Posts filed under ‘religion’

IAN McEWAN – BLACK DOGS and THE CHILDREN ACT

Bookgroupers all really loved both books. we now understand why Ian McEwan is so famous and such a darling of the literati.

Although both are fabulous there are some differences. For example, the point of view of the narrator is very different: Black Dogs is written in the first person and The Children Act written by an  omniscient narrator. However, this basic difference is masked by McEwan’s skill. In both books he is able to constantly switch between the point of view of the narrator and the point of view of whichever character he is speaking of at the time without losing the reader. He is able to mix together, and switch between, detailed accounts of the state of mind of each character as they experience the events depicted, and astute observations about architecture, politics, science, history and religion, without ever making you wonder ‘who is speaking now’, is this him or the character?

 

black dogsBlack Dogs is deceptively named. It is not a novel about depression as you might be tempted to think from the title. Rather this review gives the key quote from the book that shows these metaphorical black dogs are much older than Winston Churchill’s. This wikipedia quote gives the right reference

A black dog is the name given to a being found primarily in the folklores of the British Isles. The black dog is essentially a nocturnal apparition, often said to be associated with the Devil or a Hellhound. Its appearance was regarded as a portent of death. It is generally supposed to be larger than a normal dog, and often has large, glowing eyes.[1] It is often associated with electrical storms (such as Black Shuck’s appearance at Bungay, Suffolk),[2] and also with crossroads, places of execution and ancient pathways.[1][3][4]

The origins of the black dog are difficult to discern. It is impossible to ascertain whether the creature originated in the Celtic or Germanic elements in British culture. Throughout European mythology, dogs have been associated with death. Examples of this are the Cŵn Annwn,[5] Garmr[6] and Cerberus,[7] all of whom were in some way guardians of the underworld. This association seems to be due to the scavenging habits of dogs.[8] It is possible that the black dog is a survival of these beliefs. Black dogs are almost universally regarded as malevolent, and a few (such as the Barghest) are said to be directly harmful. Some, however, like the Gurt Dog in Somerset and the Black Dog of the Hanging Hills in Connecticut, are said to behave benevolently.

At one level its a plainly told depiction of the history of the relationship of a middle aged man’s elderly in-laws. Not promising material you might think, especially as Bernard and June are not particularly extraordinary individuals, and their breakup was not particularly tempestuous or dramatic. Yet the novel is compelling at the level of the characters’ inner lives, and at the level of very big grand ideas.

He manages to extract from the process of minutely detailing the specifics of their personal stories, and the everyday feelings of these two fairly ordinary people, an excuse to beautifully articulate the real human truth, and complexity, of many of the biggest issues there are.

Via Bernard he describes war in the freshest and most truthful way i have ever read: in less than half a page. He does this in context, so it does not come across as an erudite aside in which the author has inserted himself into the story just to have a rant about some issue. it appears to come from the inner life of the Jeremy, the narrator, as he reflects on the experience of Bernard meeting the locals on his honeymoon walking tour through post war rural France, and is all the more powerful for that

 war not as a historical, geopolitical fact but as a multiplicity, a near-infinity of private sorrows, as a boundless grief minutely subdivided without diminishment among individuals who covered the continent like dust, like spores whose separate identities would remain unknown, and whose totality showed more sadness than anyone could ever begin to comprehend; a weight borne in silence by hundreds of thousands, millions, like the woman in black for a husband and two brothers, each grief a particular, intricate, keening love story that might have been otherwise.

The truth about organised religion he dispenses with in a few lines from June.

I suppose all the great world religions began with individuals making inspired contact with a spiritual reality and then trying to keep that knowledge alive. Most of it gets lost in rules and  and practices and addiction to power. That’s how religions are.

The complexity of our attitudes as humans to a logical rational way of making decisions and behaving versus a more emotional or intuitive approach, seems like a fairly arcane issue for a novel. Perhaps more suited to a philosophy text. But McEwan proves otherwise. This is the issue at the heart of the book. He does not try to encapsulate it briefly anywhere, rather he draws it out across the whole book. He contrasts the attitudes of his two protagonists, and also inserts his narrators thoughts and feelings via both the questions the narrator asks each of them, and the way he describes his own actions. Its beautifully done. I found it very revealing. It made me think and articulate my own approach to making decisions and thinking.

in contrast to rationalism v mysticism, sex is not a surprising thing to find in a novel. However, McEwan even finds  way to make this new, to give us fresh eyes to see through. He does this through June, speaking as an elderly woman he has her describe the attitude of herself and her girlfriends to sex before she met Bernard back in the 1930s.

We used to huddle up and talk about it a great deal. If you were going to be married sex was the price you must pay. After the wedding. It was a tough bargain, but reasonable enough. You couldn’t have something for nothing.

‘And then, everything changed. Within days of meeting Bernard my feelings were . . . well, I thought I was going to explode. I wanted him, Jeremy. It was like a pain. I didn’t want a wedding or a kitchen, I wanted this man. I had lurid fantasies about him. I couldn’t talk to my girlfriends honestly. They would have been shocked.

The final big issue he manages to deal with is capitalism v communism. As long term leftie I have always found it hard to understand why so many of the older generation of left leaning political activists continued to support communism well into the 50s and 60s. Long after the deaths and killings had become well known. This book, for me, explained for the first time, through the vehicle of Bernard and June, why so many members of their generation, the ‘great generation’ born in the 20s or 30s, remained attracted to communism for so long.

the routing of fascism, class struggle, and the great engine of history whose direction was now known to science and which had granted to the Party its inalienable right to govern, all merged to one spectacular view, a beckoning avenue unrolling from the starting point of their love, out across the vast prospect of causse and mountains which reddened as they spoke,

children actThe Children Act is aptly named being about a high court judge dealing with family law issues as outlined by The Guardian. The story about betrayal and duty, both in love and at work. It is largely told through the eyes of Fiona: the judge of the family court specialising in child protection. She begins as the duty bound and self righteous betrayed, and slowly transforms into the confessional and repentant betrayer.

It’s beautifully written and wonderfully observed, full of complex realistic characters in the middle of personal, legal and moral questions with no easy answers.

Fiona’s husband, understandably, wants ‘ecstasy. Almost blacking out with the thrill of it. remember that? I want one last go. Even if you don’t. Or perhaps you do?’ Whereas Fiona ‘could think only of disruption, assignations, disappointment, ill timed phone calls. The sticky business of learning to be with someone new  in bed, the newly devised endearments, all the fakery.

Fiona’s marriage is falling apart and reforming as her life at court gets consumed by yet another insolvable legal question. A lively and bright, young Jehovah s witness is dying of cancer and only a blood transfusion will save him. He is choosing to remain loyal to his faith rather than to remain alive. But he is under 18 so  Fiona can allow the hospital to transfuse him against his, and his family’s wishes, if she deems it to be in the interests of his welfare.

The interactions between them are gentle and personal in tone rather than polemic or political but in this gentle way they do hold up for scrutiny a romantic faith and family focussed world view, alongside a secular utilitarian one.

In the process McEwan also holds up scrutiny to his own readership, people like me and the bookgroupers. He could be pointing the finger at us when Fiona describes the spectrum of views people held on her most recent major case.

at one end people of the secular utilitarian persuasion, impatient of legal detail, blessed by an easy moral equation: one child saved better than two dead.

The narrator informs us very early in the book that it was this case that had caused the turmoil in her marriage:. It concerned conjoined twins, destined to die without medical intervention. She had to decide whether to authorise doctors to separate them, knowing one would die in the hope that the other would live. The trauma of the decision to kill that child, and the ensuing hate mail and media frenzy, had caused her to withdraw emotionally, but she never explained this to her husband, and never does at any stage.

The book ends however, with her talking to him in intimate detail about the Jehovah’s Witness boy. This, to me, makes the book a beautifully crafted redemption story, where or hero, heroine, in this case has learnt a lesson and everyone is better off for it.

Another great line I liked appears before the concluding reconciliation, while Fiona is contemplating life as a deserted wife, 60ish, a judge, living a the law courts. How does one behave, where will she go and who with?

To be the object of general pity was also a form of social death. The nineteenth century was closer than most women thought.

By the end, despite all these complex moral ambiguities, McEwan had not radically changed my world view, probably because it already largely aligns with his. He did though leave me feeling like a softer, less dogmatic human. In any moment the betrayer, the betrayed, and the call of duty, can seem very clear to us, but they rarely are.  There are many types of betrayal and many duties. One betrayal may cause another, and fulfilling one duty may mean failing another.

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June 30, 2015 at 12:50 pm Leave a comment

THE TESTAMENT OF MARY by COLM TOIBIN

 

testament of mary

I told him before he departed that all my life when I have seen more than two men together I have seen foolishness and I have seen cruelty

I love that quote, and this book contains a few others that are nearly as good. Unfortunately these highlights are rare.

A famous irish author chooses to re-write the new testament in the voice of the catholic church, and ireland’s, number 1 saint – the mother of jesus. A courageous decision Sir Humphrey might have called it, but given it was shortlisted for the booker in 2013 i guess you could say the gamble worked. It didn’t work for me however, or the other bookgroupers.

we didn’t hate it, but its a very hard book to love. In a way its because toibin is too good. he has to make a lot of choices in this book. he has to invent mary, what is she like, what does she want to say, what did she see, and how did she interpret it. His choices are brave at every turn – to a fault. he never makes an easy choice so the mary we read, the mary of toibin’s creation could very well be real but she is not likeable, wise, insightful or entertaining. he is scared, reclusive, resentful even bitter. In modern terms we would say she is depressed.

This makes the book hard work and quite frustrating. All the famous, and spectacular, events are related in the flat drone of a very sad old lady, and we don’t understand why she is like that until the end. Some months after witnessing the crucifixion, and narrating us through it from a mothers perspective, she says

I had been made wild by what I saw and nothing has ever changed that. I have been unhinged by what I saw in daylight and no darkness will assuage that or lessen what it did to me.

At this point you can see why some people think the book is a literary triumph for toibin. he is so truthful, so determined to imagine a version of the ageing, reflective mary that could be real, he makes no attempt to give us a good read. Instead he gives us a trauma survivor. A woman living in a police state, who has been in hiding and in fear of her life for years, who watched her son mutilated in public and stood by doing nothing. A woman who is now visited by people determined to make him their saviour rather than her son, and worst of all, that may be the choice he himself made – to abandon her.

you can see why she might be depressed, but it doesn’t make the book fun to read. as one bookgrouper said its a bit like cormac macarthy’s the road in its relentless bleakness.

It did raise an interesting idea for me however. there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of trauma survivors, from places like rawanda, sudan, congo, afghanistan that may have been through similar things – forced to  stand by while their loved ones are hacked apart by one crazy regime or another. Some of these people end up in places like australia as refugees, where we expect them to become normal happy citizens. having read this book i think its a miracle that some of them do.

 

April 13, 2014 at 1:07 pm Leave a comment

HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN TEN AND A HALF CHAPTERS by JULIAN BARNES

HistoryOfTheWorld 

Religion culture art history – all these things are commonly discussed and examined in the books we read here at bookgroup, and we love it. But what does a woodworm or a termite think of Noah, or medieval jurisprudence? Don’t care?
Well Julian Barnes does and this book is super smart, and laugh out loud funny, because he tells these ten and a half history based stories from such bizarre perspectives.
I found his invented transcript of an apparently real court case from 13th century France hilarious. it involves the prosecution of a family of wood worms for allegedly ‘rendering the bishop of Amiens into a state of imbecility’. It is written in perfectly logical barrister-style legalese, and the arguments of the prosecution for excommunication were as compelling as those of the defence. By rotting the leg of the bishops throne were they doing the evil work of the devil, or serving god’s purpose by behaving as god created, and intended, them to?
This retelling of medieval Europe was completely ridiculous and completely  believable, as  were the other 9 and a half other bizarre point of view chapters. He does biblical criticism by telling the story of Noah’s ark from a woodworm’s perspective. He does colonisation and finding the new world from the point of view of a 1970s english actor writing back to his lover from the Amazon jungle, while shooting a movie recreating first contact between the church and a lost tribe. He does nuclear apocalypse as a woman so certain destruction is coming, and so annoyed at others lack of anxiety, that she sails away from civilisation and becomes lost and delirious for some weeks post rescue.
All these were perfectly done: the writing fast; characters convincing; the scholarship on history, politics and religion acute; and all of it very funny. I guess the only criticism might be the obscurity of the connections between stories, and whether Barnes fails, or even wants, to make an overall point. However for many readers this will be a strength not a weakness. His point, if there is one, is about complexity, humanity, and enduring chaos.
Thankfully he makes this point in a confident irreverent matter of fact way, not in some jargonistic relativistic post modern way. That is, he is tough on many of his subjects: the church; the actor; the neurotic woman sailor of the future; and even nature. He doesn’t just say if it makes sense to you it makes sense. Neither does he impose a reading of history on his history of the world – excuse me for hypocritically borrowing some post-modern  jargon.
In the end what he gives us is a funny, smart, and imaginative reflection on the stories we tell ourselves about our past, and our future.

September 10, 2013 at 12:22 pm Leave a comment

PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT by PHILLIP ROTH

Portnoy_s_Complaint

The book is a guy confessing to being obnoxious and stupid for his whole life, but in a very entertaining, articulate and at the time it was written, probably fresh and interesting way. But it is a whole book of detailed descriptions of being obnoxious and stupid, which means its not so much a confession as a celebration or a boast. To me that made it unbearable.  But it seems I am in the minority.
Lots of people seem to think its ‘searingly honest’ or ‘transgressing taboos’, and more than likely it was in the late 60s given that it is pretty much exclusively about wanking and fucking. The intervening 40 years however have been full of stand up comics, tv sitcoms and movies endlessly rehashing what it’s like to be a New York Jew with a New York Jew mum etc etc. so I couldn’t read it fresh as if I had never seen woody Allen, lenny bruce, seinfield and all that stuff. I could not read it pretending Freud and psychoanalysis was still credible, I couldn’t  read it pretending its ok to blame your mum for your own misogyny, and I couldn’t read it pretending there is something interesting about a grown man moaning, endlessly, or trying to impress us with made up stuff about what a stud he is.
I could however acknowledge it was like a prose poem. It scanned from start to finish so it was super easy to read and it did reveal a lot of truths about being a teenager, how our attitudes to our parents are messed up, and sexuality more generally. I would say though that these are all extremely widely written about and well known truths by now, I can’t say if they were in 1969.
But I am in the minority. On goodreads there are 1200 reviews and over 21000 ratings, and the average is 3.66 out of 5 and 86% of people liked it. The contributors to this site also rated it the 327th best book ever out of about 5000 rated books. however it is a polarising book because contributors to the site also rated it the 336th worst book ever out of about 5000 books.
A few quotes from readers reviews give a good idea of what to expect
(done at page 64) OK, I’m sick of Portnoy. I don’t care about his testicles, I don’t care where and how he masturbates, I don’t care whom he thinks of to get off, I don’t care that he doesn’t believe in god, I don’t care what will happen to his nagging mother, weak father, and pleading sister. I don’t wish them ill: I simply don’t care about them. May they rest in peace. Don’t worry, I own the book. Maybe one day when I’m absolutely desperate to consider Roth’s endless merits, I’ll pick up where I left off and annoy myself some more
 (Frankly, the whole book’s great, and singling out the best parts would be a pretty daunting task.) But I do have one caveat: I’m not sure how well this book would resonate with anyone who didn’t grow up as a male in a Jewish family in America. I’m not saying other people shouldn’t read this book — they should — but I am saying that much of both its comedy and its meaningfulness likely will be lost on all readers who aren’t male American Jews
Given the subject matter I think that it would be better dubbed a “manologue” rather than a monologue.
The guests on Jennifer Byrnes first Tuesday book club also all gave it rave reviews so lots of people disagree with me, including in bookgroup. likewise this recent guardian review makes the case that despite being over 40 years since publication the book is still relevant.
So if you want something that was iconic for its time, beautifully written, and detailing the travails of New York male Jewishness, go for it. If you feel you have had enough of all that, give it a miss.

June 29, 2013 at 10:16 am Leave a comment

i thought graham greene‘s – the power and the glory  would provide an interesting comparison with our recent bookgroup on lacuna by barbara kingsolver, because it starts in mexico just before the period described in lacuna. As it turned out, the 70 year time difference, and the authors’ viewpoints, made them completely different propositions.

Bookgrouper’s enjoyed Greene’s writing. He relentlessly, vividly, painted a grey, drab depressed world – reminiscent of ‘the road’ i thought. He also relentlessly and vividly painted what he saw as the crisis of conscience, morals, belief, call it what you will, of his protagonist – the whiskey priest.

The priest believes himself to be an adulterer, a drunk, a proud, ambitious, falsely pious fraud, and a greedy coward. in short, a very bad priest. Nevertheless, some years after all the other priests have been, captured, shot or fled to neighbouring states, he remains, and when opportunity arises says mass, takes confession etc.

Greene makes a great deal of this contradiction. As a catholic convert himself, greene thinks this is a tremendously challenging scenario. to him, however bad the priest is, or whatever his motives are, he is doing good. he is saving souls by providing communion and confession. he is literally allowing people into heaven who cant get there without a priest’s intervention in the form of the catholic sacraments.

He then emphasises it even more with two plot twists that turn the screws on what he obviously sees as irresolvable moral choices.

Firstly he has the baddy of the story take a hostage from every village and start shooting them one by one till they hand over the priest. This sends our ‘bad priest’s’ guilty conscience into overdrive as he believes innocent peasants are dying for him – the very unworthy whiskey priest – but if he goes or gives himself up no peasants will get the sacraments?

Next, the priest finally decides to leave and crosses just over the border into safety, rests a few days in a peaceful village, and interestingly quickly falls back in to his old greedy, falsely pious, priestly ways. he is about to move on to a civilised city, when a known traitor finds him him and tells him a murderer is dying and wants absolution before he dies.

Greene thinks this is the ultimate in moral conflict. The priest goes with the traitor knowing he is being led into the arms of the police to be shot, but also believing that if there is a chance the murderer is dying and does want absolution he should give it.

If you suspend your disbelief, take on the mind set of the character and Greene, then you can see all this moral agonising is very well thought out and complex and interesting, and some bookgroupers got a lot from that.

Unfortunately for me, as an ex-catholic, i just felt it beautifully detailed the consequences you buy yourself, and the peasants who trust you, when you believe in magical nonsense like heaven, repentance, confession, and the transubstatiation of the body and blood of christ. Poor and innocent people die for nothing.

So the book may have been a classic in its time, but for me, the best part of a century later it felt well out of date. It felt like it painted a very colonial, rascist, somewhat cartoonish picture of mexico. This made the contrast with ‘the lacuna’ acute. Written in our time about mexico only a few years later, it felt thoroughly contemporary, vibrant and real. However, I have to be honest I have never been to Mexico so i am in no position to judge.

To emphasise that my view of the book may be a long way from universal, one bookgrouper who has spent time in mexico liked the book a lot, and felt the description of landscape etc was on the money.

November 10, 2012 at 5:30 am Leave a comment

TALIBAN by JAMES FERGUSSON

Taliban by James Ferguson was well received by bookgroupers. Its a detailed eye-witness account of the last 20 years in Afghanistan. It provides a lot of much needed history for all those news stories we have been hearing and watching for years.

For example, the book gives a great account, in detail of the role of Pakistan and its ISI, which you dont hear a lot about. In particular, how one of pakistan interests in afghanistan is the keep out india and indian culture.

Bookgroupers really appreciated the insights offered about Afghan culture, and geography. In particular though, they appreciated the personal stories of many of the key players, the war lords and Taliban leaders. Fergusson has met many of them, several times, and he gives the reader not only his view on the situation but the views of these warlords and Taliban leaders.

Bookgroupers also appreciated the point Fergusson was trying to make which in the end was pretty simple – we are not helping so we should get out. Which is quite a compelling argument given the cost in both lives and dollars that the current approach is costing.

Bookgroupers also commented on the style. It is easy to read jounalism, so even though its unpleasant subject matter, and a fairly lengthy book, most bookgroupers did not find it hard to get though.

Unfortunately for me I was the exception to this nearly universal positive response. I can agree with all of the above views but in addition, for me it pushed some buttons that made me quite angry most of the time I was reading it.

My problem was that he kept trying to play down the abuses of the Taliban. I felt it was outrageous to justify their abuse of women on cultural grounds (p61-62). To me it was like justifying the Nazis by referring to the tradition of anti-semitism and pogroms throughout Europe in the preceding centuries.

I admit I’m sensitive to this sort of writing because it is typical of the press of recent years. The book was a laundry list of scandalous outrages practiced by all sides. Unfortunately though, if the Taliban did them the author dismissed it on the grounds of culture and or religion, whereas if anyone else did them the perpetrators were, rightly, morally condemned.

So for me, but not the other bookgroupers, it was just a ridiculous exercise in the worst kind of culturally relativism. The classic example was on page 300. In relation to Hekmatyar (a non-Taliban warlord who did appalling things in the past and now, but despite this is part of the Karzai government) Fergusson says ‘I have my doubts such a fierce leopard can change its spots’. Whereas, on page 267 he is happy with the suggestion made by a so-called taliban moderate that a Taliban returned to government would be a ‘domesticated cat compared to a tiger’ as it was before.

Other examples of this relentless double standard include when he describes the casual disregard for human life of a Taliban commander in Chak, Abdullah, as ‘joie de guerre’ (joy in war), as childish and as religious zeal. In contrast, similar killings by americans and other non-taliban are all murders and outrageous and requiring investigation.

Similarly, vote buying by Karzai’s men is outrageous corruption, whereas intimidating voters and blowing up helicopters full of voting papers, when done by the Taliban is not commented on. Rather, the resulting non-vote in that region is taken as an illustration of popular support for the Taliban.

Another example of the double standard comes at the end of the book where he quotes the number of civilian dead, but he does not say how many by Taliban and how many by Americans, just implies its the American’s fault.

However, my main frustration with the book was that the point it wants to make is right, but ninety percent of the book is unrelated to that point. Yes the west should leave Afghanistan, but not because the Taliban are ok – which is what he spends 90% of his time asserting – because nothing is being achieved.

The book clearly shows the culture there, Pastunwali as he calls it, won’t allow anything sensible to be achieved because of the misogyny, the lack of education, the violence, the corruption. The culture needs to change before any help might usefully be offered. Therefore the only useful things the west can do is support initiatives that promote cultural change such as media and education.

And finally after hundreds of pages of complaining about the Americans not being willing to talk to the Taliban he says the Taliban won’t talk to the Americans. If that is true – what was the point of the book?

February 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm Leave a comment

PEOPLE OF THE BOOK BY GERALDINE BROOKS

This book roams across 500 years of european history. The author is Australian, it covers 3 major religions, and its told in the voice of a middle-class sydneyite, not unlike the bookgroupers. All very promising ingredients one would think.

Despite this not all bookgroupers felt the result lived up to the promise. As outlined in this readers guide and this review the story is based on a true story about a very unusual ancient illuminated Jewish text known as the Sarajevo Haggadah. It is unusual for two reasons. Firstly, it was saved by muslim museum curators in Sarajevo not once but twice, first during the holocaust and then in the bosnian war. Secondly, it is illuminated like christian texts such as the book of kells, when both the jewish and islamic traditions include prohibitions on image making.

The author invents a detailed history of the book’s creation across the centuries, based on a few small artifacts found in the book during its conservation – a butterfly wing, a wine stain containing blood, evidence that some beautiful gold clasps that once held the book together had been stolen, a grain of salt, and a cat hair.

She creates a story that explains how each of these artifacts came to be associated with the book. Each story is set in a very distinctive period of european history: sarajevo in the second world war; venice during the inquisition; vienna in the 1890s; spain during the expulsion of the jews; and spain during the convivencia, before the expulsion. Its clear that the author intends these stories to collectively illustrate how the book embodies the interaction of judaism, christianity and islam, throughout history and throughout europe.

The bookgroup was completely split down the middle on the book. The core of the dispute seems to center on this structure – both in its use as a literary device and as a didactic call for religious tolerance.

At the literary level, those who strongly disliked the book were frustrated by this series of short stories, the lack of a narrative to connect them, and what they saw as their peopling with a series of fairly cliched characters and events. Similarly it seemed they were annoyed by the pretty transparent attempt to use this imagined history for somewhat saccharine ideological purposes, that is, as argument for religious tolerance.

On the other hand, those of us who liked the book, revelled in three key things: the very well researched, detailed accounts of life in some of the most fascinating places and times in european history; the cleverness of creating all this detail from tiny clues found in the real history of the book; and tying all this together with a grand theme of great relevance today, that is, religious tolerance.

Personally I really enjoyed it, partly i think because it was so plainly an australian reflection on european history, but also the specific times of history chosen. Vienna at the turn of the 20th century really was amazing with freud, einstein etc all there at the same time. Similarly, the convivencia sounds terrific. It is the reason that today we know about greek and roman history and philosophy because christian, jewish and muslim scholars all gathered together, and the islamic scholars brought with them greek and roman texts that had been lost from europe. also the influence of the time still lives on physically as well as philosophically, I remember being shocked when I went to southern spain, because it looked so arab rather than european.

if i was searching for negatives, i’d agree there are a few cliched or wooden characters. Its almost as if the author was trying to get a film contract, so she inserted a number unlikely, but interesting and visually striking characters, that would fit in well with a hollywood film script. Secondly, i was not convinced by the message. for me the blood soaked history of the book was not a convincing argument for religious tolerance. rather, it was a demonstration of how equally apalling all three religions are. To take it one step further, it made me question whether we should really celebrate beautiful religious artifacts such as this, when what they stand for is not peace and beauty, but violence and misogeny?

April 16, 2011 at 4:46 am 2 comments

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