Kind of like “Batman Begins” and “Star Wars Episode 3,” “Holy Fire” is overshadowed by a certain darkness, in this case the conflicts in the Middle East. The author wishes to help the Christian and ‘post-Christian’ world see itself as Middle Easterners see us, and in short, the Crusades have left their mark in the Arab and especially Muslim psyche, as diatribes from militant groups continually repeat. Ms. Clark blames all Christian incursions into the Holy Land, from Emperor Constantine and his relic-seeking mother Helen, through the Crusades, to the British Mandate and today’s apocalyptic “Christian Zionism,” for turning the place into a cesspool of ethnic and sectarian conflict and intrigue. I think this ‘darkness’ overpowered even her, as the book closes with herself looking over the city and squeezing her eyes shut “as anyone does before a violent accident.”
Has Victoria Clark succeeded in giving us a glimpse of how others see us? I think by focusing so much on the Church of the Resurrection/Holy Sepulcher and its intra-Christian conflicts, she distracted me from the more important mission of showing ourselves through Muslim eyes. I also find fault with her exclusive blame for Christians, when Muslims and Turks also introduced their own combatants into the conflicts down through the centuries – in the long view they were no more native to the Holy Land than the Crusaders.
Still, I recommend the book to Clark fans and anyone wishing an almost block-by-block, street-by-street, micro-account of certain aspects of the Mideast conflict. Just realize the book should’ve been at least half-again as long.