Book Reviews: Uncommon Intruders, Or Earth’s Last Interiors

December 6, 2020

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The Uncommoners – The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell

An American Family by Khizr Khan

Intruders by Mohale Mashigo

NIV Kid’s Visual Study Bible by Zondervan

Earth’s Last Empire by John Hagee

Interiors: The Greatest Rooms Of The Century, project managed by Ellen Christie


Pitched as children’s or young adult literature, The Uncommoners – The Crooked Sixpence is richly imagined and entertaining enough to thrill readers of any age. Drawing from English folklore and her own experiences growing up and working in a bookshop as a specialist children’s book seller, Jennifer Bell invented the magical world of Lundinor, where everyday rules are turned on their heads, though a recognisable structure does emerge as her protagonists explore the place further. The basic story involves a pair of children, Ivy and Seb Sparrow, whose granny is kidnapped and needs their help. In the best traditions of everyone from the Famous Five to Roald Dahl’s Matilda, they are brave and resourceful and come up with creative ways to navigate a myriad frightening situations. There is the delicious hint of terror that makes reading such tales so addictive, and the way Bell develops her fantasy world here points to the hopeful establishment of a new series for the author’s growing fanbase to devour in years to come.


Khizr Khan was invited by Hilary Clinton to speak at an election rally during her campaign and subsequently to address the Democratic National Convention. His speech and more profoundly An American Family encapsulate what it means to be an immigrant in a Western country where, despite Donald Trump, certain values are enshrined in the constitution and underlie the governing of the country. Khan is well-qualified to write such a book. He grew up in Pakistan, the eldest of ten children, entrusted to the care of his grandparents. A bright and enquiring child he absorbed much wisdom from his grandfather. He managed to win a place in the local university and studied law. Here, for the first time, he read the Constitution of the United States of America. Growing up as he had and studying in a Pakistan riven by politics and warfare, this document seized his imagination. This is the account of his early life, his studies, his courtship and his great determination to live and work in a better environment. Managing to land a job in Dubai, he spent time saving towards marriage and emigration to the USA. His arrival in the new country and his sheer hard work (he held down two jobs in order the support his family and to save) and his furthering of his studies, ultimately securing a place in the Harvard School of Law, makes engrossing reading. This is a straightforward, convincing account of a couple devoted to one another and to their family, maintaining their Muslim faith and seeking to bring up their children with values consistent with that faith, always conscious of their citizenship of a new country and the obligations they believed that brought. When one of the boys enlists in the United States Army and serves in Iraq, they completely accept and support his decision. When he dies heroically, they are heart-broken but proud. This is a book that many Western leaders could well read. It is the timeless story of migration and the contribution it can make. Highly commended as a piece of writing and for the power of this narrative.


Introductory pages spell out the trend of Intruders, a collection of short stories, and the writer’s mission in writing them. With Afrofuturism and Black To The Future, Mashigo’s stories cover African sentiments via a variety of themes and characters. The stories are arranged under the headings, “Good”, “Bad” and “Colourful”, and the plots unfold. Mashigo’s vision is focused on regaining self-esteem for Africans in Africa, looking at a technologically driven future in which black Africans are competitive on equal terms with other players worldwide. “Forget about the past and look forward,” seems to be her credo. I am impressed with that vision and want to thank Mashigo for sharing that thought with us and giving it shape by writing these outstanding stories. – DB


It is impossible to get through a week or even a day without compelling reminders that our society appears to be captive to technology, and that children, in particular, are vulnerable to a type of addiction previously unknown. Even adults are experiencing a shortening of their own attention spans, and the ability to focus on, or engage with a meaty article, in the absence of bouncing pictures or snappy videos, seems to be a thing of the past. Zondervan are a household name synonymous with Bibles, commentaries and other books, and this latest offering shows their commitment to continuing to reach out to and engage with younger folk and make Scripture accessible and interesting to them. Containing over 700 images, including photographs, illustrations, maps and illuminating infographics, this NIV Kid’s Visual Study Bible will bring both the Old and New Testaments to life for the younger reader. The full NIV (New International Version) text is present, with side bars that highlight certain verses. As a gift option or daily companion, this hardcover won’t disappoint. – KD


John Hagee is a controversial author and preacher, attacked by both secular critics for his stance on Zionism and by scholars for his exegesis of Scripture, and equally by Christian writers of various persuasions for his singular approach to eschatology. The book begins with a potted history of the establishing of modern state of Israel. It is a contentious reading of the period, and claims unequivocally that what we have here is a series of “miracles”. Few serious historians of whatever persuasion would concur. The “War against the Jews” is a summary of the long history of anti-semitism. If it has merit it is this: there are stark reminders of the role of the Christian church in propagating violence against the Jewish people. The “Battle for Jerusalem” deals with the Arab rejection of Israel’s right to exist and gives a brief overview of the various movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, the PLO, Hezbollah, Al-Quaeda, Hamas and ISIS. It ends with a claim that those who oppose Israel are condemned and Christians have an obligation to unite in support of the State of Israel. A short history of European empires follows, leading up to the Third Reich. History is made to serve a particular purpose, as it often is. The “facts” ie the dates and the people, are all historically substantial, but the reading will make any serious historian weep. We blunder on into a chapter on the evolution of American leadership, an analysis of presidential and party alignments, either Conservative or Progressive. The chapter ends with Trump triumphant, “making America great again”. The warning cry is that if President Trump fails, “we will more than likely enter a new progressive era – a prospect that does not bode well for liberty, limited government, and self-evident truths”. Trump the bully, liar and libertine, must be supported by God’s good children,  so that he in turn can protect them from the liberals in the playground. At some time, however, the “New World Order” will be established an the Antichrist will rule for a limited time. The Holy Land will be invaded. Then Christ will return in triumph and Armageddon, the last great battle, will see the throne of David re-established. I know and believe that eschatology is important and that we need to read, consider and discuss the great apocalyptic texts. I am also conscious that when I was a schoolboy, in the Fifties, I was given a subscription to The Covenant Message, the journal of the British-Israelite movement. When the Suez crisis was looming, there I read the unequivocal proof from the Bible that these were the very last days. Text after text showed just that. Since then I have taken a slightly less hysterical view of apocalyptic writings. And for this reason I found the latter half of this book less than persuasive. Without going into detail, it is a series of scriptural references closely tied to past and current events. We also have an extremely dogmatic reading of Old and New Testament. There is a very literal understanding of the obscure and arcane. No possibility is admitted of any other interpretation. The basis here is a belief in the verbal inerrancy of Scripture and denial of the need to seek the wisdom of scholarship. The background to the emergence of any given book is completely ignored. This is an appalling book on an important subject. – RH


Phaidon continue to be one of the most exciting publishers around in terms of the commitment to risky ideas and creativity in the material they publish. Interiors: The Greatest Rooms Of The Century is a huge chunk of a book, covered in embossed velvet and a desirable décor item even before you open it. An introduction and a trio of essays unpacking various aspects of the development and importance of interior decoration set the scene for the eye-catching layouts that make up the bulk of the book. These are absolutely fascinating, providing insight into everything from history to the trends associated with various eras to the range of utterly disparate artistic ideas that work well in different contexts. Lovers of architecture, art, design and fashion will all find much to appreciate here – the more so if you have the time and desire to sit with each photograph and note the tiny details that make each room unique. Some look relatively plain, some look positively bizarre: all reflect the personalities and perspectives of those who designed them or those who lived in them. For non-experts, there are a number of décor facets that are repeated often throughout the 400 or so pages here – notably plenty of framed art (often hung at different heights in a sort of comforting clutter), and a great number of books, whether they’re lining shelves, piled on tables or used as accents in otherwise unadorned layouts. You can’t do that with a Kindle, can you? This is the sort of publication that demands regular revisiting, and if left on a table as a focal point in your home, it’ll prove a guaranteed conversation starter. The only black mark on the project is the existence of a handful of mistakes in the text; very minor glitches, but errors that shouldn’t exist in a book where the price tag matches the heft.

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