A few days’ leave, so I can finish a few novels, and share a few words of wisdom from one.
Recently I’ve really enjoyed Steven Conte’s The Zookeeper’s War, which is about an Aussie woman and a German man who run the zoo in Berlin during the second world war. Great story, well written and interesting in its take on human life and love within the daily life of hunger, terror and constant suspicion.
Another great read is Irene Sabatini, The Boy Next Door.
This is the story of a teenage girl who calls herself a ‘lightie’ or ‘coloured’, in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. The boy next door is white and early in the story is convicted of setting fire to his step-mother. The two young people eventually become a couple, and the story of their relationship is set within the remarkable struggles of their nation. It’s a great story of relationship and human struggle within ordinary family life, set against political and racial issues which are too easily seen from the international perspective as ‘issues’ or matters of policy—which of course they are, but they also have these deeply personal implications and consequences. For a first novel, this is a beauty.
I’m now reading Jane Borodale, The Book of Fires, another first novel. It’s set in England in 1752, at the time when ‘enclosure’ was forcing people off their lands and into the squalor of cities, especially London. Agnes Trussel is a teenager, pregnant and miserable in the poverty of her family, and escapes to find a life working with a pyro-technician in London. This unlikely relationship is the setting for the novel. The pyro-technician is John Blacklock, himself a mysterious man who prefers silence, but when he speaks often articulates insight and wisdom—such as the following:
‘I cannot abide chatter. … Clarity! Accuracy! Think of your words as a key to fit into the lock of your meaning. Cast them with precision. That key should then be swift and perfect in achieving its aim: well-shaped talk at its best is a release from the indefinite. It is explanation. Preparation. Nothing more.’ p.74
And a little later: ‘Knowledge is like time, it forges a way forward but must look back over its shoulder to remember where it has come from. The only certain way to forge new understanding is to carry out investigations for oneself.’
There’s great wisdom here, inviting us to move into the adventures of relationship, life itself, as well as learning and teaching, with a due reverence for the past and the courage to try things for ourselves. I will press on with this pyro-technician and his troubled assistant and see what develops.