q Book Reviews: A Risen Ocean, Or Loved, Amplified And Nervous - Bruce Dennill

Book Reviews: A Risen Ocean, Or Loved, Amplified And Nervous

December 9, 2021

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By KATE DENNILL, ROB HOFMEYR, BRUCE DENNILL & NIGEL WILLIS

Risen by Angela Hunt, based on the story by Paul Aiello

The Outlaw Ocean by Ian Urbina

The Third Book Of General Ignorance by John Lloyd, John Murchison, James Harkin & Andrew Hunter Murray

Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop

A Disruption Amplified: Reset Rewire Reimagine Everything by Abdullah Verachia

Notes On A Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

 

Angela Hunt, a formidable and completely proven author, goes slightly off-piste with this novel, based on the eponymous movie. With compelling titles of her own, it may seem strange that she  would submit to the constraints of interpreting someone else’s script. However, it quickly becomes apparent that she has more than sufficient flexibility to create and captivate despite an existing framework. A previous viewing of said film is definitely no reason to eschew the book, as it contains not only a whole other protagonist who was omitted from the movie due to time constraints, but also clever and intriguing small details which create satisfying layers within the main storyline. There is excellent fidelity to the biblical narrative which inspired Risen, as well as  historically accurate insight into the characters of a Roman Tribune called Clavius and a disenfranchised but courageous Jewish woman called Rachel. Following the twists and turns from the crucifixion of Christ through His resurrection and ascension, this is a worthwhile and strong read. – KD

 

The Outlaw Ocean is a masterpiece of investigative journalism. Ian Urbina, a journalist with the New York Times, has spent five years on this work, more than three of them actually on the ocean, putting his life at risk from pirates, criminals, slave-traders, government agencies, unseaworthy vessels, waves, gale-force winds and health hazards. In those five years, he traversed the globe, met with cabinet ministers, environmentalists, seamen, fishermen, scientists and many others, coming to an understanding of the huge body of water that constitutes the ocean, and which covers far more of the Earth’s surface than does the land. He begins with an account of two ships belonging to an environmental agency in pursuit of a really nasty poacher ship, the Thunder. The chase lasted 110 days, covered more than 11,550 nautical miles, traversed three oceans and two seas, ploughing through ice sheets and storms, ending in a near collision between the hunter and the hunted. This illustrates the huge problems of lawlessness on the open seas, and the lack of international policing and effective controls over the vast tracts of water. Not only are natural resources, especially fish stocks and coral reefs under threat, but there is the danger of off-shore oil and mineral exploitation, the pollution of the sea beds and the gross violations of human rights. Investigative journalism, as he explains, should not simply be ‘exposing’, but should also be socially responsible and cognisant of the possible outcomes on those already in positions of weakness. The most horrific episode he uncovered was the callous execution of defenseless fishermen by dominant rivals. He pursued this case vigorously, at risk to himself, but as so often, jurisdiction is vague, law enforcement is inert, while fear and corruption prevail. Some attempts at policing are successful in short term. Others are simply public relations exercises. Government officials sent to investigate the conditions of crew went through a meaningless exercise, asking terrified men (in many cases boys) rote questions, using the ship’s own officers to translate the questions and answers. Typically he would share the appalling meals provided for crews, sleep where they slept (though many worked a 20-hour day) and share the appalling lavatories provided. The writing is arresting: Urbina alternatively narrates and discusses. The stories are the vehicles for careful and thoughtful judgements. This is a very good book, which ends with a chapter for the thoughtful reader who would like to understand what is being done and what can be done. There is a guide to agencies and activist groups and research institutes in this turbulent field. Highly recommended. – RH

 

QI’s General Ignorance series are immensely satisfying to get into. This is not because they are long or in-depth reads, but almost precisely the opposite: entries are short and punchy and focus on the fascinating, bizarre and quirky. As usual, there is not only a wide range of topics on offer, but also questions that which refuse to play ball in terms of reader expectations regarding their answers. What is the brakeman’s job in a bobsled race? Not what you think it is… What did the Birdman keep in Alcatraz? Again – not that. And what is Antarctica’s largest native land animal. Something that’s, er, not large. That sort of predictable unpredictability is what makes this (and all the titles in this series) so compulsively engaging. If you have the time, this is a single-sitting serving, but it’s also a great resource to pop into whenever you’re in the mood for an intellectual spark.

 

On my first visit to Greece in 1970 I was conscious of poverty and political unrest. I remember sitting in a train when a mass of demonstrators surged through the railway station brandishing communist banners. I was as a tourist fascinated by the antiquities, given brilliant service at very low cost and oblivious to the recent history of the country. In Those Who Are Loved, I became conscious for the first time what lay behind the little I had observed. This is a family saga centering on a formidable woman, Themis. It begins in 1930, with a family living in a tumble-down mansion in Athens. The mother must cope with four children, each very different, and a husband, Pavlos, whose life is principally at sea. The eldest sibling, Thanasis, is a handsome boy, with an authoritarian personality. The elder girl, Magarita, is beautiful and wants what is beautiful for herself. The second boy is Panos, introspective, idealistic and fiery. Themis is the young sister. Every issue becomes contentious, with heated discussions and hard words. Themis listens, says little. When the mansion eventually falls in on itself, they move to the apartment of their grandmother, Kyria Koralis. a competent and resourceful person. She manages to provide for and shelter this unruly foursome, taking on in due course the role of sole parent. This is a novel which reflects the tragic developments in Greece before, during and particularly after the Second World War: the divisions in the country are given dramatic life in the history of the four siblings. The depression, the poverty, the rise of fascism, the futile attempt to defend the borders against the invading armies of the Axis, the surge of communism and armed resistance, the era of Nazi occupation, and of collaboration, the last throes of the dying monarchy, and most tragic of all, the era of the Junta. This is the story of civil war, internecine conflict, mass imprisonments and death squads. Themis joins the resistance, finds love in the wild environs of the mountains, is captured and endures the horrors of Greek prison camps.  It is a story of passionate belief and commitment, of motherhood and accommodation and finally of restitution. It is a deeply moving book, based on wide research, totally enthralling. It is as far removed from Mama Mia as it could be. It is highly commended. – RH

 

Motivational speakers, self-help books and general business consultants have their role to play.  Who can claim not to have learned at least one good idea from reading from some of the glut of books of this genre? Ordinarily, the ‘bright sparks’ in this field have more chutzpah than originality. Abdullah Verachia is one of these luminaries. Accomplished academically in business management, in demand internationally as a speaker and business consultant, this South African whizz-kid has seized on the opportunity presented by the COVID-19 crisis to write a book that will move rapidly off shelves. He opines that we are now in a period of mass uncertainty. Replete with Venn diagrams, pie-charts and sidebars to assist our passage in reading A Disruption Amplified, he exhorts us to reimagine our lives, as we are confronted with new challenges. Technological change will grow apace, and his advice is that we must adapt to this. The treatment in the healthcare sector will change. So, too, will work. More than ever before, we shall be working from home. There will be a gig economy with lots of temporary, project-based jobs. There will be an oversupply of office and residential property in the big cities. Travel will become increasingly unattractive. There will be a concomitant reduction in the extent to which we all travel, especially by air. There will be a corresponding increase in niche markets for which niche markets and niche skills will be required. As others have predicted, digital, cashless banking will soon be upon us. Sporting activities, recreation, leisure and entertainment activities are also likely to change in the years to come. We shall have more time, more flexibility and more-niche oriented activities in these fields of human activity. Dating patterns and courtship will also change. Computer-driven match-making services will increase exponentially. Elon Musk is much admired by the author and not only by reason of his passion for auto-drive vehicles. Musk is held up an exemplar of the innovator and adapter. Verachia also has high praise for the New Zealand Prime minister, Lucinda Ardern. He commends her for her evidence-based decision-making. In summary, the author tells us that we must embrace change, learn to find new ways of being – or else we shall fall by the wayside. There is nothing that is new or fresh or truly educative in this book but it does have the virtue of providing an excellent summary of the conventional wisdom about the changes and challenges which we face and how we must adapt thereto. This book as a Readers’ Digest quality, but although that publication irritated many, it has been one of the most successful publications ever. – NW

 

Social media and terrible alleged journalism is full of ineloquent mumblings about “what it means to be human”. The major reason the bulk of that material is garbage is because those who write or dredge it up is are hoping for hits; for audience interest that they equate with success. In Matt Haig’s predecessor to this book, Reasons To Stay Alive, the author’s incredibly vulnerable, honest expression of what is was like to live with depression and anxiety connected with both readers who shared his trials and those who were glad not to but were amazed at the eloquent insight it provided into those conditions in those they knew and loved. Notes On A Nervous Planet is more of the same to some degree – knowingly all over the place, with lists, asides and observations rather than traditional essays or structured chapters. That format suits the material perfectly, making it feel like you’re having an informal chat with Haig, where there’s no agenda, and the talking is just natural and real. Which goes back to that sense of what it means to be human: as well as there being bits that are inspiring or interesting, there is also frailty, uncertainty and a curious mixture of sadness and joy that makes you smile and sigh at the same time. This is a book to leave lying around. Read a little yourself from time to time, and let family and visitors do the same. Whatever you start chatting about as a result will be worthwhile. – BD

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