Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson

The first question you must ask yourself before you decide to read this book: can you accept the premise of the cremated ashes of his deceased father speaking aloud from the funeral urn to a twelve year old boy? Second question: do you like golf? If you answer both of these questions in the affirmative, this book is for you. If you can deal with the talking ashes, but you’re not much of a golf fan, you might still want to go along fro the ride. (I did.)

Ben Hogan Putter (get the pun, “putter”, as in golf?) just lost his dad to cancer. Now Ben has a permanent lump in his throat that he believes is an actual golf ball, and his barbecue-loving, golf-loving daddy is speaking to him from beyond the grave, asking Ben to take his ashes to Augusta, Georgia, home of the most famous golf course in the world. That’s where Ben’s daddy, Bo Putter, wants his ashes to rest: Augusta National Golf Club.

On the journey from his home in Hilltop, Alabama to Augusta, Georgia, Ben Putter acquires a traveling companion, a girl named Noni. The two of them beg, borrow, and steal their way across country to get to Augusta in time for the Masters Tournament. Both children have secrets, and both have daddy issues. The suspense in the story is tied up in whether or not they will be able to get to Augusta in time for the Masters, but also in how the two will resolve their respective relationships with their fathers. It’s a tearjerker, very emotional.

Almost too emotional. Ben Putter works out years of grief, anger, estrangement and misunderstanding over the course of a few days. And Noni has a deep-seated trauma of her own to work though. There are several very sentimental and pathos-filled scenes in which Ben Putter talks to his dad, in which the two children take a stand against the segregationists of the early 1970’s, in which Noni forgives and reconciles with her father, in which Ben says good-bye to the father who never really understood him. Much Sturm-und-Drang. Father issues. Tears and trials.

But it’s not a bad little Mississippi, golfing, and dealing with death story.

The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Set in 1972, this novel for middle grade readers tells the story of Peter Lee, a Chinese-American boy who loves baseball, and his very traditional Taiwanese father, Chen Lee. These two are the characters around whom the narrative revolves as Peter and his “Ba” (what Peter calls his dad) come to understand and even appreciate one another through the medium and backdrop of baseball.

At the beginning of the story, Peter describes his dad as a “man of science and great believer in cleanliness and order.” Peter’s dad doesn’t seem to be very interested in baseball, nor does he take much interest in Peter’s ideas or feelings. Peter’s school work is the only thing that Ba notices about his son, and mostly he notices when Peter is not doing well in school. Peter’s mother, who has been the emotional glue that held this family together in the past, has reacted to a tragedy in the family by retreating into a world of watching television and sleeping. Whereas she and Peter used to share an interest in baseball, particularly the Pittsburgh Pirates, now “Mom” is cold and unresponsive. And Ba simply allows her to continue to sit and do nothing.

The book is a fascinating account of a family dealing with the depressive illness of one of its members, even though the words “clinical depression” are never used. Perhaps in this traditional Chinese family, in the early 1970’s, there is no concept of depression as a treatable mental illness. Nevertheless, at the end of the book Ba says something very wise and insightful about dealing with an ongoing family crisis or illness, any such calamity:

“I don’t know what to do next,” I say (Peter).

Ba lowers his head and clears his throat. “What you do is keep moving. Some days you will only do small things all day. You get up in the morning and you get dressed and you wash your face. You go to school. I go to work. We have baseball.”

So wise. There are other issues and conflicts and wise (and foolish) decisions in the book: girls playing Little League baseball, bullying, fathers and sons and over-zealous coaches, the meaning of playing baseball. But the growing relationship between Peter and Ba was what made the book come alive for me. The Way Home Looks Now is a good story, full of baseball metaphors (and I really like me some baseball metaphors), and it paints a fine picture of a boy coming to understand and appreciate his father’s love and concern that is expressed in a way that doesn’t look exactly the way an eleven or twelve year old boy might recognize or want it to look.

Recommended for lovers of baseball and for boys and girls with fathers, which should include most everyone.

Christmas in Leipzig, Germany, c. 1735

The Twenty Children of Johann Sebastian Bach by David Arkin.

As a part of a large donation to my library of ex-library books, I found this wonderful book about Bach and his family. The author says that of the twenty children (by two successive wives), seven did not live. So, that leaves thirteen little Bachs to learn to sing and play music and compose music. It must have been a delightful household.

The book mentions Christmas:

“Most wonderful of all were the times when the family gathered together at holidays with their friends. Then the immortal music of all the Bachs would ring out for the earth and heavens to hear. Perhaps they would sing the Christmas Oratorio, or a cantata, or maybe they would just make up music as they went along.”

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio was composed in 1734, so that’s why I dated this Christmas post 1735. I think this celebration of music and Bach and his family would be a great read at any time of the year. The illustrations by author David Arkin are lovely and detailed pencil drawings of all the Bachs and their musical activities. David Arkin, by the way, was the father of actor Alan Arkin, and he wrote the lyrics to Black and White, a hit pop song recorded most successfully by Three Dog Night in 1972.

(So after writing this post, I went over to youtube and listened to some Three Dog Night: Black and White, The Road to Shambhala, Old Fashioned Love Song, Never Been to Spain, Joy to the World. Funny how a book about Bach can lead to a 70’s pop binge listen.)

The Rest of the Story: Phan Thi Kim Phuc

The late Paul Harvey had a feature on the radio called “The Rest of the Story” in which he would tell familiar stories of well-known people and events or commonplace tales of ordinary people–and then tell “the rest of the story”, the part that not many people know or the part that gives the true story an ironic twist. I’ve been reading a lot of unusual stories with unexpected endings myself lately, and I decided to share a few of them with you here at Semicolon.

On June 8, 1972 nine year old Kim Phuc was with her family in her village of Trang Bang near the Cambodian border in South Vietnam when a South Vietnamese pilot mistakenly dropped napalm near the outskirts of the village. Photographer Nick Ut took a picture of the resulting scene, and the photo won the Pulitzer Prize and was chosen as the World Press Photo of the Year in 1972. It is not a exaggeration to say that this photo of children attacked by America’s own allies in an already unpopular war helped influence American opinion against the war in Vietnam to such an extent that the Americans left Vietnam less than a year after the photo was taken.

'Kim Phuc - The Napalm Girl In Vietnam' photo (c) 2007, David Erickson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Mr. Ut took little Kim Phuc to a hospital where she received extensive treatment for her burns, and she survived and grew to adulthood in what became the Communist state of Vietnam. She was recruited by the Vietnamese government as a propaganda tool, the “napalm girl” who survived American and South Vietnamese wartime savagery. But it is the book that she discovered when she was a second year medical student in Saigon and what she did as a result of that discovery that make the rest of the story of Kim Phuc so intriguing and inspiring.

Want to read more about Kim Phuc and her amazing story of healing and forgiveness?

The Girl in the Picture by Denise Chong.

1972: Events and Inventions

January 4, 1972. The first scientific hand-held calculator (HP-35) is introduced.

'HP 35 Calculator' photo (c) 2007, Seth Morabito - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/January 30, 1972. 10,000 demonstrators defy a British government ban on public assemblies and march through the streets of Derry in Northern Ireland, protesting against the policy of internment without trial of suspected IRA terrorists by the British authorities. British troops confront the rock-throwing protestors, and the British use rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons, then real bullets to break up the crowd. 13 men and youths are killed and 17 wounded.

February 21, 1972. President Nixon of the United States goes to China to meet with Chairman Mao Zedong and Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. Nixon urges CHina to join the United States in a “long march together” to achieve world peace.

April 10, 1972. The U.S. and the Soviet Union join some 70 nations in signing the Biological Weapons Convention, an agreement to ban biological warfare.

May, 1972. In Burundi a genocidal attack against the Hutu begins; more than 500,000 Hutus die.

August 12, 1972. The last American ground troops leave South Vietnam, trusting the South Vietnamese themselves to continue the fight against the communist North. The North Vietnamese army, however, is steadily advancing toward Saigon in the south in spite of the bombing of supply routes by American B-52 bombers.

'Original Pong' photo (c) 2012, mediafury - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/September 5, 1972. At the Sumer Olympics in Munich, Germany, members of the Israeli Olympic team are taken hostage and eventually killed by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September.

October, 1972. The United States and the USSR sign a strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT) to reduce the number of atomic missiles in both countries.

November 29, 1972. Atari kicks off the first generation of video games with the release of their arcade version of Pong, the first game to achieve commercial success.

December 30, 1972. President Richard M. Nixon orders a halt to the bombing of North Vietnam as the North Vietnamese show a renewed interest in peace negotiations.

Stolen Lives by Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail by Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi.

Recommended by Laura at Musings: “In 1972, Moroccan defense minister General Mohamed Oufkir staged a failed coup d’etat against King Hassan II. Oufkir was reported to have committed suicide, but was found with five bullet wounds. In retaliation for the coup, his entire family was imprisoned: Oufkir’s wife, Fatima, and his children Malika, Raouf, Soukaina, Maria, Myriam, and Abdellatif. A cousin, Achoura, and a close family friend, Halima, joined them. Malika Oufkir was 17 years old; her brother Abdellatif was only 3.”

This nonfiction account of a family kept in cruel and unusual confinement in the desert of Morocco reminded me of nothing so much as Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. The Oufkir family were so badly treated and so cut off from the world for so very long that they, like the fictional Dr. Manette, were impaired in body, mind and soul when they were finally freed from the prisons of King Hassan II.

Malika Oufkir’s story is that of the spoiled rich girl brought low by injustice and subsequently redeemed through suffering and finally freed to appreciate a new life and love. It’s a classic plot, and the fact that it’s a true story, as trustworthy as memoirs can be these days, makes it all the more compelling. Some parts of the story are difficult to believe: Malika says that as a nineteen year old, educated and well-travelled, she had no idea that her father was a murderer and a tyrant. Perhaps not, but then again, maybe she chose her own blind spots. She also describes scenes of treatment so horrendous during the twenty years of her imprisonment that I would choose to disbelieve her testimony if I could, not wanting to believe that man can be so cruel to his fellowman. Western law embodies the principle that no person’s family should be punished for that person’s crimes. Malika, her mother, and her five brothers and sisters are cruelly punished for the crimes of Malika’s father, a fate that Ms. Oufkir says was not uncommon in Morocco under Hassan II.

An amazing story human resilience and courage. Read it and weep.

Bringing Back Kate, or What’s Up, Professor Grant?

Brown Bear Daughter and I watched the 1938 Katherine Hepburn/Cary Grant movie Bringing Up Baby the other night, and I realized about halfway through the movie that one of my other favorite movies, What’s Up Doc?, made in 1972 with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, was just a take-off on Bringing Up Baby, practically a remake. Absent-minded professor meets lunatic girl who brings his ordered life crashing down around him—and coincidentally ends his engagement to the wrong, boring girl. Screwball comedy. Innocent mayhem. Lots of laughs in both movies.

I like Katharine and Cary better than Barbra and Ryan, but for some reason I think What’s Up Doc? is the funnier movie. Madeleine Kahn, as Ryan O’Neal’s boringly hilarious fiance, adds a new layer of comedy to the second movie and almost steals the show. Hepburn would never have let herself get upstaged by anyone. Don’t you wish The Great Kate were still around to make more memorable movies? I’d love to see What’s Up Doc?, revised and updated, but starring magically young again Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.

The Bible or the Axe by William O. Levi

Subtitled “one man’s escape from persecution in the Sudan,” this autobiography reads like a novel. Wiliam Levi, the founder and president of Operation Nehemiah, was born in a village in Southern Sudan and grew up in Uganda in exile from his native land as a result of persecution and war in Sudan during the 1960’s. He returned to Sudan as a young teenager to go to school, but soon found that Islamic persecution intensified and interfered with his schooling and, eventually, threatened his life. At one point, William and couple of other young men decide to flee to Kenya in hopes of continuing their education. They are arrested, however, and charged with intending to join the Southern rebels against the government in Khartoum, the SPLA.

It’s funny what you think about when you know you are marked for death. Perversely, I was filled with regret that I would not be able to go to school. When you are seventeen, you have your whole life ahead of you; but for me, the desire to finish school was the first thing that came to my mind. (p. 183)

William experiences torture but is able to escape from the custody of the Sudanese government soldiers. He and his family see that he must leave Sudan, and William eventually travels to Egypt, then Turkey, then France, and finally seeks asylum in the United States. Throughout all his travels and adventures, William remains faithful to God and to his vision for obtaining an education for the sake of serving his people in Southern Sudan.

I was impressed with several things in William Levi’s life as I read his story. First of all, he is passionate about becoming educated. His family sacrifices for the sake of William’s education, and his first thought after gaining asylum in the U.S. is to further his education. Oh, that our children would realize the value of education and the riches that they have here in the United States in being able to pursue an education amid an abundance of educational resources.

Secondly, I am inspired by Mr. Levi’s steadfast faith. At his baptism, William’s grandfather gives him a choice of weapons: the Bible or the axe? Wiliam consistently chooses the Bible and faith as his weapons to defeat both earthly and spiritual enemies. None of his struggles are made to seem easy, either, whether it’s the difficulty of living with worldly roomates or the confusion of not knowing where God is leading and how He will provide. The Christian life requires faith in a God who is there even when we cannot see His ways, and the story of William Levi gives numerous examples of the real life application of this kind of faith.

Finally, I see in William Levi a man who is dedicated to service in the name of Jesus Christ. At the very end of the book, Mr. Levi concludes:

In 1972, there was a peace accord, but eleven years later it was followed by renewed oppression and genocide. Please help us build a strong and united biblically based Christian community in the South Sudan and throughout the entire country during this window of opportunity.

He then tells about some of the ministries of the Nehemiah Project: church planting, education, trade school, health care, ministry to Sudanese widows and orphans, investment in micro-businesses, agricultural projects and construction and infrastructure projects. Surely ministries like this one and projects that are grounded in a deep Christian faith are the hope of Sudan and of Africa. The novel I read a few months ago, Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo does a good job of showing the problems and the temptations inherent in any kind of relief work, especially in Sudan and northern Africa. This true story, The Bible or the Axe? sounds a note of hope. The problems and divisions in the Sudan are rooted so deeply in history and in the sinfulness of the human heart that Christ is the only hope.

This book was given to me as a gift by Mind and Media and by William O. Levi for the purposes of review. You can purchase a copy of The Bible or the Axe from Winepress Books. I’m planning to read this book aloud to all my urchins because I believe it would be an inspiration and an encouragement to them.