By DEXTER DUGGAN
Cry of Nineveh, by Joyce Coronel, Holy Angels Press, Arizona USA, ISBN 978-0692768907, 330 pages paperback, $15, 2016, JoyceCoronel
There’s no “happily ever after” in earthly life. That’s for fairy tales. Even when a chapter of real life closes happily for a person, family, or nation, new events are ahead with perhaps other results.
Having learned of the suffering of the Mideast’s Chaldean Catholics earlier in this decade, Arizona author Joyce Coronel continues bringing their struggles before the public in Cry of Nineveh, her second novel.
By the close of the first, A Martyr’s Crown (2013), a hopeful Hanne Yacoub and her husband, Fadi, had been granted asylum and came to join other Iraqi refugees and start anew in the metropolitan Phoenix area. The desert climate reminded them of home, but the nature of the conflicts often was quite different.
Back in Mosul, one had to be alert just to avoid terrorists’ bullets. Indeed, the Yacoubs’ sweet baby daughter, Noor, was killed by terrorists there at her baptismal ceremony as church members were slaughtered. But, at the spiritual level, Americans might face stronger struggles in their materialist society.
In Cry of Nineveh, an Iraqi priest tells his Phoenix congregation, “This new country of ours, I do not think it is so Christian.” He adds, “We will not be killed for our faith. But still, we will lose it if we are not careful.”
Later, the priest confides he wishes he could be back in Iraq. “This is their hour of need. I did not become a priest to sit in a chair.”
One might note parenthetically that since A Martyr’s Crown appeared in early 2013, the spread of jihadist terrorism has grown more likely beyond the lands of the Mideast, from San Bernardino to Berlin. Perhaps that can be part of a future Coronel book. But the second novel is set in 2014, when surging ISIS terrorists had hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Mosul. If Christians stayed, their choice was converting to Islam, paying the huge infidel tax, or dying.
As in her first novel, Coronel in Cry of Nineveh cuts dramatically and effectively between high tension in Iraq and hardships in Arizona.
As a woman is fitted for her wedding dress in Mosul, terrorists kill her father. Back in Arizona, a depressed U.S. military vet drinks heavily and struggles with the temptation to suicide because of his trauma from serving in the Mideast.
Trying to avoid an ambush, he had accidentally hit a woman with his Humvee. She was knocked up onto his hood, still staring at him as she bled, mumbled and died, while his commander screamed that he had to keep driving to get away from the attack.
Meanwhile, a kidnapped Mosul man wants only to continue being alive and rejoin his fiancée while his captors beat him savagely and demand the impossible-sounding ransom of $200,000 from his family. He’d made the mistake of opening his door to the kidnappers, who posed as American soldiers.
Back in Arizona, a Muslim woman who had converted to Catholicism expressed the prayer that the kidnappers “will be confounded, confused, and then converted!” Converted of their own free will, of course, not threats of execution.
That’s a more hopeful path than one pursued by ISIS back on its territory. When a faithful young Muslim father condemns the ISIS atrocities against Christian children, his father-in-law, a Muslim admirer of ISIS, stabs him to death after the young man’s wife and mother of his youngsters reviles him as a “traitor” against Islam.
I’ve never played violent video games, but I did a little reporting covering the newspaper police beat years ago and saw some grisly scenes. Still, the mayhem and brutality in Cry of Nineveh mean this isn’t an easy book to read. But that’s the kind of real world where many people exist, and it may come knocking more on our own doors.
Love and sacrifice still shine through, though. The woman whose father died while she was being fitted for her dress ends up marrying her beloved in a refugee camp across the border.
And Abby, the estranged wife of the hard-drinking military vet, Joe, returns to him to reconcile after learning she is pregnant. She was ready to have an abortion when she accepted an offer from pro-lifers outside the abortuary to have an ultrasound. Her mind changed.
Abby asks her husband to help her face the future for their baby. Joe stops giving in to personal despair and soon welcomes Baby Emily home.
The book spends no time on the mistaken U.S. politics that brought on this Mideast chaos, neither the George W. Bush meddling that seemed to think tyrants were displaced as easily as a bad mayor in Iowa, nor the Barack Obama dithering that followed Obama’s humiliating deep bows before amused dictators.
However, Cry of Nineveh makes a brief reference to the Iraqi priest having mentioned “what happened to Christians once the tyrants were deposed.”
In nations with little or no democratic tradition, a heavy hand might be needed to hold down murderous mobs.
How does a suburban U.S. Catholic reporter like Coronel, the mother of five now-grown sons, know so much about Mideast brutality? By having interviewed those who suffered it, she told The Wanderer in an email. Although the story is fictionalized, it’s based on her interviews.
“My hope is that Cry of Nineveh will awaken compassion in Catholics here in the West,” she said, adding that since she became “involved with the Chaldean Catholic Church here in the Phoenix metro area in 2010, God has opened my eyes to the plight of a people in the midst of diaspora. The Christian population of Iraq has plunged dramatically and our brothers and sisters in the faith are suffering severe persecution.
“Thank God for the Knights of Columbus. They have truly been heroic in their defense of and support for the Christians of Iraq,” she said.
Three of the women “wept as they told me their stories, even though years had passed since the incidents,” Coronel said. “They relive the trauma every time.
“I am so very grateful for the many people who came forward to tell me their stories and who made this book possible,” she added. “One thing that’s happened over the years as I’ve gone from city to city to give talks is that the families of veterans have approached me to ask for prayers.
“Many sent a son or daughter to Iraq with intact faith. After multiple deployments, many of them came home broken and without their faith. I am also deeply concerned about the continuing suicide crisis among our veterans,” Coronel said.
“. . . I was also able to do two separate, in-depth interviews with people who were forced to flee that horrible night from ISIS. Absolutely chilling. And their faith? Simply extraordinary,” she said.
An Associated Press story posted December 16 at the UK Catholic Herald site was about a Muslim businessman giving Baghdad Christians the gift of a giant Christmas tree at an amusement park, quoting him that the purpose is “joining our Christian brothers in their holiday celebrations and helping Iraqis forget their anguish.”
The story quoted a teacher, “I wish all Iraqi Christians could return to Iraq and live normal and peaceful lives.”
To paraphrase Jews talking about a different city and circumstance, “Next year, in Mosul”?