Book Reviews: Raft On The Radar, Or Planning To Worry

December 28, 2016

By ROB HOFMEYR, BRUCE DENNILL & KATE DENNILL

 

I Am Radar by Reif Larsen                                                                                7

Winning the War Against Worry by Perry Noble                                          2

The Raft by Fred Strydom                                                                                8

The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren, Daniel Amen and Mark Hyman                6

 

I Am Radar is 656 pages. It is not tedious. It is often frustrating because we are taken in a particular direction and then before we arrive  we shoot off somewhere else. It is often pretentious. The excursions into philosophy and quantum physics are like Snoopy having a Van Gogh in his basement. Nevertheless, I read it with enjoyment. The central figure is a young man named Radar. Born in New Jersey to white parents, (the father is a morose electronics technician, a war-time refugee from Serbia, and the mother is a highly intelligent graduate in literature) he is black, inexplicably dark-skinned. After a tormented search for medical explanations, the parents take Radar to a strange coven of scientists in Arctic Norway. Here he is subjected to a form of treatment by electro-magnetism. They return to a disturbed family life in New Jersey where Radar develops a genius for electronics and graduates from Rutgers. The strange and brilliantly told story of Radar is more or less the framework for the book. There is also the equally intriguing tale of the Danilovics in Romania. This is a heart-rending account of an almost forgotten but extraordinary period of war. Then we move on to the history of a French-Cambodian family. The personalities and their milieu are exquisitely drawn. Another prodigy emerges, Raksmay Raksmay, raised by an eccentric Frenchman. The narrative leads into the horrors of the Khmer-Rouge. Again, we are given an extraordinarily powerful account of the time. Then it’s back in Norway, but this is Norway under German occupation. A group of scientists establish themselves in the frigid north. They develop robotic creatures used in puppet theatre in war zones: a strange combination of science and mysticism. It is here that Radar was “treated”. The final segment takes the only survivor of the previous theatres of war and puppetry to the Democratic Republic of Congo with two helpers. Radar’s father should be part of the group but he had disappeared and Radar is compelled to take his place. Here on a riverboat on the Congo we meet a messiah figure and a Judas. This book is fascinating and frustrating, full of beauty, humour, surprises and unfinished business. – RH

 

It is not often that I dismiss a book so easily. Please do not buy Winning the War Against Worry if you suffer from bipolar mood or anxiety disorder. It will answer none of your questions. Do not buy this book if you are a serious Christian. You will be disappointed. This is “cookie-counter” theology. Noble is the obviously successful pastor of his own church, but his exegesis of Scripture is however extraordinarily self-serving. Personalities from the Old Testament are hauled out of context and made to appear on a consumer-oriented American stage. The story of the Road to Emmaus is reduced to banality. Noble is obsessed with food. His personal parallels to the greed of Achan in the book of Joshua are his lusting after a slice of cake and the ill-considered purchase of an SUV. But food is a recurring theme. He is prone to anger because portions are not adequate and because his wife eats more than her share of some or other confection. I found this book distasteful, misleading and superficial. – RH

 

Grand allegories are wonderful, bracing things if they can be pulled off with panache, and Fred Strydom manages that in The Raft, an apocalyptic epic on the scale (practically and conceptually) of Stephen King’s The Stand. It’s immersive while also being slightly confusing as Strydom develops, weaves together and then unravels various threads. There’s Kayle, the protagonist, who is a real person who finds himself going through some otherworldly experiences, and there is Jack Turning, a possibly real, possibly spectral bogeyman often on the edges of his consciousness. Kayle – and the reader – is put through his paces throughout the narrative, be it in the vaguely recognisable parts of South Africa in which Kayle and his friends and colleagues strive to understand what has happened on Day Zero, when everyone on Earth simultaneously loses their memory, or the parts on an unnamed island or on the other side of the planet that all combine to make some sort of sense of Kayle’s contemporary confusion. Strydom’s manipulation of memory as both a deliverer of pain and loss and as the salve to those emotions and experiences is one of the standout successes of the book, and there are several haunting moments that will stay with you after a reading session. There is a slight feeling of dissatisfaction in terms of the ending of the book, but that is often the case when a story has provided a scenario for the end of the world that has started to feel vaguely plausible before necessarily being nipped in the bud. The Raft is evidence of a hugely developed imagination and the talent to transpose that effectively onto the page. Strydom’s next move will be observed with interest. – BD

 

It would appear that pretty much any reform can now occur in 40 days. More than just the latest diet or lifestyle fad, The Daniel Plan seeks to share a global challenge that well-known pastor Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life) issued to himself and his congregation at Saddleback Church in California with undeniably dramatic results. The challenge was to engage in and adopt a lifestyle that honours one’s own body as a wonderful creation, at the same time honoring the Creator who made it. Warren is ably assisted by the aptly named Dr Amen, a physician with a special interest in behaviour, and  Dr Hyman, whose career has focused on a holistic approach to chronic illness known as functional medicine. Together, they address the five elements of the Plan, namely faith, food, fitness, focus and friends. The content is well presented, with research evidence presented in an accessible format, and the emphasis is commendably and definitively on long-term change, not quick fixes. The damage of fad diets and the sheer amount of nutritional and lifestyle misinformation available is sadly but clearly proportional to the multi-million dollar sales figures associated with this industry’s literature and products. This book genuinely attempts to rise above all of this, but the cynical reader may be distracted by the spin-offs –  cookery books, journals, mobile apps and the like. – KD

 

CATEGORIES