27 March, 2008

Today's Review

If This is a Man
Primo Levi

This ought to be required on every reading list in every school in Europe, in the whole Western World, in fact. It is too easy to allow, even for those who accept the fullness of all the reports and historicity of the Holocaust, the numbers and figures and descriptions to swill over and blur the fact that the victims were actually human beings. Reading the narration of one man's experience must surely remind even the most jaded of readers that Levi, and the other six million, were people, not numbers, not cyphers. I am reminded, and horrified. Of course one reads it and thinks, “How could such a thing happen? How could anyone permit such treatment?” Yet still, it is too easy to forget that the Gulags lasted fortyfive years after Auschwitz, that the Middle Kingdom still treats people as disposable in the cause of its progress, and that Guantanamo Bay hosts a camp (even the same word!) where people are purposefully by government policy made into less than human beings. Levi's writing must be passed on, understood, taken to heart by all men, and renewed each generation, so that the evil can be prevented from recurring. Of course, this is a blindly optimistic thing to write, because we can be absolutely certain that the evil will continue, until the end of time. The book itself, disregarding the subject matter, is very easily read; i shall recommend it to Abigail, who is seventeen, and even JAG, eleven, as an excellent introduction to the Holocaust, because it is so simple and facile. I wonder if it was that way in the Italian, or if it is the translator's skill triumphing; certainly, the very ease of the writing is a benefit to the subject matter, by not distracting a whit from it. (Except for the small matter of the title, which niggles me: Why is it not If This Be a Man?)

20 March, 2008

Through Changing Scenes

Through Changing Scenes by David C. Potter.

The history of Prospects, the parent organisation of Plas Lluest, and thus of great interest to both of us. We had known previously that Lluest was the first residence set up by the charity, but not the manner in which it had happened; i had assumed, which is as we know dangerous, that the Alfred Place members whose daughter was the first resident were the prime movers behind the charity, but i was quite wrong. David Potter was a minister in the south of England; he and his wife had a Down's syndrome daughter for whom they had to work out the future; in the process of doing so, they were put in contact with Geoff Thomas of AP, and events moved on from there. As Potter tells it, Thomas was more deeply involved than his parishioners, though that may be simply his recollection; certainly he was admirably interested in and working out the needs of his congregation. Apparently much as Christians Against Poverty, the story in Nevertheless, which i read recently, the charity grew more than expected, though a little more slowly than CAP, and God was clearly in control of the process ~ allowing some purchases, forbidding others, and guiding the board of directors. The interesting thing about Potter and Prospects is that he has taken a very real step back from the running of the charity, perhaps forced to by the health issues which have attacked him, perhaps because he has been able to recognise that there were far more capable men available and involved, and he was sufficiently in tune with God to hear Him and allow them in. Quite admirable.

16 March, 2008

Friends...'Til the End

A new idea; i think, for a while anyway, i'll post my reveiws as i write them.  Here's the current:

I am in two minds about this, mostly, i think, because i am reminded that i enjoyed the show Friends when it was on ~ though i never made it a passion to watch it, and have, indeed, been caught by surprise by a number of things i’ve read about here ~ and i now have a mild urge to watch all the episodes in order, and yet i found the book itself rather annoyingly smug about its insider knowledge and overwhelmingly gushing about the actors, writers, caterers, indeed everyone with any connexion to the programme. And, of course, the simple grammatical mistake in the title (the title!) of the book just irks me further. Overall, though, i would have to regard this as a successful book, because it has, as i said, re-interested me in the show. I suppose that’s the best that can be hoped for of a TV book like this, from a non-TV person like me!

08 March, 2008


This is actually two reviews put into one, so does not flow perfectly smoothly; nevertheless, it's worth posting, i think:

This has been a hard review to write; it is, in fact, right now a week and a half since i finished the book, and i'm still not sure what i want to say about it. Apparently it affected Dad & Susan well, too, because they bought and sent copies to all nine of us, a couple of months ago. I don't know which (if any) of the others have read it, but i have ~ twice now since Christmas ~ and so has Lynne.

Let's see; the book starts quite unpromisingly, i think. I don't mean the death of Missy, the little daughter of the protagonist, though that is painful it is not a bad beginning; somehow, i found that the narration was a bit difficult to get myself into. There was no question that i was going to continue with it ~ i was committed to it, probably because D&S had spoken highly of it ~ but despite that commitment i slogged just a bit at first. Nevertheless, once i was into it, certainly by the time Mack, the protagonist, returned to the place of his daughter's death, and met the three persons there, i found it moving quickly enough to hold my interest and desire to know what was going to happen, what they were going to say.

“Say” because much ~ almost all ~ of what is important in the book is contained in the dialogue between Mack and the other Three. It is not a straight exposition, but it could have been that way and quite boring; Young, however, has done a great job, in my opinion, of avoiding any theological or doctrinal prose, and allowed his beliefs and understanding of God to come to the fore through the narration, just as in the Bible story God is revealed. It has always been clear, i have previously preached, i think, that God reveals himself through story, not through theology and doctrine; this book has simply made this point clearer to me, as i have read and meditated on the story in it.

It is, in fact, a story pretending to be true; and truth masquerading as story. Perhaps the words and the phrasing aren't perfect, but i can't really think of a better way to describe the book I was more moved the second time that i read it ~ if this is a linear relationship, a couple more times through it and i will be weeping openly from beginning to end; that might not be a bad thing, i suppose, so long as i understand, and am better able to live in, the reality of the relationship within God and between me and God.

The experience of Mack with the God revealed as Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu is glorious; the way that Papa talks with him, leads him to the point of forgiveness, and helps him to understand, is wonderful; the image of Jesus snickering as Mack gets his shoes and socks wet walking on the lake is lovely; and Sarayu is now, more than ever, a person i want to know and experience. Together these stories make this one of the most enjoyable books i've read recently; and certainly the most exciting for me: I have taken to Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu, and i am finding that my prayers are a bit realer for me. A Good Thing. Once again, the grace with which Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu open themselves to the possibility of loss, and the joy with which they reclaim their beloved Mack fills me with emotion i don't understand, but i want the reality behind it. Yes, Papa, more of you; more of Jesus; Sarayu.