review: praying for sheetrock

Title: Praying for Sheetrock

Author: Melissa Fay Greene

Genre: creative nonfiction

Form: paperback

Recommended: Yes

Thoughts: Greene tells the story of the civil rights movement in McIntosh County, George in the 1970’s. Most of the book sounds like stories found in novels telling of more historic times, thus leaving the reader with a poignant reminder of how long change has taken and how hard people fought for each step of change. Through excellent research and by striking a good blance between story and history, Greene brings to life characters of the story.

review: walking on water

Title: Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

Author: Madeline L’Engle

Genre: creative nonfiction

Form: paperback

Recommended: definitely

Thoughts: To L’Engle, art and faith are inseparable – and through this book she winds the two together in such a way that it is at once explanation of the creative process and devotional. To everyone who is an artist, this book will sing to your soul. If you want to understand an artist, this book will open up their world. This is one I will reread until it falls apart. 

three stories

In Uganda I finished one book and read another – both beautiful works of creative nonfiction. The Chains of Heaven took me through northern Ethiopia visiting remote villages and monasteries more secluded than what seems possible. And through it all, it was as if Philip Marsden was saying, “This is what life is in Ethiopia. Here is history that lives on today.” The Bookseller of Kabul took me to Afghanistan to get to know a family that seemed different, but was trapped by tradition on every side. And through this family, Asne Seierstad  seemed to say, “Here is Afghanistan, where tradition traps people and slowly destroys women.”

And while I am reading these books, I am in Northern Uganda where there has been an incredible amount of pain and heartache in recent years. I visit villages that, just two years ago, were on roads that were dangerous to travel. I pass schools were children were abducted. I hear stories of bravery in the face of evil. I hear of a child left for dead by the rebels, but who survived. I see houses newly rebuilt as people returned from the camps. Driving through the beautiful countryside it takes my colleagues, my friends, telling me these stories to make it real because there are no bombed out buildings to indicate recent destruction. Just red dirt roads. It as is if I am reading a creative nonfiction book through their stories. And so, in my head, I am in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Uganda all at once. 

I spend one day visiting villages where our partners have not worked, and the next two days I go where they have worked. I say worked, but really I mean loved. How to explain the difference in these villages? Where they have not worked, people are drinking out of streams and water holes that resemble mud holes. Latrines are falling down, it seems as if the bush is pushing in on the village trying to slowly suffocate it. In the villages where they have worked, clean water is being drunk from wells or biosand filters. There are drying racks for dishes, latrines with doors and roofs and solid floors, hand washing stations, and garbage pits. The compounds around the houses are clean and the bush seems content to stay where it is. Are the children and the clothes cleaner? Is there a brightness in their eyes? I would like to believe so, but maybe it is just my imagination. Regardless, it seems as if there is hope here. They could live steeped in past pain, but this is a story of change, of growth, of hope. And that is why I say my colleagues and friends loved on these people. Because items and things can change the physical, but for the heart, it takes love.

Ethiopia was about history and today being one. Afghanistan was about tradition trapping people. Uganda was about hope and love prevailing. Uganda was my favorite story. 

review: the bookseller of kabul

Title: The Bookseller of Kabul

Author: Asne Seierstad

Genre: creative nonfiction

Form: paperback

Recommended: definitely

Thoughts: In 2001, Asne Seierstad traveled Afghanistan during which she met a bookseller who seemed unique. Here she tells the story of the bookseller’s family, who she lived with for 6 months. Asne quickly pulls you into the story of this family that looks unique on the outside, but who’s reality is the norm. In so doing, you become lost in the often sad life and traditions, and are left feeling that you have just lived a piece of life in Afghanistan. 

review: the chains of heaven

Title: The Chains of Heaven: An Ethiopian Romance

Author: Philip Marsden

Genre: creative nonfiction, travel 

Form: paperback

Recommended: Yes

Thoughts:  At age 21 Marsden tried to travel Ethiopia, but was quickly shut out as the nation was collapsing in conflict. Two decades later he was able to fulfill his dream and walks through northern Ethiopia visiting churches and remote monasteries along the way. Marsden winds his story of walking with the history of the region in such a way that past becomes present as history lives through the people he meets. At times there is more history filled with hard to pronounce (much less remember) names than there is story, but as a whole, The Chains of Heaven leaves you with a vivid image of Ethiopia that entices you to put on your walking shoes. 


There were a few great quotes in this book, and I can’t resist including to excerpts here. I hope you enjoy: 

“Ethiopia taught me many things. As a naive twenty-one-year-old, with years of flunked schooling behind me, I was ready for the simplest of lessons. Instead I was presented with paradoxes. I learnt of the cruelty that could be perpetrated in the name of a good idea. I saw how a people hurtling towards catastrophe, hungry, with population growth out of control, could go on living day to day with such astonishing grace. I saw how those apparently ignored by divine goodness could still apply their greatest energy to worship. I learnt that the human spirit is more robust than life itself.

Ethiopia opened my eyes to the earth’s limitless range. I pictured the country’s startling scenes and stories multiplied across the globe, then factored up by the past. It made the notion of ‘a small world’, ‘a shrinking world’, look absurd, and it made me restless. 

Ethiopia instilled in me the habit of a lifetime, the habit of travel. It revealed the rewards that can be had simply from being footloose among strangers, from taking remote and narrow paths with bare-legged farmers. It bred in me the conviction that if there is any purpose to our time on this earth, it is to understand it, to seek out its diversity, to celebrate its heroes and its wonders — in short, to witness it.” pg 21


“Outside the church gates, two hundred men had gathered for their monthly council. They sat in the dust, on bare banks and knuckle-like boulders. They were clustered beneath the cooling foliage of eucalyptus. I stood in the shad with Hiluf and we watched. 

One among them rose to his feet. 

‘I bought fertilizer. The kebelle [administrative district] gave me the money and said, You can pay us after harvest. But the size of the harvest was too small. Now they want much more money.’

A debtara [non-ordained church official, responsible for the music and danching, often expert in herbal lore] answered. ‘You must be careful to pay back as early as you can. Even if your maize is not growing, the amount to pay still grows.’

Another stood. ‘They told us we must dig a hole for a pond. They said they will give us a sheet. Well I have dug my hole and they say there is no sheet.’

‘I have dug a hole too. My cattle fell in and couldn’t get out.’

‘Put brush around it. At kermet [the season of ‘big’ rains, typically late June to early September] God will provide water.’

‘Last kermet the water did not fill the pond even half — now it is all gone…’

For some time the complexities of rural life were aired, a life in which development schemes arrived like the weather, God-given: sometimes they brought salvation and sometimes they brought disaster.” pg 248-250