Strange Tale of a Maybe-Messiah

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Book review: The Vanishing Messiah

Fair warning: I love any book about religious kooks/kookiness. If you do too, you will also enjoy this.

Completely fascinating, meticulously researched, and well-written narrative nonfiction about a divine(ly crazy) figure from American history whose legacy seems to have vanished, just as he himself so often did. In addition to being an account of this mysterious, alleged-faith-based healer’s life, the book also follows the lives and assorted odd details of characters who impersonated the original Francis Schlatter after his publicized, suspicious death (even the facts about that aren’t completely certain, even now.) Such a strange little corner of history and a bizarre, otherworldly, or maybe just all too worldly, man who was able to take advantage of the impressionable beliefs of the time, seemingly fueled by his own mental torments.

It’s very well written, supplemented with photos, letters and various related bits and pieces of historical significance. Although I usually dislike when an author inserts themselves into the story or history they’re telling, talking about their research or places they visited in connection with the subject, it was so nicely done when it happened here and added a lot of atmosphere rather than detracting from the story.

One of many surprises is that the book was only really possible thanks to two women who played significant parts in Schlatter’s story. They both wrote about his life and works and kept records that allowed much of the story to be pieced together by the author. Amazing to think how easily stories like this could’ve been lost, and how narrowly it made it down through history. So glad this one did!

Recommended for any reader of narrative nonfiction and lovers of American history or of kooky, true religious stories (think Going Clear, Under the Banner of Heaven).

I received an advance ebook courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Vanishing Messiah: The Life and Resurrections of Francis Schlatter
by David N. Wetzel
published June 1, 2016 by University of Iowa Press

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