The Believer: Encounters with Love, Death & Faith is the new literary non-fiction book from award-winning writer Sarah Krasnostein, author of The Trauma Cleaner. The book is broken in two sections, ‘Below’ and ‘Above’, each containing three interspersed stories. ‘Below’ follows a woman battling terminal illness, a group of ghost hunters and a creationist museum in Kentucky. ‘Above’ follows a woman who has recently been released after 34 years in prison for the murder of her abusive husband, a pilot who disappears after sighting a UFO and a group of Mennonites in New York. Krasnostein presents these six stories and asks us to consider what we believe and why.
This book is a superb achievement; Krasnostein is a masterful storyteller and describes her cast of characters in a rich and vibrant manner. You constantly have to remind yourself that you’re not actually in the room with her as she describes the Yarraville Masonic Hall filled by members of the Australian Institute of Parapsychological Research, the chill air on your skin as you wait with anticipation to see whether there are any signs of paranormal activity. You are there with her at Katrina’s living wake, an opportunity to celebrate her life with friends and family before she passes away.
Krasnostein deals with a wide variety of different subjects, including religion, terminal illness, UFOs and paranormal activity. While some of these themes reoccur within the six stories, each tale follows an entirely new journey. By interspersing the six stories, Krasnostein encourages us to consider different forms, motives and methods for belief. At the beginning, it may be confusing to ascertain what a woman with a terminal illness and a creationist museum which has built a life-size replica of Noah’s ark have in common, but the ideas start to flow as the stories unfold.
The Believer offers little analysis as to why these people believe what they believe. Krasnostein presents their stories and leaves them before the reader to make up their own mind. Krasnostein is an observer, not a judge. She challenges our insatiable appetite to know the reasons for things and does not invent contrived endings for stories that do not have them.
As the book’s subtitle suggests, The Believer is not just about belief. Krasnostein unpacks our beliefs to discover what lies beneath them: love, death and faith. Several of the stories, particularly those with alien elements, suggest that this is a collection of people seeking out different ways to reassure themselves that they are not alone in the universe.
4 stars: ★★★★
The Believer: Encounters with Love, Death & Faith by Sarah Krasnostein
Publisher: Text Publishing
Number of pages: 351 pages
Publication date: 2 March 2021