Tag Archive: reading

Wolf Hall

I am spending a lot of my time this summer reading.  Without doubt, the best book I have read so far is Wolf Hall.  It was recommended to me by a friend and the critical acclaim it has received is astonishing.  It was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2009.

Wolf Hall is the story of Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith’s son who rose to become the second most powerful man in the kingdom of Henry VIII.

It’s a period of history that I know very little about and which wouldn’t, in the normal course of events, interest me very much.  As is quite often the way though, having been gripped by the story I have found it popping up in surprising places.  A visit to The Dungeons on holiday provided a couple of graphic illustrations of torture described rather matter of factly in the book.

And even though I have never read very much about the Tudors, many of the names are familiar.  That’s because behind the story of the rise of Cromwell is the story of the move away from Rome and the Roman Catholic church.

The story of Luther and Tyndale, of Wolsey and More, of ordinary people dying in extraordinary ways for a faith they held to be true.  On both sides.

As a young boy Cromwell witnessed an old lady being burned at the stake for denying that the bread and wine really were the body and blood of Jesus.  Being burned for the kind of religious freedom that we take for granted.

But it seems to me that the tide has turned again.  Not just against any particular denomination or religion but against all religion.  The punishments may have changed, but has the state once again hardened towards people of faith?  And if it has, does the story of Thomas Cromwell give us some clues as to what the future holds for us?

The Jews and the nation of Israel.  I don’t know about you but most of my conversations about modern Israel have been in the context of theology – particularly eschatology.  What does the bible tell us about the Jewish nation in the end times?  This week I realised that I have never considered the issues thoroughly enough. 

Because this week I have been confronted with a Palestinian perspective.

I have just read Mornings in Jenin – a really powerful, passionate debut novel by Susan Abulhawa that tells the story of the conflict through six decades of a Palestinian family’s history.  It stands alongside Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns for its impact.  It is simply stunning.

And suddenly the issues are not abstract becasue they involve real people’s experiences, tragic and horrific and unjust experiences.  The suffering of tens of thousands of people and the brutality of the settlements and the refugee camps.  The forced removal of people from a way of life they had known and loved for hundreds of years.

Abulhawa, herself the daughter of Palestinian refugees, writes with a truly authentic voice.  Of Jerusalem her heroine says, “It sparks an inherent sense of familiarity in me – that doubtless, irrefutable Palestinian certainty that I belong to this land.  It possesses me, no matter who conquers it, because its soil is the keeper of my roots, of the bones of my ancestors.  Because it knows the private lust that flamed the beds of all my foremothers.  Because I am the natural seed of its passionate, tempestuous past.  I am a daughter of the land, and Jerusalem reassures me of this inalienable title, far more than the yellowed property deeds, the Ottoman land registries, the iron keys to our stolen homes, or UN resolutions and decrees of superpowers could ever do.”

Then Abulhawa employs a stunning literary device – she quotes actual news reports and historical works to demonstrate the force of her case.  And having detailed the graphic horror of the slaughter of refugees in their camps in 1982 she simply asks the question, “How does an Israeli soldier, a Jewish man, watch a refugee camp being transformed into an abattoir?”

It is a question without answer. 

I’m not suddenly pro-Palestinian and I’m certainly not anti-Semitic.  I simply abhor violence in all its forms and whoever its perpetrator is.  What has changed this week is my perspective of this conflict.  The anonymous news on my TV screen has become personalised and I am changed because of it. 

I highly recommend this book to you.

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