Friday, March 20, 2009

Book Reviews: Lipstick Jihad, Wild Swans, Churched, Spirit of the Rainforest

Reposted from my old blog - Christmas break reading reviews

Wild Swans - by June Chang
This book was excellent. June has written about her family history in China, focusing on the women. It's just stunning - her grandmother was the concubine with bound feet for a warlord. Her mother was a passionate underground worker for the Communist revolution. She married another passionate revolutionary and together they rose into leadership in the communist party and wow... reading their story is really fascinating. Such people of great principle and self-sacrifice! June's story begins as a child in Communist China, and the family story quickly sours as Mao's rule turns its back on its own heroes in the Cultural Revolution. It was really enlightening to see how she viewed Mao and Communism and the West, and how her perspective slowly changed. I LOVE history and life stories, and this was a perfect combination of both, and was really educational in the process.

Lipstick Jihad - Azadeh Moaveni
Eh. This is the autobiography of an Iranian American who goes back to Iran to be a reporter. That story in and of itself has so much potential, but to me it just seemed like an overly narcissistic rambling memoir without much depth to it. It tries, but it falls short.
lipstick Jihad

Churched: One Kid's Journey Towards God Despite A Holy Mess - Matthew Paul Turner
I gotta tell you, this was hard for me to read. I think the title is misleading. Matthew Turner is actually telling the story of his childhood in a very conservative fundamentalist atmosphere. Although the stories are actually very funny and entertaining (mostly because of how ludicrous many of these well-meaning fundamentalists were) they make me feel sick. The atmosphere I grew up in is not this conservative, but I am still very aware of fundamentalism and its flaws. The way God was represented to a generation of fundamentalist kids just... makes me feel sick. There is hope in the last chapter, and the author says that he is now very wary of much of church, but has been pursued by loving, authentic people that have really brought about redemption. That's great, but .... there is enough truth in the book that hits close enough to home for it to be a difficult read for me.

Spirit of the Rainforest: A Yanomamo Shaman's Story - Mark Richie
This book was a really good book. At first I thought it was going to be a missionary story, but it is not. Mark Richie (who I actually met last year before I even knew this book existed) is retelling the story of the life of a Yanomamo shaman, and it is autobiographical based on hours and hours of recorded interviews. In the process the shaman tells the story of his people as missionaries, priests, and anthropologists arrive in their remote jungle villages and begin to influence the Yanomamo with their various perspectives.

The book is fascinating for several reasons. First of all, it is a middle ground between two competing sides. We hear missionary stories all the time, and we hear anthropological perspectives about tribal life. In fact, one of the main characters in the story is the anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon who wrote the most well-read anthropology book of all time about the Yanomamo. This book shows you what the Yanomamo think about all sides - it identifies the hypocrisy of some missionaries, the cultural bias of the anthropologists, and the caught-between cultures Yanomamo, who neither want to give up their identity or be forced to remain in what they consider to be lives filled with suffering.

It IS the perspective of a shaman turned Christian. He only joins the followers of "Yai Pada" in his old age, and hearing about his spiritual perspective as a shaman is shocking for me - it is unbelievable to my naturalist mind. At the same time, hearing how he perceives the message of Christianity from a spirit-filled perspective is really really interesting.

It was a good book. It made me mad and it made me think and it made me pray.

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