Book Reviews: A Different Boy In The Water, Or The Road To More Chocolate

January 10, 2020

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In A Different Key by John Donvan and Caren Zucker

The Boy Who Saw by Simon Toyne

Solidarity Road by Jan Theron

Like Sodium In Water by Hayden Eastwood

There Is More by Brian Houston

Chocolate by Katelyn Williams


In A Different Key is a great book. It is not a clinic handbook or parent’s guide. It is an account of how autism came to be identified and how families, the medical and psychological communities and individuals have reacted to the challenges. Each issue raised is introduced by telling a personal, human story, either that of a family or parent or practitioner. The topic’s great names are given life and interest. More important is the broad history of attempts to find cures, the means of coping, explanations and extraordinary societal changes. The book begins with Donald Triplett, the first child diagnosed with the condition, son of a well-to-do couple in small town America. It reaches across to Nazi Germany, to the work of Dr Asperger. It circles back to America and the early attempts to explain the condition, the tragedy of the popular theorists who claimed that it was the result of “refrigerator” parents. There are many overlapping stories, with different activists and different clinicians emerging as protagonists. The press plays its part over and over again in peddling poorly-researched findings as truth. In fact, the book is worth reading simply as a study of the dangers of poor scientific and medical journalism. This is true also of the film industry which, having done good work in some instances, produced the horrendously inaccurate Hear The Silence, beatifying Dr Wakefield, the man who cooked up the theory that autism was caused by the MMR vaccines. It is an account of a huge societal changes: the appalling conditions under which “mental patients” were incarcerated, the rejection experienced by many sufferers, and the huge strain on parents, but with better understanding and different attitudes emerging how legislators, funders and leaders in the schooling systems came to be supportive. It is also the story of the activist parents: those who refused to accept what the medical establishment told them, who raised issues and demanded to be heard. Sometimes, of course, they got it wrong and followed too quickly whoever promised them “solutions”. It is a study also of human nature: Wakefield has been shown to have been a thoroughly dishonest “researcher”. Others, with perhaps less corrupt motives, were carried along by popular acclaim and the lure of television interviews. At a deeper level, there are the tragic stories of those who believed in what they were saying and doing only to discover that in fact they had at subconscious level manipulated situations: “The heart is deceitful above all things” says Jeremiah, and he is right. I have only this one query: the book covers principally the United States and touches briefly on Britain. It might have given some perspective on the epidemiology of autism in other parts of the world. Otherwise, this is a remarkably good book, easy to read, fascinating and satisfying. – RH


Blending past and present-day events is artfully and magnificently done in The Boy Who Saw, an amazing story.  The Nazi death camp horror lives on in the lives of some survivors and, on the opposite side of the spectrum, those who savour the elimination of ‘undesirables’ from society. A French gendarme, far right politicians, a criminal psychologist, an exceptionally gifted young boy and his mother (who is an historian), a superhero type protector and a bunch of low-class criminals act in this fascinating tale, against a background of a dark secret.  The story starts with a ritual murder of one of the death camp survivors which opens up police investigations and takes the reader on an exciting trail through France – and an unexpected ending. – DB


As I write this review of Solidarity Road, we have just witnessed Zwelinzima Vavi’s new federation of unions throw down the gauntlet. The ideological challenge to COSATU and to the Tripartite Alliance is clear. We are seeing the emergence of a movement which represents the type of values which Jan Theron’s own Food and Canning Workers’ Union espoused in 1976. Theron, in telling to story of FCWU and of its successor, FAWU, gives an extraordinary insight into the trade union movement in this country. He, as a young white law graduate, became involved in the world of workers and bosses, food production and the economics of politics, or the politics of economics. With extraordinary energy and dedication, he learned how to organise, how to recruit members, how to deal with bosses and subordinates, how to establish the necessary policies and protocols to ensure that the union maintained a clear course in turbulent waters. But this is not a book about Theron. He sees himself as a participant in an important movement and himself as only one of many dedicated and unselfish players. The first half of the book is an engrossing narrative, highlighted by the Fatti’s and Moni’s strike in Cape Town. The personal narrative, how he had to deal with organisational challenges, racial issues, ensuring the sound control of funds, dealing with corruption and with ambitious personalities, journeys through the night, clandestine meetings and maintaining legality: all this is good reading. I felt in fact that I was reading the national history with new insight and understanding. The book is more than history. It is an extraordinary analysis of the new dispensation of the 90s, the rise of a new elite, the sell-out of workers, and the era of Zuma. This volume takes us well beyond much of the uninformed commentary of the popular press. Marikana is the epitome of our present labour dispensation and what happened there is seen as a result of the betrayal of the extraordinary heritage of the labour movement Theron describes so ably. A serious read, but eminently worthwhile. – RH


Like Sodium In Water is a quite different story of a family in post-independence Zimbabwe, the memoir of an elder brother recalling the childhood he shared with the brilliant and mercurial Dan. The father is a lawyer who prides himself on being “left”, who despises old Rhodies, and whose counsel is sought by the President, rewarded by the gift of a luxury sedan, but who over time becomes strangely reclusive and dysfunctional. Mother is an artist, a talented woman who is battered by circumstance. The boys attend a church school, though “left” is above religious belief. Dan and Hayden live in a Peter Pan world of their own imagining, reluctant to enter the real world. Yet as they reach adolescence and the challenges of their minds and bodies, that world vanishes. This is a vivid, gripping account of two boys who are deeply committed to one another, yet become torn apart by rivalry, the forces of genes and family tensions. We are given a brilliant account of the strange and surreal world of whiteness in a ‘liberated’ African country. Eastwood has relived in these pages the sheer exuberance of childhood, the poignancy of a home life with two brilliant adults who cannot be parents, the agony of growing up and growing apart.  The title of the book encapsulates all this. The harsh light of the tragic climax illuminates this memoir. It is a singularly brilliant book. – RH


Brian Houston is the founding father of Hillsong Church and There Is More gives some of his recollections: the vision, the founding, the challenges and the enormous success of this new movement. These recollections are within the framework of a series of challenges to think and pray and believe at new levels. One commentator writes, “God has a plan and a purpose for your life that is bigger than you. But God needs you to know what’s inside of you to achieve it, and build the character to sustain it”. We begin with Joseph the dreamer and are encouraged to “dream big”, but retain a servant heart. This is not about self-aggrandisement. The chapter Myth or Mystery centres on our response to the Jesus who mysteriously walked on water and challenged Peter to get out of the boat. To come to an ever-deepening understanding of Jesus Christ is the beginning of our journey forwards. The third challenge is to obedience, like that of Abraham. A self-discipline in obedience, rather than a rule-bound life, is what we are called to practise. Compromise is dangerous. Each of us is gifted in one or other way, and we need to believe that so that God can unlock our potential. We need to be confessing our faith, believing in God’s work in and through us. We need of course not to be presumptuous, but wise. We shall all at some point face huge setbacks and disappointments. God will make use of every such situation to enable us to grow in faith, understanding and ministry. The chapter on receptivity deals with our need to be open, listening and willing to hear; laying ourselves open “in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going”  (quotation from C S Lewis, The Screwtape Letters). Our lives and particular ministries need to be built on a bedrock of authenticity, credibility and consistency. Our lives are lived in a hostile environment and there will be daily challenges, daily battles. We need to win those before we look for “victory” or success in big things. We need to be practical and down-to-earth. No point in laying hands on a car with an empty fuel tank because I have not remembered to fill it up… The Christian will face trouble from the great Troubler. The call is to stand up, to be courageous, to shout aloud and turn the challenge into a route for the enemy. We are the possible recipients of extraordinary grace from God, God who will use our frail beings to his purposes. Finally, we are called to believe that there are new opportunities, new possibilities, new roads, “new rivers”, and to open ourselves in expectation of what God is about to do. There is plenty of good material, well articulated and illustrated. I nevertheless find this is part of a genre which belongs to the affluent world of Western churchmanship. There is a degree of smugness: “well now, we have covered all the bases; you can go ahead in confidence.” – RH


If Chocolate was a person, I would marry it. Then I would divorce it, just so I could marry it again. That’s how much I’m in love with it. It’s easy to see why. From the moody-hued design to photography that makes you realise that no six-pack could possibly be worth foregoing treats, it is absolutely beautiful. And then there are the recipes. Katelyn has divided her book into eight sections – speedy, fruity, crunchy, creamy, fancy, naughty, nostalgic and bits and bobs – so you can find the exact chocolate fix to suit your mood. Oh, what fixes they are. Fancy white chocolate and malva pudding? Or how about some white chocolate and granadilla meringue roll? There’s chocolate explosion cake for when you really want to impress, and SOS chocolate mug cake mix for when that craving just won’t wait until morning. I love Katelyn’s chatty, relatable writing – I feel that I could definitely share a flat white with her over some of her caramelised white chocolate mug cake. I just hope she wouldn’t expect me to give her any. – LW[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]