In the last couple of years I seem to have read a number of romance novels set in the period 1795-1820. First it was Jane Austen, who wrote about theIn the last couple of years I seem to have read a number of romance novels set in the period 1795-1820. First it was Jane Austen, who wrote about the landed gentry. Then it was George Eliot, who wrote about the yeoman class. And now it is Georgette Heyer, who writes about the aristocracy. Austen was contemporary, Eliot wrote 50 years after the time in which her novel Adam Bede was set, and Heyer wrote more than 130 years afterwards.
We've been hearing quite a lot recently about privilege and entitlement -- on social media, in blogs and op-ed articles, and in various gatherings, soWe've been hearing quite a lot recently about privilege and entitlement -- on social media, in blogs and op-ed articles, and in various gatherings, so perhaps it was an appropriate time to read a novel centred on privilege.
That wasn't the reason I started to read it though. I remember looking at it in book shops when it first appeared about 15 years ago, and thought I might read it some time, but then it disappeared from the popular fiction shelves and I forgot about it until I saw it on one of those "best books" lists, and found a copy in the library.
But as soon as I began reading it it became clear that the protagonist had been entitled to all kinds of things on account of his privileged birth and upbringing, which had been denied to the son of the man who lived in the servants quarters behind their house, though they had played together as children.
The story begin in Afghanistan, where I have never been so the setting is unfamiliar and far away, But the privilege is not. Seeing it in an unfamiliar setting somehow sharpens the contrast and makes it easier to see,
Foreign invasion and civil war mean that many lose their position of privilege in society, , and so introduces another theme of current political life, the life of refugees and asylum seekers. The refugees in America form part of an Afghan expat community, and though they have lost much of the privileged life they enjoyed back home, they are still privileged, as the protagonist discovers when he returns to Afghanistan, ...more
Having read Nostromo earlier in the year, I was struck by some of the similarities, even though they are about periods two generations apart, but bothHaving read Nostromo earlier in the year, I was struck by some of the similarities, even though they are about periods two generations apart, but both deal with expatriate groups in South America, and revolutionary activity.
There are also some similarities with Graham Greene's early book, The power and the glory, with a renegade priest, and the strength of a kind of residual Catholicism, which seems to be a recurring theme for Greene. At the time he was writing the book I was reading The rebel priest by Wim Hornman, and I wondered if Greene had read that one too, since its subject, Camilo Torres, is mentioned in The Honorary Consul.*
The book has a very authentic feel to it, with the behaviour of police, revolutionaries, and those accidentally caught up in events being well documented.
It's not possible to say too much about the book without spoilers, so I'll leave it at that.
* GoodReads seems to have linked to the wrong book, with a different title. Not sure how to get it to link to the right one. Try the Dutch version De rebel and then search for other editions there.
I added this book to Good Reads, and discovered it was my 1000th book, a figure that seemed to deserved some sort of notice.
As the title suggests, itI added this book to Good Reads, and discovered it was my 1000th book, a figure that seemed to deserved some sort of notice.
As the title suggests, it's a traveller's history, a compact book intended to be read by foreigners travelling to India, and taken along for reference when there. It has a gazetteer of historic towns mentioned in the text, with indications of what can be found there, in addition to a brief outline of Indian history. I'm unlikely to visit India in my lifetime, so it won't serve its purpose for me, but I nevertheless found it an interesting account.
It did, however leave me with some questions. Though the author is himself a foreigner (Sri Lankan) and so sees India with an outsider's eye, he seems to adopt a north India point of view, and the south is only mentioned in connection with attempts by the north to conquer it.
He mentions the Aryan invasions (which many Hindu nationalists dispute) but says little about the people that the Aryans found when they invaded, other than that they tended to become members of the lower castes as Hinduism developed. It would have been interesting to know how this worked out in the south, where the Aryans barely penetrated.
There are also gaps in the story of the development of languages and religion. It appears that Sanskrit was brought by the Aryan invaders, but the Buddhist scriptures were mostly written in Pali, and won wonders where that came from, and somehow both got replaced by Hindi somewhere along the line.
Obviously one can't fit everything into a small book, but a few extra paragraphs on these topics would only have added about 5-1o pages to the book. ...more
When I went to the library I was looking for another book by Donna Tartt that had been recommended, but it wasn't available, so I took this one out inWhen I went to the library I was looking for another book by Donna Tartt that had been recommended, but it wasn't available, so I took this one out instead. It's a kind of cross between the Secret Seven and The Client by John Grisham -- the former because it is about children trying to solve a crime, and the second because they find that tangling with criminals can be very scary indeed.
There is not much one can say about it without including spoilers, but I can say that it is very well written indeed, and I found it hard to put down. It has interesting and well-described characters, especially the protagonist Harriet, who sets out to solve the mystery of her brother's death, which occurred when she was a baby. Her main adult contact is with her grandmother and three great aunts, and Ira, the maid.
Also, having given up reading one American book, Underworld, because it required a rather specialised knowledge of baseball and its place in North American culture, I was relieved that the first mention of baseball in this book came on page 331, and was only brief, in spite of the main characters being American school children of 11 and 12 years old in the summer.
One of the minor mysteries for me as a reader was trying to work out the period in which the story is set. It was published in 2002, but it is set in a period earlier than that -- there are no cellphones or even personal computers. One of the great-aunts was a student at the turn of the century, which would place it in the early 1960s, but other indications put it later than that -- the grandmother has 20-year-old car that was bought in the late 1950s. My best guess is that it is set in the period 1975-1978.
If you like crime stories, with rich descriptions and interesting characters, you might enjoy this one. I did. ...more
Allan Anderson, a former colleague in the missiology department at Unisa, recently visited South Africa, and gave me a copy of his latest book. GratitAllan Anderson, a former colleague in the missiology department at Unisa, recently visited South Africa, and gave me a copy of his latest book. Gratitude. ...more
It's a pity that Good Reads doesn't have a category for abandoned books, which means that it will go on showing that I'm currently readingAbandoned.
It's a pity that Good Reads doesn't have a category for abandoned books, which means that it will go on showing that I'm currently reading it when I'm not. I haven't read it, and I don't want to read it, and I'm not currently reading it. I've stopped reading it today, 13 September 2016.
What none of the reviews I saw told me (and not even the description here in Good Reads) is that the thread that links it together is baseball. It's a ball that was used in a famous baseball match in 1951. And Nick Shay is haunted by the disappearance of his father when he was 11, and Klara Sax is creating installation art a graveyard of abandoned military aircraft.
I'm not up to understanding the finer points of baseball, so a lot of it went right over my head. So I'm abandoning it, and I haven't read enough of it to judge how many stars it deserves.
In 2013 we sent R2952.83 on books, including this one at R167. In 2012 we spent R3940.40 on books, and in 2011 R2019.95. But when Val retired in 2014,In 2013 we sent R2952.83 on books, including this one at R167. In 2012 we spent R3940.40 on books, and in 2011 R2019.95. But when Val retired in 2014, we could not afford to go browsing in bookshops and just buying whatever took our fancy, so we rejoined the public library.
In 2014 our spending on books dropped to R1653.50, and in 2015 to R50.01. But browsing in a library is not the same as browsing in a bookshop. In a bookshop, the popular books will be stocking the shelves. In a library, the popular books will probably have been taken out by others. That is where books like this come in. OK, it's someone else's choice, and their taste may not coincide with yours, but you at least know that some book lovers think it is worth reading. And, to back it up, at the back of the book are some lists of winners of some of the major literary prizes. And if you don't find the book in question, another one by the same author might be worth a read.
The authors' list has descriptions of each book and why they think it is worth reading, so from those I've compiled a list, which I take to the library, at least when I remember to.
When this book first appeared in bookshops about 20 years ago I picked it up, read the blurb, and put it down again. One day perhaps I'll read it, butWhen this book first appeared in bookshops about 20 years ago I picked it up, read the blurb, and put it down again. One day perhaps I'll read it, but not yet, I thought.
Then I bought a book called The Modern Library (see What should I read next? | Khanya) and it recommended [book Captain Corelli's mandolin] as one of the best books published ion the second half of the 20th century. So when I fund it in the public library, I thought it was time to read it. And having read it, I'm very glad I did.
Do I regret not reading it at the time?
No, because when I first saw it in the shops I had not been to Greece. I had read a similar book about Greece in the Second World War, Eleni by Nicholas Gage, but that was non-fiction, as was about the author's search for the stories of his forebears in north-western Greece. I took it out of the library again when we were about to visit the area.
I'm sure that Captain Corelli's mandolin is a very good read whether one has visited Greece or not, but having been there, it helps to understand it better.
It is a story of war and peace, hardship and prosperity, and what war does to people and societies. The characters are memorable, the descriptions of both joys and sorrows are vivid. If you read this book, it will give you some idea of what war-torn societies like Syria are going through right now, and what the refugees are fleeing from, and what it feels like to be betrayed by the great powers fighting proxy wars in your home country.
1. Because of the "Rhodes must fall" movement, which began with the demand for the removal of a statue of Cecil J. Rhodes fWhy am I reading this book?
1. Because of the "Rhodes must fall" movement, which began with the demand for the removal of a statue of Cecil J. Rhodes from the campus of the University of Cape Town.
2. Because of the rise of Donald Trump in US politics. Cecil Rhodes seems to have been the Donald Trump of his day, an unscupulous businessman turned politician.
3. Because of family history. At least one member our family, Henry Green, went to Kimberley at the time of the diamond rush, and some of his children were either associates or admirers of C.J. Rhodea and Company, and gave names to their chuildren that reflected this - one child, for example, was named Cecil Leander, and, like his namesakes, he never married.
Concerning the first of these. it is mainly curiosity. I don't feel particularly strongly about statues of dead politicians, good or bad. Getting uptight about them seems rather pointless to me, and itmight be better to pay more attention to living politicians, who can do real damage, and more rarely, some good. About 20 years ago I was wandering through a park in Klin, in Russia, and there was a statue of Lenin. I suppose on the whole I'd prefer that it not be removed, but should stay as a reminder of history.
The resemblance to Donald Trump is more interesting, because Trump is a living politician who, like Rhodes, seems to have a cult following. According to Paul Maylam the cult of Rhodes seems to have arisen mainly after his death, fostered by his close associates who wrote biographies, and his will, which provided for various things by which he would be remembered, most notably the Rhodes Scholaships. Rhodes's funeral, too, which was a long drawn-out affair, seems to have been calculated to foster the cult. Trump, on the other hand, seems to have a cult following even while he lives, though it may die down if he fails to be elected as president of the USA in November, and cause him to be no more remembered than Tielman Roos.
I was interested to learn how Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape (a part of the world that Cecil John Rhodes had little to do with) got its name. It appears that they were hoping to get sponsorship from the Rhodes Trust, and thought that calling it Rhodes University would increase their chances. Now that's like certain sports reports I see on TV, when they say that a certain football team in the English Premier League has been "playing at the Emirates". I pictured them having a six-hour flight to and from the Gulf, and think they must be pretty exhausted with all that travelling. But no, the stadium is in London, and sponsored by the Emirates airline. So if Rhodes University changes its name and suddenly becomes Nandos University, you'll know why. The name of the university has little to do with the cult of Rhodes, and everything to do with sponsorship, marketing and branding.
The cult of Rhodes went way beyond the man himself, and was particularly strong in Southern Rhodesia, and Northern Rhodesia, the countries named after Rhodes, which jettisoned his name as soon as they became independent. Some white people in those countries named their children after Rhodes, even though they had no personal connection with him. But this also raises questions that Maylam does not deal with in the book. Rhodesia was conquered by Rhodes's British South Africa Company under a royal charter, and the company ruled until 1923, when Southern Rhodesia became a self-governing British colony, and Northern Rhodesia became a protectorate. It would be interesting to know whether and how the cult of Rhodes differed before and after this event, but Maylam does not tell us. Another weakness of the book is its repetitiveness. Maylam reiterates the same points in every chapter.
Though Paul Maylam does not admire Rhodes, and disapproves of the cult, his book supports the cult in a curious way, by punctuation. He uses "Rhodes'" for the possessive rather than "Rhodes's". In English that form is only used for revered figures from the ancient world -- Jesus, Moses, Socrates and so on. Maylam tells us that Rhodes admired classical civilisation, and liked to be identified with it, and his friend and admirer Sir Herbert Baker designed his memorial along classical lines for that reason, and every time I came across the possessive "Rhodes'" in the text I stopped short, and the cult came to the fore. Rhodes would have liked that.
Not all of his contemporaries admired Rhodes, and both his admirers and detractors compare him with other historical figures. As Maylam puts it,
Rhodes has been compared to many other historical figures -- Caesar, Napoleon, Cromweell and Bismarck. to name just a few -- but, as far as I know, he has never been compared to Shaka, the Zulu king. This would seem an unlikely comparison, and in many respects, it is. But it is not so much their lives that bear comparison, but their legacies and the way in which they have been represented and remembered. Both have come to be viewed in a polarised way, as hero or villain. Shaka has been represented as the heroic nation-builder, but also as a brutal tyrant; Rhodes as the great empire-builder, but also as the ruthles, dictatorial imperialist. Shaka has been revered by African nationalists, but hated by most white colonialists -- although some of them have shown a grudging admiration for the Zulu king as a "noble savage". Rhodes has been revered by imperialists, but loathed by African nationalists -- although again there is evidence that some African leaders, especially in the early twentieth centuiry, admired Rhodes as "a great man".
Some have also compared Rhodes with Robert Mugabe, and Maylam remarks, "Both men can be characterised as arrogant, authoritarian and vain. Both were land grabbers. And both were content to use force and violence to achieve their political ends."
Maylam also makes much of the resemblance of the Rhodes memorial in Cape Town to a pagan temple,
... the colossal bust of Rhodes portrays him as a great thinker -- which he was not. He had ideas, certainly, but as some biographers have observed, they were often boyish and immature... locating the bust in a "temple" amounts to the deification of Rhodes -- but Rhodes, although the son of an Anglican clergyman, was not a religious person. For many, the near deification of someone who was far from being saintly smacks of idolatry.
G.K. Chesterton, writing in 1912, said,
Rhodes had no principles whatever to give to the world. He had only a hasty but elaborate machinery for spreading the principles that he hadn't got. What he called his ideals were the dregs of a Darwinism which had already grown not only stagnant but poisonous. That the fittest must survive and that ony one like himself must be the fittest; that the weakest must go to the wall, and that anyone he could not understand must be the weakest.
Michael K is a gardener in Cape Town whose mother, a domestic servant, is ill, and fears she may lose her job, so he decides to take her back to PrincMichael K is a gardener in Cape Town whose mother, a domestic servant, is ill, and fears she may lose her job, so he decides to take her back to Prince Albert in the Karroo, where she grew up. But there is a war on, and people need permits to travel, and though he applies, the permit is lost in red tape, so he decides to set out on foot, with his mother in a home-made wheelchair. She takes a turn for the worse, and is admitted to a hospital in Stellenbosch, where she dies and is cremated. Michael K continues alone, with his mother's ashes, but has only the vaguest notion of the farm where she grew up from her description.
When he finds a farm that he thinks may be the right one, he find it abandoned, and so lives as a recluse, shunning human company and becoming self-sufficient, but though he has left the world, the world keeps breaking in on his solitude, and trying to remould him according to its own values.
It is well written, and has won several literary prizes. I found it more readable than other books by J.M. Coetzee, and quite a gripping story. The first part, about the journey to the farm, is reminiscent in a way of Sammy going south by W.H. Canaway, which describes a similar journey, though of a child rather than an adult. After Michael K becomes a recluse, it is quite different.
There is also a surreal quality to the book. It was first published in 1974, which was in the middle of the apartheid era, but there is no mention of apartheid in the book. Race is never mentioned, and so it seems unreal. The bureaucracy is there, but the people are more kindly than they were in that era. So while the book is set in South Africa geographically, it seems to be a South Africa in an alternative universe, as if it had taken a different turning, and developed in a different way. ...more