Book Reviews: Depression And Clarkson, Or The Season Of Kim Yong Un

July 31, 2022


The Dark Hole Of Depression by Johan Smith

Tsk-Tsk by Suzan Hackney

The World According To Clarkson: As I Was Saying… by Jeremy Clarkson

The Season Of Glass by Rahla Xenopoulos

The Great Successor: The Secret Rise and Rule Of Kim Yong Un by Anna Fifield


The Dark Hole Of Depression is written by a Christian who has himself suffered burnout and the subsequent depression and whose son also battled with depression. He draws on personal experience and on the stories of those whom he has counselled as well as on wide reading in the subject. The underlying theme is that depression is an illness or clinical condition and should be treated as such. He sees that the Christian community needs to understand and to engage in informed and careful discussions, so that those who suffer from the various forms of depression can be helped to deal with the problem without a sense of guilt, without stigma being attached and without foolish and simplistic attempts at “healing”. This is not a textbook for therapists. It is a collection of stories and case studies, interspersed with good observations and references. It will serve many pastors, Christian counsellors and members of the church laity. It’s a good source of material for a teaching ministry in congregations. When we consider the prevalence of this clinical condition, and the real possibility of suicides within the Christian community, it is an important topic. While not the entire word on the subject, it is nevertheless highly readable and, in my lay opinion, reliable. – RH


Tsk-tsk”, the understated, disapproving frontal click: a mother, an observer, expressing mild annoyance or disdain. In this case it is the title of a harrowing book, a book about an adopted child growing up in polite white Pietermaritzburg. From the moment her adoptive mother first took her in her arms, she shrieked. Of course, in that situation, the mother had to appear capable, unperturbed and loving. The journey from Pretoria home to Scottsville is unhappy, to say the least, but here she is ensconced in a lovely home with beautiful garden and a father to whom she reacts with love, plus an elder brother, also adopted, who is to be the joy of her childhood. Here too is Mavis, the stoic maid-of-all-work – accommodating, protective and totally to be relied on. Here, above all, is the highly talented, neurotic mother, an actor in life, unable to cope with this new child. The book is the autobiographical account of a bright, exuberant child in constant conflict with her mother, creating a life for herself which ultimately means being made a ward of the state. Foster homes and institutions alternate, and despite appearing to succeed and adapt to some situations, Suzan must break out until ultimately she ends up in the most appalling of ‘places of safety’. The book reveals some of the horrors of our childcare systems, despite the presence of empathetic and caring people in some situations. Suzan remains a strange figure, beyond any simple analysis or explanation. The powerful will that pitted her against her adoptive mother is evident in her resistance to the pressures of the underworld in which she finds herself, escaping from drugs and prostitution. She copes with the deaths of those who have been friends. When she is 18 she is no longer a ward of the state and is free to do as she chooses. Is this a book I recommend? I’m not sure – RH


For all the sighing and shaking of heads when Jeremy Clarkson is mentioned, As I Was Saying… a collection of his Sunday Times columns, re-affirms two things: the man is intelligent, and he has some fascinating perspectives. Those facets can combine to deliver eviscerating insight, or to make a case for a view that is unpopular for a number of sound moral reasons. Either way, it makes him a fantastic columnist, whose every piece delivers in some way, whether it makes you happy, grumpy or bemused. Clarkson casts his net wide for his content here, regularly highlighting the folly of British politics, but just as easily mocking a dead relative, slagging off Piers Morgan, scoffing at health fads or recalling when filming an episode of Top Gear nearly created an international incident. Not every column will gel with every reader, but that’s to be expected on the grounds of personal taste. Each column, though, is well constructed and written – Clarkson’s polarising personality helps pique interest, but his writing more than stands up on its own. – BD


The scale of The Season Of Glass is immense, spanning continents and centuries as an ever-widening cast of characters is linked by an ancient theme – a messianic prophecy about a pair of twins who will be born in a dark age and provide a beacon of hope for the community in which they appear. Rahla Xenopoulos adds intricate complexity to this basic idea by having the formula repeat again and again throughout history – from historic Ethiopia to Austria as World War Two was about to begin, and from pirates in Jamaica to kids in Soweto. It’s an incredibly ambitious work, and for large parts of the book, Xenopoulos pulls it off with flair, her research and creativity creating worlds that feel viscerally real, as though she’s providing an insight into history we were not taught at school rather than fiction. In some areas, though, the same layered descriptions of locations and customs make progressing through the story heavy work as you strive to keep tabs on the culture-specific concepts and terms she describes, and manage the switching of narrators as new landscapes and periods are introduced. For all those missteps, though, there is a richness in Xenopoulos’ storytelling that recalls Salman Rushdie and others with similarly widescreen vision. – BD


There are several good reasons to read The Great Successor. Most importantly, it provides a potent reminder of the fact that when nations trade with one another, much more than the exchange of goods takes place. Cultural, social and political ties follow. It is likely that few South Africans know much about Korea and even less about North Korea. Most are likely to be unaware of the reasons why there is a ‘North’ and a ‘South’ Korea. The root of the problem is the historical lack of trade with Korea, overlaid with a political and diplomatic conundrum for the South African government. Japan had occupied Korea since 1905, describing it technically as a ‘protectorate’. At the end of the Second World War, Dean Rusk, then a American colonel in the US army and later to become an American Secretary of State, proposed to the Russians that Korea should be divided up ‘for purposes of administration’ in much the same way as the Allies had divided up Germany. The Russians agreed. As a result, a line was drawn, cutting Korea roughly in half, the north falling within the ‘communist’ sphere of influence and the south, ‘the West’s’. The grandfather of Kim Young Un, Kim Il Sung, was put in charge of the northern divide of Korea by the Russians. They intended to use him as a stooge. The grandfather enjoyed some credibility as a hero of the Korean resistance to Japanese occupation. Born in 1912, he fled, during that occupation, to Manchuria in China to mobilise the anti-imperial struggle. In 1940 he had moved to the Soviet Union. That is how the Russians got to know him. When Chairman Mao Zedong took control of China in 1949, his country and the Soviet Union become ideological allies against ‘the West’. Kim Yong Un’s grandfather, who was both ambitious and a passionate communist ideologue, persuaded China and the Soviet Union that it would be in their strategic and ideological interests if the whole of Korea were to fall within the aegis of these  two ‘communist superpowers’. At first, the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin resisted the idea because he was afraid of a nuclear war. Stalin relented when Mao came round to the idea. The opportunity to garner control over the whole of Korea came when the Americans withdrew their troops from the south towards the end of 1949. The south looked ripe for the picking. The grandfather sent 150 Soviet-manufactured tanks into the south in June 1950. Thus began the Korean War. The Americans pushed back. The war lasted until 1953. Two and a half million Koreans lost their lives and the division between North and South Korea became an entrenched reality. Although Kim Yong UN and US President Donald Trump signed an agreement in 2018, envisaging a formal peace treaty, a state of war technically still exists between North Korea and the USA. Diplomatically, Korea remains, in theory, one country. The diplomatic dilemma is acute for South Africa. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the North), unsurprisingly, as an ally of the Soviet Union and China, strongly supported the African National Congress (ANC) during the struggle against apartheid. For reasons of its own history, South Africa cannot easily identify diplomatically with ‘South Korea’ or even recognise it as a separate state. Therein lies the explanation for the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation referring to ‘Korea’ rather than ‘North’ or ‘South’ Korea. The practice persists among many South Africans. In an endeavour to circumvent the dilemma, South Africa has not established a diplomatic office either in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea or in the South. Instead, diplomatic relations with ‘Korea’ (ie both North and South) are conducted through diplomatic offices in Beijing, China. Although South Korea had diplomatic relations with South Africa between 1961 and 1978, it severed all trade and diplomatic relations with our country from 1978 until the end of apartheid in 1994. Until the end of apartheid in 1994, our trade and other relations with ‘Korea’ were, for practical purposes, non-existent. This probably explains why we know so little about Korea. Things have begun to change with the exponential growth in our trade with South Korea, making household names of brands like Hyundai and Samsung. Korea as a whole was desperately poor after so long an occupation by Japan. Ever since it became a ‘capitalist-roader’, South Korea has become a huge success, even to the extent of being a world leader in technical and social instruments to fight the COVID-19 virus. It has become an economic case study for all who want to develop a poor country. The North has lagged behind and remained poor. Kim Yong Un’s grandfather adopted the methods of Stalin and Mao to maintain his grip on power. He was able to ensure that his son, Kim Jong Il, succeeded him in 1994. Kim Yong Un is the youngest of the three sons of his father. He succeeded his father in 2011, mainly because the mother of his elder half-brother fell out of favour with his father and, once Kim Yong Un’s own mother died in 2004, his aunt actively promoted him over his other brother, who was in any event falling from grace with his father: he had a reputation as something of a dilettante and was too obviously a playboy. When Kim Yong Un succeeded his father as First Secretary of the Workers’ Party upon the latter’s death in 2011, he was 27 years old. Educated at a top international school in Switzerland, Kim Yong Un has managed to hold on to power through a combination of the ruthlessness of the methods he learned from his father and grandfather and by emulating China at least to the extent of relaxing the many of the controls over the economy. North Korea, although still very poor, has prospered considerably under his leadership.  This has won him popularity. An accomplished journalist, now the Beijing bureau chief for The Washington Post, who has spent much time in North Korea, author Anna Fifield presents a riveting account of North Korea and its current leader. Recently, Kim Yong Un has attracted interest, including that of South Africans, by reason of his testing of nuclear missiles. Fifield argues that Trump and many others, including some of the world’s most seasoned diplomats, have underestimated Kim Yong Un. Not only did they underrate his cunning and his intelligence but they also failed to understand that he would never give up his country’s nuclear power. It was developed not because he wanted recognition from the American president but precisely because it would prevent the US from ever invading his country. Timely, gripping and often chilling, this book should be read by all who want to be well informed about politics, power and ideology in the world right now. – NW