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the Complete Review
the complete review - dialogues / religion

Do You Believe ?

Antonio Monda

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To purchase Do You Believe ?

Title: Do You Believe ?
Author: Antonio Monda
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 176 pages
Original in: (Italian)
Availability: Do You Believe ? - US
Do You Believe ? - UK
Do You Believe ? - Canada
  • Conversations on God and Religion
  • Italian title: Tu credi ?
  • Translated by Ann Goldstein
  • Conversations with: Paul Auster, Saul Bellow, Michael Cunningham, Nathan Englander, Jane Fonda, Richard Ford, Paula Fox, Jonathan Franzen, Spike Lee, Daniel Libeskind, David Lynch, Toni Morrison, Grace Paley, Salman Rushdie, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Martin Scorsese, Derek Walcott, and Elie Wiesel.

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting variety, but pretty much skims the surface

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Il Sole . 19/5/2006 Silvia Giuberti

  From the Reviews:
  • "Libro da leggere e sfogliare come una rivista dai patinati scorci newyorkesi, registrabile nelle saporose o immortali citazioni, stilizzato nei pur interessanti e attuali spunti, Tu credi? oppone cifre di dubbio a quel 90% di americani -- di ogni religione o razza -- che, secondo un sondaggio pubblicato lo scorso settembre su Newsweek, si dichiarano credenti." - Silvia Giuberti, Il Sole

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Do You Believe ? collects eighteen conversations Antonio Monda had with a variety of well-known, mainly New York-based people about whether they believe in god, and about religion in general -- in their own work, in others' works, and in society. Most of the conversation-partners are prominent in the arts world, and they include authors such as Saul Bellow, Toni Morrison, and Salman Rushdie, film directors such as Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, and David Lynch, as well as the likes of Daniel Libeskind, Jane Fonda, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
       Originally published in Italian, it's nevertheless an entirely English-speaking cast on offer, and even if they're not exactly all-American even those with the foreign accents all seem to have at least a New York City pied-à-terre.
       In his Introduction Monda notes that he aimed for: "a dialogue on the essential questions", avoiding many of the issues of the day (though Salman Rushide manages to bring in the case of Terri Schiavo, for example). Monda is pretty much on the extreme end of the belief-scale of all the characters assembled here: "Catholic, apostolic, Roman" is how he describes himself. Nevertheless, he's fairly open in the admittedly fairly brief dialogues here -- with, as he notes, only about 40 per cent of those he talks to here 'believers' (though in fact the number of true non-believers is smaller). Still, it's hard to overlook where he's coming from, announcing as he does in the Introduction (and making clear with some of his questions) what he's trying to do with this collection:

It is meant as an attempt to reclaim religion's central place in existence, with a consistent emphasis on how every choice (existential, artistic, political) has its origins directly and inevitably in the answer given to the great question.
       He explains that to several of his subjects too, when they ask why he's asking:
I think it's the most important subject of our time. Rather, the most important of all times.
       Surprisingly few beg to differ, but Grace Paley -- who, hands down, handles the exchange best -- has what seems the obvious reaction (one can almost imagine the look on her face, too ...):
Are you serious ?
       Yes, Monda is one of those folks who are serious, about this -- but, to his credit, he's open to the responses from the true non-believers too, and not surprisingly those are the more interesting conversations.
       Monda bring up a few points several times. When he keeps mentioning how Derek Walcott envisions god ("A white man with a beard. Wise and old.") it isn't particularly helpful. When he pesters people about Dostoevsky's silly statement that: "If God doesn't exist, everything is permitted" it gets a bit more interesting.
       The conversations are very short, so the subject isn't very fully explored, but some of the exchanges still manage to pack quite a lot in. Those on a path to discovery (Jane Fonda: "And I also want to add that since I began studying the Scriptures and the history of Christianity I am constantly making extraordinary discoveries", or the guy who found TM) are among the least interesting because they are also the least convincing. Presumably they (or at least their dialogues) would fare better if their interrogator were a non-believer, challenging their beliefs more than Monda is able (or willing) to do. Meanwhile, the non-believers easily make for the most interesting (and entertaining) exchanges.
       There are some baffling answers, such as when Paula Fox states:
No, I'm not a believer. And above all I don't believe in the common image of God as a male.
       And some try to be too cute, such as Nathan Englander:
But do you believe in God ?
I'd be inclined to say no if I didn't fear God's wrath.
       But there are also some interesting asides, such as Toni Morrison on George jr. Bush:
I'm terrified when I hear him speak of his God. [...] His religious absolutism is stupefying.
       And she also mentions that both Paradise and Songs of Solomon are titles suggested by her editor, the original title of the latter having been: War.
       It's an impressive collection of names and minds assembled here, and it's hard to go too wrong with those. Monda's brief introductions to each conversation, offering a small bit of biographical detail and often describing the setting and circumstances of the conversation, are fairly queer, but he does a decent job with the (short) conversations themselves -- though in almost every case on would wish for more.
       For the most part, Do You Believe ? only scratches the surface, but for that it's not bad at all -- certainly worth a look, and, with its many short sections, a good book to repeatedly dip into.

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Do You Believe ?: Reviews: Antonio Monda: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Antonio Monda teaches at NYU.

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© 2007-2010 the complete review

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