The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler, written and illustrated by John Hendrix
published in 2018 by Amulet Books
167 pages + back matter
I’ve read several biographies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor whose faith-shaped conscience drove him to conspire with others to assassinate Adolf Hitler at the cost of his own life.
But I’ve never seen anything remotely like this new fusion of biography and graphic novel by John Hendrix, and I guarantee you haven’t either.
Hendrix’s trademark mix of self-styled typography, composite illustrations, abstractions rendered in concrete images, cool graphic lay-outs, muscular line, has appeared before in books I’ve reviewed such as Miracle Man, Nurse Soldier Spy, A Boy Called Dickens, and Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek. This much lengthier account marries that approach with a robust, focused biography.
It’s a biography which zeroes in on the way in which Bonhoeffer’s faith inspired, challenged, comforted, and guided him, an unusually theological work in the world of children’s literature. I very much appreciate publishers who are tackling explorations of faith, be that Christian or Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu. Faith is a meaningful part of life for the majority of people in the world and the source of both profound, self-sacrificial kindness and endless, devastating friction around the globe. To avoid the subject does not help our children. Yet it’s difficult to do well.
Hendrix delves into the spiritual foundations which constituted the wellspring of Bonhoeffer’s life and activism. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a theologian from a young age. Everything he did grew out of a profound wrestling with his Christian faith in God and his understanding of the true calling on God’s followers — the church. He watched the church in Germany gradually, deeply compromise and reject what Bonhoeffer saw as critical, Biblically-based beliefs and values, exchanging them for idolatry of Hitler and his potent vision of power, turning a cold shoulder to the oppression of The Other, a vital concept for Bonhoeffer.
Deftly weaving together the salient details of Bonhoeffer’s life with the political and sociological context for Hitler’s rise to power, Hendrix gives us an understanding of the might and magnetism of Hitler’s popularism, versus the lonely, thoughtful, Other-oriented vision of Bonhoeffer. There is an impressive wealth of information here, with an added emotional impact produced by the graphic treatment. Every page is a striking combination of text and stylized images. Powerful renditions of Naziism as a ravenous wolf, for example, create a visceral response in the reader.
As a sophisticated, sobering presentation, this book will challenge many young readers and it may need some guided discussion to be fully absorbed. Increasingly, however, young people are deeply committed to political, theological, and sociological wrestlings, and many will be glad for a book that respects their ability to engage at this level.
In our current moment, when the allure of political power still tantalizes religious people, when large numbers around the world reject Bonhoeffer’s conviction regarding responsibility to The Other — this particular account holds remarkable relevance. The astounding Author’s Note emphasizes connections to our times.
Highly recommended for ages 13 to adult.
This would make a great Christmas gift for many a grown-up person.
For further reading try:
My post: The Past is a Good Teacher which contains titles related to resistance during World War II and neo-Naziism today
My page on World Religions which lists books that highlight matters of faith