From Syria to Egypt, northern Iraq to the Gaza Strip, ancient communities that were the birthplaces of prophets and saints are losing any living connection to Christianity, the religion that once was such a characteristic feature of their social and cultural lives. Journalist Janine di Giovanni writes about the last traces of small, hardy Christian communities that have become fearful of outsiders and where ancient rituals are quietly preserved amid numerous threats.
... powerful ... di Giovanni’s book is also highly personal: raised Catholic, her faith recently restored, she frames her introduction and conclusion with moving details about her religious upbringing and the circumstances of her pandemic lockdown in the French Alps, where ritual and tradition provided solace. This account of her faith contributes to the force of her reporting, but does not cloud it ... The individuals di Giovanni interviews provide a rich portrait of these threatened communities, and of the wider societies they inhabit.
... opens and closes with beautiful evocations of the power of faith in trying times ... In the largely secular world of international journalism, it’s refreshing to hear from a correspondent who participated in, rather than merely observed, one of the most fundamental aspects of life in the Middle East: religious practice ... Ms. di Giovanni does Middle Eastern Christians a service by highlighting their recent struggles. The Vanishing is an easy read, and her story of faith, which she researched while covering the subject during her journalism career, makes for an enjoyable book. For readers unaware that there are native populations of Christians in the Middle East, the book provides a brief introduction. The section on the Christians of Gaza, in particular, is a welcome contribution about a mostly unknown and largely forgotten community ... Beyond that, however, Ms. di Giovanni’s book consists largely of heartfelt but superficial interviews with Christians concerned about their future in the region. The author offers little more than platitudes by way of explanation for the decline of Christianity in the Middle East and fails to properly place the decline in any coherent historical context ... is also riddled with errors or mischaracterizations. Some are minor but nonetheless distracting...The chapter on Syria, in particular, has a number of egregious mistakes, particularly noticeable because, as a work of journalism, the book should at least get the events of the recent past correct ... a well-intentioned effort to bring attention to a people worthy of the world’s help. It falls short of its goal, but not for lack of trying. Ms. di Giovanni certainly gets the crux of the story correct: Christianity is at risk of disappearing from the land of its birth. That she was willing to tell the story is commendable, and it is hoped that her book will prompt the reader to take a closer look at a suffering community. If it does that, its many shortcomings might be overlooked.
With a reporting career spanning three decades throughout the region, she writes with poignant authenticity as she weaves her own deeply personal faith experiences with those of a parade of Middle Eastern citizens who populate the history she recounts of Iraq, Gaza, Syria, and Egypt, places foundational to early Christianity ... Di Giovanni’s many interviews and own observations detail heartrending circumstances that have wreaked irreparable harm to families, towns, and countries ... Maps and an invaluable timeline complement the thoroughly documented text. Challenging but worth the effort, this will resonate with readers interested in gaining understanding of the land’s complex issues while grasping with the author for undiscovered solutions.