Summary: Brief graphic novel about Bonhoeffer with a very good understanding of the German context and Hitler’s rise to power.
Bonhoeffer is one of those subjects that I am continually fascinated by. I have read a number of books by and about Bonhoeffer including two others this year. I did not walk into The Faithful Spy blind.
Even though I know it isn’t necessarily true, I tend to think of graphic novels as oriented toward young adult readers. In other words, a simplified perspective. But like Hendrix’s book on John Brown, the presentation of Bonhoeffer is complex.
Despite my long reading list about Bonhoeffer, I honestly, think that The Faithful Spy may have more clearly laid out how Hitler rose to power than any other book on Bonhoeffer that I have read. (Or at the least, I actually understood it this time.) Because Hitler has been talked about a lot lately I was paying attention to how The Faithful Spy told the story of Hitler’s rise. A meme on Facebook recently was talking about Hitler being voted into power, but as Faithful Spy makes clear, that is a partial truth. Hitler was elected, but only after he had stolen power and circumvented the democratic process that was in place.
As with any graphic novel, the art plays a significant role. There is a lot more text than many graphic novels. This is not a comic book with a number of frames per page. This is mostly text (often a couple hundred words per page) with illustrations and font changes for emphasis and direction. I am not an expert on graphic novel art, but I enjoyed this. Hand drawn letters are never going to be as easy to read as machine print, but this was pretty clear.
I am glad I got the hardcover version of this. That made it easier to read and fully enjoy multi-page layouts. And once I was done, I passed it on to a friend that I often exchange books.
The focus of the book is Hitler’s rise to power along with Bonheffer’s basic story. Because of that focus there are things like the Barmen Declaration where The Faithful Spy hints a larger role for Bonhoeffer than he really had. Bonhoeffer was important, but he was not central in the Confessing Church.
I was pleased that the Faithful Spy did make space for the role of the Black Church played in helping Bonhoeffer reconceive of the role of the church. Several books I have read on Bonhoeffer do not seem to understand how important the year in NYC studying at Union Seminary, but more important attending Abyssinian Baptist Church was to how Bonhoeffer understood the church’s role of faithful witness during persecution.
Obviously, a graphic novel is not going to replace a full biography. For that, I still recommend either Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory or Schlingersiepen’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945. But this is a good introduction if you do not know a lot about Bonhoeffer and this is a good introduction to the rise of Hitler and how at least some Christians historically have understood the role of violence on behalf of Christian belief.