Saturday, February 27, 2010

Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan

In December 2009, Greg Mortenson followed his 2006 #1 best seller, Three Cups of Tea, with its chronological sequel, Stones into Schools:  Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Stones into Schools picks up in late 2003 where Three Cups of Tea left off and continues into 2009. 

Three Cups of Tea starts with Mortenson's purposeful adventure to climb to the top of K2 in 1992, the second highest mountain in the world, which is located in the Karakoram range in northern Pakistan at its border with China, and claimed to be the most dangerous, to honor his sister.  Mortenson has to abandon his effort before reaching K2's peak and almost loses his life after wandering off alone during his descent.  He ends up in a small village, called Korphe, where the people welcome him and help him find himself in more ways than Mortenson could have imagined.  Mortenson was so moved by his experience that he promised the village leader he would return to build a school for Korphe's children.

By the time Vicking Penguin published Stones into Schools,  Mortenson's nonprofit Central Asia Institute (CAI) had built over 130 schools true to its mission "to promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan."

Stones into Schools continues with Mortenson's strenuous adventures often with his seemingly superhuman manager, Sarfraz Khan, while they first build relationships and then schools in the northeast corner regions of Afghanistan, Badakshan Province and Wakhan Corridor.  This effort to expand his mission into Afghanistan is interrupted by the catastrophic earthquake in the Azad Kashmir region of eastern Pakistan in October 2005.  By the time CAI returns to Afghanistan in 2007, the organization under the watchful eye and keen intelligence of Khan, has set up tent schools and built a number of earthquake-proof schools in Kashmir.  Back in Afghanistan,  the CAI successfully builds more schools even some in Taliban territory.  By this time, Mortenson develops relationships with US military leaders and men.  Even today, the US military solicits and implements Mortenson's advice and expertise about the diverse cultures found in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I would highly recommend both Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools.  After reading them, I have a greater understanding of the complexities of this area.  Before reading these books, I wouldn't necessarily even understand the names of provinces when hearing the news let alone know where they are located and what the tribal differences might be.  Now, I'm no expert, but am inspired to support CAI and other nonprofit organiztions who promote the education of girls world-wide with donations, time, and energy.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Saint Patrick: Pioneer Missionary to Ireland

Here's an easy read to prepare for and get into the spirit of Saint Patrick's Day coming up on March 17.

Christian Liberty Press published Saint Patrick:  Pioneer Missionary to Ireland by Michael J. McHugh in 1999.  Christian Liberty has been publishing Christian homeschool and school curriculum materials for 25 years as part of the ministry of the Church of Christian Liberty.  Saint Patrick is a supplementary work of historical fiction used to enrich the study of the Ancient History (late 4th to late 5th century AD) by late elementary through middle school students.

If a reader questions the accuracy of a biography written in and published for a Christian community, McHugh states in the Introduction, "I have endeavored, as much as possible, to present only those details which rest upon solid historical records."  This is indeed possible because late in life, St. Patrick wrote the Confessio or what is known today as The Confession of St. Patrick, a brief autobiography describing in detail his life and ministry.  Dr. Paul D. Lindstrom, Superintendent of Christian Liberty Academy Satellite Schools in 1999, wrote "Michael McHugh[ ] has done a masterful job of making Patrick's life come alive so that the younger generation can grasp the significance of the famous missionary."

Although I am not a member of the Church of Christian Liberty,  I found the many references and prayers to God, appearing throughout this description of St Patrick's intriguing and adventurous life, to be quite believable.  No one can know what went on inside an historical figure's mind, but after all, he did convert a once predominantly pagan nation into a devoutly Christian one. It would seem plausible that St. Patrick would think about and pray fervent prayers to God as often as the thoughts and prayers appear in this book.

All in all, I recommend this publication as an exciting and eventful work to start becoming acquainted with St. Patrick and to begin to understand the importance of this man's ministry, not only in Ireland, but to all countries, including the U.S., who have a rich Irish heritage.

For further research and verification to gain information and facts about St. Patrick's life,  I would recommend reading many of the works listed in the bibliography of Saint Patrick:  Pioneer Missionary to Ireland plus the Confessio itself.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

David Wroblewski's debut novel The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, published in 2008 by HarperCollins, is beautifully written. From the beginning, Wroblewski's florid descriptions pull us right into the scene as if we were part of a hologram.

Past the turn he spotted the lantern, a gourd of ruby glass envined in black wire,the flame within a rose that sprang and licked at the throat of the glass, skewing rib-shadows across the door.

If we think this read would just be a chance to experience the peaceful, simple life in the warm hearth of a fertile, Midwestern farm told from the point of view of an innocent, young boy, then we would be sorely disappointed. The farm has a character itself with unknown secrets surrounding its origin and abandonment by the former owner. The boy Edgar, because of his handicap perhaps, is much more keen than anyone might at first think. His mother and father know this and have faith in his hidden capabilities of stealth and observation.

As the plot progresses, we are unsure about what lies around the next corner. The mood becomes progressively more eerie and downright spooky. We don't know whom to trust, if anyone, except maybe the dogs. In my opinion, the twists and turns of thoughts and events become a bit too surreal especially toward the end. Questions that we have as readers throughout the book are left unsatisfyingly unanswered.

If we read this book as aspiring writers, Wroblewski's inventive and reflective way with words make The Story of Edgar Sawtelle worth reading. If we are looking for a tight, meaningful plot with a solid reason to read the tale, we will not find it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Epic of Gilgamesh

I have just finished a Penguin Books 1987 reprint of the 1972 revision of the N. K. Sandars original translation published in 1960 of The Epic of Gilgamesh. Sandars writes an Introduction to The Epic of Gilgamesh that takes up roughly half the book, 59 pages. This prose version of the epic, only 60 pages long, is surprisingly brief. I heard about Gilgamesh years ago, pehaps in middle school history, and just had the impression that the story was longer. After all, the poem as a whole is an "epic" and holds an important place in the development of language and literature of the human race. Sandars claims that Gilgamesh pre-dates Homeric epic literature "by at least one and a half thousand years." He also states, "[i]f Gilgamesh is not the first human hero, he is the first tragic hero of whom anything is known."

In the Introduction, Sanders also discusses the historical background including the discovery of the tablets. He covers the literary background, and the hero, principal gods, structure and events in the story itself. Sanders offers several scholarly studies that strongly support that Gilgamesh actually was a ruler in Uruk during the period between Noah and Abraham.

Sanders also explains in detail why he chose to present the poems of Gilgamesh in prose and how he carefully constucted various ancient versions of the poems into an easily understandable, flowing work. His ultimate goal was to make The Epic of Gilgamesh accessible and readable for an interested reader.

I would like to refrain from giving an opinion as to whether this epic is written well, has fully developed characters, contains a clever plot, or succeeds to accomplish any traditional literary goals. It seems more appropriate to say that everyone should read The Epic of Gilgamesh in order to connect with our early historical, literary, and communicative origins, and to understand more fully what it means to be human.

Half The Sky

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn wrote Half the Sky, published in 2009, after spending years as New York Times correspondents in Bejing, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. They are the first married couple to win The Pulitzer Prize in journalism for their coverage in China.

The subtitle tells about the main topic of the book in general: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. But inside, the reader will quickly discover that Half the Sky is much more than a surface level work to acquaint us with women's issues in our world. Instead, it describes in detail several specific and horrific atrocities girls and women experience as a matter of course in lands as diverse, however unfortunately somewhat similar, as Africa and Asia.

The authors tell the personal stories, without becoming didactic, of girls and women subjected to sex trafficking, forced prostitution, "honor" killings, and female genital cutting. These frightening sagas with their pain and passion call us to action on the behalf of women and girls around the globe.

On the back cover, George Clooney proclaims, "I think it's impossible to stand by and do nothing after reading Half the Sky." For each reader, Kristof and WuDunn include steps on how to start making the world a better place for the female half of the population. They also provide a comprehensive appendix of organizations supporting women for short and long term commitments.