NOTE: this is an entry in the AMV Guide to Mormon Literature series. Click here for more details on the series.
Angel of the Danube: Barry Monroe’s Missionary Journal is a novel by Alan Rex Mitchell published in 2000 by Bonneville Books. Mitchell re-released it in 2010 under his Greenjacket Books trade name. As the subtitle suggests, the novel is written as a series of journal entries, but in a unique twist the entries are written after Barry returns from his mission. As he relates his often comic mission (mis)adventures, Barry also reflects on what they mean as well as what he is going to do with his post-mission life. The novel is notable not only for its narrative structure, but also for its unique voice which blends California surfer dude, LDS mission lingo and Austrian German as well as and mixing the comic and dramatic modes of fiction.
Missionary Fiction; Romance; Comedy; Fictional Memoir
- Eternal Marriage
- Barry Monroe, a So-Cal dude who is called to the Austria Vienna mission
- Anna Magdalena, an Austrian Frau who investigates the Church and is fond of relating Austrian folk tales
- Unts, Barry’s mission companion and compatriot
- Austria, especially Vienna
- So-Cal, mainly the LA area
- The Mojave Desert
- It won the Marilyn Brown Novel Award in 2000.
- 2. Richard Cracroft compared it to Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King. I’ve read both. It’s better.
- Each chapter heading features an illustration by Charissa Yang Sullivan.
- It averages 1.7 uses of the word Dude per page (just kidding — I don’t have an electronic version of the manuscript, but if I did, I would tell you the true number).
- How much you like this book will depend quite a bit on how you react to the ending.
I welcome feedback on this entry. Anyone who provides it will be included in a list of co-conspirators which will be published in the final version of the guide. In particular, I’m interested in hearing if a) the format seems useful and/or interesting; b) whether or not you think I chose the right items to include the Themes and Main Characters sections; and c) if there is anything else that should be added to the To Know section.
11 thoughts on “AMV Mo-Lit Guide: Angel of the Danube”
– Time period when it’s set
– Attitude toward Mormonism. E.g., is it faith-promoting, critical, realistic-but-positive?
– Something about the overall approach to depicting the mission experience. E.g.: As trial? Adventure? Spiritual journey? Set of comic incidents? Coming-of-age experience?
(Sorry–I don’t have the book in front of me, and it’s been years since I read it, so I can’t suggest specifics for these items.)
I think this entry needs to say more about the way Mitchell incorporates German folklore into the narrative, which is the thing that makes this novel stand-out most when compared to other Mormon novels. I can’t think of any other Mormon works that uses non-Mormon folklore so productively.
Maybe you should also say something about how the 2000 edition differs from the 2010 edition.
Also, perhaps mention that Linda Ronstadt makes a cameo. Because, well, she’s Linda Ronstadt.
I like the format, but I disagree respectfully with Jonathan’s suggestion that we try to identify the attitude this or any novel takes towards Mormonism. The novel is a polyvocal genre, which means that no Mormon novel is really going to express one single attitude towards Mormonism. Trying to cast this or that novel as being positive or negative towards Mormonism would be an exercise in unhelpful generalizing. This was one of the big critical errors of the first generation of modern Mormon lit critics (England, Cracroft), and I think we should try to move away from it. Besides, what is “faithful” for one person is “heresy” for another.
In short: let’s leave final judgments of these kinds to God and let readers decide for themselves how they think a work situates itself to Mormon belief.
If the novel is truly polyvocal in its attitude toward Mormonism, then that can be part of the capsule generalization. If we want this to be a useful guide that’s intended to help suck people into reading Mormon literature, however, I think it needs to address attitude toward Mormonism, which is both (a) a genuinely central question of Mormon literary criticism (in my view), and (b) a central concern of readers. Dodging the issue feels like an ideological statement in itself.
I also think that determining the attitude of a novel that is largely about Mormon life toward its own subject is no more subjective than any other literary judgment. Note that I’m not talking about the faithfulness or heresy of a work of fiction, but rather the attitude that is demonstrated within the text toward its subject: e.g., satirical, laudatory, sentimental, etc. If we’re not qualified to do that, we might as well give up literary criticism entirely.
I haven’t read the book, but agree with Scott that the use of German folklore would be cool to know about. I wonder if it would be helpful to have a heading like “X-Factor” that gives people a quick sense of what sets a work apart from others or what unique element it contributes. If the purpose of the guide is to generate interest, you might not want to lose the lead (so to speak) late in a numbered list.
I also think Jonathan is correct that some way to indicate ideological or audience camp is an important feature of a guide–even if there are reasons, as Scott points out, to be nervous about such a project.
On sort of tongue-in-cheek option that occurs to me would be to set up a two-axis graph with traditional content issues like sex, violence, and language on one axis and attitude toward Mormonism as asset or obstacle on the other. Then you could have two or three dots from different critics trying to express where the book lies. A long line instead of a dot might be used to indicate a work that covers a spectrum of attitudes (for example, one that casts Mormonism as both obstacle and asset).
I think having separate axes for content and stance might be a good way to give people information they care about while also showing the complexity of categorization. I think having multiple critics’ dots or lines on the graph would help show how difficult it is to really categorize.
Just an idea.
My concern is that labeling attitude will overshadow the nuances that often characterize how Mormon novels use and reflect on Mormonism. How does one begin to characterize the attitudes of The Backslider or Aspen Marooney or The Scholar of Moab to Mormonism?
I’m not suggesting that these works do not express attitudes towards Mormonism, or that these attitudes don’t matter; I am, however, suggesting that they are often too complex to list in a way that is going to be useful to anyone. In general, I think “satirical” is safe enough, but “laudatory” might be harder to pin down. “Faith-promoting” is a distinction I would avoid.
Besides, the apparent “attitude” of a work is in part often a reflection of the values the reader brings to the reading experience. I imagine that a Mormon reading A Short Stay in Hell might bring assumptions about Mormonism, Mormon writing, and Mormon writers that would cause him or her to interpret that novella’s attitude towards Mormonism quite differently, say, from an Atheist who is suspicious of all institutionalized religion.
I’m going to have to side with Scott. I fear too many users of such a guide as Wm is creating would use such a point almost like some people use the MPAA rating system: as an alternative to making their own decisions. I for one now I’m susceptible to simplified opinions from authoritative sources.
That said, if it WERE to include such a thing, James’s suggestion of citing multiple critics is a good one. If time consuming. Maybe the thing to do would be to follow Rotten Tomatoes’ lead: not in the rotten/fresh dichotomy, but the pulling-a-sentence-from-a-review idea.
This is an excellent discussion. I’m still thinking about and processing much of it.
I will say that this is not intended to be a) super thorough b) a consumer guide c) a Mo-Lit for dummies. It’s more intended for those who already have an interest in the field to get some sense of what’s important and/or remind them of areas that they haven’t explored. If other audiences are interested, then that’s awesome. But it’s really going to be written for me 15 years ago.
Here’s another idea: what if you included a few titles at the end of each entry that act as sort of audience clusters. People who like Byuck, for instance, are also likely to like The Death of a Disco Dancer and/or Saintspeak. People who like No Going Back may also be interested in Little Happy Secrets.
You could also offer counterpoint suggestions: I can’t think of MoLit examples off the top of my head, but that’s how I see Zealot and The Five Books of Jesus.
Anyway, having some titles for comparison and counterpoint might help give people some sense of what they’re getting into in terms of audience sensibilities and stance without overtly labelling them, which has all the problems others have mentioned.
That’s a pretty good idea. And it allows you to mention—at least in brief—more novels than you will write actual articles for.
And not just for articles on individual books, but a discussion of pioneer novels could include not just must-knows like Great Joshua and Children of Men and Work and the Glory and In the Company of Angels, but also good or important or interesting or surprising or challenging books working the same vein.