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.
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 ago...moreGo 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 paveme...moreEleven 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. (less)
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 is...moreUnlike 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 others...moreI'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 to...moreA 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. (less)
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 t...moreDetective 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. (less)
I largely agree with the author's conclusion when she says:
The main thesis that has been pursued in the book is the one that the Balkans suffered ethn
...moreI largely agree with the author's conclusion when she says:
The main thesis that has been pursued in the book is the one that the Balkans suffered ethnic quakes, largely because of the impact of European ideas (initially nationalism, then fascism and communism) was so profound and clashed so indelibly with older 'autochtonous' ideas found in religious practice and traditional culture. Although the forms that violence took during ethnic cleansing were often 'traditional' in the sense that they had a large symbolic content and involved the honour of the individuals involved, the ideas that inspired this violence were modern and European in their origins.
While I largely agree with both the thesis and the conclusion (of which that paragraph forms part), I think the author has failed to support the conclusion with evidence in the body of the book.
There is plenty of evidence of ethnic cleansing in the body of the book. Horror stories abound, both of the ethnic cleansing, and the violence and cruelty that often accompanied it. It tends to leave one feeling depressed about the depths to which human nature can sink, and to want to conclude that the Calvinist theory of total depravity is the most apt description of the human race.
The author does manage to link the actions of ethnic cleansing with nationalist rhetoric fairly well, but the rest of the evidence for the conclusion, where it is present at all, is not coherently argued in such a way as to support the thesis.
There is virtually nothing about "the older 'autochtonous' ideas found in religious practice and traditional culture." They are occasionally mentioned in passing, not in such a way as to show how they clashed with the theory and practice of ethnic cleansing. I expected at least a paragraph or two in the introduction on the main religious and cultural ideas in the introduction, and on their relation to the nationalist ideas. But where they are present at all, they are scrappy and disconnected.
To give just one example (not mentioned at all in the book) there is the oft-repeated saying that "Hellenism is Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy is Hellenism" and in view of the main thesis of the book this deserves at least some analysis, and some estimate of how widely it is accepted.
At the end there is a rather telling paragraph that that shows the result of this kind of thinking. The author points out that until 1945 Salonika (now Thessaloniki) was a polyglot multiethnic community, of which the largest component was Sephardic Jews. They author goes on to say:
In July 1992, the ethnological museum in Salonika had no exhibit to commemorate the Sephardic Jewish element in the city's population, which was annihilated during the Nazi occupation. When the anthropologist Jonathan Schwartz 'asked a member of staff about this absence... they could not understand what the question was about. It was taken for granted that the Museum is Greek. Ethnology is apparently a scientific euphemism for Nationalism.'
Those who lived through the apartheid era in South Africa would understand the last sentence only too well.
When I was working on my doctoral thesis on "Orthodox mission methods" I had to pay quite a lot of attention to the question of religion and nationalism, especially as it manifested itself in the Balkans. It is closely related to mission, because, as one woman said at a church social gathering, "The Orthodox Church is not missionary, because its purpose is to preserve Greek culture."
One of the things that struck me was just how the ideas of nationalism affected the Balkans, and the uneasy relationship they had with Orthodox theology. There was a tendency for them to mingle (as in "Orthodoxy is Hellenism and Hellenism is Orthodoxy"), but there was also an awareness that they were separate, and not altogether compatible. Some spoke of "Romanity" in distinction to "Hellenism", harking back to a pre-Ottoman multiethnic empire. For more on this see Nationalism, violence and reconciliation
Carmichael's conclusion that the ideas that inspired the violence were modern and European in their origins, is very important, but again, she fails to draw the lines clearly enough. She occasionally refers to them as "Herderian", but that is about all.
One reason that I think it is important is that people of Western Europe and their offshoots often speak disparagingly of Africa and Africans as if Africans were somehow genetically predisposed to violence. They point to such things as the genocide in Rwanda in 1994-95 as if this were something peculiarly African, yet in that very period, similar events were taking place in Europe, in the Balkans.
Again, many Western Europeans tried to distance themselves from the Balkans, and tended to retard the region as not really European. Carmichael speaks of "a tendency to burden a large region with almost insurmountable legacies and an overarching reputation for pathological violence", but fails to note, except in passing, that Western Europe not only generated the nationalist ideas that led to the violence, but that the West by its own intervention, and for its own self-interest was just as much a participant in the violence. The Nato bombing of Yugoslavia was no less "pathological" than the violence of any of the parties fighting on the ground. Western Europe cannot disown the Balkans as something intrinsically "other" and non-European.
And the violence in the Balkans in the 1990s was little different from violence in Africa in the same period.
Generally, the case the author makes is a good one; it's just a pity that it wasn't better argued.
I'm writing a book, with John de Gruchy, on the rise and decline of the charismatic renewal movement in South Africa, and one of the influences on it...moreI'm writing a book, with John de Gruchy, on the rise and decline of the charismatic renewal movement in South Africa, and one of the influences on it was what Andrew Walker in this book calls the Restoration Movement, and was at one time called, by some, the House Church Movement, but which now seems to be called The British New Church Movement.
The charismatic renewal was a worldwide movement that reached its peak in the 1970s, in which Pentecostal phenomena, such as speaking in tongues, appeared in non-Pentecostal churches, such as Anglicans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Baptists and others.
I found this book particularly useful, as it provides a history of the movement including its relationship the the charismatic renewal in Britain, and to the "shepherding movement" in the United States. The main aim of the Restoration Movement was to prepare for God's coming Kingdom by restoring the New Testament Church and its ministries.
It could be said that the Restoration Movement is the result of the influence of the charismatic renewal movement on the Plymouth Brethren, though it generally appeared a few decadees before it appeared in other Christian groups. The Plymouth Brethren had been influenced from the start by the dispensationalist teaching of John Nelson Darby, which divided history into various periods, and asserted that things like speaking in tongues disappeared once the canon of scripture was complete, so that Pentecostal phenomena could not be attributed to the Holy Spirit. Thus many of the founders of the Restoration Movement were ex-members of the Plymouth Brethren.
The Restoration Movement retained some aspects of Brethren teaching, however, such as their opposition to what they called "denominationalism".
The path of the Restoration Movement briefly crossed that of the charismatic renewal in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but they parted ways when the Restoration leaders maintained that "denominations" could not be renewed, and that true Christians should "come out" of them, leading to accusations that they were "proselytising" and "sheep stealing".
Some of their teaching was also linked with that of the "shepherding movement" in the USA, especially the teaching on the restoration of the ministry of apostles as describerd in Ephesians chapter 4, and their doctrine of "covering", in which each Christian had to be accountable to someone who was over them in the Lord, so children were accountable to parents, wives to husbands, husbands to their local elders and the elders to the apostles. The apostles covered each other. This was taught by people like Ern Baxter, Derek Prince and Bob Mumford in the USA, and they also visited the UK and influenced the Restoration Movement there with this teaching.
This approach tended to be very authoritarian, though, as Walker notes, in 1976 the Restoration Movement split into two branches, which he called R1 and R2, and the R1 tended to be more authoritarian than R2. The authoritarianism was well expressed by Derek Prince when he said "We do not obey those in authority because they are right, we obey them because they are in authority."
In South Africa the Restoration Movement did not appear in the same form as it had in Britain, but it did have considerable influence on the charismatic renewal movement. Leaders from the Restoration Movement in the UK and the "shepeherding movement" in the USA visited South Africa and spoke at charismatic renewal conferences, and tapes with their teaching circulated more widely. One result was the formation of several new Neopentecostal denominations, often caused by groups breaking away from other denominations. Many of these new denominations were also influenced by things other than the Restoration Movement, such as prosperity teaching, and so the Restoration teaching was mostly present in diluted form.
One of the things that the Restoration Movement claimed to be opposed to was "denominationalism" and so its leaders insisted that it was not a new denomination, but was simply the Kingdom of God. Some of the Neopentecostal churches that had been influenced by its teaching claimed to be "nondenominational". This was regarded as disingenuous by those in other denominations.
Walker tries to deal with this in his book in a chapter headed "Is the Restoration Movement a denomination?"
In a way this is the least satisfactory part of the book, because the word "denomination" has several different meanings. Walker uses it in the sociological sense, where sociologists of religion classify religious bodies as "churches", "denominations" or "sects" according to various criteria. The problem is that the sociological classification does not match the ecclesiological classification, and the differing ecclesiologies of different groups classify them differently. So the denominations that the Restoration Movement distinguishes itself from would probably regard the Restoration Movement as yet another denomination, or series of denominations, having its own recognised leaders, its own distincive teachings, and regarding themselves as distinct from other Christian groups.
I suspect that most "denominational" Christians would think of a "sect" as a smaller group that splits from one denomination, either because of a quarrel, a personality clash, or a doctrinal or policy disagreement, and continues to define itself largely in contrast to the body it broke away from. This differs from the sociological understanding.
Like me, Andrew Walker is a member of the Orthodox Church, and in many ways Orthodox ecclesiology is closer to that of the Restoration Movement than to that of the "denominations", in the sense that the Orthodox Church does not regard itself as a denomination, but as the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church". The Orthodox Church too rejects denominationalism, though possibly for different reasons than those of the Restoration Movement. From the Orthodox point of view, "denominationalism" is the understanding that Christianity is one entity of the large class "religion" and that Christianity is a religion composed of smaller units called denominations. The sociological categories are not the same as the ecclesiological categories, and there are several ecclesiological categories that differ from one another.
Another similarity that Walker does not mention, but which strikes me as quite interesting, is that the Restoration Movement is trying to restore some things that have been lost or neglected in Western Christianity, but have continued in Orthodoxy. The "shepherding" relationship seems to have some relationship with the Orthodox notion of having a "spiritual father" (or in some cases, mother, though the Restoration Movement or at least the R1 version of it, seems to insist on male leadership in this).
Yet another is that the Restorationist doctrine of "covering" seems to have some parallels with the Orthodox understanding of "jurisdiction" referring to the spiritual authority of a bishop or patriarch. In some parts of the world, where there are overlapping episcopal jurisdictions, Orthodox Christians might ask "What is your jurisdiction?" in almost exactly the same way as a Restorationist might ask "Who is covering you?"
Walker also notes that the Restoration Movement is sometimes called the "House Church Movement", and that this is a misnomer for two reasons: firstly, though house churches were quite common in the early days of the Restoration Movement, they are now the exception rather than the rule, and secondly because house churches were far wider than the Restoration Movement.
One example of the latter might be the house churches in Anglican parishes in England and elsewhere. This "house church movement" grew in the 1940s and 1950s, and was not linked either to the Restoration Movement or to the charismatic renewal, at least not in its beginnings. There was a similar movement in the Roman Catholic Church called "Basic Christian Communities".
But there were also some unattached house groups in the UK, or some that were loosely attached to Baptist, Evangelical or Pentecostal churches. Walker explains that some of these house churches got involved in the charismatic renewal, and that when, through that, they were exposed to Restorationist teaching, some of them asked one or other Restorationist apostles for "covering".
All this makes the book very useful to me. Though it doesn't mention South Africa more than twice, and then only in passing, it does help to make some aspects of the charismatic renewal in South Africa much clearer.(less)
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 ear...moreI 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. (less)
For most of my lifetime obsession with whiteness has dominated South African politics, society, economy and even the landscape. When I heard quite rec...moreFor most of my lifetime obsession with whiteness has dominated South African politics, society, economy and even the landscape. When I heard quite recently that there was an academic discipline called "Whiteness Studies" my immediate reaction was negative. Some of my blogging friends assured me that they had found it useful, and this was one of the books they recommended, and since it was based on stories told by people I found it in the library and began reading it.
Melissa Steyn collected stories from 59 white people in South Africa and divided the narratives into different categories, and commented on the various approaches. This book is the result.
The first chapter is a kind of potted history of "Whiteness Studies" and the various view its practitioners have taken to the phenomenon of "whiteness" in a global sense. In part it deals with the fairly well-known phenomenon of Western modernity, where Westerners (mainly from Western Europe and North America) thought that their society was central and normative, and others quaint and peculiar and exotic. So, for example, Western anthropologists confined their studies to non-Western cultures (and often did so in the service of colonial rulers). The proponents of Whiteness Studies call this kind of cultural chauvinism "whiteness". But even after reading Steyn's book, I am not convinced of the adequacy of the description, and I find that Steyn herself falls into the same cultural chauvinist trap by not disclosing where she is coming from, and pretending to be "objective", even when she is aware of the dangers of that approach.
The main manifestation of this in the book is that, while the bulk of the book is devoted to the the analysis of people's responses to Steyn's questionnaire, the questions that elicited those responses are not revealed to the reader. If this forms the bulk of the book, then surely the questions themselves could have been put in an appendix. Apart from anything else, that might give readera a chance to try to answer the questions too, and try to analyse their own responses.
In addition, while Steyn collected 59 narratives, these narrators are not really allowed to tell their own story. Steyn is the only narrator, setting the scene, telling the story, and pulling a quotation, sometimes as short as a single sentence, to illustrate the point in her story. So I get the impression of a stage magician, displaying tricks to an audience, with the quotations from the stories being pulled out like a rabbit from a hat or a coin from the sleeve at the appropriate moment, with only Steyn really knowing what is going on behind the scenes.
For instance, there is this:
Such is the fear of being perceived to be aligned with what is morally reproachable that even to talk about "race" could implicate one in racism. The topic is a no-no:
"Whites can never know how blacks were affected by Apartheid. [computer analyst] "
At first sight, this seems to be a complete non-sequitur. It certainly doesn't seem to be an instance of race being a "no--no", because it mentions race ("whites", "blacks") and the relations between them ("Apartheid"). Either Steyn is misrepresenting the narrator, or she is interpreting it in the light of its context, which she has failed to quote, and this is withheld from the reader.
Taken on its own, the sentence can be interpreted in a variety of ways, of which the most likely (it seems to me), is that since, because of Apartheid, whites were separated from blacks, they could not know how blacks were affected by apartheid because they were kept isolated, and whites could not see what was happening, and their was little comparable in their experience. For instance, if a black man died in town, his wife and children, if they were allowed to live in the town at all, would be endorsed out to a "homeland" because they became surplus to the labour requirements of white society. Much of this was invisible to most whites, and so they did not know and could not know the extent to which this took place, nor what it was like do be endorsed out and forced to go and live in a rural area where you knew no one.
Maybe the context shows that the narrator meant something different, but Steyn does not show us the context.
Similarly, Steyn castigates those she regards as adopting a liberal "colourblind" approach, saying that they are "in denial", yet when, in another section of the book, she cites an example of that approach, she praises it.
The Apartheid system tried to make me think about "white" in a certain way and about "black" in another way. I strive to define my own reality and I try to avoid being hamstrung by other people's projections. [lecturer]
Steyn says "Whatever whiteness may have meant in the past, this narrative perks up in tone when it considers what may develop now that whiteness has lost its power to dominate."
Yet elsewhere she says that to claim that whiteness has lost its power to dominate is to be in denial. The difference, if any, isd hidden behind the stage magician's black cloth that she pulls away to reveal the rabbit in the hat.
One of the narratives, however, I could identify with:
I have discovered that, despite apartheid, I have more in common with black South Africans than with other whites, be they British, Dutch, French or American... When I first went overseas in 1986 I thought because of my colonial British background I would find Britain home. Instead I became increasingly aware that I was not British, and that I was African. This is how I came to see myself as a white African. [lecturer]
Steyn summarises the argument of the Introduction in her conclusion
In the Introduction, whiteness has been theorized as the racial norm, the invisible center that deflects attention from itself by racializing the margins, and constructing them as the problem. Whiteness then believes in its own homogeneous neutrality. Whites are then described [in the Introduction - STH] as generally unaware of their own racialization, unconscious of their privilege, or of how their implicit assumptions of white entitlement are a consequence of certain historical relations, not something essential about whiteness itself.
I'd go along with that, especially where North America is concerned (and Steyn wrote the book while living in North America). South Africa, however, is somewhat different. Whiteness was anything but unconscious.
But it appears that Steyn was also suffering from the same disease.
On page 26, writing of English-speaking South Africans' attitudes towards poor rural Afrikaners, she writes, "Like ethnic working class whites and partially racialized groups in America, Afrikaners had to 'fight' for the status of first class citizens."
"Ethnic working class" what are they? Just as "whiteness" is invisible to the dominant white group in America, so is ethnicity. "Ethnic" whites are the "other", the "them". And Steyn uses that terminology without batting an eyelid, withouit scare quotes, without even the almost obligatory [sic] used in some academic writing when politically incorrect language comes up. But Steyn is not quoting, she is using the terminology herself, thus identifying with those who believe they have no ethnicity, and manifesting "ethnic blindness".
And one of the biggest problems I have with this book is that it seems to be saying that even if we have deconstructed whiteness, and dumped it, we must now reconstruct it in order to deconstruct it again, like Sisyphus. It's a bit like a child being told by its mother, "You must have a bath tonight, whether you need it or not." And the proponents of whiteness studies seem to be saying "You must have an identity crisis, whether you need one or not."
One thing I will say, though. I didn't find it boring. It was a page-turner. (less)
I've read a couple of Quintin Jardine's books before -- whodunits featuring Edinburgh detective Robert Skinner. This one, though still a whodunit, is...moreI'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. (less)