Kerouac and Ginsberg admired him tremendously, and he influenced their writing in several ways. He was the protagonist of Kerouac's On the road, thus providing the subject matter, but he also influenced Kerouac in his style of writing.
But reading the biography makes it difficult to see what others found to admire about Cassady. He doesn't really seem to live up to the epithet "holy". The "holy goof" has echoes of the saints called "holy fools", whose sometimes bizarre behaviour shocked respectable people. But this biography is perhaps a more sober one than Plummer's, and Cassady comes across as above all selfish and manipulative, and it is difficult to see how he managed to inspire such devotion and admiration in his friends. Perhaps the biography fails to capture some essential element of Cassady's character, or perhaps his friends failed to see what he was really like. (less)
A discursive linguistic and geographical ramble through Wales, and bits of England bordering on Wales, with occasional excursions to other parts of th...moreA discursive linguistic and geographical ramble through Wales, and bits of England bordering on Wales, with occasional excursions to other parts of the world.
I really enjoyed it as a bit of bed-time reading on nights when I wasn't too tired, which is why it took me a long time to get through it. But then I have worked as a proofreader and editor, and so there is a sense in which words are my business. Others might not have the same interest in such things.
I found some bits more interesting than others. One that was most fascinating to me was the story of John Bradburne, who was probably the most prolific poet in the English language. Shakespeare wrote about 84000 lines, Wordsworth about 54000, and Bradburne at least 170 000.
I had never heard of John Bradburne before, and pictured him as some kind of recluse, sitting in rural England, doing nothing else but writing poetry. Surely one would have no time for anything else?
But I was wrong.
He lived a varied and interesting life. He joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1947, spent some time with various religious orders, travelled to various countries, and eventually decided he wanted to be a hermit, and pray. He had three wishes: to to serve leprosy patients, to die a martyr, and to be buried in a Franciscan habit. He achieved all three, and on the twentieth anniversary of his death in 1999 some 15000 pilgrims visited the scene of his death at Mutemwa in Zimbabwe.
If you want more details, perhaps you should read the book, though you could probably Google for them.
That forms part of Crystal's chapter on Southern African varieties of English, headed "the robot's not working". A nice pun, because "robot" is derived from the Slavic word for work, or worker.
I was a bit disappointed that Crystal did not even speculate on its origin, and to make up for his deficiency, I'll put forward my own theory. For those who don't know, "robot" is the South African term for what, in most other English-speaking countries, are called traffic lights. How did it get to be called that? My theory is that since, in the early days, the flow of traffic at intersections (British English = "junctions") was controlled by policemen, when the policemen were replaced by a pole surmounted by coloured lights, some wag may have referred to it as a "robot policeman", and the name stuck. After all, in Britain traffic-calming humps are sometimes called "sleeping policemen". And when the robot's not working, sometimes flesh-and-blood traffic cops step in to take over.
Crystal started off investigating Welsh accents when Welsh people were speaking English, but he covers a lot more than that. Some may find his discursiveness distracting, but I enjoyed it. He discusses Indian English, and American English, and European English, all of which affect spoken and written English.
If you find words, meanings, accents, names and their history, interesting, then you'll probably enjoy this book.
On the road is not my favourite book by Jack Kerouac so I might not have bought this book if it had not been going cheap on a sale. I'm glad I did buy...moreOn the road is not my favourite book by Jack Kerouac so I might not have bought this book if it had not been going cheap on a sale. I'm glad I did buy it, though, because I found it more interesting than On the road, and it explains how that book was written.
I recently read Neal Cassady: the fast life of a beat hero (review here), and found several details in this book that three more light on Cassady's character and behaviour than his biography did. Perhaps Paul Maher had access to more sources. After reading the biography, I was at a loss to know why people like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were attracted to Cassady, though in Ginsberg's case the initial attraction was sexual. Maher manages to explain it better, though he still does not portray Cassady as a particularly attractive character.
That still doesn't explain why I liked this book better than On the road itself. Perhaps it is because the real life of authors is often more interesting than the characters they write about. My favourite among Kerouac's books is still The Dharma bums, and perhaps that is because it is more about the influence of Gary Snyder than that of Neal Cassady, and Snyder is a more sympathetic character.
One thing that almost put me off reading the book was odd errors in language. I suppose having been an editor makes me rather intolerant of slip-ups (even though I make plenty of my own). One of the more egregious ones was on page 133, "Carolyn Cassady received a letter from her husband, postmarked January 11. In it he promised her regular installments of cash from working two jobs in New York, neither of which he had yet to procure." I presume the author intended to say either "both of which he had yet to procure" or "neither of which he had yet procured", but as it stands it is a strange piece of nonsense. There are other similar errors, writing "principal" where "principle" was meant and so on. But I'm glad that these didn't put me off, because the book is worth reading, at least to anyone who has enjoyed reading any of Kerouac's books.
This book has three parts: a diary Iris Murdoch wrote as part of a student theatre company touring in the vicinity of Oxford just before the Second Wo...moreThis book has three parts: a diary Iris Murdoch wrote as part of a student theatre company touring in the vicinity of Oxford just before the Second World War broke out, and correspondents with two friends during and immediately after the war -- Frank Thompson, who was perhaps in love with her, and David Hicks, to whom she was briefly engaged, until he broke it off and married someone else.
The diary is quite a lively description of a travelling theatre company and those involved in it. Though war was imminent, it doesn't seem to have had much effect on Iris, then a communist, and rather opposed to war because of the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact.
The correspondence with Frank Thompson is more interesting, however. Iris Murdoch had then left university, and begun to work in the Treasury in London, while Frank Thompson, a Captain in the British Army, was serving in "the Middle East" -- a rather vague term, reflecting wartime censorship.
For the most part we see both sides of the correspondence, though some letters are missing, and what stands out is that Frank Thompson's letters are far more interesting than Iris Murdoch's. Though the sub-title is "A writer at war", the war seems to impinge very little on her life. Her life seems undisturbed by air raid warnings, rationing, or any of the other characteristics of life in war-time London that one reads about in other books. It hardly seems to touch her at all, and her letters are quite uninformative.
Frank Thompson's, on the other hand, and very informative and interesting.
At one point he describes listening to Radio Moscow (perhaps from Tehran), in October 1942:
...From 10:30 to 12:30 at night I can pick up Radio Moscow on the wireless. From 11 onwards it send the news at slow dictation speed, and I find I canunderstand nearly every word. The reason for this slowness is that this programme is providing front-page copy for local newspaper all over the Union, whose editors tune in and take it down word for word. It is amusing to feel oneself at one, crouching over a small wireless at midnight, with the editors, fat and bearded, spectacled and cadaverous, small and electric, of the 'Kuznetsk Kommunist', the 'Bokhara Bolshevik', and 'Tomsk Truth'.
It's a marvellously evocative picture of one small scene during the war, but Iris provides nothing even remotely similar.
He tells entertaining stories retailed to him by an Armenian refugee who taught him Russian. On another occasion he writes:
I have spent all this Sunday afternoon sitting at a cafe with a Pole, meditating on the basic sadness of life. He let me read a letter from Tosia, his fiancee, who is still in German-occupied Poland. The dry ink itself seemed to ache with restrained longing and a courage that was only maintained by the most rigid self-control. Cut out all sententiousness about strength through suffering. Think of the millions of people to whom this war has brought nothing but utter irredeemable loss. Piotr and his Tosia are both close on forty. If the war leaves them botth alive and sane, they will still find little peace in an embittered and factious post-war Europe. For us, who are young, and have the faith that we can recast the world, the struggle that comes after will be bearable. But I feel deeply for the countless peaceable people, who can never because of age, or upbringing and environement which is as fortuitous as anything else in this world, be wholly with us and will never know peace in the one short life allotted to them.
Now that's a writer at war!
Iris Murdoch, on the other hand, just writes demanding more news, complaining that she hasn't had enough, and occasionally writes about her inner states, but rarely gives any news herself, other than that at one point she lost her virginity, and that a couple of friends got married.
Frank Thompson eventually went to the Balkans to assist the partisans on the Yugoslav-Bulgarian border, and was captured by Bulgarian fascists and shot.
From the few glimpses one sees in his letters, one wonders what sort of writer he might have been had he survived the war. I suspect that he might well have outshone Iris Murdoch.
The correspondence with David Hicks, towards the end of the war, is less satisfactory. We see only one side of it for the most part. Presumably David Hick's letters have been lost, except for the last, explaining why he has broken off their engagement to marry someone else.
Iris Murdoch had by this time left the Treasury, and gone to work with UNRRA, trying to sort out the lives of millions of displaced people (DPs) whose lives had been disrupted by the war. She was based first in Brussels, then in a monastery in the Netherlands, then at Salzburg, and finally at Innsbruck in Austria, where UNRRA had commandeered a hotel for its workers, halfway up a mountain, a funicular ride from the town, and a cable-car ride from the top of the mountain.
It's at this point that Iris begins to become a writer. In her letters to David, apart from her declarations of love and longing, she describes the characters in her novel and how they are developing. She complains that he doesn't write, and is unsure whether he was in Prague or Bratislava. It turns out that he was at the latter, working for the British Council. She wants to know what life is like there -- whether the trams are running, whether it is possible to buy books, and so on. But that just highlights the fact that she says nothing about whether the trams are running in Innsbruck, and she tells very little about life there. She feels sorry for a Yugoslav boy who ran away after crashing an UNRRA truck, but doesn't describe him nearly as sympathetically as Frank Thompson does the Polish refugee.
The letters become more and more impassioned with longing, while all the time one knows that David Hicks is going to jilt her. But her longing for him doesn't stop her from having an affair with a French fellow worker, which she hopes David won't mind. He probably didn't, because by the time he got the letter telling him this, he'd already written his letter breaking off their engagement. (less)
This is a difficult book to review without revealing too much of the plot to those who have not read it. Like several of Conrad's books, it is a story...moreThis is a difficult book to review without revealing too much of the plot to those who have not read it. Like several of Conrad's books, it is a story within a story, a narration within a narration. Five sailors in a boat on the Thames settle down for the evening and the narrator describes how one of the others, Charles Marlow, tells a story about his experience on another river at another time.
Neither the unnamed forst narrator, nor Marlow, the second narrator, is the protagonist. That role belongs to a man called Kurtz, who only gradually makes his appearance. Through his aunt who knows someone who knows someone, Marlow got a job as captain of a river steamer on a big river. He travels to an unnamed country for his job interview, and the office is guarded by two women in black, symbolising the growing darkness. And to take up his employment he travels on a French ship to an unnamed country with an unnamed big river. But it is clearly the Congo Free State, then being conquered by a Belgian company, whose white employees Marlowe describes as faithless pilgims, worshipping the ivory they extract from the country.
The greatest white employee of the company is Kurtz, who gets more ivory than anyone else. But Kurtz, it is said, is ill, and must be relieved. His station, however, is at the furthest point up the river, and before they can set out the boat must be repaired. Eventually they set out upriver, Marlow accompanied by black cannibal woodcutters, who cut the wood to fuel the boat, and the white pilgrims. As the river narrows and the forested banks get closer, Marlow feels he is sailing in to the heart of darkness.
I'll say no more of the story, for fear of revealing too much of the plot, but will add that when I reached the end of the book, I went straight back to the beginning again, and started reading it again, because there are some things about the beginning that one does not really appreciate until the end. It begins at sunset, with the Thames being a river that ships sail down to all parts of the world, and as the dark settles over the river, it too becomes he heart of darkness, and the Roman legionaries that sailed up it thousands of years before must have experienced it rather similarly to Marlow's experience on the big river.
When Marlowe was a boy he looked at the big river on the map, and it looked like a snake. And the area on the map was white, because it was terra incognita to the mapmakers, but as the employees of the company travelled along it to exploit its resources, it darkened. And as Marlow travels up the river, he is alienated from both the white "pilgrims" and the black cannibals. He knows enough of them to predict their behaviour in certain circustances, and try to avoid what he sees as the worst of it, but he feels unable to even try to penetrate it, and discover the human beings behind it.
I think I'd probably have to read it ten time to review it adequately. (less)
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-fi...moreAnton 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. (less)
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 at...moreI 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 t...moreP.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 st...moreAt 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 Ch...moreTwenty 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 m...moreTecumseh 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. (less)
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 c...moreA 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 i...moreEdward 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.