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Latest Reviews

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The history of bees / Maja Lunde.
Author: Lunde, Maja, author. -- Oatley, Dianne, translator.
Publisher: London ; Sydney Scribner, 2017 -- �2015
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 9/02/2021 1:33:04 PM
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We owe bees a lot. I shouldn't exaggerate as bees are far from the only insect pollinators. But together with their honey, humankind's only sweetener for most of our history we do owe them a debt of gratitude for the production of many of our plant foods.

This book is three stories in one - one in the past (1852), one in the present (2007) and one in the future (2098). A connecting thread for these three stories is bees. In the two earlier periods, bees are an obsession for the protagonists. In the future era, it is their absence that propounds a connection.

Another connecting theme is the relationship between parent and child. In 1852, William is determined to leave a legacy for his eldest child and only son. But his adolescent son is turning into a bit of a wastrel. Maybe William should place greater hopes in one of his seven daughters who show both interest and acumen. But women have only supplementary roles in the 19th century.

George is also determined to leave a farming inheritance for his college-age son. However, this son seems more academically minded and farming is not his priority. What's more, 2007 seems to be becoming the beginning of the Great Collapse.

2098. The world is not dystopian but humanity is struggling. The insect pollinators have disappeared. Humans are laboriously having to do their job. What better country to choose than authoritarian China to corral its population into a highly regimented and controlled workforce to perpetuate its survival. Even children as young as eight have to make their contribution. But Tao has a three year old whom she is determined to enjoy before the State requisitions him. Tragically, Wei Wen mysteriously falls into a coma while they are enjoying an outing in the forest on a rare holiday. The State quickly whisks him away. Tao searches for him and an answer to his mysterious ailment. An allergic reaction - but allergic to what?

This novel is well researched and conceived. It provides insights into the role and possible fate of bees and the subsequent fate of humanity. It tugs at one's empathy for family relationships and the love often unexpressed within. There are times of suspense. There is hope and there is despair. At times, you won't be able to put the book down while simultaneously dreading a suspected imminent disaster. A compelling story, not all as sweet as honey.
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How men age : what evolution reveals about male health and mortality / Richard G. Bribiescas.
Author: Bribiescas, Richard G., author.
Publisher: [s.l.] : Princeton university pres, 2018. -- Princeton, New Jersey : Princeton University Press, [2016]
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 9/02/2021 1:31:58 PM
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You're male. You're aging. Your body and physical abilities are not what they used to be. What's more, your behaviour and attitudes are changing. Or maybe you are close to one of these examples of senescence - a partner, a father or grandfather. Maybe this book will help you understand just what is going on. Maybe it will enlighten you and show you that the news is not all bad.

Richard Bribiescas is an evolutionary anthropologist. He analyses male health, aging and mortality from an evolutionary perspective. His aim is best encapsulated in a quote from early in his introductory chapter
"I will argue that an evolutionary lens is vital for understanding the biology of male aging. Moreover, I will contend that evolution has shaped male health, influenced human evolution as a whole, and will guide where we are heading as a species."

From such a perspective, Bribiescas compares males not only with females, but with several of the world's surviving hunter-gatherer groups to get some idea of our species before the era of agriculture, with other primates, and occasionally with other species of mammals and birds.

An interesting question he asks, and attempts to answer, is why we age at all. Why did evolution not make it so that we lived forever. Certainly this would seem the easiest answer to perpetuating a species. Not so, and after Bridiescas's explanation you will be resigned to dealing with the aging issue sooner or later.

Other issues canvased in this book are:
The diminishing importance of physical strength (Older males do have other forms of leverage over their younger counterparts).
The possible contribution aging men have made to the longevity of Homo sapiens in general
The mortality bump caused by the self-deluded "invincible" male adolescent
The interplay of energy demands, reproductive needs and varying levels of hormones (remember that men remain fertile almost till the time of death)
The evolutionary cultural and social role of fathers and grandfathers, a different role from that of the grandmother. A justification for extended life span?

The penultimate chapter reviews some of the health issues faced by aging men. Again from an evolutionary angle. As Bribiescas points out in this chapter, and throughout the entire book, whenever evolution determines one path of development over another, there is always a trade-off. That is, there are costs but there are also benefits.

It must be remembered when reading this book, and it is also stressed many times by Bribiescas himself, that much of what is concluded is still hypothesis. Research is still ongoing and the conclusions are still mostly speculative. Still Bribiescas provides us with copious quantities of research findings and offers professional insights. This book opens a window, not only on male health and aging but also on the past development and present status of our species as a whole. Well worth the read.

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Holiday heartbreak / Rachel Renee Russell, with Nikki Russell and Erin Russell.
Author: Russell, Rachel Renée, author. -- Russell, Nikki, illustrator. -- Russell, Erin, author. -- Russell, Rachel Renée. Reprint of (manifestation). Tales from a not-so-happy heartbreaker.
Publisher: London : Simon and Schuster, 2015. -- ©2013.
Review by: Shiel, Chloe Miss  on: 3/02/2021 4:14:19 PM
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It's really good.
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The Columbia anthology of modern Chinese literature.
Author: Lau, Joseph S. M, Editor. -- Goldblatt, Howard, Editor. -- Lau, Joseph S. M., 1934- -- Goldblatt, Howard, 1939-
Publisher: New York : Columbia University Press, c2007.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 1/02/2021 12:45:12 PM
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Attention all Sinophiles. Attention all those who seek authors and stories from other cultures. Attention those who wish to broaden their knowledge of the diversity of would views that exists in our world. Does the human condition and the issues that preoccupy us differ with cultures? Can we detect such differences by reading authors from such different backgrounds and perspectives? Well, this book may satisfy some of the aforementioned desires and answer these questions.

There are about 50 short stories, over 90 poems and 20 or so essays in this 700-page collection. The stories, poetry and essays are each divided into three periods 1918-1949 (pre-Communist period), 1949-1976 (Maoist era although many stories come from republican Taiwan) and post-1976. I found the stories and essays from the pre-Communist era most reflective of traditional Chinese culture. Those of the modern era (post-1976) were most similar in style to modern literature around the world just with a different setting. Of course, I have to always bear in mind that I am reading a translation. I feel that something is always lost in translation and we are seldom aware of just what it is.

There are stories for everyone. Some are funny, some fateful, some strange and enigmatic, some culturally revealing and others just good reads. Among the essays, there were a couple of very harrowing ones concerning the disastrous and cruel Cultural Revolution (1966-76), a couple of heart-warming ones and more than a few contemplating trivia such as letter writing, reading on the toilet and haircuts. I am not a reader of poetry so I didnt read anything from this section but if the rest of the book is anything to go by, I'm sure lovers of poetry would find some treasures there.

The compilers of this collection provide a useful introduction that help orient the reader to the eras chosen and some cultural style. They also provide a short, one-paragraph biography for each author. This sometimes adds extra perspective as to the author's choice of theme and how they portray their characters and their characters' behaviours.

So at the end of my reading, what did I conclude about the stories and authors from China? Did I detect anything particularly Chinese about their literature? Perhaps I could conclude that the fundamentals of the human condition are universal the world over. We all share similar aspirations, similar needs and wants, and similar motivations. But how these then unfold into everyday life and behaviour is coloured by our culture. So in these stories, I was introduced to settings and characters, a socio-political climate, an historical background, and customs and cultural memes that contained the flavour of China. You should read some of these stories, essays and poems. Maybe you will learn more about the Chinese condition, as well as being entertained.
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The great warming : climate change and the rise and fall of civilizations / Brian Fagan.
Author: Fagan, Brian M.
Publisher: New York : Bloomsbury, 2008.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 1/02/2021 12:43:21 PM
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Climate change is a hot topic (tired pun). But this book is not about the coming crisis that you may or may not believe we and future generations will face. This is about a warming of the Earth during a period of approximately five centuries beginning around 850AD.

From the outset let me warm you the picture is not simple. We may talk about climate warming but, surprisingly, temperatures in some parts of the world became slightly milder. Also, different parts of the world were affected in vastly different ways. Some parts experienced warmer temperatures and greater rainfall. Other parts experienced prolonged droughts. In some regions, weather became more steady and reliable, yet in other regions it was more erratic and often extreme. Even within a particular global region, patterns were not consistent over this four to five centuries. For example while there may have been an overall drying out, there were also periods of devastating floods.

Then there were the people. The effects on food production, and indirectly on socio-political organisations, were often profound. Europe, in comparative terms, thrived. Voyages of discovery were undertaken in the North Atlantic. Trade routes were established and expanded. Civilisations rose and fell.

Chapter by chapter, Fagan takes us on a trip around the world to look at the different effects in different parts. He begins in Europe, moves to the Asian steppes (beware the Mongols!), then north-west Africa (a real eye-opener here). Next to the not-so-frigid north Atlantic before a feast of America, first south-western USA, then Central America (the Mayans), and Peru (pre-Inca). The Polynesians were still expanding into the Pacific during this era. Finally, we visit the Indian Ocean (includes east Africa, India and the Khmer in Cambodia) and finish in northern China.

The last chapter provides a review and comparison with the present day. Are there lessons to be learned? The population of the world in Medieval times was much less. Maybe they had more options and greater flexibility than we do these days. Even with all our advances in technology, the challenges we face may be greater.

In opening each chapter, Fagan usually paints novel-like scenes. We are given pictures of people going about their everyday lives, planting crops, sailing boats, reading the weather and planning for the short or longer-term future. He provides maps to aid orientation or help understand climatic phenomena. There are also sidebars that explain some of the major climatic influencers and research methods used.

While Fagan's descriptions of the effects on human societies and civilisations is crisp and clear (he is after all an anthropologist), I warn you again, the climatic information is complex and sometimes a little confusing. But this has to be expected. The Earth's climate is still only partially understood. There are probably more unknowns than knowns. For meteorologists the world over, this is still a work in progress. Climate models continue to be rejigged and refined. After reading this book, you will probably be more forgiving of the weatherman when he gets it wrong, especially with longer-term forecasts.

I'm going to give this book four stars. Fagan's historical portrayals of Medieval civilisations are picture perfect. I will forgive him for what I thought I detected as some confusing and contradictory information regarding climatic information. As I just indicated, this part of his research is complex and still not fully understood. He has done the best with what we have. You should still find the climatic data informative. Its effects on human societies in different parts of the world is enlightening.
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Burnt sugar / Avni Doshi.
Author: Doshi, Avni, author.
Publisher: London, UK Hamish Hamilton 2020. -- London : Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2020. -- ©2020
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 9/01/2021 2:54:51 PM
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This is a perceptive story about the relationship between an adult daughter and her middle-aged mother who is entering the early stages of dementia. However, do not be put off by this rather dark and sensitive theme. The story is not maudlin or onerous. Actually, this aspect is more of a vehicle used to explore their relationship and its history than it is the central theme.

Avni Doshi was born in USA and currently lives in Dubai, yet the novel is set in India. Curiously her year of birth is the same, as per my calculations, as that of the protagonist/storyteller in the novel. I wonder how autobiographical this novel is.

The story is told in the first person by the daughter Antara. It constantly shifts from the present to the past as, piece by piece, she reconstructs her life and that of her mother. Her mother's life was anything but conventional. The mother, Tara, rejected her middle-class heritage early in Antara's life to pursue an alternative lifestyle. Antara is dragged from pillar to post on this bumpy ride according to her mothers whims. No surprise that the relationship between the adult Antara and her mother is strained. Then again this is usually the case between adult children and their aging parents everywhere, even without the complications of a rocky childhood and a mother entering dementia.

Of course, there are a range of other characters that repeatedly come and go. The entire cast is vividly presented. An array of personalities possessing varying degrees of conventionality - all interesting to discover, all believable.

The Indian setting is not prominent. It is middle-class India that is much like the middle-class milieu in Western nations. There are few descriptive passages of scenery. But, occasionally, the flavour of India is invoked. There are subtle references through food, dialectic terms, transport, servants, etc. When this happened I saw, smelt, heard and tasted India.

This novel is a journey of discovery for Antara and for the reader. It is a story of relationships in flux, relationships not fully resolved. It is written in an easy, flowing style that propels the reader to seek greater understanding of Antara as she explores her past and tries to relate it to the person she has become. Is this the genre of novel you seek? It won the 2020 Man Booker prize. This, in itself, recommends it for a try.
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The new despotism / John Keane.
Author: Keane, John, 1949- author.
Publisher: Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 2020.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 9/01/2021 9:03:16 AM
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When Communism collapsed in the 1990s, many optimists predicted democracy, and its accompanying market capitalism, to reign triumphant. That was not to be the case. True, we have many versions of democracy ranging from the functional (e.g. Western Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and, Trump aside, still USA) through the semi-functional (maybe India?) to the dysfunctional (as in many parts of Africa and Latin America). But what is the alternative? For there is an alternative that seems both emergent and entrenched in many parts of the world. The author contends it is a "new despotism". As examples, he draws upon Russia, Singapore, former USSR, central Asian republics, Hungry, Middle Eastern kingdoms, Vietnam, Turkey and, of course, that one-party communist residual, China.

Keane's task to define these new despotisms is not easy. They are not uniform, even though they share many characteristics. Not all are stable, yet some have been around for a while and seem resilient. In some aspects, they are experimental, willing to discover new ways to hoodwink the masses. Yet in other methods, they borrow tried and true strategies used by autocracies for millennia.

Keane uses a logical structural framework. He groups various aspects of these new despotisms into chapters providing copious examples to illustrate the ruling clique's tactics used and institutions of control.

Keane opens by defining what new despotisms are not. They are not the autocracies of old neither are they strictly dictatorships, totalitarian oligarchies, tyrannies or plutocracies although they may draw on characteristics of all of these. Similarly, they may sometimes draw on modern day democracies although these institutions and procedures are usually facades or pseudo-versions of truly democratic ones.

Next, Keane tackles connections - the connections anyone needs to get anywhere. New despotisms are webs of patron-client relationships. Major connections are between politics and business although they are also important for the middle classes, and even the working class, if they want anything done. Loyalty, reward and mutual benefit cement the powerful and powerless into this despotic framework.

In chapter three, Keane analyses the players involved. The leaders, their propagandists, the masses and the role of vaudeville and pseudo-elections to keep everyone mesmerised and compliant.

Not to be forgotten is the role and place of the media, both the old fashioned mass media e.g. television and print, as well as the still-developing internet versions of social interaction.

In "Velvet Fists", we learn that these despotisms use force and violence with circumspection but, when necessary, with determination. They are aware of the role of public opinion and the need for support from the masses. Is there any place for the rule of law? An interesting concept in the chapter that follows is that of voluntary servitude where subjects willingly surrender their liberties to the ruling clique.

The final chapter is probably the most clearly presented. Why did I even bother to read all the rest? Aside from delineating new despotisms from present-day democracies, it proposes that they actually exist on the same continuum with the potential of each to slide towards the other. It also adduces the role of democracies as they aid and abet these despotisms through commercial deals, political alliances and other diplomatic interactions.

So far, so good. Keane provides a wealth of information, plenty of examples and plenty of ideas but they lack coherence. I feel he fails to bring them back to the themes suggested by his chapter headings and subheadings. He fails to crystallise the relevance of many of his examples and ideas. This was not helped by overlong sentences into which so many asides and tangential ideas are compressed that, by the time I arrived at the end of the sentence, I had forgotten its opening premise. This wandering content with lack of connection to centralising themes left me a little lost as to the nature of the new despotisms that he was trying to explain. Perhaps a summary at the end of each chapter or section would have made his message more cogent. None were provided.

So, yes, this book did provide a wealth of interesting information. If I were rating it on that quality alone, I would give it three or four stars. However, as for providing a framework of characteristics for these new despotisms - as for explaining this new category of governance and control - it was lacking. In this respect, I can only rate it two stars. Maybe no comprehensive explanation can be provided. Maybe these new despotisms are too individually idiosyncratic to do so. Maybe they defy being analytically boxed up. Maybe they are still works in progress. Maybe you need to read this book yourself to decide.
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The shadow king : a novel / Maaza Mengiste.
Author: Mengiste, Maaza, author.
Publisher: Edinburgh : Canongate, 2019. -- 2019.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 5/01/2021 1:09:15 PM
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A word of warning at the outset: if you are used to straightforward narrative and that is all you wish to read, if you seek characters with whom you can develop an understanding or even empathy, then this is not a novel for you. On the other hand, if you are getting a little bored with the easy read and seek a challenge, then pick up this book. More on this later. First some background history and setting.

After Italy became a unified nation in the second half of the 19th century, it belatedly eyed the north of Africa to establish an overseas empire. It invaded Ethiopia in 1896 but was soundly defeated. Mussolini repeated the attempt in 1935 with partial and short-lived success. This is a story of that war.

One theme running through this book is the role of women in war. There are two Ethiopian heroines in this novel. They are not invincible Amazons but they do don battle fatigue, carry weapons and engage in battle. They also lead and inspire.

Another theme is the place of individuals and their humanity in a time of inhumanity. This novel has a cast of variegated and enigmatic characters. There are women guerrillas, an Italian photographer-soldier (who, to add complexity, is also a Jew), a battle-hardened colonel-commander, north-African troops fighting for the Italians but whose loyalty is primarily to their own commander, a high-class Ethiopian prostitute-cum-spy, an old cook who seems to crop up everywhere, plus a host of minor characters. However, due to the author's abstruse and abstract style, it was often difficult to understand just what was going on in the minds of some of these characters. In a parallel to the battle and mayhem going on around them, there seemed to be a battle and mayhem going on within their own souls. By the end of the novel, I was still not sure I had completely grasped their essence.

There is obviously much historical fact embedded in this novel. The emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, went into exile in England when the Italians took his capital Addis Ababa. Although the Italians held most of the major cities, they still faced resistance in the countryside. At one point, our band of guerrillas find a doppelganger for the emperor. It is interesting how a people seem to need a leader in times of crisis, a leader that can symbolise the national spirit, a leader that can inspire. And this seemed to be the case with the Shadow Emperor. Once the people saw that their emperor hadn't deserted them, that he was still there to lead them, they flocked to support the guerrilla effort.

But now to the challenge that I mentioned in the opening paragraph. The author's style is abstract abstruse and cryptic. It is often difficult to grasp just what she is trying to indicate or say. Is Mengiste deliberately trying to confound the reader? The disadvantage of trying to comprehend such a style, to interpret the characters' thoughts and actions, to even follow the story, is that I found it hard to enter into the novel and share the story with its players. Instead, I felt like an eagle soaring miles above, observing yet not fully understanding.

There were short asides of two or three pages, variously called interlude, photo and chorus, whose relevance seemed so obscure that I started skimming and skipping a few. I felt I lost nothing of the main story by doing so.

I persisted with this novel to the end and was glad I did. It certainly was different. It certainly was a challenge. And that in itself is sufficient reward.
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Work : a history of how we spend our time / James Suzman.
Author: Suzman, James, author.
Publisher: London : Bloomsbury Circus, 2020. -- London : Bloomsbury Circus, 2020.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 5/01/2021 1:08:02 PM
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I like books written by anthropologists. Anthropology is a multidisciplinary science. It includes, among other fields, archaeology, evolutionary science, genetics, ethnography, economics, history, biology, sociology and psychology. So any book written by an anthropologist is likely to have broad perspectives. So it is with this tome of information by James Suzman.

The title is Work. But this is only half the story. The subtitle, a history of how we spend our time, suggests that the flipside of work, that is leisure, is to be included as well. Sure, it is, although these days the two are becoming more and more conflated. It seems the distinction hinges on whether we are paid or not, rather than the nature of the activity per se. However, we still haven't covered the entire scope of all Suzman offers.

To expound, it is perhaps best to outline how Suzman organises his book. He divides it into four parts.

Part one is titled In the Beginning. Suzman certainly starts at the beginning. He goes right back to the beginning of the genus Homo about two to three million years ago. He even mentions the earlier genus Australopithecus and looks briefly at other primates to consider how they organise time and work. Working up through Homo Habilis and Homo erectus he eventually arrives at Homo sapiens about 200,000 years ago. For 95% of our history, we have been hunter-gatherers living in small bands. This has defined how we viewed work and what we did with the rest of our time. This hypothetical postulation is reinforced by modern studies of the few hunter-gatherer groups left in the world today.

In part two, Suzman investigates the first great game changer in how we managed our survival and exploited our environment viz. the mastery of fire. Use of fire greatly increased our harvesting of energy from our foods, increased our productivity, gave us more spare time to contemplate and cogitate, improved our security from predators and expanded the range of our habitats.

The next big game changer, the substance of part three, was the move from nomadic hunter-gatherer to sedentary agriculture and animal husbandry. It created another leap in productivity and the harvesting of energy. With the surpluses generated, humans could start to settle in larger groups, individuals could specialise their work, in fields other than food production, and human parasites could accumulate wealth and live off the fat taxes of others. The sociological and political transformations were profound.

In the last part, we move into the era of the city starting with ancient cities beginning in the Middle East around 6000 years ago. Again, the cultivation of energy-rich grains plays a decisive role. But Suzman moves quickly to the next energy revolution, the Industrial Revolution, when we harnessed fossil fuels (coal and oil). Getting the picture? Much of what determines how we organise our societies and time hinges on our sources of energy and how we utilise them.

Are we headed for another revolution - the information revolution? If so, how will it change how we organise our communities? How big, how small will they be? Will there be a new meaning for work, for leisure, for time? What role automation? This is all still open to speculation but Suzman gives us some starting points.

Very early in this book, Suzman says we work to live and live to work and are capable of finding meaning, satisfaction and pride in almost any job. The work we do defines who we are, determines our future prospects, dictates where, and with whom, we spend most of our time, mediates our sense of self-worth, moulds many of our values and orients our political loyalties. He points out that despite our technological advances, despite the promise of AI, we seem to be working longer, if not physically harder, than ever. He contends that boredom, not necessity, is the mother of invention. It seems that work in one form or another is here to stay.

You may not fully agree with all his hypotheses. I took issue with his claim that hunter-gatherers only thought in terms of the present and immediate future whereas agriculturists had to consider lessons from the past and plan for the long term. I felt hunter-gatherers actually had a longer vision of the past, tracking the seasons, plants and animal behaviour in myths and legends. By so doing, they could plan their moves quite some distance into the future. But this is the beauty of his work - to stimulate thought and challenge.

As I indicated earlier, this book has a wide scope - an encyclopaedia of information. Work and leisure is only the central organisational theme from which numerous tangents fly. Read and be informed.
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Moloka'i / Alan Brennert.
Author: Brennert, Alan, author.
Publisher: New York : St. Martin's Griffin, [2004] -- �2003.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 18/12/2020 2:44:37 PM
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Despite its scare-mongering biblical connotations, leprosy is a low-transmissible, slowly-progressing disease. Most suffers die not from the disease per se, but from other ailments or accidents incurred because of the effects of the disease. This is a logical evolutional strategy for a bacterium. Why would a bacterium want to kill its host quickly if it had difficulty jumping to another host? Best to let that host linger for as long as possible to support that bacterium. Scientists are still unsure of exactly how leprosy is transmitted. All this is attested by the longevity of the protagonist in this novel.

Rachael Aouli Kalama is seven years old in 1893 when she is diagnosed with leprosy. Within a year, she is taken from her family and her home on O'ahu (Main Island Hawaii) and quarantined on Moloka'i, the leprosium where sufferers are isolated to protect the rest of the population from infection. She spends the next 53 years of her life there.

Queensland had a couple of such islands. There was one in Moreton Bay. Another was in the Palm Island group off north Queensland. This was for Aboriginal lepers. It seems indigenous people were especially vulnerable to this disease.

This novel is a snapshot into that part of Hawaiian history ,of what would arguably be the greatest scourge of the Age of European Imperialism. Sure this age effected the dispossession of native people's land and livelihood. Yes, European arrogance destroyed native cultures. True, there was a reduction in the socio-economic status of indigenous people to, at best, the lowest class of non-citizen; at worst, to virtual slave labour. But what most directly decimated indigenous people was the European diseases colonists brought with them. Leprosy is only one of these diseases.

Early in the novel there is evidence of a clash of cultures. The Christian church vis-a-vis traditional religious beliefs. Western cultural values vis-a-vis Hawaiin values. There was also a cruel irony towards the end of the novel. A sufferer could die from the very side-effects of the drugs used to alleviate the symptoms of leprosy.

For me, this story was an eye-opener. I always imagined leper colonies as being dismal and depressing places of decay and death. But Moloka'i, apart from being a prison from which sufferers were not allowed to leave, was also a vibrant community. It possessed all the facilities, services, activities and productivity of a normal community. There was the church, shops, sport, entertainment, small-scale farming and all the recreational activities one encounters in everyday life. Follow Rachael and her friends and acquaintances on their life journeys. Share their loves, hopes, aspirations and, at times, despair. There is sadness - divided families, loss, the stigma of leprosy - but there is also hope, inspiration and reunion.

One shortcoming is the lack of an explanatory glossary. The author often inserts Hawaiian words and references. While most times the reader should be able to interpret the meaning from the context, sometimes this was hard. In addition, a glossary that also gave a short explanation of the cultural significance of these words would have been enlightening.

If you think you know about leprosy, read this novel. You will discover your unknown unknowns.
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