Some Books Worth Reading….
No Greatness Without Goodness by Randy Lewis
I would really recommend No Greatness Without Goodness by Randy Lewis. He was Senior Vice President of Logistics at Walgreens in the US and transformed their employment policies resulting in 10% of the workforce being people with disabilities. It’s. Truly inspiring read. Lewis effectively and bravely demolished the myth that a profitable company which actively recruited disabled people would be placed at a commercial disadvantage, unable to properly serve its customers, and outpaced by its competitors. Randy Lewis’ motto “what’s the use of having power if you don’t use it to do good?” is clearly one which we should all take to heart.
Now that Walgreens has bought the High Street chemist, Boots, I wonder whether the new, amalgamated, company will be adopting the same demanding criteria as Walgreens U.S.? This would set a U.K. gold standard and inspire others to follow suit.
A Postcard from the Volcano: A Novel of Pre-War Germany Lucy Beckett
This is a brilliant and beautifully written novel set in pre-war Germany. It charts the rise of Nazism and anti-Semitism through the lives of two young men, Adam and Max, one Polish, the other German. It poignantly examines their search for friendship and meaning in their lives.
Max von Hofmannswaldau is a seriously gifted musician, with Jewish blood, from a Prussian aristocratic family. Having escaped to England in 1961 he is nearing death and the novel which follows is a retrospective reflection of the horrors which engulfed lives and whole societies. Adam is a Pole, also from an aristocratic family who, affected by the civilising influence of his inspirational teacher, moves from cynicism and an acceptance of the nihilism of Nietzsche to belief and a vocation to the priesthood.
Within the stories of the characters who populate this powerful novel are the stories of the competing forces of Communism and Nazism, both vying for the soul of Europe. It is a compelling read.
Voyage to Alpha Centauri Michael O’Brien
This has a touch of CS Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy and R.H.Benson’s 1907 futuristic novel, Lord of the World, about it – and none the worse for that.
One of the central characters in Voyage to Alpha Centauri, travelling into outer space on The Kosmos, is Neil de Hoyos – a Nobel Laureate and brilliant physicist. As the story unfolds he discovers that the space travellers are exporting some of earth’s worst characteristics. Set eighty years in the future, the drama unfolds as the ship makes for the star closest to our solar system. The story may be in the future but the struggle which takes place is very contemporary.
I have also recently read this Candian author’s Eclipse of the Sun, a Children of the Last Days novel, which pits a few families against an increasingly totalitarian government, intent on controlling their beliefs and manipulating their lives. Like Voyage it is thought-provoking, raising many questions about our capacity to be corrupted.
A visit to the Channel islands led me to read an excellent little booklet “The Alderney Story 1939/49“ by Michael St.J.Packee and Maurice Dreyfus. It provides first hand accounts of the evacuation and occupation of Alderney during World War Two. A walk up to the site of the Sylt concentration camp – where many of the slave labourers who were brought to the island to build nazi fortifications died – is a sobering reminder of what would have happened in the rest of Britain had Germany successfully invaded. Some of the same thoughts are captured in Island Madness by Tim Binding – a well written novel about the Guernsey occupation
Susie Younger’s book “Never Ending Flower” was published in 1967.
She was a young Scot who read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Oxford. While she was a student she became a Christian and, in 1960, went to Korea, learnt the language, and decided to work among the poor for the rest of her life. Her book was published in 1967 by Collins and Harvill. It’s an inspiring account – not unlike the stories of Gladys Aylward and Jackie Pullinger, who also found their way to the Orient.
Having arrived in Korea with a young Austrian companion, Maria Heissenberger, they set up a house for young street children, bootblacks whose employers exploited the children and took most of their earnings from them. It was a tiny house and they lived with those they cared for, sleeping on the floors and living of a simple diet of rice, barley and vegetables.
The project was an early recipient of help from OXFAM and CAFOD and it led to a second house being created in Taegu where Susie set up a home for country girls. They had come to the city looking for work and had been ensnared into prostitution. Susie Younger records some profoundly moving stories of girls who rediscover themselves and who find security, love, employment and, often, marriage.
In the later part of the book Susie Younger describes the creation of a 200 acre co-operative farm at Muhak. It was the brain child of a Korean priest, Fr.Lee, and part of its purpose was to create produce and resources to support Susie’s work. This was when she also met Fr.Stephen Kim – who would, in due course become the Bishop of Masan and eventually the Cardinal Archbishop of Seoul. It was he who stood against the military junta and protected the student protestors who had gathered in his Seoul cathedral. It is fascinating to discover him here, in a book written twenty year earlier, giving so much encouragement to a young Scot from Oxford University.
The book takes its title from the national flower of Korea, the Syrian hibiscus – the Biblical Rose of Sharon. Susie Younger says that because it blossoms from spring until late autumn this tenacious plant is known in Korea as “the never ending flower.”
Although, at the height of summer, the sun scorches and destroys its blossoms, the following day it is resplendent with new flowers. In the case of Korea – whether struggling in the 1960s from the after effects of the Korean War and military dictatorship or, in the North, from decades of totalitarianism – the resilience and the ability, in adversity, to renew and restore damaged beauty seems very apt.
The book concludes with an appendix in which Susie Younger sets out her personal testimony and her hope to stay among the people she felt called to serve for the rest of her life. The book was published in 1967 and it would be intriguing to know how the story continued.
Alice Hodge’s fast moving and scholarly account of Queen Elizabeth’s forbidden priests and the hatching of the gunpowder plot: “God’s Secret Agents” (Harper Collins) is well worth reading. I defy anyone to read this brilliant account of the courage of young men like Edmund Campion and John Gerard – just 24 years old when he plunged ashore on a Norfolk beach in October 1588 – and not be powerfully moved by the story of how Catholicism survived in England.
Another thought-provoking book is the Catholic writer, William Dalrymple’s “The Last Mughal – The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857” (Bloomsbury Publications).
A few weeks ago I heard Dalrymple speak about the background to the book:
He explained how, “on a May morning in 1857, three hundred mutinous sepoys rode into Delhi, massacred every Christian man, woman and child they could find, and declared Zafar to be their Emperor. Zafar was no friend of the British; yet he was not a natural insurgent either. It was with severe misgivings that he found himself made the nominal leader of an uprising that he suspected from the start was doomed: a chaotic and officer-less army of unpaid peasant soldiers set against the forces of the world’s greatest military power.”
The consequences of that uprising were appalling.
On the 14th September 1857, the British assaulted and took Delhi, sacking the Mughal capital and massacring great swathes of the population.
“The orders went out to shoot every soul,” recorded Edward Vibart, a 19 year old British officer. “It was literally murder … The women were all spared but their screams, on seeing their husbands and sons butchered, were most painful… Heaven knows I feel no pity, but when some old grey bearded man is brought and shot before your very eyes, hard must be that man’s heart I think who can look on with indifference…”
Those city dwellers who survived the killing were driven out into the countryside to fend for themselves. Delhi was left an empty ruin. Though the royal family had surrendered peacefully, most of the Emperor’s sixteen sons were tried and hung, while three were shot in cold blood, having first freely given up their arms, then been told to strip naked.
In understanding the genesis of today’s Muslim disaffection and resentment Dalrymple’s erudite and powerful description of events 150 yeas ago provides plenty of food for thought.
After this, if you want something to cheer you, turn to Gervase Phinn and “Up and Down in the Dales” (Penguin Global).
I chaired a public lecture in Liverpool by Gervase Phinn and this wonderful raconteur conveyed his profound belief in the teaching profession with wonderful anecdotes and shafts of great humour. A former Yorkshire Dales inspector of schools – educations’ answer to James Herriot – this book will leave you craving for more (and there are more). You’ll also be taken Gervase’s warmth and gentle faith.
William Brodrick’s book “The Sixth Lamentation” (Time Warner Paperbacks) is subtle and gripping. An absorbing thriller he writes after the style of John Le Carre and like Le Carre’s “The Constant Gardener” Brodrick deserves to see his writing turned in to a block buster movie.
His sleuth is Brother Anselm – a Gilbertine monk who has foresworn the courts where he was once a barrister for the cloisters. He is caught up in a mystery that takes us back to the Nazi occupation of France, the Holocaust, collaboration, and the endless layers of deceit spawned by totalitarianism. It’s a brilliant thriller.
Adam Hochschild’s “Bury The Chains” (Houghton Mifflin) is an account of the slave trade which cannot be surpassed. 2007 was the bi-centenary of the abolition of the slave trade. If you want to understand how a whole host of players, like Thomas Clarkson, Olaudah Equiano, John Newton and the Christian abolitionist, William Wilberforce, created the alliance which changed these evil laws, this is the book to read.
“Pope Francis, Our Brother, our Friend” (Ignatius Press, edited by Alejandro Bermudez) is a lovely anthology of personal recollections about Fr.Jorge Bergoglio SJ, the priest who on March 13th , took the world by surprise when he emerged from the Conclave of Cardinals as our new Pope.
Hardly a day has passed since then when we haven’t continued to be surprised and challenged. He’s not only taken the name of St.Francis but seems determined to live by the Assisi mantra: “Use words but only when you have run out of deeds.”
This very accessible collection of insights and anecdotes is drawn from ten of Pope Francis’ Jesuit brothers, from friends, and others who have known him well. They include an Argentine Senator, a Jewish Rabbi, a priest from the slums of Buenos Aires, professors who taught him, as well as some of his own students.
It’s a lovely book which takes you into Pope’s Francis inner life, his devotions, his habits and interests, and the things which motivate him.
From the Jesuits prepare to be held spellbound by the fictional Gilbertine monk, Fr.Anselm, whose latest investigation, his fifth, is beautifully captured in William Brodrick’s masterly “The Discourtesy of Death” (Little Brown, £12-99p).
Brodrick was a monk who turned barrister – Anselm went in the opposite direction. Told by his Prior to do something for the people who “live on the margins of hope” Anselm uses his forensic skills to investigate the death of a celebrated ballet dancer – whose death from bowel cancer may have been accelerated by a relative – and whose motives may have not have been the humane reasons so often cited by the proponents of euthanasia – a theme which will be one of 2014’s legislative challenges.
Broderick knows a thing or two about ethical and moral dilemmas. His mother was a member of the Dutch resistance and helped smuggle Jews out of Amsterdam while his grandfather was a Lutheran pastor who died in a Japanese concentration camp.
His books – like is Gilbertine hero – never fail to rise to the occasion.