What does it mean to suffer? What enables some people to emerge from tragedy while others are spiritually crushed by it? Why do so many Americans think of suffering as something that happens to other people—who usually deserve it? Some of these these questions are as old as civilization, others as urgent as today's headlines from Baghdad and New Orleans. This powerful, majestically eloquent book approaches them anew. <!--break--> Combining reporting, personal narrative, and moral philosophy, The Book of Calamities tells the stories of grass-roots genocide tribunals in Rwanda and tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka, of an innocent man on death row, and a family bereaved on 9/11. It examines texts from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the writings of Victor Frankl and Simone Weil and from the Book of Job to The Way of the Bodhisattva to understand how individuals and civilizations have grappled with suffering, trying to find immunity from it or, failing that, meaning in it. The Book of Calamities is a provocative and sweeping look at one of the biggest paradoxes in the human condition—and the astonishing strength and resilience of those who are forced to confront it.
"From the clusters of far-fetched, incongruous, and extraordinary similitudes that compose The Book of Calamities, Peter Trachtenberg wrings the most remarkable insights, and expresses them in precise and beautiful language. To read this staggering book is to enter into suffering, pass through it, and go beyond." -- Madison Smartt Bell, author of Toussaint L'Ouverture"The Book of Calamities is one man's unflinching, profound, and deeply moving journey to discover the rhyme and the reason of human suffering. How do those who have survived catastrophes make meaning out of the pain and the loss that have marked them? From the story of Job, from his own life, and from the lives of strangers, Peter Trachtenberg has found both unexpected and uplifting answers to nearly impossible questions." --Deborah Baker, author of A Blue Hand "A rare and valuable work by a writer of formidable power. From Rwanda to Manhattan, the stories that Peter Trachtenberg tells linger in the mind, haunting the reader with their profundity and grace." -- John Ryle, Chair, Rift Valley Institute, Legrand Ramsey Professor of Anthropology, Bard College