A disaffected Catholic, photojournalist Bianco blamed God for his son's 1984 death in a car accident. Lengthy stays at Trappist abbeys in the U.S. and France triggered painful memories of his son but taught the author to yield to God's love and to accept loss. Although the monks become Bianco's heros, he paints them in very human terms. Dom Stephen feels lonely as abbot, cut off from the informal give-and-take with his brothers that nourished his monastic existence. Brother Leo resents the Vatican II reforms that abolished his lay brother vocation. Critical of the abbey's accessibility to Bianco as well as to women retreatants, Father Bede of Gethsemani in Kentucky was an abandoned child raised by excessively strict foster parents. While he was fighting in WW II, his fiancee died in childbirth and his son was put up for adoption. One day, a woman retreatant grieving for a father suffering from cancer turns out to be Father Bede's granddaughter. Seekers of all faiths will be intrigued by and gain respect for the contemplative life as portrayed in these pages. Photos not seen by PW. (June)
Bianco, a photojournalist and former Maryknoll seminarian, lived for periods of time in various Trappist monasteries in the United States and France, interviewing the monks freely and taking candid photographs. While not the first time that a non-monk was allowed to live with the Trappists and write about it--Henri Nouwen's Genesee Diary (Doubleday, 1976) records his stay at a Trappist abbey--it is probably the first time a lay person was allowed such intimate contact. Bianco shows a journalist's care for setting misconceptions straight (silence is a practice, not a ``vow''), and for openly presenting what he experienced, both good and bad. The monks come across as men who are no less human for having chosen a life that is so unusual. Though he has respected the monks' privacy by changing some names and locations and presenting some composite portraits, Bianco has nevertheless presented an intimate look at a much misunderstood life.-- Augustine J. Curley, O.S.B., Newark Abbey, N.J.