BOOK REVIEW: The King’s Commissar by Duncan Kyle

The plot is convoluted which is exactly what I like about the book. The story can essentially be divided into two timelines; one in the immediate aftermath of the last Tsar’s downfall in Russia and the other in latter day England.

Hillyard and Cleef is a London-based investment bank which has been depositing a specified amount of money every year into an anonymous Swiss account ever since the end of the First World War. An American, Laurence Pilgrim, is brought in to take over management of the bank from the English gentleman Sir Horace Malory. Laurence starts challenging the wisdom of defaulting the vault by giving away money to an unspecified destination. Sir Malory cautions him not to dig up old graves. He shows Pilgrim a simple letter written by  Sir Basil, Sir Malory’s predecessor,  instructing total silence about the matter, no questions asked. The American of course chooses not to listen.

What follows is a sequence of events whereby a young Royal Navy commander (Ltd Cdr) Dikeston recounts, through his letters, his mission which led to the yearly deposit tradition. He never makes it easy for one to solve his riddles and find these letters which also prove to be much more expensive to acquire than the yearly deposits. Dikeston narrates how he was sent on a solo secretive mission under direct orders of the King of England to rescue his cousin, the Tsar of the Russias who had been overthrown by Lenin’s  Bolsheviks. He sets out his mission under the guise of being a Moscow-backed Commissar of the Communist Party. The mission is hit with monumental setbacks which propel the story forward.

The King’s Commissar is an average fictitionalised historical thriller. What makes it better than a few is the use of language which again does not stand out but is delivered with beautiful precision. The author’s journalistic background is evident throughout the book. Will I recommend it? I am not so sure I can.

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THE THIN LINE BETWEEN BRAVERY AND STUPIDITY

At times it is impossible to distinguish between the two; bravery and stupidity. They even share the same definition in most parts. In no other arena is this apparently mutually exclusive dichotomy more blurry than in a war or revolution.

The world has had a front row view of this tragedy on the Korean Peninsula. As the President of Zimbabwe rightfully said at this year’s UN General Assembly, “we are all embarrassed if not frightened”. What makes the whole scenario even more sinister is that the trigger to the nukes is in the hands of two childish bullies. Their poor rhetoric betrays with weakness. If it takes only a Twitter post to get some senior official fired then we fear the outcome of one tantrum gone wrong.

Zimbabwe has never been spared from this blurry and murky quagmire. What we see in the nation is a forced fast on an already beaten up Christian voter with no other weapon but prayer, faith and hope. Excitement is still deficient. What pervades the atmosphere is dejection at an outcome already sealed before being opened. The economy is taking a precipitous fall and no one expected it to come so soon and so fast. Everyone was busy concentrating on the drama that is Zimbabwean politics.

The result has been a mushroom effect among the politically-ambitious youths who also want a piece of the corruption gravy train steaming on ahead into a cataclysmic abyss which has now beckoned on our door-steps. The greatest threat to the nation’s recovery and progress is the cabal of errant youths who have made the choice to emulate the failed ruling system. What eludes their aberrant reasoning is the fact that the train they are clinging onto is about to reach its last station.

Tardiness is not an option. Inflammatory words might just get us all killed. This is the time that we should all learn the power of words in both written and spoken forms. A single word might usher one into the realm of stupidity under the guise of bravery.

BOOK REVIEW: Gifted Hands by Ben Carson

I would like to state from the outset that the full title of this book is in actual fact Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. It is an autobiography written, with the aid of Cecil Murphey, by the celebrated Neurosurgeon Prof Benjamin Carson  who fought against all odds to reach the pinnacle of a field many associate with great intellect.

The sole purpose of the book is to inspire youngsters into believing in themselves and using their ability to read to widen their world understanding. Since its publication in 1990 the book has been so successful that some schools in the United States of America have adopted it into their curriculum and various reading clubs and scholarships have been named after the author.

Ben, along with his elder brother Curtis, was born and grew up in American slums and was raised by a single, uneducated and God-fearing mother who also writes a letter to the reader at the beginning of the book. His father deserted them when the author was only 8 years old to be with his other family for he was a bigamist. The boy’s mother could hardly cope with meeting the family’s financial demands and only survived by doing menial jobs such as house-cleaning.

Ben did not do so well academically when he was in elementary school to the extent of being ridiculed by his classmates and earning the title, “class dummy”. All this changed when his mother made a radical change in the house rules. Sonya (the author’s mother) was so inspired by the reading habits of the successful people whose houses she cleaned that she forced her children to read at least two books a week and write a report on each book read. Television watching was reduced to a couple of shows a week. As if by magic Ben’s and Curtis’ grades started to shoot up and they never faltered ever since.

The young disadvantaged boy would climb up the academic ranks to becoming a Presidential candidate in the 2016 US elections. He lost in the Republican primary elections but this candidature in itself was just icing on the cake. He was already well-accomplished. He was the first Neurosurgeon to successfully do hemispherectomies (removing half the brain) in epileptic patients, separate cranial conjoined twins (twins with fused heads) and myriad other innovations in the field of Neurosurgery. What I found particularly interesting was his appointment as the Chief of Paediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions at the tender age of just 33!

I highly recommend this book.

THE ALIEN THEORY IS A DECEPTION

The fact that we are not alone is now beyond argument. The evidence is overwhelming. What I do not subscribe to is the theory that these non-human creatures come from ‘outer space’ or ‘from our future selves, post-nuclear decimation’. I believe these creatures are actually demonic creatures which are part of Satan’s army.

The fallacy stems from the notion that earth belongs to human beings. Jesus Christ Himself refers to Satan as ‘the ruler of this world’. It means that whatever is not of Christ is from Satan. I would also want to draw attention to the first verses of the Holy Scriptures in the book of Genesis. It says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. This means that human beings were created well after all the planets and earth itself were created. The jump from the first verse to the second verse is epic. It only describes the earth and it’s form. It does not talk about the other planets in the heavens but only focuses on one of God’s creations, Earth.

The proceeding verses depict God’s intention of creating a planet with beings “in His own image” [Genesis 1:27]. This means that among all of God’s creation we are the chosen race. Those who do not know this Eternal Truth will have no choice but to take their “aliens” for what they say they are. It eludes their minds that if human beings can lie so can any other creature especially one with a superior intelligence.

One fact that has been consistent among the Alien Theory is that these creatures have a superior intellect. Perhaps this is where the average Christian allows fear to grip them into dejection. The Eternal Truth teaches that God only listens from the heart and not from the mind. A good illustration is drawn from the temptation of Jesus Christ in the desert. Even Satan was quoting from the Scriptures because he knew that where the Scriptures are is where the heart of God is. His attack on Jesus Christ was only in the mind because he knew that once the mind is captured it will be easy to get to the heart and take away the soul. The adage, ‘An idle mind is the devil’s workshop’ is actually Biblical in its moral teaching.

The Eternal Truth even went as far as teaching us how to kick the devil and his minions out of our minds; by filling them with the Word of God. Once the mind is preoccupied with the Truth then no one can have access to it and the heart will be safely guarded from infiltration.

A very accurate explanation of what these “aliens” really are is given in the Book of Enoch which I completely believe to be true simply because it does not contradict the Book of Genesis. What it does is explain in detail the structure of God’s creation made in the first chapter of Genesis. Once one reads and understands the book it becomes clear that these aliens are actually those fallen angels who had been locked up in hell but are now being released in fulfilment of prophecy. The Bible’s greatest apostle, Paul, even SPECIFICALLY warned about this alien theory in 2 Thessalonians 2.

The purpose of the Alien Theory is to usher in the antiChrist who will appear to the world and supposedly saves the human race from these “malicious aliens” thereby declaring himself saviour of the world.

PLATO ON PROFESSORS AND POLITICS

The Greeks’ greatest gift to the world was civilisation. They have even defined it for those of us who have chosen to receive the gift. It is simply the change of government from one ruled by fighting to that ruled by thinking. Plato is the philosopher who made this happen.

I have always found it peculiar just how much an influence his teachings had on Christianity. His influence was said to have been through Aurelius Augustinus (St Augustine of Hipo) a North African bishop and Catholic intellectual who merged the works of Greek philosophy with the Holy Scriptures. St Augustine is the same man after whom one of the greatest schools in the history of Zimbabwe is named.

Plato has had such a profound influence on modern society to the extent of being skeletonised into just a name associated with the foundations of anything ‘organised into a system’. Historians have consistently found it a challenge to delineate between Plato’s actual words and those of his teacher (Socrates) or his student (Aristotle). There is near consensus that his actual works have endured more than any of his contemporaries; they are said to have survived for the past 2400 years.

The connection between Plato and Christianity has a sizeable following in the philosophy world. These ardent followers have even gone to the extent of describing Christianity as “Platonism for the people” and some have dubbed Plato “The Hellenic Moses”. If I were to join this gravy train I would be compelled to argue that Plato was the same man as Paul, the Scriptures’ greatest apostle and Socrates, Plato’s purported teacher, was actually Saul meaning they were the same man. The records are so hazy I feel this argument might just hold water if I were to be challenged to defend it.

Plato’s greatest work on politics, THE REPUBLIC, laid the foundation on which the relationship between intellectuals and politics in a civilisation is to be consummated. It paints a picture which is completely opposite to what we have in our ‘modern civilisation’. Plato taught us that the role of intellectuals in society is to guide the politicians into making decisions based on reason and to stop them from using force to govern. He also implores intellectuals to constantly challenge politicians’ decisions and hold them accountable to every action they take. It is such a pitiful tragedy to see how we have moved away from this exhortation to being a society where intellectuals close their mouths and ignore their politicians’ truancy.

Providence has provided our modern civilisation with another chance to take heed of this simple principle in the form of Noam Chomsky, the world’s greatest living philosopher. His seminal essay, The Responsibility of Intellectuals, published in 1967 essentially repeated what Plato had written two and a half millennia before. Chomsky wrote the essay in protest to the silence of American intellectuals against the US government’s role in the Vietnam War. I find it particularly interesting that his work with E.S. Herman in which they defended unconditional freedom of speech was well articulated by J.M. Cotzee in his first work of fiction, Dusklands,  which was also published at the same time.

The purest breed of intellectuals have consistently castigated the use of propaganda as an abomination in any civilisation worth its salt. We have had first hand experience of this repression under the hands of an intellectual who went into politics and was put in charge of an oppressive regime’s information ministry. Parallels can be drawn with the Nazi regime in which an intellectual, Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels, was put in charge of propaganda. The men share remarkable similarities down to the tee. I almost made a sigh of relief when this certain academic recently held a press conference in which he lamented the betrayal of intellectuals who have not been actively reprimanding politicians but my sigh stopped mid-way when I realised that the conversation had revolved back to animals on t-shirts.

The relationship between academia and politics is not unilateral. It can run in the opposite direction and still bear fruit. Our country is a good place to start. The incumbent president has never made it a secret that he respects anyone with a sharp and educated mind. That explains the continued and inexplicable presence of the academic-cum-politician mentioned above. Education is our president’s legacy. For all his faults the man will always be remembered as the man who taught us the value of education. It has become the norm that in modern day Zimbabwe you have to be well educated to have any form of credibility. We are fast evolving into a society in which a doctorate is an absolute must if one is to hold any form of public office.

ON AGE AND ACHIEVEMENT

Somewhere along human evolution from binary existence (Survival vs Death) to a blob of grey morality, perception, philosophy and dogma a fallacy was injected into the human psyche that states that wisdom comes with age. Nothing can be further from the truth.

Myriad illustrations can be conjured to rebuff this misguided notion. The field of mathematics makes for a good start. Albert Einstein discovered his groundbreaking theories in his twenties. Stephen Hawking started making ground-breaking discoveries in his twenties. Isaac Newton started his intellectual voyage in his thirties. The list is exhaustive. In recent decades there has been a surge in the number of precocious geniuses who have been exalted in television shows such as Child Genius. An alert mind will now start to make an argument that genius and wisdom are separate entities. The field of literature waters this refutation.

The Beat Generation is a classic example of genius existing in inverse proportion to wisdom. D.H Lawrence was smart but not wise; he was an alcoholic. Many other literary minds have also succumbed to various forms of perversion even to the extent of committing suicide. And of course not forgetting our very own Zimbabwean doppleganger, Dambudzo. I find it interesting that authors live a life independent of some of the very wise characters they create. I am even bold enough to claim that all writers have in some form or another written about their ‘wiser self’. This theory holds true in that subset of authors whose works are semi-autobiographical. Visual artists act in like manner.

I view age as nothing but a count-down to the inevitable. Allow me to open the pages of the Eternal Truth. King David was very wise at a very tender age to the extent that the reigning king also feared him on account of his wisdom. [1 Samuel 18:15]. David started his reign at the age of 30. [2 Samuel 5:4]. The wisest king in the Holy Scriptures, Solomon, admitted that he was young at the start of his reign but he knew that there is a way to gain wisdom in spite of age. [1 Kings 3:7-12]. I would like to draw the gentle reader to the fact that God concurred with Solomon on the definition of wisdom. It was defined as the ability to “discern between good and evil”. [1 Kings 3:9]. A very simple definition for an over-sensationalised concept.

A parallel can be drawn from the 14th Dalai Lama, Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso . In his book, ANCIENT WISDOM, MODERN WORLD: Ethics for the Millennium, published in 1999, he exhorts humanity to seek wisdom on the basis of discipline, virtue, love, compassion, patience, tolerance and forgiveness. I believe the man is worth listening to; he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 at age 54 and started his reign at the extremely tender age of just 2 years old.

I find comfort in the fact that a human being can only live up to the stipulated limit of 120 years. [Genesis 6:3]. Perhaps it is not so comforting for the citizenry of the tiny but extremely blessed nation of Zimbabwe. I also happen to think the ancient Munhumutapa Empire, whose capital was Great Zimbabwe, is the biblical land of Ophir. But I digress. In recent times a hilarious debate occurred in the nation’s parliament where-by the Minister of Justice attempted to belittle a sharp and young opposition politician on account of age and in the process kicking a hornet’s nest that is the President’s advanced age (93 years old). If this biblical truth were to be taken at face value it can be taken to mean that the said geriatric President may reign for 27 more years!

BOOK REVIEW: Dusklands by John Maxwell Coetzee

This was the first book that the South African Nobel Laureate in Literature (2003) wrote. It is a tragedy that this beautiful work of art has by and large been ignored in favour of the author’s later works such as Life and Times of Michael K and Disgrace for which he won the Booker Prize in 1983 and 1999 respectively. J.M. Coetzee has been described by many as the most decorated author alive and I must admit the title befits his talent.

Dusklands is actually a compendium of two novellas; The Vietnam Project and The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee. I should state right from the onset that I found the former intriguing and latter outright racist. The two novellas have disparate themes and plots but they share the author’s ingenuity in their delivery and literary contour. I wish to review the former and ignore the latter which I honestly do not care for. However I can force myself to accept the merits of The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee if  and only if I deceive my mind into accepting that the novella’s bad taste can be explained away by the contextual and temporal influence prevalent at the time of publishing. The book was published in 1974 and sold to the apartheid zealots who praised and waived with glee at anything anti-black.

The Vietnam Project chronicles the psychological anguish of one Eugene Dawn who works in the US Department of Defence during the Vietnam war. His job description is as sketchy as his lucidity. He reads books and newspapers for a living with the aim of creating the most effective propaganda in favour of the military conquests in the said country. He is a hermit who washes away his sorrow in the basement of the Harry S. Truman Library where he withers his time away in the comfortable recesses of thick tomes and ‘authorities’. His sole objective in life is pursuing ‘intellectual happiness’. Unfortunately this happiness is fleeting and vanishes every time he encounters his detached wife, Marilyn. I can relate with this.

The influence of stream-of-consciousness authors is blatantly evident. Coetzee seems to have mastered the brute psychological force employed by other celebrated writers among whom he numbers. Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ezra Pound and Franz Kafka permeate through every twist and turn. This is the kind of fodder that feeds my soul. I have never made it a secret how much I adore this type of literature. It also happens to be a straight path to an asylum where our protagonist also ends up in.

IT’S MRS GRACE MUGABE…NOT DOCTOR

Words are stubborn. They have a tendency of not going away. Every time I see the word DOCTOR attached before Grace Mugabe’s name having exactly the same spelling as the prefix to my own name I am filled with revulsion especially considering that the same man who conferred her with that title also happened to confer me with the same title on the very same day…..Friday the 12th of September 2014.

On that day Zimbabwe’s academia and politics celebrated the birth of an offspring consummated under the deep covers of the sheets. Grace Mugabe received the Judas kiss and was awarded with 30 pieces of silver with the seal Doctor of Philosophy. Joyce Mujuru received the same kiss and also got her own seal. History has since proven that instead of 30 pieces of silver her gift was 40 lashes. Lazarus Dokora got his Doctor of Philosophy seal. Nelson Chamisa received a handshake and Bachelor of Laws Degree. I was of course ignored and begrudgingly handed my divorce papers; my Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees.

I remember the day vividly. It was blazing hot and in customary guerilla style the graduating povo were obediently seated in the full glare of the sun while the inferring chefs walked, talked and laughed their way through the comforting recessesses of the VIP tents. We were all totally surprised to see Grace Mugabe and Joyce Mujuru seated next to the Chancellor in full academic regalia. I remember thinking, “The king and his two queens.” At that point I was not aware that in that tent was sitting the false prophet who has been going after our children’s souls.

I have kept several copies of the Graduation ceremony booklet because I am convinced they are going to prove to be very valuable in the future. It is hard proof of a unique historical day that only a few people alive were privileged to have witnessed. The document is also a definitive DNA proof that power can be sexually transmitted.

How exactly did Grace get her PhD? Let us get down to the basics. Most people do not know that what we actually call the “Graduation Day” at the University of Zimbabwe is purely ceremonial. The actual graduation, that is earning the degree, would have happened months before that. This means that at UZ even graduating is a process. The institution is designed in such a way that you should not feel any form of pleasure while learning. It is old school. Everyone who has learnt at the University of Zimbabwe will tell you that earning a UZ degree is almost equivalent to going through a baptism by fire. The University always seems to find some ingenious way of getting under your skin and it is precisely because of this shared pain that one can easily detect a fake graduate. We can just tell. We can smell it. This simple aura was absent from her presence at our sacred ceremony.

I might not have the evidence but I have a theory, a very simple one. Grace Mugabe was intimidated by Joyce Mujuru so she had to copy and counter everything. It’s that simple. Grace Mugabe wanted what Joyce Mujuru had but she was not willing to work hard for it. It is a classical case of good vs evil.

She probably heard that Joyce was “busy running around the country talking to people and writing things down.” Being the simple-minded person she is her first question was, “Who is she talking to?”. She was told that Joyce seemed to be doing some sort of research. “Research?!!! That’s a lie. Joyce is asking people to sign things to get rid of me” is the narcissistic and shallow argument I think was ringing in her mind. Only a few weeks before ‘Graduation’ she finally realises that Joyce was actually studying for a PhD all along so she panics and holds a family meeting. They sit on the family table and Chatunga, high as a kite on drugs, makes a suggestion that pleases his simple-minded mother – “Momz why don’t you get into your office, read the birth certificates of all the orphans in your children’s home and ask daddy to write something smart for you.” In two short weeks a dissertation was compiled, written, reviewed, peer-reviewed, published, defended in front of a panel of professors and passed through to the Chancellor. The Chancellor holds a viva voce and examines the PhD student. For lack of better space they hold the viva in the bedroom. The student answers the questions in kind and the Chancellor stops talking. Love is made. A degree is conceived and on Friday the 12th of September 2014 I was forced to clap hands as that bastard child was delivered.

Like I said I was not there…..

BOOK REVIEW: GOD PLAYER by Robin Cook

 

Robin Cook is one of my favourite writers for obvious reasons. He is/was a practising Surgeon who specializes in Ophthalmology (those surgeons who only operate on the eye). By now my followers already know I love doctor-writers. Michael Palmer, Robin Cook, AJ Cronin, Ben Carson, Sigmund Freud, the list is endless. Medical thrillers are my favourite casual reads. In God Player, Robin Cook outdid himself.

In my opinion the book deserves to be in the same class as the author’s bestsellers. His brilliant works; Coma, Brain and Fever rightly belong in this class as well…. Although I found Coma a tad too outlandish and delusional; a third year medical student solving a major medical mystery that even qualified doctors could not solve. Perhaps I am biased by the fact that I read the book when I was already done with medical school. It is my belief that Coma was meant for a more adolescent audience as a source of inspiration. I find it peculiar that the dark Twilight series was also meant for the same audience. I found Twilight to be extremely dark and too close to resembling the actual reality the work of fiction tries to emulate.

Back to God Player…The plot, as customary with the writer in question, is deceptively simple. A hot young trainee (Psychiatry resident) marries a great heart surgeon who dithers in drug abuse which ultimately leads to his demise. Apart from the safe stereotypes of the Psychiatrist as the sappy doctors and the Surgeons as direct servants of God, the book raises a serious and often suppressed fact that mental illness is more prevalent among doctors compared to the rest of professions. Dr. Thomas Kingsley, the self-proclaimed best Cardiac Surgeon in the country (of the United States of Armies), marries the beautiful Psychiatry intern who makes a major shift from Pathology to Psychiatry on account of a debilitating medical disorder (juvenile diabetes mellitus) she knows she will eventually succumb to.

It is deceptive to assume that Cassie is the protagonist of the story. It is actually Thomas who holds that honour. Like most Surgeons he is genital philanthropist and has the temper of big brown bear….who has sex with a lion….and sired the grumpy character in the movie Inside Out. He uses the medical license of his dead former landlord to prescribe narcotic and amphetamine drugs to himself. He hoards bottles and bottles of the orange dynamites in the second drawer of whichever desk he is sitting behind. The sharp intern-wife uses her medical wits to put pieces in the puzzle that has Thomas’ fingerprints all over the place. Add to that a bitchy mother who I assume the Harpers’ mother in Two and a Half Men was based on.

All angles added, Robin Cook deserves a star on my Robin Cook-vs-Michael Palmer contest chart. So far its neck and neck. I still have a lot of reading to do on the long list. I highly recommend this book….especially if you love medical thrillers like I do.

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