Book Review: James Goldberg’s A Book of Lamentations

James Goldberg, A Book of Lamentations (American Fork, UT: Beant Kaur Books, 2020).

Quite a few latter-day saints have drawn parallels between the events of 2020 and The Book of Mormon. James Goldberg, however, does it better than most. In A Book of Lamentations (2020), Goldberg and the other poets he features meditate on the parallels between The Book of Mormon and the divisions of our own time. “When Latter-day Saints say we know The Book of Mormon is true,” he writes, “we are saying something about human nature. We are affirming that we understand a civilization that chooses hatred and division is fully capable of destroying itself.”


The book is worth reading for this statement alone. The framework it offers of what it means to believe in The Book of Mormon, and the corrective duties that belief entails, is something I had never before heard put so succinctly. The collection’s first poem, “The Book of Mormon was Written for Our Day,” introduces this theme with a reminder that a tragedy and truth of The Book of Mormon is “that we are / so very capable / of choosing death / and choosing it / and choosing it / and choosing it / until we grow numb . . . .” Subsequent poems ask us to explore the diversity of such fatal choices with uneasy effect. Not willing to confine and dismiss the scope our missteps in a phrase like “the pride cycle,” Goldberg tackles a range of failures that should make all of us uneasy in its transcendence of political divides. Among other things, he hones in on mistreatment of the poor, the environmental crisis, the potential lives lost to abortion, our self-absorption into the Internet and racial violence. The poems are a remarkable testament that all is not well, but also a lyrical call to choose better. To be better. To repent and rebuild the Zion also promised in The Book of Mormon.


A Book of Lamentations is a record of what it means to live and feel as a certain kind of latter-day saint today. It’s a book that will make readers uncomfortable but also relieved by the starkness of its truth telling. It’s a breathtaking example of how we might take seriously The Book of Mormon‘s injunction to liken the scriptures to ourselves in a way that avoids the pitfalls of cherry picking and reductive readings. Placing The Book of Mormon in parallel with our moment and the sacred texts of other faiths, Goldberg allows us to draw our own connections and conclusions, breathing new urgency and meaning into a text that has never felt more relevant while crafting a masterpiece of his own.

Comments

  1. Holly Miller says:

    Thanks, Natalie. I appreciate you taking the time to write this up and pass it along.

  2. Thank you for this. I sent the first paragraph out to my children by email moments ago.

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