OK holidays are over. Back to 'real life'. But what a lovely trove of books were devoured. Asha and Enoch and Sheba were all with head in book for much of the time. Yours truly followed suit. I was able to finish all on my original list and add a few more.
Mystery of the Disappearing Cat - Enid Blyton
The Runaway - Patricia St. John
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
North! or be Eaten - Andrew Peterson
Living the Resurrection - Eugene Peterson
To Sir, With Love - E.R. Braithwaite
Gilead - Marilynne Robinson
Fredrick Booth-Tucker: William Booth's First Gentleman - Harry Williams
God for All, God for Me: Gandhiji's Religious Dualism - A.J. Anandan
Plus the ever-green Tintin books: Destination Moon, The Calculus Affair, The Secret of the Unicorn, Red Rackham's Treasure, The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Cigars of Pharaoh, Tintin and the Picaros
And back issues of Tehelka.
So how do the books stack up?
Of the kids books the Enid Blyton took me back to the idyllic world of Bets and Fatty and Mr. Goon of the Five Finder-outers and dog fame. I have devoured many a Blyton tome (like the next gen Eichers do these days) but I found my return to her world bordering on the bland. She has an ear for plot - but there is not much meat.
Patricia St.John's exploration of the Jesus story told from the perspective of a Phoenician fisher-boy with a demon-tormented sister gripped me. There was something very fresh in The Runaway about the way the boy meets people whose lives were changed - something compelling that kept me riveted.
Roald Dahl was read with Enoch on the train back. The read was good and the pages kept turning - but I actually had a sense of nausea at his world at one point. Its hard to create wonder that sticks. What struck me was how much of a God-figure Dahl has Willy Wonka as - and finally how thin this all powerful maker ends up. Wonka is able (in Dahl's world) to create the most fantastic confectionery creations (all for sale - and totally against the laws of thermodynamics to say nothing of economics). But Wonka at the end is unable to make something like himself. He is lonely and seeks an heir. The story has him weed out 4 horrible kids and their parents - to end up with young Charlie Bucket and his aged but sprightly grand-dad. And then they are taken up into the sky.
The book of the holidays (in the younger Eicher division) goes to North! or be Eaten. Written by songster Andrew Peterson, the book is the second in the Wingfeather saga. As a fantasy it took me some time to warm to it. I found some of the humour purile. But. it. has. what. it. takes. Beneath the surface is a strong story. A pulse that starts slow but sucks you in. A dark world that yearns for something better. A cast of characters - that grow as the stories unwind. Plenty of hairy situations - and mingled in with everything a sweet longing for truth and beauty.
We had read the earlier book At the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness a few months ago - and knew that we would have to read this on a holiday - since once we start the book cannot be put down. North! or be Eaten was all that and more. It ended with a breath-taking set of events that frames everything that has happened till now with wonder.
And now we have a problem. The next book hasn't been written yet. The website says it could be a 5 book series. Or it could be 3. The Eichers don't mind either. We will wait. And read the next book when Peterson is able to pen it. Its not often that we get the opportunity to experience a story - 'as it is written.'
Now to touch the other books.
Living the Resurrection by Eugene Peterson deserves a short review on its own. Suffice it to say that the thoughts presented by this Peterson have been worming their way into me. I very much want to see what he calls "spiritual formation by resurrection' taking place in my life. There is much hope!
To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite stumped me at first. I read it as a memoir - rather than a novel based on the author's experiences. But having said that I quickly entered the world of a school in post-war Britain where the West Indian Braithwaite is given a job at a school in a dilapidated part of London. The story rung true at a number of levels:
- Braithwaite's challenges of being taken seriously as a teacher and scholar beyond the novelty (at that time) of a black man teaching.
- The challenges of dealing with hostile / indifferent students whose lives are a lived out mess - and where so little structure and hope was present.
- The joy of seeing the students shape and mature and make something out of their lives - as well as at the same time the gradual realisation of the value of each one and the real challenges they faced.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson to consider the sum of a single life. Written in what amounts to a stream-of-consciousness, the novel explores the life of a rural pastor in 1950s America. The book paints an at times bleak and unsparing portrait of this man and the complex inheritance of faith and doubts that he wrestles with. It also is suffused with the gritty beauty that comes from first hand living. Strangely, though the book is very different, I am drawn to remember Tolstoy's The Resurrection with its sorrow but hope theme (and is the novel by the Russian author which is closest to my heart).
Finally - two histories.
Fredrick Booth-Tucker: William Booth's First Gentleman by Harry Williams is a swash-buckling biography of the first Salvation Army leader in India. The scion of a family of indo-anglians, Booth Tucker (full name: Frederick St George de Lautour Tucker) was born in Bihar and joined the ICS, before resigning and taking orders in the Salvation Army. His radical lifestyle and love for Jesus alienated most of his family and much of the British establishment (he was interned repeatedly in the first few months of his work in Bombay) - but his simplicity and focus brought rich dividends. I came away with the inevitable question - what is the sum of my own life? Encouragingly, Harry Williams sketches out Booth Tucker's life not as a perfect saint (as some have done for Mother Theresa for example), but rather as a man passionate to live his life to the fullest extent possible. The accent being on the 'possible.' There is much to learn from seeing the lives and faith of real people.
The last book that I read was a slim volume called God for All, God for Me: Gandhiji's Religious Dualism by a retired IPS officer A.J. Anandan. So much has been written on Gandhiji. Just las week Khushwant Singh reviewed a recent book Naked Ambition in Outlook. So few seem to be genuinely affected by Gandhi's thoughts these days. This is why I found Anandan's look thought provoking. He posits that beneath the syncretistic 'public religion' of Gandhi as the statesman and great leader of our country - lies a deeper and simpler personal religion. This personal religion (the author identifies it with Gandhi's childhood faith) is at odds with the often flowery and ecumenical / interfaith statements that Gandhi made over the years. It confirmed for me the reason for Gandhi's consistent opposition to the core issue of Christian missionaries - his strong opposition to conversion. A close look at Gandhi shows that his opinions are quite similar to those of other leaders usually identified as being in the ranks of the Hindu Mahasabha and other groups that are usually not associated with Gandhiji (esp. after one of the group members - Godse - assassinated Gandhi). The author picks out a subtle but constant denigration of the missionary enterprise - which is very present in today's discourse. What surprised me was seeing how much Gandhi has contributed to what is now the party line almost across the board: "conversion is very bad. If it has happened - then surely it must have been done by force / allurements. etc."
So there we have it. Another set of books devoured. More thoughts to mull through. More lives to consider. Books are magical companions. Stretching across time and imagination, they touch us deeply. We continue in an ongoing open conversation with the authors - and their characters - and our thoughts and lives that we meet in the pages of books.