q Book Reviews: Behold The Star Child, Or Removal Of The Six - Bruce Dennill

Book Reviews: Behold The Star Child, Or Removal Of The Six

January 26, 2017



Behold The Man by Brodie and Brock Thoene                      7

Permanent Removal by Alan S Cowell                                   6

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama                                                  8

Nwelezelanga, The Star Child by Unathi Magubeni             7


Behold The Man is the culmination of the Jerusalem Chronicles, a series based on events in the Holy City over the ages. It is the account of the ministry of John the Baptizer leading up to his imprisonment and death and more importantly the years of the public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, his death and his resurrection. We enter into the family life of Pilate, the intertwined career of a centurion who is despatched ahead of Pilate to Judea, and the story of an Ethiopian slave. All interact with Jesus in significant ways and have unforgettable experiences of him. This is a well-told tale, in which the Gospels are “fleshed out”, giving us insight into the world of Roman politics and imperial rule. The formidable Emperor Tiberius is brought to life in convincing fashion. Historically uncertain is the suggestion that Pilate is a son-in-law, whom Tiberius despises. Claudia, his wife, is well drawn and so is the son, Philo. Marcus is a somewhat predictable character, though once again through him we have a reasonable depiction of Roman military service. He is a reluctant witness to the atrocities committed against Jesus. The great virtue of the book is the understanding it brings regarding the Temple authorities and their uneasy relationship with the Romans, the politics of the Jewish religion, the involvement of Herod the Tetrarch, and the importance of maintaining some sort of status quo. The ministry and execution of Jesus are placed in the broader historical perspective and there is a very good setting out of the concept of two kingdoms, the secular and immediate, and the kingdom of God and its eternal purposes. – RH


Permanent Removal is a political thriller set in South Africa in the period subsequent to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  A former United States diplomat, who had cut his teeth in the 1980s, returns to South Africa to participate in a conference. It is soon clear that the authorities suspect him of dabbling in the tragedies of the past and indeed he had years before promised to investigate the deaths of a group of four activists. Subsequently, he has been reminded by the widows of that earlier promise. He meets up again with members of a group who had in their time been the fringes of the struggle. He is deeply attracted to one woman in particular and through her enters the gilded set, some now extraordinarily wealthy. We have a series of short narratives reconstructing the events of that dark night of assassination. Meanwhile the diplomat makes his way to Plettenberg Bay where the old set are holidaying. There are some highly dramatic and well-written episodes, relationships under huge tension and the possibility of a betrayer in their midst. The details of his experiences in the contemporary society are extremely accurate. Everything he describes is sharp and convincing. He has been there. We have, of course, to read long passages revisiting the apartheid era, analyses of the time, monologues and dialogues probing motives, morality and ethical issues. The book really comes to life when our American visits Theron, the assassin, in his own home and becomes personally involved with his attempts to exculpate himself. The story moves to an extraordinary climax. The denouement is, however, a long passage of self-revelation. This is a serious attempt to enter into the horrendous world of race-based war, the unfinished business of the TRC and anguish of widows and children left helpless. Inevitably it requires words and more words and even the dramatic narrative is often swamped by that necessity. It is better than others of its genre, but I wearied at times in reading it. – RH


A well known crime fiction writer in Japan, Hideo Yokoyama has now published his first book in English. Six Four offers a window on Japan, with an interesting view on that country’s lifestyle, customs and politics. The writing is elaborately detailed and descriptive without ever alienating the reader. This is quite a feat for a volume this size – it’s over 600 pages. A police drama unfolds, featuring a cold case, inter-departmental rivalry, and a missing girl. The story hinges around the duties of a police headquarters press officer who protects the interests of the force against the newshounds who want full disclosure of events. I imagine the story is close to real life press conference confrontations –  between cover-up and opening up. Throughout the story the reader is aware that something must happen – the story keeps going at full throttle. – DB


Nwelezelanga, The Star Child leaves me uncertain about the writer’s intent. Is the Star Child living  in a dream world of her own or is she meant to be a messenger from the spiritual world from which she hails and to which she returns? Either way, this is a remarkable and wonderful African tale of a child, cast out by her tribe because of her albino appearance and accepted with loving care by the village sangoma. Her story tells us about village life, the role a sangoma plays in a rural environment and the spiritual battle between good and evil, traditional healing and witchcraft. This is a deeply religious book  that intrigued me and left me in wonder about the richness of African traditional life. – DB