cover image The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs

The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs

Martin Mosebach, trans. from the German by Alta L. Price. Plough, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-87486-839-5

German novelist Mosebach (What Was Before) offers a consuming work on the history and contemporary life of Coptic Christians. After watching a video of the 2015 beheading of 21 Coptic men in Libya by ISIS, Mosebach decided to travel to Egypt, where the victims were from. He visited the men’s families and homes as well as holy sites to unravel how these men could so peacefully accept death. He gives the Copts personalities (sometimes speculatively) and explains why they exposed themselves to the dangers of Libya in order to find work in the oil sector there. His first-person accounts of the worship of these men as saints by Egpytian Copts and his interviews with religious leaders in their communities provide striking images of a singular Christianity unfamiliar to many Christians outside of the Middle East. At the end, the 21 martyrs recede as Mosebach explains the Coptic liturgy and considers the social pressures and shifts in Egypt since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Through immersive scenes and finely drawn portraits of the people he meets, Mosebach exhibits a clear admiration for the Coptic devotion on every page. This will appeal to Christians as well as readers wanting to understand the lives of minorities in Muslim countries. (Feb.)