Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) is known for his short stories and plays. I have not usuallly been a fan of short stories, except possibly in the science-fiAnton Chekhov (1860-1904) is known for his short stories and plays. I have not usuallly been a fan of short stories, except possibly in the science-fiction and horror genres, so I did not come across Chekhov's works until about ten years ago.
Father Athanasius Akunda had just arrived in South Africa as a young deacon to help with mission work in the Orthodox Church. There were many people who wanted to become Orthodox, and some who might have potential to study at a seminary, but few who actually had the educational requirementss necessary for entering a seminary. So we discussed the possibility of having a bridging course, and Father Athanasius suggested that we have a kind of theology in literature course. He had himself taught English literature in high schools before he was ordained.
We wrote to various people we knew to recommend suitable reading material, which would help to improve people's reading skills, and also help to introduce them to cultures shaped by Orthodoxy, which was quite unfamiliar to most people in South Africa. Father Thomas Hopko, of St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York, recommended the short stories of Anton Chekhov, and in particular Bishop, Student, Nightmare, Easter Eve (On holy night), Murder, Princess, Letter, Cossack, Panikhida (Requiem), Uprooted, In Exile, On the Road, In Passion Week, Dreams.
So I took a couple of volumes of Chechov's short stories out of the library, and was hooked.
I didn't just read the ones that Fr Tom Hopko recommended, but I read them all.
A couple of years later we had the opportunity to put Fr Athanasius's idea into practice, as a Catechetical School had been started in Yeoville, Johannesburg.
It was something that Father Athanasius and I had been discussing for a long time. He had taught literature in high school classes, but I had never taught such a thing. Would it work? Should we be trying it? Against all the principles of modern education, this had no specific outcomes, no specified assessment criteria. There was no hope that we could get accredited on this, but we were feeling our way. Where to?
The class was supposed to be the previous week, but that was cancelled in mourning for the death of the Pope and Patriarch and the three bishops and others with him. So the students had two weeks to read the two short texts.
The texts were The martyrdom of Polycarp and Chekhov's short story, The bishop. We told them nothing other than that they were about two bishops, at different times and places, and both were about their deaths and the events immediately leading up to their deaths.
We had four students, for all of whom English was a second or third language. Each had a different home language from the other three. One, from Zimbabwe, spoke Shona; he had attended a Roman Catholic seminary, and was the intellectual of the group. Another was a refugee from Congo; English was his third language, his second language was French. The third, whose home language was North Sotho, really wanted to be a carpenter and was not academically inclined, but perhaps he had a poetic ear. And the fourth spoke Zulu; he was a political organiser, the leader of a youth choir, a go getter.
But the stories left the students in darkness. One said he could not penetrate the meaning. The Chekhov one took place in Holy Week, but that was about it.
So I asked them to read a few paragraphs aloud. The bishop goes home to the monastery where he lives. He is told his mother had called to see him. He is overjoyed to learn this, but it is too late to see her now. He begins to feel ill (the illness that will lead to his death (but we, the readers, and he, do not know this yet). He says his prayers, scrupulously and attentively, and at the same time thinks of his mother and his childhood, which seems happier in retrospect than it did at the time.
How does this compare with Polycarp? Polycarp too has a journey, but unlike Bishop Pyotr in Chekhov's tale, he is on the run from the police, but eventually decides to give himself up. He too rides in a coach, but it isn't his, but the police commissioner's. He barks his shins as he gets down.
But there are other things too -- Polycarp feeds the arresting officers, and I was reminded of Beyers Naude, who had died last week. When he was banned, the Security Police often used to watch his house, noting details of any visitors. And his wife, Tannie Ilse, would take them coffee and biscuits out to the car. As St Paul says, when your enemy is hungry, feed him. I'm supposed to be the teacher here, but I'm learning a great deal from reading these stories.
Are the students learning anything, I wonder? And, like Bishop Pyotr, my mind goes back to my youth, to English I tutorials with Christina van Heyningen and Glen Culpepper on the lawn in front of the Arts Block at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg. Did they too wonder if they were getting anything of their enthusiasm across to these rather dull students? When I was 23 I was remarkably dull and unresponsive to literature and writing. Perhaps I should have done something else, and waited till I was 63 before doing English literature classes at university. I'd certainly have appreciated them better then. As they say, youth is wasted on the young.
And then I remembered that in discussing this Father Athanasius and I did have specific outcomes in mind after all. Ambitious, unrealistic, and certainly not likely to be accepted as a Level 4 unit standard with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). We wanted the students to write literature -- in Shona, North Sotho, Zulu, and whatever language the Congolese student spoke at home. Perhaps, who knows, one of them may be the new Chekhov for that language. So we gave them an assignment: write your own story about a bishop. It can be fact or fiction, real or imaginary. How long? How many words? How many pages? As long as it takes to say what you have to say, no more and no less.
They had until the end of the semester to write them. Perhaps some might be worthy of publication. Yes, that's an outcome. And it's quite specific.
But the outcome was never achieved. None of the students wrote a story.
So I was glad that I had come to Chekhov's stories at the age of 63, rather than the age of 23. I'd probably not have appreciated them at the younger age. And I learned from this biography that Chekhov was only halfway between those ages when he died. I learned that The Bishop was one of his mature stories, written at a time when he was looking forward to his own death, from TB. And I learned that it differed a great deal from the stories he wrote in his youth.
I also learned that Chekhov had largely lost his faith when he wrote most of his stories, and he said that the only thing that was left was that he loved the sound of church bells. I was reminded of Fyodor Dostoevsky's book The brothers Karamazov, in which there is a dog called Perezvon. which means "peal of bells". In stories like "The bishop" one can see something of why and how the Orthodox Christian faith had so permeated Russian culture that the Bolsheviks were not able to eradicate it, even after 70 years, and I suspect that in such stories Chekhov passed on the seeds of faith, even though it was a faith he himself had lost. ...more
I think this is one of Henning Mankell's best crime novels. Four nuns and a fifth woman are murdered in an unnamed African country, and there is an atI think this is one of Henning Mankell's best crime novels. Four nuns and a fifth woman are murdered in an unnamed African country, and there is an attempt at a cover-up, which is torn open by a police officer with a conscience.
The killing sparks off a chain of murders in Sweden, which are investigated by Inspector Kurt Wallander and his team, and as their investigation proceeds they find that they are also investigating crimes that have apparently been committed by some of the victims.
To say much more than this would probably reveal too much of the plot.
P.D. James is known mainly as a writer of detective and other crime stories, though she has occasionally ventured into other genres like fantasy. In tP.D. James is known mainly as a writer of detective and other crime stories, though she has occasionally ventured into other genres like fantasy. In this book, however, she combines her main genre, crime fiction, with two others -- the historical novel and fan fiction, or fanfic for short.
It is not often that established writers venture into the field of fan fiction, in which people write their own stories about the characters and settings created by other authors. In this case the author is Jane Austen and the characters are taken from her novel Pride and prejudice.
I thought I'd better re-read Pride and prejudice before reading this one, since this is a sequel and I'm glad I did so. P.D. James manages to keep the characters fairly faithful to Jane Austen's originals. The setting is reproduced faithfully too. The plot is believable as a follow-on to Pride and prejudice so one of the purposes of fan fiction is fulfilled -- it enables readers to read more about characters they like and to follow their adventures.
What is missing, however, is the style and wit of Jane Austen. In contrast to Pride and prejudice, Death comes to Pemberley is a bit pedestrian. It's even a bit pedestrian compared with P.D. James's other novels. And perhaps that is why fan fiction rarely gets published; it seems easy, but it is actually more demanding if it is to be satisfying for anyone other than the person who wrote it. There seem to be several anachronisms, especially in vocabulary. I doubt that Jane Austen would ever have used the word "lifestyle", for example. I don't think the word even existed in her time.
So it is pleasant reading, and faithful to characters and setting, but no substitute for the real thing.
At one level this is an adventure-travel story, of a boy with no money, trying to make a long journey alone, dependent on the help he receives from stAt one level this is an adventure-travel story, of a boy with no money, trying to make a long journey alone, dependent on the help he receives from strangers on the way. At another level it is a story of growing up, as the boy learns to become a judge of character, who he can trust and who he cannot trust.
Twenty years ago I was chatting to Willem Saayman at lunch time in the Unisa cafeteria, and he told me something about his time as a Dutch Reformed ChTwenty years ago I was chatting to Willem Saayman at lunch time in the Unisa cafeteria, and he told me something about his time as a Dutch Reformed Church missionary in Namibia. He was there from 1974-1978, and spent a year in the Okvango, and the rest of the time at Orumana, in the Kaakoveld.
It was fascinating to me, as it told the other side of a story to which I had seen a very different side. He also told me that the Tomlinson Report, which laid out the blueprint for apartheid in South Africa (and the Odendaal Report, which was the equivalent in Namibia) had provided much of the motivation for many in the DRC to become missionaries, and were seen as providing the incentive and the opportunity for Christian mission.
I went in Namibia in 1969, and was deported in 1972. Though we were not exact contemporaries there, it was close enough for us to have experienced the same times, the same physical, spiritual, ideological and political climate. In my experience the implementation of the Tomlinson and Odendaal reports, and the evil ideology behind them, were precisely the opposite to what Willem described to me. They persecuted the church, and obstructed Christian mission at every turn. Those who implemented them seemed determined to destroy the Christian faith and went to great lengths to prevent its spread.
Willem, it seemed to me, knew the story from the inside. He knew both the good and the evil intentions, the good and evil results. I urged him to write it down, to tell the story, because I doubted that there were many other people who were both willing and able to tell it.
In one sense, he has now done that, in this book.
It is short (150 pages), and it surveys the history of mission of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa from 1652 to the present.
Willem distinguishes four "waves" of mission in the DRC: From 1179-1834; from 1867-1934; from 1954-1976 and from 1990 to the present. Each of these waves, or upsurges in interest in mission, had its own characteristics and importance, but the one that interests me most is the Third Wave, from 1954-1976. That was the one that fell entirely within the apartheid period, and was bound up with the ideology of apartheid.
Willem points out that apartheid did not begin in 1948, that its roots began much further back, and that most whites in South Africa were generally in favour of racial segregation in one form or another long before then. But the soil in which apartheid flourished is one thing, the roots and fruits another. In the past, the matters dealt with by apartheid were not central. They were referred to by preceding (white) governments as "the native question". Apartheid, however was the main plank of the National Party's election campaign in 1948. They promised to make "the native question" the main question, and to solve it once and for all. Apartheid became the official state ideology, an outlook, a worldview, a totalitarian vision of society to which everything had to be forced to conform. It was both qualitatively and quantitatively different from what had gone before. In the book Willem tends to play this down somewhat.
He does show how the mission vision of the DRC both shaped and was shaped by apartheid, by showing how it developed in both church and state, and how church and government influenced one another.
And that, in itself, makes this a very important book.
In one sense, it shows the huge gulf that existed, and still exists, between different denominations in South Africa.
The missiology department at Unisa, like many others, has taught the history of Christian mission from the perspective of "the Constantinian Era". I have my doubts about that, and think that is a simplistic judgement (see Notes from underground: St Constantine, Scapegoat of the West), but given its widespread acceptance, one could say that in the 1970s in Namibia, the Dutch Reformed Church was in the Constantinian Era, while at the same time, in the same country, other denominations, and especially the Anglican Church, were in the pre-Constantinian Era, the era of persecution, of government obstruction.
The Dutch Reformed mission in the Kaokoveld enjoyed government favour, and the government tried to smooth its path. In Windhoek a Dutch Reformed minister hosted a pastor from Romania, Richard Wurmbrand, who told of the difficulties of Christians in far-away Romania, while Christians in Namibia were facing the very same difficulties at that very time -- see Notes from underground: The martyrs of Epinga.
A big eye-opener for me in Willem's book was the story of black farm schools, which, it appears. were seen by the Dutch Reformed Church as a missionary opportunity. The Bantu Education Act in effect nationalised church schools for blacks in the 1950s. All black schools were put under the control of the central government, and most of the Christian churches that had lost their schools in this way thought that it was because the government wanted to be sure that the teaching in the schools was politically correct according to the apartheid ideology. An exception was farm schools, which were controlled by farmers.
From the Dutch Reformed point of view, the mission opportunity was provided by mission-minded farmers who opened the schools for Christian teaching, thus providing a mission opportunity.
My experience was somewhat different.
In 1976-77 I was an Anglican priest in Utrecht in northern Natal, and found myself manager of several farm schools. These schools were held in Anglican Church buildings, but since the church was no longer allowed to run them, a farmer had to be found who was willing to become the "owner" of the school, and most farmers were not interested and not willing. The Bantu Education Department was forever on our case because many of the schools were on church land, and they said they must be on the farm land. And only children from that farm could go to them, whereas in fact children from several surrounding farms came. In one case the church building was on farm land, and the farmer was an absentee landlord, who owned several farms in the area, and one day he visited the farm and closed the church at gunpoint, and all along the road to the farm were armed police.
So there was a distinct apartheid between the Constantinian and the pre-Constantinian Church in South Africa, and neither side really saw the other. And in Namibia in July 1971 the Lutheran Church crossed from one to the other when it issued an open letter criticising the policy of apartheid, and supporting the position of the World Court that South Africa was occupying Namibia illegally.
In his book Willem barely mentions Namibia, and that is why I gave this book four stars rather than five. It is a very important book, and important to read. But I think the full story has not yet been told, and I still hope that Willem will tell, in the form of a memoir and narrative theology, the story of his time in Namibia. The generation who experienced that is passing, and only they can tell the story.
Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet is a 12-year-old boy who lives on a ranch in Montana in the USA, close to the continental divide. He is obsessed with making mTecumseh Sparrow Spivet is a 12-year-old boy who lives on a ranch in Montana in the USA, close to the continental divide. He is obsessed with making maps of everything, and wants to map the entire world, or at least the whole of Montana. He lives with his rancher father, his entomologist mother, and his older sister Gracie, and their dog Verywell. He misses his younger brother Layton, who died a few months earlier.
He receives a phone call from the Smithsonian Institution, to which a scientific friend of his mother has sent some of his maps and drawings, and they want to give him a prize. He at first turns it down, embarrassed because they think he is older, but later decides to accept, and sets out to hitchhike to Washington by train and by car. The book describes his journey, and his thoughts and experiences on the journey, and the maps he makes of them.
The book is unusual, and difficult to compare with others. In some ways it reminds me ofn Sammy going south by W.H. Canaway in that describes a long journey made by a child on his own, but the first-person narrative in this book also makes it quite different. It is both humourous and sad. Like another book mI read recently, The shadow of the wind, it is set in the real world, but also has elements of fantasy, science fiction and mythology.
But really it is in a genre on its own, and comparison s cannot convey what it is like. I found it a very good read. ...more
A bookseller takes his ten-year-old son to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Barcelona in 1945, where he is allowed to choose one book. The book he cA bookseller takes his ten-year-old son to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Barcelona in 1945, where he is allowed to choose one book. The book he chooses is The shadow of the wind by an almost unknown novelist, Julian Carax.
The boy reads the book and enjoys it, and tries to find other books by the same author, but they are impossible to find, and he soon discovers that others are interested in his book, and he is made several lucrative offers, one from a person named after one of the characters in the book. He refuses them all.
As he grows up, he becomes more interested in solving the mystery of the book, and what happened to its author, and it soon becomes apparent that such a quest is dangerous, and that there are powerful people and forces intent on stopping him.
To say more would be a spoiler, and it is otherwise difficult to describe this book: a literary detective story, a tale of star-crossed lovers, a fantasy novel, an adventure-thriller. It's a cross between Romeo and Juliet, The Eyre affair and the film Pan's labyrinth, and more besides. At times, with the description of encounters with the police of the Franco era in Spain, it felt familiar, like the old apartheid South Africa, with echoes of A dry white season.
Edward Hammond is a surgeon who once, for a large fee, performed a liver transplant on Dragan Gazi, a gangster who was later on trial for war crimes iEdward Hammond is a surgeon who once, for a large fee, performed a liver transplant on Dragan Gazi, a gangster who was later on trial for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. He is about to go on holiday when Gazi's daughter approaches him an blackmails him into searching for the accountant who controls Gazi's fortune. If he does not fulfil the request, she says, Gazi will reveal that part of his payment was the morder of Hammond's estranged wife Kate, who was indeed murdered by unknown assailants shortly after Hammond's return from Belgrade, where he had performed the surgery.
It does not appear to have occurred to Hammond that he could have gone to the police straightaway, and told them that he had new information relating to his wife's murder. But of course if he had, there would have been no story, or a very different one.
As with most of Goddard's novels, actions of mysteries of the past come back to haunt characters in the present, and this one is as good as most of Goddard's novels, where nothing is as it seems, and the shiftina alliances and loyalties of the characters keep one guessing to the end.
Go is generally regarded as the first novel of the Beat Generation, written between 1949 and 1951, and first published in 1952, nearly sixty years agoGo is generally regarded as the first novel of the Beat Generation, written between 1949 and 1951, and first published in 1952, nearly sixty years ago. I first read it when I was 20, fifty years ago, and rereading it after all that time is a rather strange experience.
It is set in the late 1940s, and that was another generation, a generation that I don't connect with. They are the people who came home from the war, whom I used to meet in bars around Durban, those boozy old men. In 1972 I used to go for lunch at the Grosvenor Hotel in Soldiers Way across the road from Durban station and sip my solitary beer and eat my 15c curry for lunch, and hear them talking about Smiler Small, who used to frequent the bar in Malvern, and I used to look at all the World War II memorabilia decorating the bar. It never occurred to me that those people, who frequented bars like that, were the Beat Generation, and yet they were. Jack Kerouac was the same age as my father-in-law, who occasionally used to go drinking at the Malvern Hotel.
Yet it was only ten years later, in 1960-61 that I was reading their books, envying their life, and wondering if had really happened the way John Clellon Holmes and Jack Kerouac described it. But they are the generation I associate with alien things like Frank Sinatra, and males in suits and hats, and women wearing lipstick and nylon stockings, and people trying to get back on their feet after the war. So reading Go is very strange. It was only 20 years before 1970, yet 1970 is now forty years ago. And the Durban station is no longer there, and Soldiers Way is probably called something else, and if the Grosvenor Hotel is still there it too is probably called something else now.
But then I remember that I too was like that, even when longing to be like that and thinking it must be different somehow, and somehow more exciting. But it only sounded more exciting than the lives we lived in the 1960s. We too experienced that restless rushing around in the, rushing to Meadowlands to see Cyprian Moloi, or to Springs to see Noel Lebenya, travelling many miles to see if a friend was home, and finding that they were out, travelling many more liles to see another. Not as many boozy parties, and no one was writing a book, but perhaps our conversations were even more intelligent, even when we smoked pot, which was rare. And that was only fifteen years after it all happened in Holmes's book. Fifty years ago somehow seems quite close to the present, yet ten years earlier, when Holmes wrote, seems another world, another eon, another universe. In the sixties Holmes's world of New York seemed like some magic golden age, and looking back from now to the sixties, that seems like the real golden age. The times Holmes wrote about, I realise now, were different, not just because it was another generation, but another world and worldview.
And rereading it fifty years later, I see that Holmes actually tried to create the new vision that made us look back on his world with rose-tinted spectacles. What he longed for became part of our vision.
The essence of the book is summed up in the dream of one of the characters, Stofsky (a thinly-diguised version of the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg). Stofsky dreams that he meets God, in a rather shabby dusty room, sitting on a very shabby throne, and God tells him to "Go, and love without the help of any Thing on earth."
For us in the sixties, that was the starting point. It was a kind of presupposition. It was the presupposition with which I read Go the first time. And so it all seemed rather wonderful, transported out of its time and place into some kind of beautiful timeless realm. I could not imagine them as part of the same world as the suits and hats and nylon stockings.
But rereading it fifty years later, I see it in a very different perspective. Another of the characters in Go, Paul Hobbes (who represents Holmes himself) doesn't have dreams and visions like Stofsky, but gradually comes to realise that their values and their life of endless boozy partying are rather shallow. He thinks of his friends, including one who had died, and wonders if anyone had actually loved them. And it is in this seeting of lovelessness, hopelessness, selfishness and despair that God appears to Stofky in a dream and says "Go, and love without the help of any Thing on earth."
Eleven years ago I was in Albania, and after being taken on a tour of the capital, Tirana, by a university student, Theofania, we sat down at a pavemeEleven years ago I was in Albania, and after being taken on a tour of the capital, Tirana, by a university student, Theofania, we sat down at a pavement cafe to rest and have something to drink. Theofania said that a man at the next table was Ismail Kadare, one of Albania's most famous writers. One of my recurring daydreams has been how nice it would be to sit at cafe tables having literary discussions, especially with famous authors. Tirana is a small enough town that one can see people doing that, even if one does not have the temerity to join in. In the course of our tour we also passed Albania's most famous film star, riding a bicycle.
I'd never heard of Ismail Kadare before, but having set eyes on him, if not actually having spoken to him, I was curious about his books, and when I found one in a bookshop, The file on H, I read it and enjoyed it. Not many bookshops stock his books, so when I saw Chronicle in stone, I bought it, and enjoyed it even more than The file on H.
It is set in the town of Gjirokaster in southern Albania, which is the town where Kadare grew up, so it is probably semi-autobiographical, and I have no doubt that Kadare must have witnessed scenes similar to those he describes in the book. It is set during the Second World War, when Gjirokaster was successively occupied by Italians, Greeks and Germans, with several changes as the tide of war ebbed and flowed.
It is seen through the eyes of a child, possibly a somewhat older child than Kadare would have been at the time. Though the age of the narrator is never stated, it seems to be about 6-10, whereas Kadare would have been about 2-3 years younger than that at the time. It is a child's-eye view, yet an adult recollection of a child's-eye view, with adult powers of description. But it looks at the the adult world through a child's eyes, remembering people for particular characteristics or foibles that would impress a child. Apart from the other children, most of the adults belong to the grandparents' generation, and so much of the information about the world comes to the narrator through his grandparents and their friends and relatives, aunts and great aunts who pop in to visit and gossip. There is the grandfather who lies on his divan each day, reading books in Turkish. There is the old woman who comments on each piece of news that it is the end of the world.
The nearest comparison I can think of is the "William" books by Richmal Crompton, which is also a fictional representation of a child's experience of war, but the viewpoint is different and the culture is different. Crompton's books reflect adult amusement at children's interpretations of the adult world, and so they are more detached from the characters. Kadare gets more into the skin of the child, and articulates it from the child's point of view. Another difference is that though Richman Crompton's books reflect fear of invasion, the invasion never took place, and the country was not occupied. The war was closer in Albania, the bombing more devastating, and, towards the end, with three different resistance movements, it also became a civil war. There is humour, but there is also tragedy and sadness.
I enjoyed the book partly because it it portrays Albanian culture, and having been to the country, it helped me to understand more of the people and the way they lived and thought.
There is also a sense in which the city itself is the main character in the novel. Occupying armies come and go, the inhabitants flee as refugees and return, but the city remains almost as a sentient being. Even in translation, Kadare's descriptions are lyrical.
I'd never have read his books if we had not, by chance, being sitting at a table next to him at a cafe. I'd probably still not have heard of him but for that chance. But, having discovered his books, I'll be reading more in future. ...more
Unlike most of Henning Mankell's "Wallander" novels, this one is set at least partly in South Africa, which gives it additional interest to me. It isUnlike most of Henning Mankell's "Wallander" novels, this one is set at least partly in South Africa, which gives it additional interest to me. It is set in the period between the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the first democratic elections in 1994. It was a period of great uncertainty, when no one knew quite what would happen. Though the National Party had already shed its ultra right wing (to the HNP in the late 1960s), and its far right wing (to the Conservative Party in the late 1970s), the bulk of its support was still pretty much on the right, and the unbanning of the left opposition parties tended to make its supporters nervous, including many in the security forces and the army. One of the possibilities was a right-wing military coup, and attempts to create disorder in order to facilitate such a coup. And there were such attempts, by the mysterious "third force", and others.
So Mankell's main plot, which is based on the training of a South African political assassin in Sweden, is quite believable. After all, Chris Hani was assassinated in just such a plot about the time that the novel was published. Mankell does a fairly good job of showing some of the tensions and ambiguities of South Africn society at that time.
But I also have the problem that I tend to read novels set in places that are familiar to me more critically, and tend to find it more jarring when things are oui of place. Because relatively few novels of this type are set in South Africa, its not something that happens very often, but I wonder how people who live in places where lots of crime novels are set feel when they read them. It's OK with Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford novels, which are set in a fictional town, but when actual places are mentioned, I wonder how people who live in them feel when there are inaccurate descriptions. Perhaps I'm also more sensitive to such things than most readers, having worked as a proofreader and editor, where it was my job to detect and correct such slip-ups.
Another novel I read, set in the same period, and with a similar plot line, was Vortex by Larry Bond, which was spoilt for me because some of the action took place in locations that were geographically impossible.
At first Henning Mankell's slip-ups were relatively minor -- a car parked under a baobab tree in the Transkei (I've never seen a baobab tree in the Transkei), someone working on a mine in Verwoerdburg (I lived there in the 1980s, and there were no mines there then). These are minor errors, and concerned only minor characters, but they are jarring none the less.
But there were some things that did affect more important characters, and the plot.
One is that Mankell refers to the "Transkei Province", where it affects police looking for suspects in the Transkei. Yet at that time Transkei was an "independent" homeland, and though its independence wasn't recognised by anyone but South Africa, police procedures at that period would surely have to take some account of the "independent" status of the Transkei, and so in a novel whose genre is a "police procedural" rather than a whodunit, this is a more serious error.
Some of Mankell's descriptions of African culture also strike me as somewhat odd. South Africa is a very multicultural country, and I'm not familiar with every single cultural nuance out there, but still, I wonder what Mankell's conception of a sangoma is. He has characters talking about "my sanhoma" the way some Americans talk about "my shrink", and though there are some ways in whch a sangoma's role in South African society is similar to that of a shrink in America, I've never heard anyone speak of "my sangoma. Mankell also writes about people's relations to spirits that also don't fit, especially since the character in question is a Zulu, and one of the better books on the topic, Zulu thought-patterns and symbolism was written by a fellow Swede, Axel-Ivar Berglund.
Mankell also has urban African characters using using rural imagery of wild animals. I think he underestimates the extent of urbanisation in South African society. I once took a group of students to a work camp in rural Zululand, and one of them, from Soweto, wondered how the local people could survive when they lived so far from the shops.
Never having been to Sweden, I have no idea whether there are similar discrepancies in the Swedish settings, but there do seem to be some rather large plot holes relating to the villain-in-chief, but to say more about that would reveal too much of the plot.
In spite of these flaws, however, it is an enjoyable read.
I've read quite a number of vampire novels, but found none to compare with Bram Stoker's Dracula. I've read Dracula several times, but all the othersI've read quite a number of vampire novels, but found none to compare with Bram Stoker's Dracula. I've read Dracula several times, but all the others were disappointing.
I suppose I might have enjoyed 'Salem's lot by Stephen King if I had not aleady read Dracula several times; it might then have come to me as something fresh and exciting. As it was, it seemed entirely predictable.
I read Interview with the vampire by Anne Rice because someone had told me about it, and forced myself to stick it out to the end, boring as it was, just to be able to say I had actually read it, and did not dismiss it as not worth reading just from prejudice.
The historian is the first vampire book I have read that seems to be a fitting sequel to Dracula. Not only is it a fitting sequel, I think it surpasses the original.
Perhaps I should digress from the books for a moment to describe an interesting event that took place at the University of South Africa nearly 20 years ago. Some people came and delivered a lecture on Dracula. They were from the Transylvanian Society of Dracula in Romania, and for them Dracula, as in Bram Stoker's novel, was a new and exciting discovery. With the fall of the Communist Party regime a few years before, Romania had a sudden influx of tourists and journalists looking for Dracula's castle. At first Romanians had no idea what they were talking about, because Dracula had only been published in Romanian in 1990. The Ministry of Tourism set up a group to research this, and they decided that it was a tourist gold mine, and so they renovated an old castle and renamed it "Dracula's Castle", and turned it into a kind of vampire Disneyland to cash in on the tourist trade.
Their historical investigations did not turn up an original for Stoker's Count Dracula (Stoker's story was rather set in Styria, in Austria), but they did turn up a rather bloodthirsty ruler, a Prince of Wallachia (one of the three provinces of Romania, the others being Transylvania and Modldavia) whose epithet was Vlad the Impaler, and who appeared to enjoy impaling invading enemies and his own subjects on stakes. His enemies included the invading Ottoman Turks, and the neighbouring Kingdom of Hungary, and he seemed to be the the historical figure who came closest to being a model for Bram Stoker's arch-villain.
Elizabeth Kostova builds on this, and unambiguously links Dracula the vampire to the historical figure of Vlad the Impaler, with three generations of historians investigating the legends by doing research in various libraries. To say more about the plot might be a spoiler, but I can say something about the way the plot is constructed.
After a hundred or so pages I became curious about the author and her background, because, in spite of the book being set in at least three different historical periods (the 1930s, the 1950s and the 1970s) in several different countries, I spotted no glaring anachronisms. In addition, there were references to several different periods of medieval history, and again, the settings seemed authentic.
The Wikipedia article on Elizabeth Kostova notes that a very high price was paid for it
Publishers Weekly explained the high price as a bidding war between firms believing that they might have the next Da Vinci Code within their grasp. One vice-president and associate publisher said "Given the success of The Da Vinci Code, everybody around town knows how popular the combination of thriller and history can be and what a phenomenon it can become.
That was very interesting, because one outstanding feature of The da Vinci code was its bad history and worse plot, made worse still by Dan Brown's spurious claims that the historical background was accurate. It is a claim that Elizabeth Kostova could justifiably have made, but, with more modesty than Dan Brown, didn't.
I spotted just one, very minor, anachronism -- a character referred to his having grown up in Cumbria twenty years before Cumbria became an official county name -- before that a person would be more likely to have said "Cumberland", or "Westmorland", or possibly "The Lake District". There may be others, of course, but if there were they weren't so glaringly obvious as to be distracting, like the errors in The da Vinci code. The descriptions of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires and the fall of Constantinople in 1453 seem to be pretty accurate, and are also informative.
Descriptions of life in Orthodox monasteries are also fairly accurate, as are those of of some folk-religion customs, such as fire-walking.
Bram Stoker manages to avoid this difficulty when writing about contemporary England, though his knowledge of the geography and folk-religion of the Balkans was derived entirely from books, and was sketchy, to say the least. But his story holds up in spite of that, and in spite of the plot flaws it remains a good read. Kostova manages to get in all three -- a combination of history cum thriller cum horror story that comes off well. She uses some of Stoker's techniques -- telling the story through letters written by the characters, and also uses some of the conventions that Stoker established for vampire folklore -- that vampires are afraid of crosses and garlic, for example. One of the things I do have some doubts about though, is that Kostova seems to invest Turkish worry-beads with a religious signficance analogous to Western rosaries, and therefore good for scaring of vampires. Greeks also use worry beads, but they seem to be purely secular, and quite different from the Orthodox prayer ropes that are closer to Western rosaries.
As an Orthodox Christian, this was one of the things that I found a bit unsatisfactory -- the main characters in the story were agnostic, yet the seemed to put great reliance on religious symbols like crosses for warding off vampires. This strikes me as being purely superstitious.
On the other hand, it probably does reflect the attitudes of many nominal Orthodox in Balkan countries, especially those that were deliberately secularised after several decates of atheistic communist rule.
But those are minor quibbles, and don't detract from enjoyment of the book, which is a very good read indeed.
A psychiatrist, Andrew Marlow, has a patient, Robert Oliver, who attacked a painting in an art gallery with a knife. Oliver will not speak, and so toA psychiatrist, Andrew Marlow, has a patient, Robert Oliver, who attacked a painting in an art gallery with a knife. Oliver will not speak, and so to try to understand him Marlow visits and interviews people who had known Oliver, to try to understand his behaviour. As he uncovers more of Oliver's past, he finds it leads back into art history, and the history of the Impressionists in France.
In a way, the book follows a formula that has been used by other authors, such as Robert Goddard -- a mystery in the present whose answer is to be found in something that happened in the past.
I don't think it's qute up to the standard of the best of Goddard, but it's a lot better than his worst, and the pace is a bit more leisurely. It's the kind of book you can spin out, reading a chapter or two at bed time. ...more
Detective Kurt Wallander's daughter Linda is about to join him on the police force in the town of Ystad in southern Sweden, and while she is waiting tDetective Kurt Wallander's daughter Linda is about to join him on the police force in the town of Ystad in southern Sweden, and while she is waiting to start work Linda re-establishes contact with a couple of old school friends, Anna and Zeba. Then Anna says she thiinks she has seen her father, who had been missing for many years, and shortly afterwards goes missing herself. Linda begins searching for Anna, and thinks her disappearance may be linked to a case her father is working on, of animals that have been cruelly killed and then a murder, that seems to be linked to a religious motive.
Untill about halfway through, I thought that this was the best book Henning Mankell had written. The point of view has shifted to Linda Wallander, and we see her father through her eyes, rather than his own rather jaundiced view of the world, and his battles with booze. There seem to be too many boozy policeman novels nowadays.
The second half doesn't hang together too well, and there seems to be too much of the deus ex machina. Perhyaps, however, that is more what real police work is like -- strokes of luck and chance happenings.
Despite these faults, however, it is still one of Mankell's better novels. ...more
I quite enjoy reading whodunits, and when I saw this volume of short stories about Sherlock Holmes, I thought it might be interesting to read some earI quite enjoy reading whodunits, and when I saw this volume of short stories about Sherlock Holmes, I thought it might be interesting to read some early examples of the genre.
The narrator is Holmes's friend Dr Watson, who says he is telling the stories to record the remarkable powers and abilities of his friend Sherlock Holmes, and I didn't really enjoy the first couple of stories very much, as the adulation of the sycophantic Watson was jusdt too much. After that, however, it settled down, and by the end Watson was becoming more critical of Holmes. And as Holmes became more human, the stories seemed to become more interesting.
It is interesting to compare 21st century detective stories with those of 130 years ago, Most of the modern protagonists of detective fiction are part of what Holmes called "the official police". He, however, was a private detective, working for a fee, and often solving mysteries and crimes that the police were too unobservant to see. The amateur detective, and the "private eye" seem to have faded from detective fiction after about 1960. Sherlock Holmes was followed by Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Dorothy Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey, G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown and juvenile equivalents like Nancy Drew and the Hardy boys. But since the 1960s most fictional detectives have been part of the official police.
Another difference is that, for the protagonists of current detective fiction, the only crime they have to deal with is murder. No detective mystery story is complete without a corpse, and preferably two or three, or even more. Sherlock Holmes, however, seems to deal with a much wider variety of crimes, including solving mysteries that aren't really crimes at all.
Another, and more obvious difference is that Sherlock Holmes doesn't have high-tech methods at his disposal. There are no DNA samples, not even fingerprints. Though Holmes is something of an amateur chemist, he doesn't seem to spend any time examining blood or tissue or soil samples from the scene of the crime. His method is to make "deductions" from data.
And this is where things begin to be confusing, because Sherlock Holmes's method is clearly inductive reasoning rather than deductive, yet Conan Doyle persistently refers to it as "deduction".
I wonder how many philosophy students were confused as a result. ...more
I've read a couple of Quintin Jardine's books before -- whodunits featuring Edinburgh detective Robert Skinner. This one, though still a whodunit, isI've read a couple of Quintin Jardine's books before -- whodunits featuring Edinburgh detective Robert Skinner. This one, though still a whodunit, is quite different in characters and setting. Instead of the capital of Scotland, it is set in a small village in Spain. The protagonist is not a policeman but a single mother expatriate who gets caught up in events surrounding a murder, and finds herself a suspect.
It is obviously part of a series featuring some of the same characters, and perhaps if I read the others, I might know more about them, and I found this one sufficiently readable to want to read one or two of the others, if I see them.
And on second thoughts iot has more connections with Scotland than appear at first sight, because it set in Catalonia, which probably has a similar relation to the rest of Spain as Scotland does to the rest of the UK. ...more
Father Luke Veronis, from Pennsylvania in the USA, was a missionary in Albania for a little over ten years, from 1994-2004, and this is the story of hFather Luke Veronis, from Pennsylvania in the USA, was a missionary in Albania for a little over ten years, from 1994-2004, and this is the story of his experience in that time. He was married to Faith, who joined him there and their three older children also lived there.
Since the Second World War Albania had been ruled by the communist dictator Enver Hoxha (pronounced Hodja), who in 1967 decided that Albania was to the the world's first officially atheist country, with no religion at all being allowed. So for 24 years, until 1991, no religion was allowed. Every church, jammi and tekke was closed, and either demolished or converted to secular uses.
In 1991 religious freedom was restored, but the Orthodox Church was in a bad way. Most of the clergy had been killed or imprisoned. Bishop Anastasios Yannoulatos was sent there to try to reestablish the life of the church. There could not have been a better choice; he was the most outstanding Orthodox missiologist of the 20th century.
Luke Veronis met Bishop Anastasios when on a short-term mission trip to Kenya, and this sparked his missionary vocation. He returned to America, where he studied missiology, and then returned a second time to East Africa for a longer stint. Over the next few years he led several short-term mission teams to East Africa while studying theology at Holy Chross Seminary in Brookline, Massachusetts.
After he had been in Albania for a while, Luke Veronis returned to America, where he married Faith and was ordained as a deacon, and together they returned to Albania, where he was later ordained priest by Archbishop Anastasios.
During their time in Albania there were two huge upheavals. The first was in 1997, when most of the people in the country lost all their savings in the collapse of a pyramid scheme, in which many, unused to the capitalist system, had unwisely invested their life saivings. The scheme was publicly endorsed by some prominent government leaders. When the scheme collapsed there was widespread chaos and looting, and people broke into military arsenals and stole guns. Hundreds were killed in the enusing fighting, not a few by bullets fired into the air by exuberant rioters.
The second upheaval was the influx of over a million refugees from Kosovo, who fled after the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Father Luke describes the church's ministry to the refugees, and how some close personal relationships were forged with them, which continued even after they had returned, or had moved on to other countries.
This book is is not a formal treatise on mission or mission history, but a kind of expanded missionary journal, with a description of Fr Luke's work, and impressions of it, and reflection on the nature of mission and the motivation of missionaries. In that sense it is more inspirational than informational, and more missional than missiological. That also, in a sense, makes me the wrong person to review the book, because part of Father Luke's story is also part of my story, since he arranged for me to go to Albania to lecture on missiology to students of the seminary at Shen Vlash, where he was the Dean, and I also met Archbishop Anastasios, and several of the people he mentions in the book.
The book also gives some personal glimpses of Archbishop Anastasios, which are also very useful, and one can see something of what drives him. The outstanding thing seems to be the heart of the Gospel, the good newsd of the love of God, and Archbishop Anastasios himself comes across as someone filled with the love of God and the desire to share that love with others.
Many know Archbishop Anastasios as a missiologist, but his writings and actions are filled with a missional spirit. Father Luke gives an example from a conference of Orthodox theological schools in 2001:
When one theologian tried to say that the authentic type of Orthodox missions was simply to stay where we are and shine a light so that others come to us, Archbishop Anastasios warned him that "we are in danger of creating spiritual ghettos only for ourselves and no one else. This has nothing to do with the 'apostolic, catholic' spirit of our forebears. If our theology is authentic and sincere, then it must spur us on toward missions. Orthodox theology and missiology are not separate. Our theology motivates us for mission."
Father Luke also describes some of the difficulties and personal opposition faced by Archbishop Anastasios, and in some ways they are obstacles to Orthodox mission everywhere. When Archbishop Athanasios first went to Albania in 1991 he was regarded with hostility by the Albanian government, because he was Greek. Albanian nationalists in America spoke against him at every opportunity. On the other hand, Greek nationalists criticised him for not being Greek enough, and for re-establishing an Albanian Church rather than a Greek one.
A Romanian metropolitan tried to establish a diocese for the Vlach-speaking people, and a Greek metropolitan claimed that parts of southern Albania fell under his jurisdiction.
But Archbishop Anastasios said that where people spoke Greek (as they did in the south of Albania) they could have Greek services, where they spoke Albanian, they would have Albanian services, and where the people were Vlach, they too could have services in their own language. He inisted that there was only one Orthodox Church in Albania:
Do you think the forest is more beautiful if there is only one kind of tree? All the various trees must grow freely under the rays of the sun. The key to proper development is love and freedom...
I was looking for some light bedtime reading, and looked through our bookshelves and picked up some books that I wasn't sure if I had read or not, andI was looking for some light bedtime reading, and looked through our bookshelves and picked up some books that I wasn't sure if I had read or not, and then checked on my computer and found that I had read them, but they had proved to be rather forgettable. Then I picked up this book, which has been lying around for ages, but I hadn't read it.
It was quite an interesting read.
Russian investigator Arkady Renko goes to Cuba to find out what had happened to a dead Russian, a sugar attache at the Russian Embassy in Cuba, who was found dead after he had been missing for several days. Renko wants the Cuban authorities to investigate his death, but finds that they are reluctant to do so. Since the fall of the Bosheviks from power the Russians have downsized their embassy in Cuba and the remaining Russians are not very popular, and Russians investigating possible crimes on Cuban soil are even less so.
Renko soon finds that something big is going on, something bigger than he first suspected, and the more he discovers, the bigger it gets.
To say motre would reveal too much of the plot, but there is also lots of local colour, and some interesting sidelights on Afro-Caribbean religion, and the role that semi-religious secret societies like Abakua play in Cuban society. ...more
The protagonist of this book is Moscow homicide detective Leo Demidov, who also featured in Tom Rob Smith's earlier book, Child 44. But though there iThe protagonist of this book is Moscow homicide detective Leo Demidov, who also featured in Tom Rob Smith's earlier book, Child 44. But though there is plenty of homicide in this book, there is little detecting. This is not a whodunit.
The bulk of the book is set in the period of the "Khrushchev thaw" in the Soviet Union, when, in his eponymous secret speech to the 20th Communist Party Congress, Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin's dictatorship, the police state, and the Stalinist policy of arbitrary detention and sometimes liquidation of political dissenters.
During this period millions of political prisoners were released, and the liberalisation policy did not meet with the approval of hard-line conservatives. It was opposed particularly by some factions in the KGB, the secret police, and led to power struggles, with some trying to promote and some trying to hinder liberalisation. It is around this that the plot of the novel is built, and particulalry the fear of some KGB members that the newly-released political prisoners might seek vengeance on those who denounced and arrested them.
In the beginning the description of the setting is fairly convincing, and in many ways it reminded me of the atmosphere in South Africa 21 years ago, after F.W. de Klerk's speech of 2 February 1990. De Klerk's speech was not secret, but it had a similar effect on society. To some it gave hope of freedom, to others fear of vengeance.
But after the promising beginning beginning the book becomes less convincing as the author tries to move the main characters to every scene of action in the period, from the Gulag to the Hungarian Uprising. He propagates the view that the Hungarian Uprising was not spontaneous, but that it was stage-managed by a Stalinist clique in Russia to try to check Khrushchev's reform process. I'm not sufficiently clued up on history of the period to know if this was actually the case, and perhaps some historians have propounded such a view or have found evidence for such things, but it was not something I had heard of before.
Of course that would not make Smith the first novelist to manipulate history in favour of plot, and to paint "what if?" scenarios. It's just that in this case the main purpose seems to be to get the characters to the scene of the action, and it doesn't come off very well.
Another bit of historical revisionism, which is even less convincing, is Smith's use and portrayal of the Orthodox Church. The book opens with a scene clearly based on the actual demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in central Moscow. Thereafter the Orthodox crucifix reappears in the book as a symbol of the search for revenge -- revenge on those who denounced, arrested and sent people to the prison camps. A priest in one of the prison camps apparently acquiesces in this search for revenge and seems to believe that it is quite justified and only to be expected.
Far be it from me to suggest that Orthodox Christians are such super saints as to never have any thoughts of taking revenge on those who have harmed them. But Orthodox spirituality is such that to entertain such thoughts is a sin to be confessed, the encouragement of an evil passion. In all Orthodox manuals of devotion, in all Orthodox spiritual teaching, the most serious obstacle to receiving Holy Communion is enmity with others and the desire for revenge. This is an absolute incompatibility. The fact that the priest character has no qualms of conscience about this, and sees no need to excuse his behaviour, even to himself, makes him altogether unconvincing. And making the Orthodox crucifix a symbol of vengeance and the overriding desire for revenge seems utterly incongruous.
The Orthodox approach to the exaction of vengeance for past wrongs can perhaps be symbolised by what actually happened in the case of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, demolished in the Bolshevik era. It was rebuilt in the form of a replica of the original, and so perhaps stands as a symbol, not of vengeance, but of restorative justice. ...more
I can't really write a review of this book, since I am one of the authors, and also edited the whole text to prepare it for publication. So here's theI can't really write a review of this book, since I am one of the authors, and also edited the whole text to prepare it for publication. So here's the blurb that says what it's about
Healing ministry is becoming more prominent in many different Christian traditions in Southern Africa. In the past, it was largely confined to the 'Spirit-type' African Independent Churches (AICs), where it was (and still is) a recruitment technique par excellence. For these denominations, healing is central to the mission, and the church is primarily seen as a healing institution. In the Western Initiated Churches (WICs), healing was earlier seen as peripheral, but has become more central in recent years.
This book focuses on churches' healing ministries in Zimbabwe, looking at the historical setting and the background to Christianity. The book examines the traditional religion among the Shona people of Zimbabwe, as well as the healing traditions in African independent churches in general. It consists of four case studies of healing in different Christian denominations in Zimbabwe: two African independent churches and two Western-initiated churches (Roman Catholic and Anglican). The book also looks at the wider application of the case studies, and the general implications for Christianity in Africa.
This book certainly isn't the last word on the topic, but Christian healing ministry in Africa has taken many forms, from church-sponsored clinics and hospitals practising Western medicine to travelling tent evangelists conducting healing "crusades" and Zionist prophets giving purgatives and emetics and a whole lot more besides. One can make lots of generalisations and talk in generalities, but where this book starts is with the concrete practice of four different groups, each with its own approach to healing ministry. While they are all located in Zimbabwe, one can find similar examples in other parts of the continent.
Lilian Dube looks at the Zvikomborera Apostolic Faith Church, whose prophet/healer, Agnes Majecha, is known to specialise in neutralising zvikwambo, magical objects that have got out of control. People might buy a chikwambo from a traditional healier as a talisman to ensure health and prosperity, but it tends to become a burden, and then people find it is hard to get rid of it.
Lilian Dube also compares the role of women in healing ministry in traditional African religion and Christianity, using Agnes Majecha as an example of the latter.
Tabona Shoko looks at healing ministry in the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, and especially the ministry of Fr Lazarus Muyambi in the Anglican Church, and Fr Augustine Urayai in the Roman Catholic Church. One of the things I fund quite interesting here was that the Anglican healing ministry was linked to a community of nuns, and that something similar had happened about 1500 kilometres away in Zululand. Tabona Shoko also examines the role of the St Elijah Church, an African Independent Church that broke away from the Lutheran Church.
My task was to try to draw these different strands together and to compare them with healing ministries in other parts of Africa and the world.
The retail price of the book in South Africa is R170.00, and it may be ordered from Unisa Press or its overseas agencies. ...more
The first thjing I noticed about this book was the sticker placed on the cover, presumabl;y by the booksellers, saying "If you like Jo Nesbo you'll loThe first thjing I noticed about this book was the sticker placed on the cover, presumabl;y by the booksellers, saying "If you like Jo Nesbo you'll love this." And the books by Jo Nesbo have stickers saying "The next Stieg L:arsson". I'm not sure what these cvomparisons are supposed to achieve, except that Jo Nesbo's writing has recently come to look like a rather ineffectual attempt to imitate Stieg Larsson. But Lackberg has so far not tried to imitate either. Other than being crime fiction, and thus in the same broad genre, Lackberg is Lackberg, and there is little resemblance to Nesbo.
But the claim made me think of the differences between male and female crime writers, and this one is obviously written from a feminine perspective. For the first hundred pages or so I thought the protagonist was post-natal depression. And it got me thinking about differences between male and female crime writers.
One of the most notable ones is that the detective heroes of the male writers tend to be heavy drinkers, if not actual alcoholics, and are divorced or about to be. Alan Banks, Kurt Wasllander, Harry Hole and several other fictional detectives invented by male writers seem to fall into this category. Even Morse, though though unmarried, was unlucky in love, and tended to booze a lot. But the fictional detectives of female crime writers, though they may have faults, seem to be able to stay off the booze and avoid divorce -- Rex Wexford, Lindley, Adam Dalgleish and, in this book, Patrik Hedstrom.
In this book the murder of a child baffles the police, and when it is followed by apparently similar non-fatal attacks on young children the police find that find most of their suspects appear to have alibis for one or more of the attacks. In addition, many of the families involved in the investigation have secrets that they want to keep hidden. There is a kind of parallel story set in the past, which show that the roots of the crimes lie in an earlier generation, and in the upbringing of chiuldren in the past. Some of the police officers involved in the investigation have difficulties in bringing up their own children.
So the book turns out to be more than a simple whodunit, but is also an exploration of the ways in which dysfunctional families can produce criminals.If you love this book, you might not necessarily like Jo Nesbo. ...more
I read this book. I find it difficult to say much more about it. It's crime fiction of a sort. The protagonist is a middle-aged courtesan who plays amI read this book. I find it difficult to say much more about it. It's crime fiction of a sort. The protagonist is a middle-aged courtesan who plays amateur detective, but Miss Marples or Hercule Poirot she is not. There's a murder, but it's not a murder mystery in the sense that the author leaves clues lying around for the reader to pick up. The protagonist solves the crimes by her brilliant intuition by a process that is opaque to the reader, and left me feeling "So that's whodunit. So what?"
I wonder if this is really an example of the genre known as "chicklit". When I look at Good Reads's "compare books" function I can see that I score pretty low on appreciation of chicklit. So I think I'll steer clear of Fyfield in future, unless I'm really desperate.
**spoiler alert** Though this is a whodunit, the thing that stands out about it for me is the way it reflects the inconsistent and ever-changing moral**spoiler alert** Though this is a whodunit, the thing that stands out about it for me is the way it reflects the inconsistent and ever-changing moral values of society. And that makes it indeed a strange affair.
Writers of whodunits like to involve their fictional detectives in current crimes in the news, and so Peter Robinson involves Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks in human trafficking and related crimes. It is hard to imagine such things happening in North Yorkshire, where Banks is based, so the story begins with a mysterious phone call from Banks's brother Roy, who lives in London. Banks, who is on leave, travels to see his brother, who is not at home, and appears to be missing. His brother's disappearance also seems to be linked to a murder victim in North Yorkshire, whose death is being investigated by Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot, who is in charge while Banks is on leave.
It transpires that Roy Banks hsd been murdered too, in a similar fashion to the Yorkshire victim, who turns out to be Roy's latest girlfriend, whom he had sent to his brother to report their suspicions about human trafficking and prostitution. The girlfriend, Jennifer Clewes, worked in the management side of a chain of abortion clinics, and Roy Banks had met her when he took his previous girlfriend, Corinne, there for an abortion. There are several "late girls", who come to the clinic after hours when they are pregnant. They are prostitutes, many of whom have been abducted in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, brought there by their pimps, and too afraid to speak of their sexual slavery. An exception is Carmen Petri, who does not want an abortion, and is older and more sophisticated than the other girls. She agrees to have her baby adopted by Gareth Lambert, a wealthy businessman who has invested in the human trafficking and other schemes of dubious legality.
The moral cognitive dissonanance comes up when Banks discovers that Gareth Lambert does not intend to adopt Carmen's child and bring her up as his own. He rather wants to use the child as the source of a heart for his own ailing daughter. Banks shows extreme moral revulsion towards this idea, as well as to Gareth's role in the betrayal and murder of his brother.
The moral inconsistency lies in the fact that what Gareth proposes to do with the baby is not all that different from embryonic stem cell research, which many people find morally acceptable. In Britain, according to the novel, abortion is legal up to the age of 24 weeks. So in the book there is no there is no great moral revulsion about killing a child up to that age. But if it happens at 40 weeks, and for the purpose of harvesting organs for a heart transplant, then it suddenly becomes morally repuslive. And I want to ask why?
Surely the same arguments that are used in favour of embryonic stem cell research can equally be used for harvesting organs from unwanted children who are only a few weeks older?
Moral relativism is nothing new, of course, and one can expect detecive novels to reflect the current mores of the society in which they are written. Perhaps a detective novel written 50 or more years ago would reflect the same moral revulsion in the protagonist when confronted with any form of abortion, and those running the abortion clinics might be seen as the villains of the piece.
What stands out in this book, however, is the enormous difference that 16 weeks makes. An act that would be acceptable when the child is 24 weeks old becomes morally reprehensible when it is 40 weeks old. Perhaps in another 50 years, in a more enlightened age, people will see the inconsistency and shift the boundary to allow organs to be harvested from unwanted children up to school age, puberty, or even later, and, if anyone questions it, will say that "this is, after all, the 21st century", and will look down on the quaint ideas expressed by Alan Banks as "so 20th century".
All is grace is a revised and updated version of Love is the measure, based on more sources, including Dorothy Day's letters and diaries. I have little to add to my original review, other than to say that this one is bigger and better and even more worth reading. Dorothy Day, and anarchist, pacifist and communitarian, was one of the outstanding Christians of the 20th century and in 1998 the process of having her declared a saint in the Roman Catholic Church was started.
Jim Forest was himself a member of the Catholic Worker community in the 1960s, and editor of the Catholic Worker paper, and is now the bosser-up of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.
I was a bit reluctant to start reading this book, because the last book I read by Sebastian Faulks, Human traces I hadn't enjoyed verFour years ago...
I was a bit reluctant to start reading this book, because the last book I read by Sebastian Faulks, Human traces I hadn't enjoyed very much. So though my wife had bought this one three years ago (in 2008), and it has sat on the shelf since then, I had not read it. But then looking for something I hadn't read for bed-time reading I picked it up and started it, and it seemed quite different from Human traces and I was rather enjoying it and finding it interesting, and beginning to think it was the best thing I had read by Sebastian Faulks.
So I had reached page 280 and hoped to finish it tonight. But unfortunately page 280 was followed by page 25, and it seems that the book has been misbound. After three years it is probably far too late to take it back to the bookshop and ask for another copy that has been properly bound -- they probably won't even have one in stock anyway. And though one might be able to order another copy from the publishers, it seems a bit of a waste to pay the full price of a book for the last 60 pages or so, and anyway by the time it arrived I'd probably have forgotten most of the story anyway and would have to start again from the beginning. I just wish printers would be more careful in checking their stuff. I see it was printed and bound in Greeat Britain by Clay Ltd, St Ives plc. If by any remote chance anyone from there happens to read this, perhaps they'll take pity on me and send an intact copy.
Four years later
I found a copy in the library, and so at last was able to finish it, and, as I thought, I had forgotten most of the plot, and so had to start again from the beginning.
And that in itself was remarkable. There were no spoilers, Even after having read three=-quarters of the book only four years ago, the unexpected twitsts and turns of the plot were still unexpected. And re-reading one of them did not call to mind the memory of the next one or any of the others. I simply could not foresee what was going to happen.
That in itself is interesting, because a lot of the plot turns on time and memory, and the inability to remember certain things. If I can't remember what happened in the story, it makes the story itself more plausible.
But if I could not remember the plot itself, and the events in the story, there was still a feeling of having been here before, and perhaps appreciating, even more than the first time around, some of the observations of the protagonist on life in the 1970s and 1980s, and even on life in general.
I give one quote of many, take it how youo will:
And it's true that you can't bend with each fashionable wind -- you can't be like the Church of England, constantly updating its eternal verities. Either Christ was God, in which case He knew what He was doing when He chose male apostles only; or, he was a hapless Galilean sexist now ripe for a rethink. Not both.
I came to this book after reading The Leopard by the same author, which I found disappointing. My wife bought it, and I wasn't particularly keen to reI came to this book after reading The Leopard by the same author, which I found disappointing. My wife bought it, and I wasn't particularly keen to read it, as I thought it might be similarly disappointing, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was vintage Jo Nesbø, except perhaps for the last couple of chapters.
Oslo detective Harry Hole is asked to investigate the case of a missing woman with his new partner Katrine Bratt, who urges him to check older unsolved cases in Bergen that seem to have some similarities. When a second missing woman is found murdered, it seems that a serial killer may be at work.
Towards the end, however, the story shows the same descent into the improbable that characterises The Leopard throughout, and the figure of the boozy Scandiwegian detective seems well on its way to becoming a literary cliche. Perhaps this is because Nesbø's publishers have taken to hyping him as "the next Stieg Larsson", which is a pity, because Nesbø writes better as Nesbø than as a faux Stieg Larsson....more