The Small Angel, a children’s book that I wrote for my nieces and nephews more than forty years ago was published by the White Horse Press, Canada, in the 1990’s. It has since gone out of print. The Small Angel has been republished in the Croatian language under the title Mali An?eo (pronounced mali andjeo) by Treci Dan publishers in Zagreb, Croatia, with delightful new illustrations by Dijana Ko?ica, a gifted illustrator of children’s books.
The story takes place in the Balkans. What inspired you to situate the novel in this place?
O’Brien: The seed of the novel was planted several years ago, in 1995, when I was writing my novel, “Father Elijah” [Posljednja vremena]. Without warning, a fictional character appeared in my imagination, though he was one I had not expected, named Brother Jakov, a Franciscan friar who had survived terrible experiences during the war of independence, 1991 – 1995. Years later, my books were translated into several foreign languages, among them Croatian. The publisher Verbum in Split, in conjunction with the Catholic apostolate MI, sponsored my visit to Croatia, where I gave several talks throughout the country. That was the first of four journeys I have made to the Balkan region. As I heard more and more stories told to me by Croats in both Croatia and Bosnia i Herzegovina, I began to realize that an enormous catastrophe had occurred here—more terrible and more significant than we in the West realized. I had read much about it, of course, but I learned that the media of Europe and North America had not really seen beneath the surface. I began to understand that the situation was more than a geo-political crisis, more than the horror of genocide. I saw it as a spiritual crisis that had consequences for the whole world. In prayer it came to me that I must tell this story in a way that people of the nations outside former-Yugoslavia would come to a deeper understanding. Readers would then see that your sufferings are representative of the cosmic war that will continue until the end of time—and is a warning about what will come to all the world, if mankind does not repent of its sins.
Once utilitarianism, in theory, is defined and exposed, every Catholic would say, “Oh, yes, that’s evil.” Yet, all too often there is a disconnect between theory and practice, as if we feel that such evils are regrettable but unavoidable; and that it is impossible for us personally to bridge the great chasm between what we conceive as a Christian “ideal” and practical reality, what we feel are our sad but necessary compromises with evil. To the degree that we think this way, that is the measure of how badly we have become infected by utilitarianism. The objective reality here is that other human beings, who are as beloved by God as we are, will pay for our disconnect with their suffering and/or their deaths. We will continue to vote for the utilitarian who seems less evil to us or who offers us an apparent good, such as security or economic stability (which we have, consciously or subconsciously, decided is a higher good than the sacredness of human life). A problem deeper still is the inability to even see the disjunct. What is the cause of this? Is it utilitarianism alone, even the worst kind, religious, or is there something else that needs pondering here?
Question: This is your second visit to Croatia. What has brought you to our land?
O’Brien: I came to Croatia for the first time in 2003, at the invitation of my Croatian publisher, Verbum in Split, and the association of Catholic lay apostolates, MI, who co-sponsored the trip. I fell totally in love with your country and its people, and for that reason when Verbum suggested I make a return journey I was very eager to do so.
Q: What is it about our country that impresses you most?
O’Brien: As an artist and a writer, of course I was moved by the great beauty of your land, the mountains, the sea, the variety of landscapes and communities, the high level of culture. But what impresses me most profoundly is the character of your people.
MI: The Croatian publishing house “Verbum” recently published your voluminous novel Father Elijah, translated as The End Times. What inspired you to write this neoapocalyptic novel?
O’Brien: It began one day a few years ago, when I was visiting the Blessed Sacrament in my local parish. I was praying for the Church. Suddenly overwhelmed by the reality of how many particular Catholic churches in the Western world have been seduced by materialism and have slid into grave sin and error, I was stricken with a deep grief. Though I am not an especially emotional person by nature, I began to weep . . . .