Nadeem Aslam: The Golden Legend

Nadeem Aslam is at the top of the list of my favourite authors. This interview has just been posted on the ABC Radio website.

“If you don’t like my books, you won’t like me. I am my books”.
Nadeem Aslam on his latest novel The Golden Legend, inspired by Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.


 

Nadeem Aslam on blasphemy laws in Pakistan:

If you go to the police and say, this person who lives next to me, or a friend of mine, or just this stranger has said something rude about Mohammed. You’re not allowed to repeat what it was. Because then you too would have committed blasphemy. This is such a Kafkaesque situation.

So the people are on death row and nobody’s allowed to say what they actually did.

________________________________

Interview is from here:
http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandarts/nadeem-aslams-the-golden-legend/8472170

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The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

The Golden Legend is another exquisitely written novel by Nadeem Aslam.

An enthralling view into a world of politics, religion, persecution, corruption, love, loyalty, and extremism. A story of  violence and tenderness, love and fear, hope and despair, in a nation wracked by political and religious inconsistencies.

There are times throughout my reading year when I need to sit down with a “page-turner”, a book impossible to put down. A book I can finish in a couple of sittings.

This book is not one of those – it can’t be rushed. It needs to be savoured, not only to enjoy the richness of the writing, but to absorb the realities it explores. It takes us into a world contrasting significantly from the familiar western reality most of us take for granted, a place where political and religious allegiances, no matter loosely held, can make daily life precarious depending upon the opportunistic agendas of others .

Too Many to Jail, by Mark Bradley

At the beginning of February I finished reading Too Many to Jail by Mark Bradley, a book about the growth of Christianity in Iran. I thought I’d written a “review”,  however, I couldn’t find it and suspect my memory was of an email I sent to a friend at the time.

The book tells of growth in the underground church in Iran, and suggests that Iran’s history and culture has prepared the country for the gospel of Jesus Christ

In recent decades, the Islamic government of Ayatollah Khomeini , followed later by the Khomeini inspired Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presidency, caused a lot of disillusionment among Iranian Muslims who couldn’t reconcile the words and actions of “Allah’s representatives” with their own idea of what God was like.

Bradley writes of aspects of Iranian society that helped make Iranians look favourably upon Jesus and how some had been primed to respond to the gospel through dreams, visions and miracles before being led to someone who could share the truth with them.

After around 100 years of mission work leading up to Khomeini coming to power, traditional churches in Iran could only count around 500 believers – now motivated by home-grown house churches, the number of believers is thought to be in the 100s of thousands, a number causing problems to a government trying to crack down on Christian activity. As the title suggests,  the increasing numbers means there are far Too Many to Jail.

Edith Cavell: Faith before the firing squad, by Catherine Butcher

Edith Cavell: Faith before the firing squad, by Catherine Butcher.

Edith Cavell was an English nurse who helped establish a nursing school in Brussels, at a time when nursing practice in Belgium had low standards and little community respect. Cavell sought to change all of that by training young women to the same kind of standard she had learned during her own training in London and through her experience as a practising nurse in Britain. In 1907 she accepted the role of matron at the new training school in Brussels.

edith-cavellIn 1914 Germany invaded Belgium, thereby drawing Britain, allies of Belgium, into the First World War. Cavell chose to stay in Brussels with her trainee nurses and helped to look after wounded troops from both sides.

When wounded French, British and Belgian soldiers were in danger of being killed by the German invaders, she started to help the Belgian resistance to get them to safety across the Dutch border.
In August 1915 she was arrested and two months later was tried, sentenced to death and shot by firing squad.

This book tries to piece together a part of Cavell’s life that has probably been omitted from many other biographies: the way her Christian faith prepared her to face premature death.

The author looks at the religious routine Cavell followed throughout her life, first as the daughter of a Church of England vicar, and later as a continuing part of her daily devotions, following the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and readings from other devotional books known to be used by Cavell.

Apart from Cavell’s own story, the book touches on the role of religious practice across general society, particularly within a hospital environment, where it is said that prayer and bible reading were the essential starting point of each day in the wards.
How things have changed!

Cavell was shot at dawn on the 12th October 1915.

“Her last glimpse of life on earth would be the gloomy mists of an autumn dawn in Belgium. Her expectation was that in the ‘twinkling of an eye’ she would be in the presence of Jesus.”

In the Land of the Blue Burqas by Kate McCord

burqasIn the Land of the Blue Burqas by Kate McCord gives a fascinating insight into the people of Afghanistan, particularly the women, and how Islam affects their lives and relationships.

While Islam and Christianity embrace very different views of God, McCord makes use of a few common areas of belief to build a bridge to share the gospel.

McCord writes of how “Afghans almost universally believe in the concept of kismet, fate. Whatever happens happens because Allah wills it, no matter whose hand has accomplished the thing”.

She addresses this with a group of Afghan women while discussing a deadly car bombing in Kabul that destroyed a bus and killed many including a young mother:

“God told us not to kill. We cannot disobey God in the name of God. That is a lie. God told us to love Him with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our strength. Then He told us to love our neighbours. If a man kills his neighbour, he is disobeying God. This man who blew up the bus and killed that mother did not do the will of God. He did the work of Satan. God will judge him”

One woman in the room responded by sharing another story.

“Our town was at peace. We didn’t know war. We were happy. One day my cousins and aunts were gathered in the house preparing [food] for a wedding party. A bomb fell. We found pieces of dough, bundles of meat, hair ties, scarves, and scraps of bloody fabric. Even the part of the ceiling that didn’t fall was covered with blood and pieces of bodies”

… we all looked at the swirling red carpet . Each woman muttered “Tobah” repent.

After a long pause I restated what I absolutely believe to be the truth: “That was not the will of God, either”
“No,” the women agreed. “That is not the will of God.”

McCord gives the Christian reader a lot of food for thought.
She writes:

“For many Westerners, the question of who God is and what He wants for and from us is simply not relevant. We are, after all, wealthy and busy. For Afghans, it may be the most important question of all.”

And she confesses to something that I think affects most western Christians to one degree or another:

“Sometimes I forget to differentiate between what I believe as an American woman and what I believe the Bible teaches. America is my culture, and Jesus is my Saviour and Lord. Sometimes it’s hard to untangle the two. Afghans challenged me to try.

McCord compares various aspects of her Christians beliefs with those of her Afghan neighbours to show how the vastly different cultural beliefs affect Afghan views of God and as a result their society.

One example she describes is the Afghan view of temptation and sin.

I learned that in Afghanistan, the influences that cause or encourage a person to do what the society defines as wrong are the real sin, not the person who actually does the wrong. People are weak and must be protected. The society provides that protection. Any influence that tempts a member of the community must be eradicated, silenced, or walled out.

McCord also found that her time in Afghanistan gave her a new perspective on some very familiar parts of scripture.

Afghans helped me understand the teachings of Jesus more completely. The culture of Afghanistan today is much more similar to the first century Judea of Jesus’ day than my own Western culture is…

As an example of this, she writes:

I was often amazed when an Afghan heard a Jesus story for the first time and then told me what it means. Jesus spoke to a woman at a well, a woman who had had several husbands and was not married to her current partner. My Afghan women friends immediately saw the woman’s shame. No woman in Afghanistan can arrange her own marriage. The woman at the well had been used by five men, and the last didn’t even have the decency to marry her.

I found the book to be a an effective eye-opener, not only to an unbelievably foreign culture and religion, but also to the unbelievably naïve view that Western Christians have developed concerning the life and teachings of Jesus and how we’ve been taught to view them.

Risky Reading (and blogging)

There are clear risks for a Christian to have a book blog, particularly when the majority of books mentioned (and included on my reading lists) are “secular” books.

Now that word “risk” may seem a strange choice – what risk could there possibly be?
Well… some people like to dig around and find “evidence” they can use to discredit the blogger elsewhere. It’s happened to me in the past, when I was a frequent contributor to a Christian forum. One of the other contributors visited the blog I kept prior to this one, and saw something I’d written about a Stephen King biography – BINGO! – They had “evidence” to prove what a compromised Christian I was, and therefore whatever I wrote on that forum couldn’t be trusted.

A similar thing happened this week, when a poster on a Christian forum pointed out that I’d read five secular books so far this year (clearly finding that information on this blog) , presenting that as evidence of a compromised spiritual state, attempting to invalidate what I was saying in the discussion underway.

That kind of thing is something I have to weigh up before posting anything to this blog – but to date I haven’t held back anything I’ve wanted to say and I haven’t left any books off my “books read” lists to hide my reading material. I have no need to be dishonest about it.

The only concession I make with regard to this issue, is to limit links from my other blog, (one that deals more specifically with Christian matters) to this one. I find I can’t trust some people to put aside religious narrow mindedness to appreciate the reasons for what I read, and the subjects I write about here.

On the other hand, I have no reticence in sending traffic from here to there. In fact I’d like to think that people, who may come here through an interest in books, could also be interested in visiting that other blog and be exposed to a more targeted Christian viewpoint on a variety of issues.

Here is a link to that blog
https://onesimusfiles.wordpress.com/

One Light Still Shines by Marie Monville

The shooting of ten Amish girls in their school house created more victims than just those who were killed or injured. There were the families who lost their daughters or whose daughters survived with various physical and mental scars. And there is the family of the man who shot them before taking his own life.

One Light Still Shines, written by the killer’s widow, tells the story of their family, those left behind to deal with the aftermath of what he did. It also tells of the unexpected reaction of the Amish victims.

LightThe Amish response was the most moving part of this book. Families who could be expected to display a degree of bitterness instead responded with love and grace, showing concern for the wife left without a husband and the children without a father. Their response contrasts greatly from that often shown by people affected by lesser wrongs.

It was the Amish connection that drew me to this story. I mentioned previously that I became aware of it via a TV series about the Amish, and how I was impressed by the simplicity of their approach to life. While One Light Still Shines shows the often forgotten side of events like the schoolhouse shooting (the effects on the family of the perpetrator) I found it also showed the vast difference of life styles of communities living side by side, even Christian (or at least church going) communities.

The simplicity of the Amish is contrasted with a lifestyle of cruises, Disneyland visits and material gifts all of which played a part in the recovery process undergone by the author and her family. When I see the two lifestyles side by side, I have to wonder which is most in line with the life and teachings of Jesus.