhirine are grim, but this is an unavoidable fact of the case. The monks' bodies, for instance, never have been found--except for their heads. Kiser describes the scene: "The monks' desiccated faces, hollow eye sockets, and exposed teeth made them look like mummies." (Apparently they had been buried, then disinterred.) Readers looking for a nonfiction thriller won't find it on these pages, however. Much of the book is a history of monks living in Algeria, and much of the rest chronicles the good relationships the seven doomed monks shared with their Muslim neighbors. Their devotion to both their faith and their neighbors is inspiring; the way they died is abhorrent. --John Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

During the carnage that followed the 1992 cancellation of elections in Algeria, seven Trappist monks were kidnapped and murdered in 1996 by a group of Islamic extremists, one of many armed elements whose clash exacted a toll of at least 100,000 lives in the former French colony in North Africa. Kiser, whose only previous English-language book dealt with technology and the Soviet Union, focuses on the peaceful and fraternal coexistence of Christians and Muslims in and around a Trappist monastery in the Algerian countryside. Despite warnings for foreigners to leave, the monks maintained their daily witness to peace, offering employment in the monastery gardens and medical care to any Muslims who sought such assistance. The villagers in turn honored the monks' piety and simplicity, and regularly invited their Christian neighbors to weddings and other festivities. Given the complexity of the horrific subsequent events, the thoroughly French and Algerian frame of reference (the story is well known in France) and the importance of a clear chronology in the story, this text cries out for an editor's guidance in reorganizing the narrative and clarifying it for an American audience. Yet the book is still a must for patient American readers interested in the evolution of independent Islamic politics out of a history of European imperialism. Inside a hard shell of confusing politics rests an engrossing and simple tale of love for one's neighbors and a God who does not prefer one faith over another.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
From a certain angle, the Basilica of Notre Dame d'Afrique looks like a giant camel on its haunches, contemplating the Aleppo pine- and eucalyptus-covered hills that form an amphitheater around the port of Algiers. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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2.0 out of 5 stars Mired in detail April 10 2004
Format:Hardcover
On the strength of published public reviews, I added this book to my 'must' reading list, and finally ordered it after numerous positive customer reviews.
I am sorry that I can't join the enthusiastic chorus. Whatever its merits as a historical reconstruction and analysis of a great tragedy, the book itself never gets off the ground in terms of being a gripping read, and I found myself giving up after both false starts and, alternatively, trying to skim through the book. The mind-numbing detail and philosophical navel-gazing killed any interest I brought to the table.
For a good example of my perception of the problem, read the excerpt available in 'search inside the book,' which features page 1 of Chapter 1, Mourning. If you like this page, you'll most likely like the book; if not, look elsewhere.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful book! Nov. 10 2002
Format:Hardcover
The story of these trappists who died in Algeria in 1996 is a remarkable one that is told very well by the author. It is rare that such a sad event, the kidnapping and decapitation of these good, harmless men can generate such a feeling of hope and optimism. I lost a lot of my prejudices against Muslims reading this book. What a good and hospitable people most of the folk were. I cannot ever forget the reaction of the imams, refusing to condone such a murder, and even suffering death themselves rather than issue fetwas against innocent people. What a wonderful witness to the gospels these men showed. They were good neighbors who didn't deserve this kind of death. But none of the muslim victims of these terrorists deserved it either. The death of the monks brought attention to all the nameless people who had already died. And finally, I cannot read Christian de Cherge's final testiment without crying at the beauty of it: The forgiveness, the fraternal love shown even to his murderer. I will pray with brother Christian that, as he said, one day he and his murderer will meet with forgiveness before God, two good thieves.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Tragic and Hopeful Aug. 8 2002
By A. Ross
Format:Hardcover
This excellent book manages the remarkable task of juggling three important themes at once: the touching personal stories of a community of Trappist monks in Algeria, an uplifting investigation of what it means to be a true Christian and "live the Gospels", and finally an unraveling of the confusing and depressing story of Algeria's civil war. The framework for Kiser's book is the sad and unheard (in the US) story of the kidnapping and subsequent murder of seven Trappist monks in 1996 by a group of Islamic extremists. Using a myriad of French-language sources, including the diaries and journals of several of the monks and their personal letters, as well as interviews with family members and friends, and a trip to the monastery in Algeria, Kiser has crafted an fine work of history.
This history is built on his excellent presentation of contextual material. Clear prose takes the reader through brief histories of the formation of the Cistercian order, the Trappist schism, the history of Christianity in Algeria, French colonialism in Algeria, the Algerian revolution, the disastrous rule of the FLN, the rise of the Islamist movement, and the current civil war. Interwoven is the story of the monastery at Tibhirine in the Atlas Mountains and the friendship between the monks and their Muslim neighbors. Most of the French monks had some personal connection to Algeria (several had done military service there), and all felt that their calling demanded that they live a simple life amongst non-Christians, displaying the power of their faith through good works. Kiser takes a great deal of effort to highlight the areas of common ground between the inclusive Christianity of the monks and the Islam of their neighbors.
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5.0 out of 5 stars compelling and provocative July 21 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Kiser has written a compelling and inspiring account that humanizes the tragedy of the monks of Tibhirine and of the Algerian civil war more generally. What I find particularly impressive is Kiser's refusal to exploit the subject matter, and his determination to dig below the surface level and take the drama of events to a deeper level. He provides the necessary information to situate the drama of the monks within a much larger context of politics, history, and culture, and finds hope in the midst of suffering. Kiser is aware that there are two rights and too many wrongs in Muslim-Christian relations. He affirms that, by remembering what is _right_ on both sides of the cultural divide, we can find sufficient energy, resolve, and inspiration to build bridges of understanding between two estranged religious and cultural traditions.
I would recommend this book to anyone who shares Kiser's desire to truly _understand_ what has "gone wrong" and what might "go right" in Muslim-Christian relations. If used in an academic classroom environment, Kiser's well-researched and thoughtful prose narrative would provide valuable supplementation to more standard textbook treatment of Muslim-Christian relations and the modern Middle East.
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