More about Immigration

Go, Went, Gone is a novel by the German author Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Susan Bernofsky. It is a beautiful book, and another powerful and moving story about the immigrant and refugee crisis in Europe. The novel’s protagonist, Richard, is a retired and widowed academic, trying to find a new pathway in his new life. In the midst of his own journey, he walks by the African refugees camped out in Berlin, news from the headlines of our times. He decides to make an effort with them, and the story unfolds from there.

Erpenbeck writes a gentle and compelling story. It reflects the humanity on all sides, and reminds us of the strength of relationships. Richard’s thoughts about himself in retirement are also useful reflections on all parts of our lives.

Here are some quote from this novel:

Much of what Richard reads on this November day several weeks after his retirement are things he’s known most of his life, but today, thanks to this bit of additional knowledge he’s acquired, its all seems to come together in new, different ways. How many times, he wonders, must a person relearn everything he knows, rediscovering it over and over, and how many coverings must be torn away before he’s finally able to truly grasp things, to understand them to the bone? Is a human lifetime long enough? His lifetime, or anyone else’s? (p. 142)

At exactly midnight when the corks start popping, guests hug and kiss, rockets are fired off and sparklers waved around. Richard just stands there, wondering what the beginning of a new year really means. He’s never quite understood what’s supposed to be departing in that final decisive second, while at the same time something new – something you can’t know yet – suddenly presents itself. Sometimes in past years he’s tried to concentrate on this future that was apparently arriving at just this moment. But how do you concentrate on something you don’t know yet? Who’s going to die? Who’ll be born? The older he gets, the more grateful he is to have just as little idea as anyone else what is in store. (p. 207)

Could these long years of peacetime be to blame for the fact that a new generation of politicians apparently believes we’ve now arrive at the end of history, making it possible to use violence to suppress all further movement and change? Or have the people living here under untroubled circumstances and at so great a distance from the wars of others have been afflicted with a poverty of experience, a sort of emotional anemia? Must living is peace – so fervently wished for throughout human history and yet enjoyed in only a few parts of the world – inevitably result in refusing to share it with those seeking refuge, defending it instead so aggressively that it almost looks like war? (p. 241)

Here also are a couple great reviews about this novel: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/09/25/a-novelists-powerful-response-to-the-refugee-crisis; https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/12/books/review/go-went-gone-jenny-erpenbeck.html

Another great book for conversation.

 

 

 

Thinking about Immigration and Race

A couple years ago I read a wonderful novel by Derek B. Miller, an American married to a Norwegian. They live in Norway. The book is Norwegian by Night. It’s about a Jewish man from Brooklyn who goes to live in Norway with his daughter and her Norwegian family. The premise is delightful from that aspect, but this funny, endearing, and sad novel is a terrific read. Miller is a great writer, and he takes us not only into the obvious stress of an older American living in a country where he doesn’t speak the language, but also into the immigrant tensions that are all over Scandinavia. Sheldon Horowitz gets to know his neighbor, a Palestinian immigrant who is living there with her young son. When she is stalked and attacked by some people from her first world, Sheldon helps the boy escape and they head off into the night being hunted both by the Norwegian police and the gang that killed the boy’s mother.

Norwegian by Night

Now a new book has just come out (April 3, 2018) by Miller titled American by Day. This is easily the best book I have read this year. Dedicated to Sheldon Horowitz, the protagonist of Norwegian by Night (I love that!), American by Day features Sigrid Ødegård, the detective inspector from Norwegian by Night. This time she is looking for her own brother. He has lived in the US for many years, and he has now not been heard from for a couple weeks. So she goes to upstate New York where he has last been known to live to look for him.

With his characteristic wryness and humor (it’s pretty funny to read about her helping people pronounce her name correctly), Miller tells a powerful story that matches the headlines of our time – the police killing of an innocent black child, and the racial tensions and political divides of our time. Add into that a person new to American culture, and it is a powerful story. His writing about race and difference are amazing, and they open up endless possibilities for conversation.

Here are some excerpts:
Life has always seemed more real when you’re contending with gravity. Because in the end that’s what’s gonna get you. (p. 141)

He is the kind of person who is plugged in and becomes nervous when he is not. Marcus has students like him. The more they strive to express their uniqueness in those machines, the more conformist they become. (p. 189)

The longer he stared into her skin the more he wondered why humans – his humans – ever migrated from Africa to the Arctic; the ones with such a chronic sense of discontentment that they were led directly into Lutheranism. (p. 213)

People of color cry out, saying that we’re in pain, but they deny the pain and say it’s an individual pain, not a group one. They see the entire world through this individualism prism – or that’s what I call it in the article, anyway. It negates discussions of race and racism. In my view, this perspective is overpowering and insurmounyable naybe because it’s deeper than race. It’s deeper than politics. It’s a culturally organizing system. It’s how we achieve Americanness. It’s how we do Americanness. It’s a kind of performance. If this is true, America can win battles against racism in court or in passing new laws an adopting new policies, but we’ll never win the war on history and circumstance because it requires people seeing with different eyes; eyes that would force them to unravel and redefine their American selves. And that’s the one thing we can’t do, because it’s the only thing that binds us all together. One can’t escape the observation that America historically enslaves groups, but only frees individuals. (p. 217)

He could have shouted something, but his Lutheranism ran too deep. His edges had filed off and the stumps worn down by a culture that didn’t know how to sin and then repent and so suppressed everything and hoped that God wouldn’t notice. (p. 306)

You needn’t have read Norwegian by Night to get into American by Day. Both are exceptionally worthy ways to spend your reading time!

American by Day

 

Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley Novels

I just read the latest in the series of Inspector Lynley novels by Elizabeth George. I was introduced to these three decades ago when a friend was working at Random House in New York and shared proof copies. And so I read A Great Deliverance. I’m always a little suspicious of Americans writing stories set in the UK ( a little odd for me, as an American who loves all things British!) but I was impressed with the research and detail.  And all of these novels have a lot of detail – maybe too much, sometimes – but it is usually fairly straight-forward to follow the plot.  And, if you’ve seen the adaptations on PBS with the dark-haired Nathaniel Parker (very good) you’ll need to wrap your mind around the blonde Lynley in the novels!

The Punishment She Deserves is the twentieth book in the series. This one is less about Lynley and more about his partner Barbara Havers. Havers and Lynley come from different classes in Britain, Lynly being a peer and Barbara just someone who grew up in lower-class London. Throughout the books, George makes a lot of Barbara feeling less than adequate – often, more than should be done, I think. One can grow a bit weary of her wondering if she’s done the right thing and so on. But in this book,  Havers really shines and George does a lovely job of bringing Havers forward. I always want to cheer for Barbara in any of the books, but in this one I was really on the edge of my imaginary seat as I followed her though this convoluted case that she champions when her superiors want to put it aside.

But this book is not only about Havers. It is also about Isabelle Ardery, Havers and Lynley’s direct superior who really wants to get rid of Havers. She keeps threatening to transfer her to Berwick-upon-Tweed, way in the NE of England on the North Sea. She tries to find every way possible to make sure Havers messes up in some way. This story is also about Isabelle’s alcoholism, and George does a very fine job of describing Ardery’s illness and its consequences.

And this book is about families. Along with Havers and Ardery, George has us wondering about, and finally rooting for, four women in three generations in one family.  (To tell more at this point would be a spoiler.)

If you haven’t read these novels, here is the list in order:

A Great Deliverance (1988)
Payment in Blood (1989)
Well-Schooled in Murder (1990)
A Suitable Vengeance (1991)
For the Sake of Elena (1992)
Missing Joseph (1992)
Playing for the Ashes (1993)
In the Presence of the Enemy (1996)
Deception on His Mind (1997)
In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner (1999)
A Traitor to Memory (2001)
A Place of Hiding (2003)
With No One as Witness (2005)
What Came Before He Shot Her (2006)
Careless in Red (2008)
This Body of Death (2010)
Believing the Lie (2012)
Just One Evil Act (2013)
A Banquet of Consequences (2015)
The Punishment She Deserves (2018)

If you are already a fan, get started on The Punishment She Deserves. You’ ll be wondering which “she” is deserving of punishment.

The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George

 

 

 

 

 

London A to Z

With every intention of writing daily in this blog, I was struck down with influenza on January 9. I was sick for three weeks, and with all the complications could not even focus to read a page, much less write anything. Now that I am well on the road to recovery, I hope to get back on track.

“On the road” is exactly where we are. We are currntly in London preparing to fly to Sicily today for a 10-day tour. Being in London is always a treat for me; it is one of my favorite places. I’m not sure what it is, but the minute I set foot on the pavement I just feel good.  On this trip we’ve had a quiet few days, recovering not only from being sick but from a lot of things that needed doing before we left. We really enjoy this flat we found a couple years ago – Egmont Lodge in Fulham, right by Putney Bridge.

So the book today is the famous atlas of this amazing city called London A to Z. I bought my first copy on my first trip in 1972. It looked a lot like this one:

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I remember being at a gathering with a lot of Londoners and someone asked where something was. Out of purses and pockets came everyone’s copy of this book! This a complex city, and this  guide  is clear and enjoyable.

These days my A to Z is on my phone, and there are many, many differernt street guides available in London. But this one is unique, with the hand-painted maps. The originator and artist, Phyllis Pearsall, has her own interesting story. Here’s the Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geographers%27_A%E2%80%93Z_Street_Atlasw

When in London, this atlas in any of its forms will get you where you want to go!

 

The Twelfth Day of Christmas Books

The first year I was a parish pastor, at Holden Village in the North Cascade mountains of Washington State, I thought I should tell a story to the children as part of the Christmas Eve service. I don’t remember exactly what that story was – I think it had to do with a cat – but I did continue to create a story each year wherever I was.  In my third Christmas at Faith Lutheran Church in Seattle in 1983 I wrote a story about a sheep named Sherman. The next Fall, the parish children started coming to me asking, “Pastor Winder, Pastor Winder, is Sherman coming to Christmas again?” So every year for 25 years I told a new story about Sherman. They were collected from time and time and published in the congregation, with delightful drawings by Rebecca Rickabaugh, a friend of Faith members Sandi and Bob Dexter.  So this Twelfth Day celebrates Sherman the Christmas Sheep with the first story from 1983.

For the Animals, Too.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Luke 2:8

You know the story. Angels appeared in the sky and sang “Glory to God” and told the shepherds to go to Bethlehem and see the baby Jesus. The shepherds were so shocked and excited because of the angels that they went right away, leaving their sheep behind! Now the sheep had seen and heard the angels, too, and they were very surprised when the shepherds ran off without them. One sheep, whose name was Sherman, said, “I think we should go to Bethlehem.” Another sheep said, “No, we’d better stay here. The shepherds will be angry if we go there.” And another said, “It’s cold and dark and way past the lambs’ bedtime. I’m scared. Let’s all stay here.” And another sheep said, “This is a people event. They don’t want animals.” But Sherman said, “We all heard the message of the angels. They said this was peace for all the earth, and sheep are about as earthy as you can get. I am going to Bethlehem.” So Sherman started down the hillside. Many of the sheep went with him, but others stayed behind with the lambs.

When they got to the road, they were confused. It was very dark. But Sherman said, “I know the way. Come with me.” As the sheep trotted down the road, the dark night became brighter and brighter. There were more stars than ever before, and the moon seemed as bright as the sun. As they came to Bethlehem, they saw a wonderfully huge and welcoming light from an old stable behind an inn. “Come on,” said Sherman. “That is the place!” And the sheep began to run.

When they came to the stable, they stopped suddenly and looked with amazement. There were their shepherds. Some were kneeling and some were standing, but they were all quietly laughing and crying all at once, with looks on their faces like the sheep had never seen before. And there were animals: a donkey, a cow, a lot of birds, a little dog, and a couple of cats. “See!” said Sherman. “I told you it was for the animals!” And they were all looking at the manger where there was a little baby. The baby cried a little, and Sherman realized that it was really very cold in that stable. And then Sherman knew why the sheep had to be there. Silently, he led the other sheep up to the manger. They all gathered round, and Sherman leaned closely into the manger to give the baby Jesus the warm, woolly heat of his body. And the baby stopped crying and went to sleep. And there was never a happier sheep than Sherman was that night.

Story by Nancy L. Winder. Do not reproduce without permission.

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The Eleventh Day of Christmas Books

You cannot write about Christmas books without writing about books of songs, hymns, and carols. Each one is its own little narrative, singing the Christmas story in its own unique way.

I grew up with these three carol books, two of which also told stories about the songs. The blue one we often used when groups went caroling in the winter night.

Here is a piece about Joy to the World from The Christmas Carolers’ Book:

“When Isaac Watts published the Psalms of David in 1719, he did not know that had included any Christmas songs in his collection. The Psalms of David was a collection of hymns and paraphrases based on the Psalms. One of these was based on the 98th Psalm, and was entitled, Joy to the World. Watts’ paraphrase, based on neither the New Testament nor the Christmas story, has become one of our greatest Christmas hymns!

Watts, the son of a teacher, and zealous Non-Conformist, of Southampton, preached his first sermon in Mark Lane, London, at the age of 24. His ministry was short-lived. Due to a protracted illness, he was forced to give up preaching. He was then invited into the palatial home of Sir Thomas Abney, where he remained a welcome guest until his death, 35 years later. Watts, himself, said that he had only intended to spend a week at the Abney home. Most of his hymns were writtne while there.

Dr. Watts was a very small man, being scarcely five feet in height. He was in poor health most of his life. His great learning, piety, and gentle disposition, gained for this the title of “Melanchthom of England”. He has been justly called the faither of English hymnody, and shared with Charles Wesley the distinction of being the greatest of English hymn writers. More than four hundred of his hymns are in common use in English-speaking countries. Perhaps his two most famous hymns are, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, and Joy to the World.

Dr. Edward Hodges wrote an excellent psalm-tune for Watts’ hymn. Dr. Hodges’ tune has been replaced by Lowell Mason’s adaptation of Handel’s Antioch from the Messiah. In spite of its fugue, this adaptation has become the standard setting of the hymn. With the spirited Handel melody, Joy to the World is not only well suited to be used as a church hymn, but is also very effective for outdoor caroling.”

From The Christmas Carolers Book in Song and Story by Torstein O. Kvamme. 1935