Yes, it's July and miserably humid in Manhattan, but we were greeted this morning by a bracing sight: just-printed copies of our Christmas offering, Rock Crystal (Bergkristall).The book will go on sale in time for the holidays, but it might have been more useful as an August release. After all, snow (and the blizzard-transformed alpine landscape) is as much a character in this novella as are its ostensible protagonists, a brother and sister who lose their way in a Christmas-eve storm.
The photo above does not do the volume justice, but it should give some idea of the beauty of the finished book, which is due in large part to its cover art. Kenneth G. Libbrecht, chairman of the physics department at Caltech, and taker of the cover photo, has turned his scientific research into a natural wonderland. Check out Snowlfakes.com to see his many beautiful photographs of snow crystals, taken with a special photomicroscope.
Luckily, the novella is as beautiful inside as it is out. The story transcends its Christian particulars to embrace the entirety of the natural world—which is not to say that it abandons its underpinnings in Stifter's Catholic faith. In an unpublished review (collected in Reflections on Culture and Literature), Hannah Arendt writes of Stifter's
"overwhelming, neverending gratitude for everything that is. Out of this grateful devotion, Stifter became the greatest landscape-painter in literature...: someone who possesses the magic wand to transform all visible things into words and all visible movements—the movement of the horse as well as that of the river or of the road—into sentences.... For Stifter, reality actually means nature and, for him, man is but one of its most perfect products. Again and again, he describes the slow, steady, and blessed process of the growth of a human being as it lives and blossoms and dies together with the trees and flowers of which it takes care during its lifetime."
Along these lines, John (aka Johannes) Urzidil, in a 1948 review of Stifter's Abdias that appeared in The Menorah Journal, writes about Stifter's universalism:
"Born into the simple popular Catholicism of his Bohemian backwoods, Stifter occasionally describes how he adhered to it with pious devotion during his childhood. Later on he filled in this Catholic outline with the purified values of Humanität and of Catholic Christianity. It was Goethean Humanität that transformed the dictum “Anima naturaliter Christiana” into “Anima naturaliter humana.” At least, he bestowed upon his Christianity such a world-wide sympathy that it led to an understanding of all forms and fates and destinies."
Which is all a fancy way of saying that, even if you're the Grinchiest of Grinches, you should still give this book a try. But don't take our word for it, read what what Stewart, Mark, and Terry had to say about it.