In the past few months I have done little reading. It was a very busy time with a series of events in which I participated and which often required a lot of preparation. In addition, there were writing and translation jobs which also took considerable time. Nonetheless, I recently happened to come across two remarkable books that made great reading.
When earlier this months I spent a week in Budapest I forgot to put some ‘light’ reading in my suitcase, so that I would have something relaxing in my hotel room at the end of the day. Fortunately, I discovered a shopping center at less than a mile from my hotel. Besides the shops of the main chains that one sees everywhere, there was, however, also a book store. To my surprise I found a few shelves with English paperbacks. Looking at these books I concluded that Gresham must have many fans in Hungary, for his books were very prominently present. I took my chance (for the description at the back cover did not reveal much about the content) and bought a thick paperback of a (to me) unknown author, Tom Rob Smith, entitled Child 44.
This purchase proved to be a fortunate one: the book is not only full of suspense but also very gripping. It is situated in the Russia of the Staling-era. The world of state sponsored terror, of the almighty secret services and the horror of the Gulag, are so realistically painted that the picture stayed with me for several days. Leo, the main character, is a member of one of the secret service organizations. He participates in the many unjustified arrests and cruel tortures of people who, usually without reason, are suspected of activities against the state. He is successful in his career, until he is demoted when he refuses to ‘solve’ a series of murders of young children in a manner required by his superiors. He becomes a fugitive, but somehow succeeds in solving the murders of 44 children . . .
And then there was another book that I found quite fascinating: a history of the Wadden (a string of small island in the North Sea, just above the coast of the northern part of the Netherlands). The book is written by Mathijs Deen. A review in one of the main Dutch newspapers described it as ‘fascinating and beautifully written’—and the author certainly deserves this praise. It is one of those books that makes you aware of how little you, in fact, know even about parts of your own country. Of course, I know the names of these islands: Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland, Schiermonnikoog, and the uninhabited island of Rottum. But until a few days ago I hardly knew anything about the origin of these islands and how they developed into what they are today. To my amazement I discovered that once upon a time the island of Terschelling had even been an independent ‘nation’. And I found many other things that were totally new for me.
These islands, which are now so popular with large numbers of tourists were not always as peaceful as they are today. In 1231 two Frisian coastal villages—Eenrum and Uithuizen—started a ‘war’, since both places claimed possession of one of the nearby islands. The conflict escalated when at a given moment the people from the area of Drenthe allied themselved with Uithuizen, while people from Groningen decided to help Eenrum. When, after a few years a settlement was reached, the death toll of the conflict had risen to several hundred persons!
Reading the first book I could not avoid thinking of the war against the IS terror. The kind of merciless violence that is committed by IS is, unfortunately, not unique. The Holocaust, the reign of Stalin and the brutal murders of the Red Kmer, are some recent examples of large-scale terrorism that are still vivid in our collective memories. We must face the sad reality that destroying IS is no guarantee that similar atrocities will never happen again.
The second book, with its description of the war between Uithuizen and Eenrum, made me think of the many ‘forgotten’ wars that no longer worry us. At present our national and international attention is so focused on IS that we ae inclined to ‘forget’ the many smaller wars and conflicts that are still being fought in many places on our planet. That is regrettable, since it allows much senseless violence to continue unchecked, without any outside intervention.
In the coming weeks I expect to have a somewhat lighter program. It is high time to tackle a serious theological book, or to choose something that is truly relaxing—something that does not make me constantly think of these ‘rumors of war’. Yet, have we not been told in the Bible that the rumors of war will not disappear as long as this world continus to exist?