Thursday, 26 January 2006

In the Eyes of Anahita by: Hugo Bonjean

In the Eyes of Anahita
By: Hugo Bonjean
Eagle Vision Publishing
ISBN: 0973754206
253 Pages

This book came to me with high praise and great recommendations. It is often compared to Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael. There are some similarities to both of these books, yet this one does not live up to the greatness of the other two offerings. However, it does have some insights to offer.

In this book, a woman keeps appearing to our author in many forms and in many places. He is told by a priest friend, “You have seen Anahita. I call her Mary. She has been seen by many here in the valley and goes by many different names.” The book begins with a question by the author’s son, ‘Why do people have to pay for food?’ And, while on a trip in South America, his eyes are opened to many injustices and his worldviews are challenged.

Many questions are examined in this volume, such as: ‘Are human beings being human?’ and ‘Is a global society a social globe?’ This book raises many questions about the global use of resources, and the distribution of wealth in the world.

This book is dialogue-heavy and though the message is good, it was an effort to make it through the book. Less than halfway through reading it, you know where the author is going and it takes him a long time to get there. That, combined with the new-age elements, made this book a disappointing read. If it were closer to Coelho’s or Quinn’s books and less like the Celestine Prophecy by James Radfield, it would have been more enjoyable.

All in all, this book would be a 6 out of 10; good message, but Bonjean's work is a weak telling of that message.

(First Published in Imprint 2006-03-03 as 'Eyes of Anahita just doesn't dig deep enough')


Saturday, 21 January 2006

Myths



Publishing events of this scale, scope and magnitude is seldom attempted and even less often achieved. ‘The Myths’ series, currently underway, is one of those grand projects and will be providing gems for years to come. This endeavor is the brainchild of Jamie Byng, a publisher at Cognate books. The goal is to publish the same books simultaneously around the world; currently the first three books have been published in 32 countries and thirty languages worldwide. The goal of the series is to assemble some of the best authors from around the world and have them re-tell a myth or legend in their own style, using their words, thus hopefully shedding some light on our stories, our lives and our world. After seven years of effort, the series has finally launched on October 22nd this year. If the first few are any example of things to come, this will truly be an amazing series of books worth the time and effort to read, and more than likely be read and reread many times.

The three thus far released are: The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood; Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles by Jeanette Winterson, and an introduction to the series by Karen Armstrong called A Short History of Myth. What makes these books and this series so great is that they are not approaching Myths as fairy tales, or children’s stories, but as truth, as the stories that tell us who we are and why we are here and how we are to live.

The Penelopiad
Margaret Atwood
Knopf Canada
October 2005

Many readers find that Atwood’s writings have too much edge or are just too dark and raw. The same cannot be said about this new feature. Yes, Atwood is the Queen in the Canadian Publishing Industry, and yes she is a good writer, but her stories for many are just not entertaining. I myself am not normally a fan of Margaret Atwood’s writings. Yet this book will rock your socks. It is funny, satirical, and a laugh-out-loud tale.

This is a story that most of us know, the story of Odysseus and Penelope. Yet unlike most tellings of this tale, it is told from Penelope’s perspective and she has a great vantage point on the whole ‘Helen’ affair. However our story is told from outside of time. There is an old saying that “dead men don’t tell tales” and that may be true, but in this inventive retelling, a dead woman and her chorus of dead girls do just that.

Turning this myth on its head by telling it through women’s eyes, Atwood has given us a unique view. Maybe she will challenge us to look at our world and our situations through different lenses from time to time.

How do a dead woman and her twelve maids tell a story with a great deal of jest and a smattering of dark humor? How else could a tale be told by 13 dead women from across the river Styx? Penelope gives us some biographical information about herself seldom included in this tale, and it helps us to understand some of her decisions, and her mistakes. Yet the main focus remains Odysseus’ long absence during the war against Troy, and his brutal behavior upon his return.

The story is written as a morality play, or in the format of a Greek Tragedy, however it is done with the humor and temperament of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Our twelve dead maids are our chorus and whenever they appear, laughter will follow; but our laughter is at twelve young women who were hung-tied together, and died, and now in death, still tied together, seek justice upon Odysseus for what he did to them. They appear from time to time, in song, dance, or mock plays and trials, to re-enact events from their lives to punctuate Penelope’s story, and thus their own plight in it.

The farce and fun in the way this story is told will make you laugh out loud. Much fun will be had with the ghosts of our 13 dead ladies, if you give this book a try.


Weight
Jeanette Winterson
Knopf Canada
October 2005

Now a look at much heavier matters. Unlike Atwood who used humor to tell her tale and challenge the way we look at the world, Winterson uses a process of telling and retelling so that our author has a clearer vision of her tale and through that we understand Heracles and Atlas both much better.

Weight is very dark and brooding and leaves one with a feeling of unease, as if we missed something, or even that in reading this book, like Pandora, we have opened a box and cannot now close it and will be forever different, though we are not sure how. We know we will return to the story again later to reread it to put together the pieces.

By reading this book, we find there is something basically raw touched inside us. We will be left brooding over our own story, like Heracles, as we finish this book. Also like Heracles, wakened and bothered by the question “Why? Why? Why?” which would not let him go, we will be asking the same thing.

Also, this book gives birth to questions in our minds and our spirits, and maybe, just maybe, if luck be with us, we will find in this book, some questions to lift our weight. Then, as we learn from it to tell our own stories, we can be freed! We, as Atlas so desperately desired, can step out from under the burden on us!

There are further offerings forthcoming by David Grossman: Lion’s Honey: The Myth f Samson, and Victor Pelvin’s The Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, as well as future offerings by Chinua Achebe, Milton Hatoum, Donna Tartt, A.S. Byatt, Su Tong and Natsuo Kirino and possibly more to come after that.

In Canada these books are being released by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random house of Canada. As stated earlier this series is a unique event. It is stories from old being told by authors anew. As such they are books we could all enjoy and from which we can learn.


(First Published in The Record 2006-01-21 as ‘Top authors retell ago-old myths’)

Friday, 13 January 2006

Amazing Church: A Catholic Theologian Remembers a Half-Century of Change by Gregory Baum

Amazing Church: A Catholic Theologian Remembers a Half-Century of Change
By: Gregory Baum
Novalis
March 2005
159 pages

The title of this book grabbed me right from the start, and it did so for many reasons. I was raised Catholic but born post Vatican II. As such, throughout public school, high school and even university careers, I have often heard my elders speak of the days before the council and what the church was like.

This book is an offering from a man who saw many changed in his church and in his own life. As a former Catholic priest, who left the priesthood but maintained his love for his church, he eventually married a former nun named Shirley Flynn.

This book is a unique perspective, because of Baum’s life. He examines the changes that he has observed and forecasts where he believes some of these changes will continue to go. He examines the change in focus and interpretation of scripture and the life of the church in regards to many different categories. The areas he examines are:
  1. The Conversion to Human Rights
  2. God’s Redemptive Presence in History
  3. The Culture of Peace
  4. Rejoicing in Religious Pluralism
  5. The New Teaching
Baum’s easy-to-read style and enthralling personal insights, stories and anecdotes, will keep almost any reader entrapped in the little volume.

Baum engages liberation theology with a zeal: “We stand with the victims of society and support their struggle to change the conditions of their lives; only in doing so will we be able to embrace in solidarity the whole society.” P. 74. He Examines Catholic – Christian, and Catholic – Non-Christian (Jewish, Muslim, Hindu) dialogues. He studies the preferential option for the poor, and the new culture of peace. This section on the culture of peace was amazing in how it shows the official church’s teachings on war, and being against all war in this day and age. Baum states: “Respect for difference is an essential ingredient of the culture of peace. Can Catholics honour Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists for their differences, or must Catholics look upon them as potential converts to the Christian Faith?” p.90

Baum will be giving a public lecture at St. Jerome’s University at The University of Waterloo, Friday, January 20th, at 7:30pm in Siegfried Hall. The title of this lecture is: ‘Muslim/ Christian Relations after 9/11’. Dr. Baum has served in many diverse forums over the years. From 1960-1965 he was an expert for Vatican Council II, he taught Theology at St. Michael’s College I Toronto for nearly 30 years, and since 1968 has been a professor at McGill University in Montreal. If this recent offering of his is a sample of what we can hope to expect, his lecture will be both powerful and riveting.

(First Published in Imprint 2006-01-13 as ‘Five decades in Catholicism Recalled.)

Friday, 6 January 2006

A Holy Meal The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church by: Gordon T. Smith

A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church
By: Gordon T. Smith
Baker Academic
November 2005
124 pages

This academic treatise on the concept of communion is both exciting and enthralling. If you are a person of faith, the book will grab you and help draw you into a deeper understanding of your own approach to this table, and those who come to it beside you. It begins with a tour through the Old Testament. “The first human parents were invited to eat, with the proviso that their eating was to be an expression of thankfulness, obedience, and dependence on God. Alas, it was in their eating that they chose to disobey.” (p.11) From this example in the beginning, to the meal with Abraham, through the manna in the desert, Gordon shows us the importance of eating, and the importance of the fellowship meal through the whole history of God and God’s peoples.

From there, Smith proceeds to examine the different interpretations of signs, sacraments and symbols. Through such, a reader will grow in understanding of others who draw near to God through this event. Then he goes on to examine the holy meal in light of seven words: remembrance, communion, forgiveness, covenant, nourishment, anticipation and Eucharist. “The biblical perspective, however; allows the past to shape, inform and transform our present and give significance to our lives, our relationships and our work.” (p.38) Then from that perspective, he takes us on a tour of force through the seven terms and their meaning, through scriptures and community and breaking of bread and how the three become one in sustaining our faith, our hope and our life.

Smith draws this conclusion “The Lord’s Supper is the meal of the church and together with the Word and prayer, the event that enables the community of faith to be a dynamic living body, drawing energy and grace from the fountainhead of life, Jesus Christ.” (p.121) Yet throughout all of his examinations he maintains a respect and reverence for traditions other than his own, and through this book we may come to appreciate others’ approaches to this holy meal. Smith makes it clear that we each have different lingo and understanding of this event. “There is, though, a certain irony when it comes to the nomenclature used for this meal. Roman Catholics speak of the Eucharist, Anglicans often call it Holy Communion, and most Protestants call it the Lord’s Supper. Yet it is interesting that most evangelical Protestants are a bit uncomfortable with the idea that this is actually a meal. The idea that we ‘feed on Christ in our hearts’ is overlooked in most evangelical contexts.” (p.83) Each tradition brings something from which the others can learn, and with Smith as our guide, that will happen.

(First Published in Imprint 2005-01-06 as: ‘Father's Fare: A deeper understanding of communion’.)