Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Title: An Insider's Guide to Praying For the World
Author: Brian C Stiller
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Pages: 288

As the Global Ambassador of the World Evangelical Alliance, Brian C Stiller has visited more than 40 countries around the world. These visits have offered him insights into the modalities and complexities of life in those countries. His passion and keenness have helped him forge an understanding of the needs of the people in those places.

As he says, Often it takes travelling through a country before its geography comes into focus and conflicting issues begin to make sense.

Most of these countries are nothing more than dots on a map for us. Realities not our own,

Brian takes us out of ourselves and gets us to think about the lives Christians in these places lead, lives of religious control and persecution and, in worst cases, torture. He takes us through Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Korea, Albania, Romania, Kenya, Nigeria, Turkey etc, a spread of nations from South America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

Many of these countries are still broken by Communism, the World wars, imperialism, tribal warfare and a host of other issues.

The book is written from the standpoint of the Evangelical Alliance, but I didn’t let that bother me. I thought that the prayers that Brian invited us to pray were heartfelt and so I joined in. After all, I do worship the same Crucified One.

Once inside a country, the author highlights the nation’s troubles through the example of one family or an individual, an example that both isolates the family or individual and holds them up for our notice. While showing us that it is just one instance of many others like it. Of people who served as witness to the Gospel by their lives, often amid difficult conditions.

Each chapter follows the same pattern: A brief history of a particular country, followed by information about its geographical location, the countries that it shares borders with, and the religions practiced by its people. Some of these countries have a high percentage of Evangelical Christians, others a lower percentage, many have a low percentage of Christians.

This section is followed by the dispatch relating to Brian’s visit there, followed by a passage from the Bible, and 3-4 points on which we readers are invited to ponder over and pray for, and finally a closing prayer.

Brian makes each country’s plight his own and writes feelingly about the travails that afflict different countries. He makes each cause for concern a reason to pray.

Some of the chapters relate to people whose lives are a witness to Christ. They include not only Evangelical leaders but also, surprise, the Pope, the spiritual head of the Roman Catholic Church. Other chapters are devoted to the World Prayer Movement, and issues like persecution and martyrdom, caring for the vulnerable, Prison Ministry, for Muslims, Mexican prisons, other prison ministries, and on finding new places of Spirit empowerment.

I faithfully prayed the prayers that Brian invited us to pray, and felt no need to question the veracity of the facts presented at the beginning of the chapter on each country. In the chapter on India, however, I found some glaring errors. Brian mentions that India was colonized by Germans, Portuguese and British. The truth is that the Germans never colonized India; the Dutch and the French did, apart from the Portuguese and the British.
Also, Christians in India do not form 7% of the population. Around 2% is the right figure.

Errors such as these lead me to wonder which other facts the author might have inadvertently got wrong.

I had no such grouse against the basic idea of the book, which forced me to think about people in the Third World, countries other than my own, homes to people considerably worse off.

As a general rule, one rarely thinks of others. Here one finds oneself thinking of issues like liberty, religious freedom, mortality, all in countries with unstable governance. For people who need our prayers.

Read this book. More importantly, pray for the intentions mentioned here. I think that is one way in which we can make a difference.

(I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House.)

Friday, February 19, 2016


Title: Hunters in the Dark
Author: Lawrence Osborne
Publisher: Hogarth
Pages: 320

Hunters in the Dark by Lawrence Osborne was an immensely satisfying book to read.

The book is set after 1997 when Han Sen was the Prime Minister of Cambodia. The first part of the book is called Karma, where Robert Grieve, a school teacher from England, drifting around and predictable, has just crossed the border from Thailand to Cambodia. He is on his annual holiday. When he wins $2000 in a casino, he decides to enjoy his windfall and postpone his return home.

In Cambodia, Robert is on a tour with Ouksa, his Khmer driver-cum-guide, when he meets Simon Beaucamp, an American who now lives in Cambodia. Ouksa warns Robert against befriending Simon, but Robert is compelled to his own doom. His decision lets loose a chain of events.

Slowly we become aware of an aura of mystery, mystique and even menace surrounding Simon. Simon invites Robert home, drugs him and rips him of his winnings, passport and other effects, giving him, in return, his own clothes and a $100 bill.

Wearing Simon’s clothes, Robert succumbs to the temptation of thinking like his predator. Assuming the identity of Simon, he becomes an English tutor to Sophal, the well-educated daughter of a rich Cambodian doctor, Dr Sar.

The second part, called Dogs and Vultures, takes us to Simon and his girlfriend, Sothea. Dope- and liquor-addled, they are on the run, with Simon pretending to be Robert. Wanting the money they have stolen, Ouksa attacks and kills Simon, but is cheated of the money by corrupt cop Davuth Vichea. Money drives everyone along; for the sake of money, dogs attack wrong doers and are themselves preyed upon by vultures.

In part III, Dharma, we come back to Robert and Sophal. Davuth spreads his net, anxious to make more money. And in Part IV, Hunters in the Dark, we are treated to a delicious sense of inexorability and irony as all the characters, major and minor alike, find themselves trapped by their actions and the circumstances. No one is able to escape retribution for their actions. The hunters become the hunted, and that is all I can say without giving the game away.

There are many commonalities between the characters. Both Simon and Robert have a tendency to drift along, though Robert’s is not apparent. Sothea and Sophal both allow themselves to drift along with the men in their lives, not to mention the similarities in their names. The corruption of cop Davuth Vichea is played out against Simon’s calculatedness. Dr Sar and Davuth have both participated in the horrors and atrocities practiced by the Pol Pot regime. In fact, the horrible legacy of the genocide imbues life in Cambodia, much like a ghostly presence.

Living in Cambodia, both Robert and Simon are swayed by the Cambodian predilection for superstition, for sensing signs and omens, and give way to fatalism.

The pace of the novel picks up remarkably after a point and karma’s wheels plod on relentlessly, riding roughshod over all that get in the way.

The characters are all well etched. The minor characters are equally significant in the scheme of things. Sophal is intuitive, knowing without knowing, guessing the truth about both Robert and Davuth.

When Osborne takes us into Davuth’s home, we get a sense that no man is all bad but that circumstances make him so. He feels compelled to earn money, by any means, for his daughter, just as Ouksa is doing for his crippled wife.

Osborne explores the manner in which barangs (the Khmer word for White Westerners) drift about in Cambodia, escaping the stability of their lives for an easy, unrestricted life here.

The author masterfully creates a lush sense of atmosphere and we become aware of the events that are precipitated by Robert’s acceptance of Simon’s invitation to join him for a drink.

Much of the action or inaction takes place in the dark, at night. The night itself becomes brooding and real, with the creatures that populate it coming alive. In this land of secrets and omens, Osborne’s long descriptions are a trap. They mesmerize us so much that when the surprise ending comes, we are left gasping for air.

The viewpoint is omniscient. Almost the night watching the doings and thoughts of the characters.

The author has a loose, languid way of describing things. We don’t know Robert’s full name until Chapter 4. His first name itself is shoved in unceremoniously after many pages of the pronoun, ‘he,’ and we almost miss it. It seems like a strange way of getting us to know the hero.

The writing is figurative and lush, teeming with sound and colour. The sounds are onomatopoeic. The moon, stars, the frogs and rain, all play their part in highlighting the beauty of the night. The rain lashes on, squelching mud, obscuring the vision, giving everything a desultory air.

The descriptions are beautiful. Initially, they seem almost minimal, but they grow on you. They are not the kind that paint word pictures, but more like the kind that spreads like a stain, throwing light on the scene. They are the sort that you would miss if you were not paying attention to the words, and I wouldn’t recommend missing them. Here the background becomes the foreground.

As for the language, what can I say? How can I describe it without detracting from its sheer poetry? Let me give you just one example: The author describes Cambodia as a country like a water wheel, like a mass of wind chimes.

Okay, just one more example. Vast areas of her being had been snuffed out in a few moments of time, but she was still solid in the mirror.

Reading this book was one fantastic experience.

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Tuesday, February 02, 2016


Title: Aunt Bessie Assumes
Author: Diana Xarissa
Publisher: Kindle
Pages: 214

Aunt Bessie Assumes by Diana Xarissa is an Isle of Man Cozy Mystery.

Elizabeth Cubbon, known as Aunt Bessie to her friends, is the Isle of Man’s answer to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Never married, Aunt Bessie is the generous yet firm aunt to the people around. This book, the first in a series, is the first time she stumbles into sleuthing.

While out on a walk on the beach, she literally stumbles over a dead body. It turns out to be that of Danny Pierce, the older son of the fabulously wealthy Pierces, whose summer cottage is located on the island. Danny’s death throws up a number of potential suspects. The widow is a gold digger, younger brother, Donny, has financial woes, and there seems to be a hint of a drug problem that Danny had.

Having discovered the body, Aunt Bessie develops a keen interest in the investigation. Before long, she is making her own deductions, and sharing them with John Rockwell, the chief inspector of the CID, and Hugh Watterson, a young policeman. Her friend, Doona, who works at the police station, is also part of the quartet.

They mystery deepens slightly when Donny’s girlfriend, Samantha, hints at a controversy being afoot, but before she can speak of her suspicions to Aunt Bessie, she is killed too.

It’s a cosy mystery, so there isn’t much of danger in the air, except for a time, when in true detective mystery tradition, the killer tries to eliminate Aunt Bessie because he thinks she knows too much. Ironically, until the killer actually admits to the crime, Aunt Bessie has not really caught on to the person’s identity. We, on the other hand, have already managed to suspect this person, simply because there aren’t too many suspicious characters floating around these pages anyway.

I liked the character of Aunt Bessie. She is tough and independent and does not react kindly to those who hold ageist and sexist beliefs, and she likes reading mystery novels. Naturally, it isn’t quite that long before she unconsciously begins to attempt to solve the mystery herself.

This book doesn’t tax your grey cells but it is pleasant reading nonetheless.


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