The Tormenting Beauty of Empathy


Fiction - Literary
221 Pages
Reviewed on 02/11/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

The Tormenting Beauty of Empathy by Richard Robbins is a heart-warming, somewhat traumatic journey into the world of spirituality and the human condition. Hana was just a 5-year-old when she watched, in horror, as her parents were murdered by the Guatemalan Army when their village was suspected of harboring rebels against the regime. Running for her life, Hana made it to a nearby town where she was taken into the hearts of the locals and raised as one of their own, learning and displaying immense talent and artistic ability in the local craft of embroidery. When the army returned again to wreak havoc, Hana and her childhood friend, Deisi, decided to make the dangerous and exciting journey across Guatemala, through Mexico, and hopefully to freedom in the U.S. Upon arriving in Texas, Hana is horrified to discover she is pregnant and is sent to the small town of Indiantown in Florida to have her baby daughter in a community of Mayan refugees who take care of one another. Hana’s daughter, Josefa, soon begins to display a powerful spiritual and empathetic nature that endears her to and attracts the interest of the local Mayan spiritual leaders in Indiantown. When Josefa appears to have performed a “miracle”, her fame and notoriety go viral and suddenly Josefa is the center of worldwide attention and finds herself bringing her simple message of love and understanding to an ever-increasing audience desperate for true spirituality.

I was deeply touched by The Tormenting Beauty of Empathy. Author Richard Robbins presents a compelling case for more empathy in this world through his wonderful characters of Hana and Josefa. Hana’s childhood trauma was powerful enough to have broken many women but she was able to put it all behind her and move on in an increasingly violent environment, to create a simple, yet immensely satisfying life for herself and her daughter. The character’s muteness after the trauma served as a constant reminder of the pain and suffering she had experienced, plus it allowed the author to explore the aspects of communication between humans that transcends the spoken word. For me, this was what lifted the story above others in the genre. The descriptive passages especially in the first part of the book were redolent with the beauty and the horror of Hana’s home country of Guatemala. As a reader, I felt instantly transported to the lush Guatemalan rainforests and their immense diversity of flora and fauna. The overarching theme of the narrative is that of love, redemption, and, of course, empathy, and the story absolutely reinforces those qualities through the life of both Hana and Josepha. I particularly was drawn to the concept of the universality of spirituality and that salvation lies not in the hands of any or all religions but actually inside ourselves. This is a beautiful, touching, and redeeming tale that I can highly recommend to everyone. When as a reader you feel better inside for having read a book, you know the author has achieved his or her goal. This is such a book.

Joel R. Dennstedt

Like the simple faith aspired to in The Tormenting Beauty of Empathy by Richard Robbins, the story moves with basic grace as a young Guatemalan girl experiences first the raw violence of a seemingly forsaken world, then an apparently guided journey – like a spiritual pilgrimage of engagement – toward the birth of a daughter who might, in turn, be the world’s next savior. This tale is told with heartfelt belief, but also with an unswerving directness that feels preordained, lending to the book an aura of religiosity relevant to the hybrid teachings of the Maya/Catholic merging, and appealing to the contemporary Christian message of love and kindness. The narrative is presented more like a truncated spiritual message than any deep plunge into the murkier depths of authentic faith.

At the beginning of The Tormenting Beauty of Empathy, Richard Robbins introduces Hana, the story’s early protagonist, who endures the wretched violence of a war-torn world, culminating in her utter silence and abandonment. Her story is haunting and touching but soon hands itself over to that of her unasked-for child, a daughter with immaculate perception and a resonant message for the masses. Her hyperbolic path to spiritual acclaim captures even the attention of the Pope, who seeks to merge her miraculous credentials with those of a more orthodox institution. Josefa’s calling is more populist in nature, however, and she proceeds on a course more suitable to her calling. In a climax suggestive of rapturous prophetic teachings, this well-written story charges headlong towards an eternal conclusion.

Lucinda E Clarke

I chose to read and review The Tormenting Beauty of Reality by Richard Robbins as I was intrigued by the title. The story begins in
Guatemala and the horrifying atrocities perpetuated there, especially in the rural areas. After inadvertently betraying her family, Hana, at the age of five, remains mute. She flees with her friend to the next village and, at first, finds sanctuary, but even there, their lives are uncertain. A final flight is to the United States where Hana is parted from the last person with a link to her village and early life. The book is not about Hana but her daughter Josefa who develops into an extraordinary young woman. The latter part of the book is set in Florida and explores the difference between organized religion and the religion we could all find within ourselves, by ourselves with a little guidance.

I enjoyed reading Richard Robbins’ The Tormenting Beauty of Reality. It is not a long read but is a thoughtful take on an age-old theme. I thought the characters were well defined, and I think it takes a lot of courage to weave scenes around one character who is mute. While Hana is the main focus in part one of the book, her daughter Josefa is the star in part two. While the reader may have a hint of what is about to happen, it still came as a shock. An early character has not changed, despite the life he has led. A short read that kept me turning the pages. A book I really enjoyed and something a little different to many books on offer today.