Jan 20

CuttingForStoneCutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese ★★★
This book is about two identical twin boys, Marion and Sheva, growing up at a mission hospital in Ethiopia, whose mother died at the time of birth and father disappeared at the time of birth. Verghese weaves a complex maze of incidences which lead to the ultimate fate of each of the two boys. The setting is quite historical, in that it speaks of the epoch of Haile Selassie and subsequent revolution, which influenced events of the two boys. Eventually, the father is identified as a world famous liver surgeon in Boston. The book is written in either third person form, transforming into first person form of Marion as time goes on.
Reading the first third of the book had me quite excited as to having discovered an excellent novel. It went downhill from there. Verghese elaborates on some coming-of-age scenes with the boys, and other sexual escapades which seemed to dominate the author’s thinking. Too many incidences occur which are beyond the realm of reason. The father, Thomas Stone, writes in Africa the leading textbook of tropical medicine, only to become the world’s authority on partial liver transplantation. Right. Shiva skips medical school, and becomes the world authority on urovaginal fistulae. Marion becomes the head trauma surgeon at a New England hospital. Marion’s youthful girlfriend leads a hijacking of an airliner, only to find herself wandering aimlessly in the US. The original realism which decorated the first half of the book is lost completely in the second half. It was as though Verghese had become bored with writing and had to create imaginative ways to end the book.
This is a book that is perhaps slightly autobiographical, in that the author was born in Ethopia, with Indian connections and finally moved to the US in order to become a doctor. Thus, much of what he describes about the life and land of Ethiopia in the first portion of the book was wonderful.  His description of third world hospitals is quite accurate and brought back many memories. His idea of god is one giant Hindu Ethiopian Mary-oriented Catholic Muslim god who works in a random fashion, and extracts punishment or delivers favor in a quid pro quo mixed with arbitrary manner. This book is best read by reading the first ⅓ to ½, and then skipping to the last several chapters to find out what happened to everybody.
 

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Jan 20

MagnessHolyLandHoly Land Revealed, taught by Jodi Magness, Teaching Company video ★★
In anticipation of a return to the Holy Land, I purchased this video. I was quite apprehensive, as the Teaching Company has a tendency for any series under the category of “religion” to be taught by liberal professors. Jodi was not only hyper-liberal, but also did not offer what the title suggests would be the topic. It would have been better titled as Holy Land archaeology or Holy Land history rather than Holy Land revealed. I assumed that she would delve into the Holy Land itself, discussing the geography, cities, archaeological digs, etc., but ordered in a historical fashion. Instead, the main video was not of the land itself, but of her in the classroom teaching. She was placed on a large square rug that, like a good obedient puppy, she never leaves save for one time, where she got her right foot about ⅔ the way over the edge of the carpet. I wondered if the Teaching Company had a hidden cattle prod that shocked her back onto the rug at that point.
Magness offers the richness of an archaeologist that has frequently dug in Israel. She spends an entire talk on her dig that revealed the toilet habits of the Qumram community (?), and much related to the Roman Masada ramp, which actually was quite interesting. Much of her talk oriented more around history than the land itself, which did not seem to be the topic suggested by the title of this lecture series.
Magness shows herself as a typical liberal, in that she easily holds extra-biblical materials, such as the writings of Josephus, as more credible than Scripture itself. She seems to delight whenever archaeology might suggest something contrary to Scripture, such as the dating of Herod’s slaughter of the children, or timing of the fall of Jericho. Sadly, she is unwilling to explore the controversy in these areas, but presents things as cut and dried. She is a perfect example of claiming that her scientific quest is “open-minded” and yet is hell-bent on proving a hypothesis, let all of the evidence be damned. Scripture over time has proven itself irrefutably infallible, about the only thing that one can safely hang their hat on, regardless of the storms and assaults of man. Archaeological evidence is highly subjective, the theories for interpretation of the data are constantly changing, and the evidence is often contradictory, leading to strange and obtuse theories to explain away the contradictions.
I learned some history in this presentation. I also learned a few interesting facts about the “land” itself. It wasn’t a totally worthless series, though it did not offer what the title and lecture subjects suggested that it would cover.
 
 

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Jan 20

GoreckiStringQuartGórecki String Quartets, performed by the Royal String Quartet ★★★★★
If you prefer to listen to pop/rock music, you will truly detest these pieces, as they are not easily accessible. The music is complex, challenging, and multi-layered. It is not 12-tone music, but definitely does not hold to a given key as your typical tonal composition. Unlike much 20th century music, which is nothing but noise, Górecki succeeds in accomplishing a convincing piece of music. The quartets fit the style of Shostakovich, though definitely having the personal sound unique to Górecki. The performance is very well done, and the recording comes across as sharp. This is not music for everybody, but seems to suit my taste quite well.
 

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