In God's Underground (by Richard Wurmbrand)

Richard Wurmbrand was a pastor in Rumania, and later on in the West. We have three of his books on our shelves, and I have to admit to being unimpressed with the first one I read (a few years ago) - The Church in Chains.

Still, I was intrigued by the author, who I knew spent some years of his life in prison during the Communist regime in Rumania, so a couple of weeks ago I embarked on his autobiographical account of that period, 'In God's Underground'.

I found it gripping reading. He describes the events leading up to his first arrest in 1948, and the dreadful conditions of the prison to which he was taken. The book basically follows him through various jails, sometimes in appalling circumstances. He was constantly hungry, frequently beaten or tortured, and towards the end there was an attempt to brainwash him. Through it all he stayed constant in his Christian faith, and refused to renounce it, or to embrace Communism.

I don't like graphic descriptions of violence; this book could have resorted to that very easily. But somehow Wurmbrand manages to describe some of the things that were done to him and those around him, without being over-gory or provoking nightmares. He is also as fair as he can be to the Communist leaders, and the guards who treated him so badly.

He quotes Marx sometimes, trying to point out the fallacies in many of the arguments which were prevented. Moreover, it's clear that he always strove to love his enemies and find some source of joy in Christ, even when he was suffering deeply in his physical body. That could have come across as super-holy or unrealistic, but he's very honest in his own failings and temptations, and I didn't find it cringeworthy or annoying at all.

A lot of people play small roles in this incredible story. I did find myself forgetting them when they re-appeared in later jails or other situations, and quite lost track of who was in power, who was out of favour, which Christians had renounced their faith, and which stood firm. However, I soon found that it didn't matter too much if I forgot names and circumstances. The main plotline is so strong that I kept reading. Clearly Pastor Wurmbrand was going to survive his experience, since he wrote the book years later, but I didn't know how he would do so, particularly when he was suffering severely with tuberculosis.

It's a bit old-fashioned and long-winded in places, and there's a fair bit of 'preaching' when he remembers what he said to some of the prisoners and guards. It's all relevant though, and fits well with the subject matter of the book.

Recommended to anyone who would like to know what happened in the Rumanian prisons during the Communist era. Long out of print, but can fairly easily be found second-hand. It's also now available fairly inexpensively in Kindle form.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 19th June 2009

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