Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Books read in February 2015

1. Pioneering for Christ in the Sudan  by Johanna Veenstra

Johanna Veenstra arrived in Nigeria in 1920, aged 25, to work with the Sudan United Mission. Her missionary career was a mere 13 years, but that was much longer than many of her contemporaries. This book was written during her second home leave. She pioneered a work among a cannibal tribe 75 miles from Ibi on the Benue. Her work was evangelistic, medical and educational. The land and people were primitive. Land transport was on foot or bicycle. Big game abounded. Johanna was the first missionary to Nigeria from the Christian Reformed Church of North America. A very brave, spiritual woman. Converts came slowly. The mission required at least two years between profession of faith and baptism. Polygamy posed huge problems. The church, not the missionaries chose to be teetotal. A fascinating book about a much loved saint. She was a giant pioneer missionary.

2. Expendable Mary Slessor by James Buchan

From mill girl in the slums of Dundee to a 49 year missionary career in and near Calabar, this was one very remarkable woman. She went alone to a very violent inland tribe, going where no man, black or white would dare go. She preceded Pax Britanica and brought Pax Mary Slessor by the grace of God and sheer bravery. 'Courage is only the conquering of fear by faith' she said. She was eventually made British vice-consul to this tribe, the first such appointment of a woman in all the British Empire. She rescued hundreds of twins from death and intervened to protect many people from brutal native punishments. She ate only local food supplemented by tea. She would go barefoot, bareheaded and with skimpy dress which scandalised other Europeans. She became fluent in the Efik tongue, expert on African life and customs. She educated and healed many. There was no-one like her. In her later years, chronically ill, she received widespread fame and her funeral in Calabar was like a state occasion. She had loved and respected Africans giving her health and life for them.

3. Nigerian harvest;: A Reformed witness to Jesus Christ in Nigeria, West Africa, in the twentieth century, including a detailed history of the ... in the Benue Province from 1940 to 1970 by Edgar H Smith

The author, a British missionary seconded to the mission of the Christian Reformed Church of North America, wrote this comprehensive history of the work of CRC missionaries in Nigeria. At times there is a most interesting narrative of pioneer mission and church development but a lot of the book is much less interesting, detailing the CRC agreeing to start official work in Nigeria following several of its members working there for the Sudan United Mission. Relations between CRC and SUM are recorded at length as well as relations with the Dutch Reformed Church Mission from South Africa. The CRC was progressively taking over DRCM work when all South African work was forced to transfer in the early sixties due to South Africa's politics. The CRC as a result finished up working with two different Nigerian denominations though they are in close fellowship together. An interesting and detailed account of church planting and other mission work in central Nigeria.

4. Ealing: A Concise History by Jonathan Oates and  Peter Hounsell 

It does what it says in the title. Ealing though is not the present London borough but the area defined by W5 and W13 postal districts.. It recounts the history from before 1601 to the present day. It is fairly comprehensive and one does get a good feel for the growth of Ealing.

5. Samira and Samir: The Heartrending Story of Love and Oppression in Afghanistan by Siba Shakib

I have often read factual accounts and judged them stranger than fiction. Here is what purports to be a true story which I find incredible. I confess that what I know of Afghanistan concerns urban life in and around Kabul. This is life among the Hazaras of the mountains. I know the Hazaras are despised for they are Shi'as. The Islam here seems very syncretistic and impure. I found the style of writing difficult. Why the name avoidance with some people given descriptions not names? All in all I found this book hard going and too far fetched.

6. Born Under a Million Shadows by Andrea Busfield

Written from the viewpoint of a ten year old Afghan boy this novel is set in pot-taliban Afghanistan. The boy's father and brother have been killed and his sister abducted by the Taliban. His mother is saved from a life of poverty by being employed in the Kabul home of three single expatriates. Afghan life is well portrayed as is the boy's shock at the expatriates' lifestyles. One expat has fallen for a very wealthy Afghan. Is he a drug lord? A lot of the book is a romantic novel concerning these two disparate people. This is a story with happy endings. Perhaps that is where its Afghan realism falls short.

7. Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes To Weep by Siba Shakib 

Another horrific testimony from the strife of Afghanistan. This appears to be a true story, the biography of an Afghan woman through the end of the monarchy, the Russian invasion and the war to repel them, the Muhjadeen's civil war and the rule of the Taliban. The scene shifts from rural ares to Kabul then escape to a refugee camp on the border into Pakistan. After rape, murder and arson in the camp the family find shelter with Hazaras in the Hindu Kush mountains. Then after being in a opium growing village they move to Iran. At first Iran is good for Afghans but then it turns unfriendly so the family go back to an Afghanistan refigee camp. From there it is Isfahan than Kabul and finally to family members fighting with the Northern Alliance against the Taliban. On the way there are severe injuries, prison, suicide attempt, mines and opium addiction. Not a happy story but that sadly is the life in Afghanistan.

8. The King's Curse by Philippa Gregory 

The Tudor story from the time of Arthur, Henry VII's eldest son through to the death of Thomas Cromwell told from the perspective of Margaret Plantaganet, loyal friend of Catherine of Aragon and companion to her daughter Mary. This is very much history from a Roman Catholic perspective. Henry VIII is shown falling from his people's favoured prince to an obese, unpredictable tyrant. Cromwell is a ruthless destroyer of the old order. There are no good words for Reformation. The fall of Margaret and her family comes about from their involvement with her son Reginald, who sponsored by the king to be a learned scholar, denounces his patron's divorce and alienation from Rome. He later became Mary Tudor's archbishop of Canterbury.

9. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I found this to be an account of rather unattractive people. Her Nigerian immigrants are ready to try and cheat the systems to make it in USA or England. There is more detail about life in USA for that is where the author studied. The preoccupation with race is frankly boring, but then I am white. But to go on about race in America and never touch on tribalism in Nigeria is unbalanced. Interestingly their is little about race in England, nothing about Nigerian /Caribbean tensions. Her rich Lagosians are an unattractive crowd. Gullible Nigerian Christianity is well portrayed. I am thankful that the Nigerians I know show better morality than is portrayed here.

10.  Islam Today: A Short Introduction to the Muslim World by Akbar S. Ahmed 

My copy is an earlier edition published in 1999 so it is dated. It is helpful with history, beliefs and practice of Islam and shows how diverse it is yet I cannot help think the author is giving a favourable, public relations view of Islam. When he writes on Mohammed's wives he omits his child bride. When he writes on marriage he tells us polygamy is almost unknown among his people. This may be so in SE Asia but in Sub-saharan Africa, Islam promotes Islamic polygamy as authentically African. Post 9/11 the world is a different place and relations between the West and Islam are much changed. So too is the behaviour of Muslim minorities in the West. To cite the fifty or so Muslims in Stornoway as a paragon of integrated and peaceful living is rather laughable. Stormoway itself is a cultural anomaly in godless Europe.

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