Notes on an Exodus, Richard Flanagan

xnotes-on-an-exodusNotes on an Exodus : an essay is a small book by Man Booker prize winning author Richard Flanagan, illustrated by Ben Quilty.

Flanagan and Quilty travelled to the Middle East and Europe with World Vision, visiting refugees in camps and on the road, who were escaping from the violence of their homes in Syria.

While described as “an essay” in its subtitle, the book is more a collection of brief written portraits of the people Flanagan and Quilty met on their journey.

People who had fled villages, towns and cities to escape either the day and night bombing by Assad supporting Russian planes, from the violence and oppression of Daesh (ISIS), or both.

People who had fled prosperous lives to live in makeshift tents constructed from recycled garbage.

People who once owned productive farms and orchards but now have to survive on meagre rations of bread and tea or scraps collected from the floors of vegetable shops. Where a family survives (barely) with the help of their nine year old son, working as a welder for $3 a day. who has half his weekly pay retained by his employer to ensure his return the following week.

These are the kind of stories that we in the west prefer not to know so we don’t have to see the refugees as REAL people with REAL lives who probably weren’t so different from other people we know. Individuals we can’t disguise and dehumanise as a “flood”.

Flanagan’s vignettes of people he met bring focus to the plight of millions who have been driven from their homes and homelands. They should stir similar feelings to those stirred by the photos of the small body of Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach that briefly moved the conscience of the world. But sadly they won’t. All too quickly our collective hearts have rehardened.

Suspicion and hostility against the flood have been restored.



Refugees are not like you and me. They are you and me.

Richard Flanagan,  Notes on an Exodus, p 53


This has also been posted on my other blog: The Onesimus Files

Mercy and Imprisonment

The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner

shape of mercy Gloria has a few books by Susan Meissner. She told me one of them included references to Lady Jane Grey. I’ve been fascinated with Jane since my pre-teens and in recent years I’ve read a few books (both fiction and non-fiction) about her.

A few days ago I needed a new book to read in my work lunch break and decided on the Susan Meissner book. I read three or four chapters before I started to realise something was slightly amiss. I’d picked up the wrong book, and instead of reading about Lady Jane, I was heading into the Salem witch trials.
But it was a good mistake to make. It brought me to a very enjoyable book that I might not have otherwise read.

Lauren Durough is a college student from a very well-to-do family who wants to make her own way in the world. She finds work transcribing a centuries old diary written by Mercy Hayworth, a victim of the Salem witch trials, for an elderly descendant of the Hayworth family. Her relationship with the diary and its owner challenge Lauren to face up to the way her preconceptions colour her judgement of others.

While the book was bought from a Christian book shop, it isn’t an overtly “Christian” book. God is accepted by some characters, and there are references to church going, but there is no preachiness and no blatant religious message.

The Fearless Passage of Steven Kim, by Carl Herzig with Steven Kim
Steven KimThe Fearless Passage of Steven Kim was another Christian book shop purchase bought on a recent trip to Canberra. It was one of three books I found about people practising their faith in places where there’s little room for complacency, where following Jesus can lead to persecution, imprisonment or even death.

I often feel the need to have my own complacency shaken. It’s far too easy to take our faith for granted when it’s never seriously challenged. How strong would I be if my life was on the line because I believe in Jesus?

Born in South Korea, Steven Kim moved to the United States with very few resources, but with dedication and hard work he achieved his goal of making large amounts of money, building million dollar businesses from nothing. Basing himself more and more in China, away from his wife and children in the US, Kim recognised that his pursuit of wealth didn’t bring the fulfilment he’d expected, so he looked again to the Christian faith he’d (nominally) followed in his younger days and joined an underground church in the industrial area where his business was based. When the church began to be frequented by “illegals” from Northern Korea, Kim started to work on helping them and other North Korean refugees to move out of China, towards a future in South Korea.

Unfortunately for Kim, helping “illegal immigrants” in this way, led to his arrest and imprisonment. Sentenced to prisons and work camps, Kim pushed the boundaries of Chinese hostility to religious practices to run bible studies and worship services within each prison he was sent to. He successfully shares the gospel with many leading some to faith in Jesus.

All of this seems like inspirational stuff – exactly the kind of thing I was hoping the book would be. But, there was something that made me uneasy at times; a discomfort that I tried to suppress. Who was I to question the experience of someone standing firm under such conditions. Who was I, in the comfort and “freedom” of the West, to find fault in what Kim experienced and what he did?
And then I came to a part in the book that perhaps brought clarity to my unease:

“…[Steven] recalled Moon, his Buddhist cell mate… Steven had tried to convert him to Christianity…and for a while Moon had joined him in prayer. But when Steven had pressed him to give up his Buddhist beliefs and practices, Moon had resisted; in the end, Steven’s pressure had pushed Moon away. Maybe I was too hard on him, Steven thought. Maybe sometimes people have to find their faith in different ways.
“He thought of Jesus’ words of comfort from John 14:1-2: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled,’ He had told His disciples. ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms.’
“Humbled, Steven wondered for the first time if their might not be rooms in the kingdom of God for souls like Moon and Oki [another Buddhist cell-mate] too. “No one comes to the Father except through me” (verse 6), Jesus had continued, but Steven wondered whether there were many paths leading to Christ.”

I feel there is a disturbing ambiguity expressed there, suggesting that other “faiths” (like Buddhism) provide alternative ways to Christ and God.