In his first novel, John Eklund presents a tale of a man who endures great tragedy in the process of finding himself. The Third Testament follows the life of Frank Sankt, a college professor-turned-author who sets out to write an appendix to the Bible. Recognizing the “biblical” nature of many lives and events of the last two millennia–lives of saints, apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, etc.–Prof. Sankt seeks to gather all such events into a complete volume, a “third testament.”
Eklund paints a compelling picture of Frank Sankt as a widower who has to face the possibility of losing his only child to the same devastating disease that took his wife. Add to that the threat of a lawsuit and losing his modest material wealth, and Frank Sankt must draw from what he has inside himself to survive the darkest periods of life.
Sankt’s third testament is a deeply devotional history of the Church. It covers some of the most significant events of Church history since the apostolic age. One certainly learns a great deal about Church history–and cultural history in general–just by reading the excerpts that are woven into the novel. But while the excerpts are very informative, they are also my main criticism of the book as a whole. One may quibble with Eklund’s choice to include certain saints and events over others. Why there is so much about St. Francis and so little about St. Dominic, I’m not sure. But, that’s probably more of a personal preference than anything else. The excerpts themselves seem at times to be odd tangents away from what had just become an engaging story. They felt misplaced, as if the book struggled to be both a work of Church history and a work of fiction, but could only be both without being a good version of either.
In the end, however, the novel comes out on top. The reader comes to find that while he was writing about many “biblical” historical events, Fred Sankt lived through a biblical event of his own. Dying, rising, loss, redemption, angelic apparition, and conversion were all part of Sankt’s journey. And his journey was not far from our own, which makes the book all the more compelling. Eklund’s initial foray into the literary world is a solid one. Catholics everywhere will likely find this a spiritually nourishing work that is also a compelling and entertaining story. Eklund’s characters touch the reader and show us how people can really go through great difficulty and come out blessed and renewed on the other side.