The Forgiveness Project: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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imageNonfiction 2015 Welcome to another Five Things I’ve Learned review.  Today I have a read which was both highly engaging and deeply thought-provoking, and as it consists of a collection of personal stories I am going to submit it for the Non-fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader, in which I have chosen to participate. Hence the comfortable chair.

I received a copy of The Forgiveness Project: Stories for a Vengeful Age by Marina Cantacuzino (and others) from the publishers via Netgalley, and I am very glad to have done so because it’s been a while since I’ve read a book that lays out its concept so simply, but with such depth of thought behind it.  Allow me to elaborate.

In 2004 in London, Marina Cantacuzino opened a photographic exhibition called “The F Word”.  Featuring pictures of victims of all sorts of crime and trauma alongside their perpetrators, the exhibition drew both congratulations and controversy, so loaded is our diverse sense of the act of forgiving.  In this book, Cantacuzino has collected personal narratives from those who have chosen to forgive, rather than seek vengeance.  Featuring people from all nations, and victims and perpetrators of everything from street crime, to incest to terrorism and genocide, this book is striking in its breadth, as well as in the depth to which the process of forgiveness has changed the lives of those whose stories are collected here.

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So here are Five Things I’ve Learned from

The Forgiveness Project

1. Forgiveness does not have to have a spiritual connotation.

2.  For many people, forgiveness is a process, rather than a final destination.

3.  It appears that its possibly to forgive even the most heinous and unimaginable of crimes, given the right context.

4.  To forgive is to invite judgement.

5.  The power of art and narrative, simply expressed, is undeniable.

I admit that I was a little afraid when I picked this book up that it would be replete with graphic and disturbing recollections of terrible events, with a bit of a focus on why forgiving is a good thing.  Happily, this collection is nothing of the sort and, in my opinion, much the better for it.

The book begins with a comprehensive, yet very readable, introduction from the author, explaining the original photographic exhibition and the response it garnered, both positive and negative.  While many were pleased and moved by the imagery and stories on offer in the exhibition, others were angered about everything from the stories featured to the title of the exhibition connoting forgiveness with a swear word.  This introduction sets the tone beautifully for the real essence of the book.  It is not meant to be a prescriptive, everyone-should-forgive-and-this-is-how-you-do-it sort of guide, but an in-depth exploration of the concept of forgiveness: what it is, how it works and the different ways in which individuals have used the concept to achieve a desired end in their lives.

The great strength of the collection, I think, is the variety of stories and individuals featured and the myriad ways that they have engaged with the concept of forgiveness.  For some, forgiveness arrived as a creative way to take their identity or personal power back from their perpetrator.  Others undertook forgiveness as a conscious choice to release their right to revenge, or as a means to break a cycle of violence.  Some of the narrators have a background featuring a spiritual understanding of forgiveness, while others are more pragmatic about the concept and still others wish not to label their actions as “forgiveness” for reasons personal to their story.

Many of the narrators note how loaded the concept is and mention the backlash they received after seeking to forgive.  This backlash could come from many corners – from fellow survivors, who consider forgiveness as trivialising or excusing the event or behaviour; from family or friends, who could not understand how one could forgive certain heinous crimes; from non-forgivers, who feel judged because of the magnanimity of those who do forgive.

Overall, I found this to be an incredibly important reading experience in what does seem to be a “vengeful age”, as well as a litigious one.  I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in peaceful responses to violence and injustice, or indeed anyone who is simply looking for some incredibly gripping and inspirational personal narratives from around the world, presented in simple, bite-sized chunks.

I realise it’s only March, but I feel pretty safe in saying that this is one of my “Top Picks of 2015”, were I to engage in such list-making.

Progress toward Non-Fiction Reading Challenge Goal: 3/10

Until next time,

Bruce

A YA Indie Double Dip: The Power of One (Group of Like-minded Folk)…

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Welcome to another Double-Dip review, in which we select a few books of note and thrust them forcefully into the condiment of revieweriness.  Today I have two indie YA titles for you – one dealing with attacks on a united group from supernatural forces and the other dealing with a horrifying attack on two family groups and how they deal with the aftermath.  Let’s get dipping!

When Tyler and Chris find a half-drowned girl in their fishing nets, they know it’s going to be a strange morning.  The girl, Reese, while recovering in Chris’s fishing shack is able to summon a sword from thin air to destroy a demonic bat that flies through the window to attack her and that’s when the boys know – Reese is part of the Oneness.  Mysterious and deeply empathic, the Oneness is a group of individuals who are all connected to the Spirit, and have the ability and responsibility to defend ordinary humans from attacks from demonic forces.  But Reese claims to be an exile from the Oneness and this causes her untold grief.  Uncertain what to do, Tyler and Chris consult Chris’s mother Diane, who in turn calls in the local Oneness cell.  It’s apparent to all that there is something odd going on with Reese and when another member of the local cell goes missing, it is up to Tyler and Chris to jump into the fray and help the Oneness to find the source of the danger.  But while the Oneness possess all manner of paranormal abilities that give them the edge on the humans, this time the danger may be emanating from within.

exile the oneness cycleDip into it for…

…an action-packed paranormal romp that also features elements of spirituality and mystery.  This book was pitched as a “Christian paranormal fantasy” novel, but while there are undoubtedly elements that could be interpreted from a Christian context, they certainly needn’t be in order to understand the story. Those looking for the Christian flavour will certainly find it, but there is no explicit mention of Christian religion in the text, so those just hoping to enjoy a paranormal action-adventure shouldn’t be put off by any fear of overt spiritual preachiness or anything of that nature.

The plot rolls along quickly and while I struggled a little in the beginning pinning down some of the paranormal elements (as indeed, did some of the characters), the whole concept of the Oneness and how it works is explained well over the course of the book.  The characters are reasonably well-developed, with identifiable flaws, and as we discover more about the back stories of certain individuals we are given hints as to how the mystery might play out, before an action-filled climax.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like characters spending fair amounts of time engaged in various methods of soul-searching.  There’s quite a bit of introspection going on throughout the plot as some characters try to figure out who they are (or who they are meant to be)  and others attempt to atone for past mistakes.  If you’re not into that, I can imagine that certain parts of the story could end up quite irritating for you.

Overall Dip Factor:

I was happily engaged with this tale after the learning curve of the first few chapters and I appreciated the balance that the author has achieved between character development and relationships between characters, and demon-slaying, sword-swinging action.  There’s also a mystery to solve involving Reese and her original cell that adds a nice bit of intrigue and depth to the last few chapters of the book.  The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger, but as the other four books in the cycle have already been released, those who get sucked in to the story will be able to satisfy their curiosity without a long wait.  I’d certainly recommend this to lovers of YA paranormal who are looking for something a bit out of the ordinary in the genre.

Now onto The Singing Sand Story by Aussie indie author David Chattaway.  The edition I received is an anthology of the two parts of the story, Singing Sand and Quietus.

Jamal has finally found a safe home with the Nelson family after a traumatic incident did for both his parents. While on a family camping holiday with the Nelson family and their friends the Thompsons, Mary, the Nelson’s eldest daughter, is brutally attacked by two men. As Jamal and Michael, one of the Thompsons, attempt to get Mary to safety, the boys come across the men who attacked Mary and give chase. As events spiral out of control with deadly consequences, the families must band together and make life-changing decisions in an instant in order to stay alive.  

In Quietus, as the families recover from the traumatic events of their camping trip, Jamal’s past unexpectedly catches up with him. With his family plunged into danger once again, Jamal struggles to understand why this stranger is threatening his life. As the reasons become clear, Jamal must once again decide how far he is prepared to go to protect those he loves.

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Dip into it for…

…a fast-paced drama that plunges its characters into an unimaginable situation – twice. There’s some real thriller material in these two short novels as two families are essentially taken hostage and threatened for reasons that are not immediately clear. The relationships between the characters are well-developed, although much of Jamal’s back story is a mystery even to him, and the plot unfolds like a chain of dominoes, with one decision affecting the next until the characters are between a rock and a hard place, having to make decisions that no reasonable person would want to face.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of real-life (as opposed to fantasy) violence in young adult books. These two stories have quite a bit of violence, and particularly, in the first book, violence against a young girl. If that’s not something you are prepared to encounter in your reading, you should best move swiftly on.

Overall Dip Factor:

This is another unexpected and original contribution to the YA genre. It may just be that I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction that features scary, real-life situations, but I suspect that there isn’t a great deal of it out there and so The Singing Sand Story is definitely worth a look. Apart from the action in the plot, there is also plenty of food for thought regarding how young people in traumatic situations go about healing and recovering from such events, and how difficult decisions can impact on identity. I’d recommend this one to YA lovers who are looking for something more gritty and realistic in their contemporary fiction.

So it’s been a week of indie contributions so far and I hope I’ve inspired you to step away from the big publishers once in a while to check out the little guys.

Until next time,

Bruce