Book Review: The Great Good Thing

by Anniel5/5/17
A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Jesus Christ  •  Author: Andrew Klavan. Available on Kindle  •  Please, if you read only one new book this year, let this be the one. I have been considering this book and author now for several weeks, trying to find a way to introduce it without trying to convert anyone, but to put forth the idea of one man’s path to belief and how that has helped and changed him.

Andrew Klavan is a best-selling author and screen-writer. This memoir is partially about what becoming a Christian has meant in his public life as a very visible man. It is also about his family, their influence on him, and what growing up in the U.S.A. meant to him. If that were all he wrote about, it would still be an interesting and inspirational read, but it is so much more.

Klavan’s love affair with the United States, the form of his education, his search for truth as an author, his desire to be a writer – including his love of words- reveals so much about the PC thinking that has come to characterize our age. The historical emphasis of Klavan’s life and decisions illuminates clearly how we ALL, in countries all over the world, have come to be where we are today.

At first reading I felt that Klavan’s experiences were foreign to my life, but then, the more I drilled down, the more I saw our common humanity as his real story. I confess I was totally mesmerized by his writing, and his thoughts about God and the meaning of Truth. I read, pondered, and reread again and again so I wouldn’t miss his meanings. He writes:

I was forty-nine years old and about to be baptized a Christian. . . No one could have been more surprised than I was. . . I never thought I was the type. I had been born and raised a Jew and lived most of my life as an agnostic. I believed in the fullest freedom of thought into the widest reaches of fact and philosophy. I had no time for magical thinking of any kind. I couldn’t bear solemn piety. I despised even the ordinary varieties of willful blindness to the tragic shambles of life on earth. And as for what the philosopher Schopenhauer once called the Christian’s “banal optimism” — that forced praise-singing cheer in the face of pain and disappointment and inescapable death – Oh, God, how I hated it; it set my teeth on edge.

And if my realism and worldliness didn’t keep me from baptism, there was the even greater obstacle of who I was- my cultural identity . . . I belonged to what the British refer to as the chattering classes. I thought and wrote and created stories for a living. I was one of the men of the coasts and cities, at home amongst the snarks and cynics of these postmodern times. By rights, my attitude toward religion should have been the same as theirs at its harshest, a disdain for the irrational survival of a primitive superstition; or in milder and more tolerant moods, a wistful regret over the demise of a comforting delusion and pass the Chardonay. Ho-Hum.

At a very young age, Klavan decided he wanted to become a writer. His father laughed at him and did everything in his power to keep him from his dreams. He seemed to be the son who could bring out the very worst in his father, a famous New York radio personality, who wished to retain some connection with the family’s Jewish background while remaining an entirely secular Jew.

. . In all my books my characters raced against time to explain the world while the world eluded them. Some deadly reality was always closing in around them as they chased after the illusion up ahead. . . In telling these stories, it turned out, of course, that I wasn’t just exploring them as a writer, I was also wrestling with it as a man. What was truth? How could you think, live and make choices and judgments day by day if you didn’t know?. . . 

The oldest fragment of New Testament papyrus we have preserves the question of the sophisticated Roman Official Pontius Pilate as he sits in judgment over the backwoods Jewish preacher Jesus of Nazareth: “What is Truth?” The Gospel’s weird answer has already been spoken by Jesus elsewhere in the narrative. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” he says.

How can this be? In what way is it possible for Jesus to be the Way, the Truth and the life? What does that even mean? A real riddle for the author it seems.

Pursuing the Truth became the Path of Klavan’s life. Along the way he tells us how he became a con artist at his neighborhood school, how he never did the reading or the work assigned, he did fear being exposed, but his love of conning the teachers was a thrill he craved; he had a crises of conscience at his Bar Mitzvah because he didn’t believe what he had to say and do. An early rebellion against his father.

Klavan’s mother was an atheist and feminist who apparently hated being a mother. She said even a cat could have kittens. Having Andrew’s older brother, Andrew and then twin boys was a shock. She treated her children better than any other children around them. She taught them that they were <i>better</i> than the other people around them. Smarter and worth more.

Having fights with his brothers and other kids at his school turned Klavan into a tough nut who would never quit fighting, no matter how badly he was beaten.

During his youth he read action and crime books almost exclusively, nothing high-brow for him. He was a fan of detective novels and dreamed of being a hero, saving beautiful girls. Once he read where Philip Marlow said if you were going to write, it had to be for at least four hours a day. So he disciplined himself to do that. He wrote his first novel when he was fourteen. Was it any good? Probably better than most fourteen year old efforts. When he left high school he traveled all over to gain experience. He worked at newspapers and radio stations, he swept floors, loaded trucks, and for awhile was homeless. But he was getting experience all the time.

Klavan tells of his many bouts of depression and of his travels and drinking and myriad girl friends, and how he wound up attending Berkeley, where he continued academically conning one and all; he had periods of madness and thoughts of suicide; but he also had good things, such as meeting his wife and the birth of their children. He tells of the years they spent living in both New York and the UK, and the different disciplines, such as his devotions to Zen and Transendental Meditation, that he attempted before becoming a Christian.

There are so many things I disagree with in Klavan’s religion and his understanding of God, but it was fascinating to watch him develop as a man. He had many dead ends, but he learned from them. We should all learn so much in our struggle through life.

After his Bar Mitzvah Klavan bought his first New Testament and read it out of curiosity. He still owns and uses that version of the scripture today.

Klavan began a pattern of prayer early on, but confesses that prayer was often just “meditating out loud.” And yet prayer became vital to him, and as the years passed, sometimes it seemed like he really did connect with God and could almost believe that he received answers.

He did a couple of things that were fascinating. While he BS’d his way through Berkeley and never studied anything, he bought and kept every book on his syllabus, and if there were other books mentioned on the book jackets, he bought those also. He didn’t read them for a long while, he just saved them in a big stack in his room. One morning after partying all night, he was too lazy to rise and he could not sleep so he decided to read. He reached out and picked up a book at random, that book was by Faulkner, and that action turned him into a lover of words and he lived in amazement about what he read. He decided to read everything in the books he had saved, so those books became the basis of his education.

While he was still at Berkeley, he had his eyes opened to the future of literature because of post-modernism and literary deconstruction. The very idea of truth was rejected, morals became relative and all cultures were said to be equally valid while he was a student.

One day in an English lit class the professor was speaking gently of the poem by Tennyson called “The Charge Of The Light Brigade,” which Klavan had read and fallen in love with. Suddenly, he says,

. . a very serious young lady, in a very serious pair of spectacles rose from one of the front seats and demanded angrily, “How can we even read this poem when all it does is glorify war?” . . .[The professor] probably never had to defend the beauty of beauty before, or the wisdom of wisdom. She shrugged weakly. “I see what you mean,” she said. . . At the back of the auditorium , I leapt to my feet, appalled. . . reading the opening lines aloud and saying, “Listen! Listen to this! Listen! ‘Half a league, half a league, half a league onward- All in the valley of Death rode the six hundred.’ You can hear the horses! You can – listen- you can feel the courage and the madness, everything, it’s all there . . .” The professor made a bland gesture . . . as if to say, “Yes, yes I suppose it’s something of that sort.” Such survivors from the old days could raise no defense against the postmodern onslaught.

And that’s how learning and truth die, with hardly a whimper from bewildered teachers.

I kept thinking that Klavan’s name was very familiar and checked to see if I had read anything by him. There was nothing shown. Then, as I was reading, his writing for young people was mentioned and listed the four books of  The Homelanders series. Then I remembered reading the books a few years ago: The Last Thing I Remember, The Long Way Home, The Truth of the Matter, and The Final Hour.

It had been awhile since I had read the books, so I reread them and remembered how religious, patriotic, loving and brave the hero and all his real friends, and some friends he meets along the way, are. The hero moves from one crisis to another, with fast moving and graphic violence, but the books are gritty in showing the sacrifices that some people must make to protect us and our freedom. No PC crap is permitted.

So, if you know a young person who would like a rollicking good adventure, these books are a lot better than some of the tripe out there, plus the values taught are so good. Read the books aloud together.

After hearing how raw Klavan’s adult books are, I decided to read one I pulled up at random, called Empire of Lies. I found it revolting in its  language, violence and also in its descriptions of sexual perversion. But I kept reading because the thread of a profound morality wound throughout the book. Later I heard an interview Klavan gave about his new novel, which has raised a storm of controversy. That book is Empire of Lies that I read.

I expected the controversy to be about the language, violence and sex, but, no, it’s about why Klavan made the hero a Christian. The whole point of the book is that the protagonist is a flawed human being faced with unprecedented challenges in his moral, sexual, and religious life and how he meets those challenges as the ONLY ONE WHO BELIEVES THE EVIL AND CAN do what needs doing in order to save lives.

Yes, somewhat reluctantly I would recommend this book, too.

These are the five epiphanies that Klavan says guide his life:

  • Sometimes you just have to play or perform in pain.
  • My misery is not me, it is not the world, and it is not connected to my talent. Misery is just a broken part that can be fixed.
  • Have a love of life in both joy and sadness. Everything that is vital in life can be done with joy.
  • A husband and wife can really become “one flesh.” Particularly when a child is born as part of that love.
  • Beyond the painted scenery of mere existence is love, love unbounded.

Klavan has left conservatives one more gift of writing, it is a long pamphlet or tract called The Crisis in the Arts: Why the Left owns the Culture and How Conservatives Can Begin To Take It Back. This is available on Kindle for only 99 cents. Well worth the read.

Klavan began his book with this thought provoking quote:

FINE God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars, certitude, heartfelt, joy, peace God of Jesus Christ. . . My God and your God. . . Joy, joy, tears of joy.

From a note that Blaise Pascal (d. August 19, 1662, Paris, France) wrote to himself after his own conversion to Christ. Note found after his death.

Now I’m going to reread this book. • (766 views)

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21 Responses to Book Review: The Great Good Thing

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I can remember learning “The Charge of the Light Brigade” in 6th grade. I also recall that one of the Little Rascals episodes featured Alfalfa reciting it after taking a firecracker from Buckwheat and sticking it in his pocket — with interesting results. My 6th grade teacher sometimes had us acting out poems (such as “The Jabberwocky”), and had a play version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. (I played one of the swindlers, and it may have been the most fun I ever had in school.) How much of that culture remains today is hard to say, though I recall George MacWhorter lamenting that the schools had already largely dropped poetry when he went.

  2. Rosalys says:

    I read this book and did a short review of it, here at ST, back in December. Now one of my favorites (and it deserved this second review, Annie) I have been recommending to everybody.

    Klavan has many YouTube video’s he did for PJTV, Klavan on the Culture, and since PJ has gone kaput, he has, I think daily, podcast or something. I believe it is subscription only, but when they get a little old you can listen to them for free.

    (Annie, you may want to go back and edit your piece a bit, as when you start listing some of his juvenile books, you started calling him Kaplan.)

    • Anniel says:

      Thanks Rosalyn. That’s what staying up so late at night does to one’s thoughts. I’m trying to slow down, but as it gets more light out each day life seems to speed up worse. My head is spinning away.

      I did see some of Klavan’s videos after I happened to see Mark Steyn interviewing him. He’s such an interesting man.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      since PJ has gone kaput

      I just checked and the PJ Media site is up and running. Or did you mean it has changed its political philosophy? I don’t visit the site very often so do not know if anything has changed there.

      • Rosalys says:

        They stopped producing new stuff about a year ago. A few of their crew, like Klavan and Bill Whittle have their own sites now. I joined Bill Whittle’s site because there was too much member’s only stuff I was missing, and I want to support the best of what’s out there on our side, while they’re still able to broadcast. I should probably join up with Klavan, too. For that matter, it’s probably time to send ST another donation.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          When I whine and moan about the lack of financial support around here from you bunch of freeloaders, I’m only try to cajole those said freeloaders into getting some skin in the game. You have contributed before and very generously. And I thank you again. It is very much appreciated.

          And so when I whine and cajole some more, you will know again that it’s not directed at you. As Pat said, and I paraphrase: “Conservatives should give Brad all of their money and go without even enough food to eat.” Or something like that. Or maybe it was more like, “The Left funds every little mobocracy cause under the Alinsky stars. Conservatives have to support in some small way even a small effort like this site.”

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I read this book and did a short review of it, here at ST, back in December.

      I thought that book cover looked familiar.

      And you’re right, no harm in reviewing the same thing by two different readers. And the Kaplan/Cliff Clavin (whatever) issue is fixed.

      • Anniel says:

        Thanks once (30 times?) again, Brad. You’ve pulled so much of my bacon out of the fire you are now ISIS proof. So safe.

        Somehow I had missed Rosalys’ Review at Christmas time.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Well, it’s easy to miss things at that time of year. There are so many distractions for so many of us.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Also added links to the books mentioned and fixed your creative spellings of “Berkeley.” 😀

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Klavan’s mother was an atheist and feminist who apparently hated being a mother. She said even a cat could have kittens. Having Andrew’s older brother, Andrew and then twin boys was a shock. She treated her children better than any other children around them.

    That description reminds me a bit of Victor Hugo’s description of Madame Thénardier.

    I sense your enthusiasm for this book, Annie. Let me state my views as they are, probably leavened with some internal biases and misconceptions, if not also a lack of generosity.

    First off, this is a great story of a Jew escaping his own sick culture. It’s sad, but true, that in order to escape the indoctrination of Progressivism (Dennis Prager notes that most Jews practice not Judaism but Leftism) one must take heroic action. And it seems that there is a type (of person, not just Jew) whose sense of dissatisfaction finally leads him to a little introspection. And all our lives are filled with those happenstance moments, as with Clavin (Klavan…whatever), when he just happened to open a particular book and start reading.

    And his five epiphanies are okay, but didn’t bowl me over. But inside of one is probably what animates him:

    Have a love of life in both joy and sadness. Everything that is vital in life can be done with joy.

    Some people — many people — have an outward lust for life, variety, and novel experiences that certainly goes beyond my own. I’m more of a homebody. But life *is* an addiction to a great extent. And we’re born into it. And if you’re indoctrinated into a certain worldview, you just tend to go with it. Unless you are one of those rare ones who, for many reasons, remains unsatisfied.

    I think Mick Jagger’s “I can’t get no satisfaction” was written for this guy. And then he finds Jesus and there’s a happy ending. Part of me says “God bless you.” The other says, “In five minutes, are you going to get bored with this because it no longer gives you want you’re looking for?”

    My own bias is to be suspicious of people who are walking, talking 3-ring circuses. Still, if he has found that quiet place where the insanity stops, who am I to argue that he hasn’t found God and been transformed in a good way? Life is a journey and we’re all in different places.

    “What is truth” is such a boring and neutered rejoinder to Progressivism because we do each and every one of us have the truth of our own lives. They are all individual stories that (hopefully) are going somewhere. Clavin’s (Klavan’s…whatever) is an interesting and somewhat familiar one for intellectuals. His story is not all that different from Michael Medved’s or David Horowitz’s. At some point this vast yearning (and it is indeed vast for some people) remains unfulfilled and you perhaps then realize you’ve been conned.

    So at the end of the day, I’m glad that a secular Jew who was long indoctrinated in Progressivism has found his way out. I think the heart of the story here is to don’t just accept the bullshit that people hand you, which is a very American attitude (and certainly not a Jewish one, I think). And I realize the big draw for Christians may be the conversion of a Jew. In my experience, people don’t want to share “Jesus,” per se. Nothing gives many people more satisfaction than scoring a convert, adding another member to the team.

    But as Annie said, even though she doesn’t agree with all his ideas, “I saw our common humanity as his real story.” I doubt I’ll read this book although it does sound interesting. But I know that story. And I kind of have gotten tired of the drama of it all. But that was a very fine review, Annie.

  4. Steve Lancaster says:

    I suppose that I am one of the few who feels sorry for Andrew, not because he has converted but because he can never run away from the reality of his birth. True enough, he embraced secular religion, progressivism, and now Christianity. However, to both groups for now and forever he will be a Jewish convert. More importantly, in the eyes of the enemies of civilization he will always be a Jew. It truly does not matter to the haters. He could be elected Pope and would always be, “the Jewish Pope”.

    I hope he can find peace and comfort in his new faith. Christians have the ability to find comfort and an intense personal relationship with Jesus. On the other hand, Jews to greater or lesser degree continually seek answer to the question; how can man live peacefully in a stable society? G-d provides guidance but no answers.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      It’s said that Jesus was a Jew. It’s ironic that being Jewish makes one an outsider in the eyes of many. But it is what it is.

      What’s amazing is apparently how far most Jews have gotten off track. But that just provides an opportunity for those who don’t want to schlep their way through life. He escaped his sick religion of Leftism. Being Jewish (there is indeed no escaping that), I would have been just as pleased if he had become an orthodox religious Jew or even a conservative religious Jew. That is a legitimate home for those still bound by the first covenant. I don’t think it’s wrong for a Jew to become a Christian. But neither do I think it’s necessary if he is an authentic religious Jew.

      • Rosalys says:

        I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety-nine just persons, which need no repentance. — Luke 15:7

        So naturally Christians get all excited over a Jew, whether he be secular or orthodox, who acknowledges Jesus as Messiah. We get equally excited when a Muslim, Hindu, Marxist, atheist, gang member, Wall Street millionaire, sleazebag lawyer, grumpy old man, or sweet little old lady who bakes cookies and gives them away to all the little children in the neighborhood, comes to Jesus. We even get a kick out of seeing “Christians” saved (I was one of those.) And we’re supposed to. If they are rejoicing in heaven over the sinner who repents, I believe the Lord expects us to rejoice here on earth.

        It’s not for us to decide what is a legitimate home for a Jew or anyone else. It’s up to God, and He gave us His Son Who said, “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life.” I think He made Himself pretty clear.

        So why on earth should I feel sorry for Andrew Klavan?

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Well, you make a good defense of your point. I’ll just say that there is still that side I’ve seen where the attraction is to make a convert merely because it confirms one’s faith. It can get a little cultish.

  5. Tim Jones says:

    “Please, if you read only one new book this year, let this be the one.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I read it last year and couldn’t put it down.

    • Anniel says:

      Tim,

      Klavan has become one of my favorite authors and speakers. I just finished reading his youth novel “If We Survive.” Another one I would get for my grandchildren.

      PJ Media recently showed a film of Klaven speaking at Oberlin College to a group of conservative/libertarian students. There were a few hecklers in the small crowd, but not too bad. Then a thoroughly obnoxious female with a loud cringe inducing voice showed up. She would not quit shouting things like, “That’s a lie”. “Let me tell you the truth about that”and of course she wouldn’t listen to anything he tried to say. Klavan was very nice and tried patiently to explain his points. Finally the girl screamed out another time and the young gentleman in front of her turned around and yelled,”Will you just shut up! I came to hear him, not you!” Everyone in the audience began clapping and Klavan said, “Thank you!”

      I could only see the back of the girl’s head as she got up and walked out. She returned as Klavan took questions, but I never heard her say anything. Maybe we need to say shut up more often. If there had been more hecklers maybe it would have been worse. But it was fun to hear.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        This probably only works when the number of obnoxious hecklers is small relative to the audience as a whole. If there are a lot, they can effectively support each other. Especially if they’re doing a group chant.

  6. David Ray says:

    Damned instructive article Anniel. However, I’m digesting, at this moment, George Melloan’s book “When the New Deal came to Town”.

    Hey; when Dr. Prager (honorary/earned title) talks to these authors, i always end up spending money. I get the book as a result, so i’m good.

    In the end we have someone who escaped Berkley and got born again. I kinda like success stories . . . esp when real.

    Nice article. Soothing/happy result. Keep ’em comming.

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