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From My Bookshelf Reviews by the Editor unless otherwise stated.

Please note: Africa Magazine and St Patrick's Missionary Society do not stock books that are reviewed. Details of publishers and suppliers are given in each review. 

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Africa, June 2022, Vol. 87 No. 5

Reviewed by Sr Patricia Lynott RJM

The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse

by Charlie Mackesy

The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse is written by Charlie Mackesy. The book opens with a brief Hello from the author. He introduces each character and alludes to some of the themes that emerge  later throughout the book.

 

The adventures of the boy and the mole begin to unfold as they gaze into the wild. It is springtime. The wild conjures up images of unchartered terrain hitherto unexplored. Spring awakens a sense of boundless energy bursting forth with endless possibilities. Confronted with the vastness of the wild, the mole encourages the boy to embrace it. Throughout the story the boy is curious about many things. He engages and wrestles with important concepts such as love, kindness, friendship, and life itself. The mole has a distinct liking for cake and is his ‘go to’ on occasions. As the story progresses and friendships are cemented, the cake pales in significance and is superseded by a hug. When the fox enters, he is already trapped and ensnared by an external wire from which the mole releases him. The fox is generally silent. The boy, the mole and the fox appear so tiny in comparison to the large horse. The horse is full of tenderness and kindness. The drawings depict a remarkably close connection between the other three and the horse. Often the horse is gently touching the boy’s head or all three may be sitting on his back. The close bond is further reflected in the drawing at the close of the story when the boy gently caresses the horse’s head as the mole and the fox look on.

 

This book is a treasure, a worthwhile addition to anyone’s library. It is a feast for the senses. Words crafted into thought-provoking sentences, embellished by evocative drawings, invite the reader into a world of mystery and enchantment. The absence of page numbers may indicate that this book is suitable for dipping into, rather than reading page by page, cover to cover. As pages fall open, a treasury of insights awaits the reader across all age groups. It is possible for children to grapple with the mysteries and concepts it offers at their level. The black and white drawings depict the various scenes and greatly serve the overall impact of the book. Mackesy, describes the drawings as “islands, places to get to in a sea of words.”

 

Mackesy nudges the reader to see each character, the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse, as an aspect of themselves. He writes: “I can see myself in all four of them, perhaps you can too.” There is ample opportunity for the reader to explore their own inner landscape against a backdrop of kindness and compassion. The use of soul-searching dialogues enables this process, for example: “What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said? asked the boy”. ‘Help,’ said the horse.” “What do you think success is? asked the boy.” “To love, said the mole.”

 

The characters tussle with concepts that have a widespread resonance: forgiveness, kindness, success, fear, ensnarement, freedom, silence, beauty, bravery, and love. Friendship is affirmed and valued. The boy asks: “What do we do when our hearts hurt?” The response is: “We wrap them with friendship, shared tears, and time, till they wake hopeful and happy again.”

 

To conclude, this book is delightful, challenging and evokes self-reflection. Perhaps, one character may have an appeal above and beyond the others. It is comforting to know that the horse is there for us too, guiding, holding, and caressing us on our way. We too can develop wings and fly. Enjoy, the adventure!

The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy.

Published by Ebury Press

Price: €12/£9/$10 approximately, prices vary.

Available from bookshops and online.

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Africa, March 2022, Vol. 87 No. 2

Reviewed by Fr Joe McCullough

Streets and Secret Places:

Reflections of a News Reporter

by Denis Tuohy

Denis Tuohy is a natural born storyteller as is clear to see in this fine collection of evocative and interesting reminiscences. The anthology draws primarily on his work as a broadcaster and journalist for over fifty years, covering news events and stories from around the world for the major networks and journals. In some of the pieces we catch a glimpse of his thespian endeavours in later life.

 

This engaging and intimately readable book records twenty-two of Denis’s two-and-a-half-minute broadcast contributions to BBC Radio Ulster’s Thought for The Day (TFTD) with a linking retrospective commentary from the author. They invite the reader into key aspects of his personal, professional, and spiritual life. He has the very skilful journalist knack of relating to his audience the human-interest aspect of the story.

 

Listeners to the BBCs TFTD will be familiar with the necessity that each brief vignette has to be sharp and well structured, and must engage the imagination with what is happening in the world of news and beyond. Tuohy certainly achieves this; the absence of waffle or jargon is a feast for the eyes.

 

It is little wonder then that Denis receives a resounding endorsement and the highest accolade on the back cover from none other than John Humphrys, the great doyen of British broadcast journalism, who writes: “He is a hack of the old school – and in my book there is no higher praise. And he writes like a dream”.

 

That being said, I was slightly disappointed with his reflection on South Africa about an integrated Belfast singing group during the oppressive days of Apartheid. (Pg 17-18), I felt Denis could have given us much more; something that captured the insidious consequences of the dark history of colonialism and apartheid in the rainbow nation.

 

A riveting aspect of this book is that we do get to travel the world with Denis and read about his compelling encounters with notable characters. I was particularly captivated by his meetings with two larger-than-life personalities in the Belfast household of my youth – Margaret Thatcher and Muhammad Ali. As you may expect the hostile one was with the Iron Lady whilst the legendary world boxing champion pens a touching note to him: “To Denis from Muhammad Ali, death is so near and time for friendly action is so limited. Peace.”

 

In New York Tuohy covers the numbing aftermath of Martin Luther King’s assassination and in his linking commentary tellingly remarks: “more than half a century later, the turmoil following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has shown how little fundamental change there has been in the country when it comes to race.”

 

The author’s advocacy here for dialogue and encounter that seeks to uphold the equal rights of all is admirable. It is a subject that is also central to Denis’s reflection on his acting role in Sam Thompson’s famous play “Over the Bridge“ about sectarianism and bigotry in the Belfast shipyard during the 1950s.

 

I was particularly moved by this reflection having listened many times to my own late father’s first-hand experience of this at the time, and recalling too the sectarian murder of my own brother in Belfast in 1972. But it also evoked many happy memories for me personally having treaded the boards myself on many occasions at the Belfast Group Theatre.

 

Throughout the book, there is a deep understanding and knowledge of the Christian faith by the author, and how transformative it can be when it is lived out. He gifts us with a remarkable story of how the famous choir master Gareth Malone encourages school children devastated by the Grenfell fire disaster to start a choir, and to write and perform a special song for their families and friends. It is a beautiful story of hope and a beautiful song of transformation in the midst of tragedy.

 

It is in reflections like these that we see the writer’s interior journey of spiritual and inner experience, and at times it is a very personal one.

 

It is profoundly captured in the author’s dedication of the book to his son Chris who died earlier this year and includes the evocative poem Wellspring written by Chris and the mystical photo on the cover of the book, taken by him in Richmond Park shortly before his death.

 

Denis probably has his own “Way of the Cross” in mind when he walks with two teenage guides as they recount their contemporary interpretation of the Stations of the Cross in the author’s home parish in Rostrevor, Co Down.

 

Towards the end of the book there is a timely reflection that seeks to connect the reader with the author’s experience of the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on family life: “We’re getting to know more and more about each other’s daily lives than we did before.” How true!

 

This compelling and inspiring collection of encounters of immense human interest has enlivened and nourished my spirit. It has evoked many similar memories and aspirations from my own life experience and how graced it has been by the people and events within it.

 

It is an essential read for anyone interested in themselves, in the world around them, and in their fellow human beings.

 

Denis’s final line on page 77 says it all: “I have come to believe that we can indeed sense that wind of constant truth if we listen carefully to the different ways in which it speaks to us.”

Streets and Secret Places: Reflections of a News Reporter by Denis Tuohy.

Published by and available from Messenger Publications. €12.95

www.messenger.ie

Also available from various online booksellers.

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Africa, September/October 2021, Vol. 86 No. 7

Reviewed by Fr Tommy Hayden

Diary of a Young Naturalist
 

by Dara McAnulty

If you are publishing a one-year diary, there is something very apt about choosing March 21st as your starting and finishing date. Since it is the vernal equinox, there is a sense of balance around it. In the case of Dara McAnulty there was the extra balance that it was the year from his 14th to his 15th birthdays. That is how his Diary of a Young Naturalist came into being and he had it completed before his 16th birthday. It was his first book and within 6 months of his 17th birthday it had won the Wainright Prize for nature writing.

 

All that gives the impression of moving at speed, which is also the feeling you have when you take up this book and start into it. In fact, some of the judges of the Wainright Prize would agree, since they said they were “almost breathless from reading it.” For the reader, there is the sensation of being on some kind of fairground roller coaster, where you are taken along rather than being in charge.

 

In this one-year gallop the reader is treated to an intimate connection with the youthful, but extremely knowledgeable and skilful author. The readers find themselves practically part of Dara’s family of Roisín, Paul, Dara, Lorcan, Blathnaid and the rescue greyhound Rosie. You accompany them on a series of field trips and explorations, first of all, in Co Fermanagh and then in Co Down. You also feel yourself involved in the momentous move from one part of the country to the other. For good measure there is a trip to Glendalough in Co Wicklow included.

 

It seems to me that three very important things we all make use of as we try to understand our world, to make sense of it and to cope with it are – Horizon, Framework and Lens. Dara and his family have the broadest horizon possible – the whole Universe in its wonder, beauty and giftedness, taking in the phenomenon of modern communications and social media. Their framework is the flora and fauna, as well as the historical backgrounds of Fermanagh, Down and Wicklow. As for lens, there is the very particular and fascinating one of autism, which both opens up and hones in on the captivating world of nature. It is a gift and joy to take part in this world along with Dara and family. It is also an eye-opener to feel along with Dara the response to difference of a less-than-sympathetic world. True to the meaning of his name (Dara = Oak), he is quite capable of putting the experience of bullying behind him.

 

Dara’s family name is McAnulty which means “son of an Ulster man” and the book’s title immediately leads to comparisons with another son of Ulster – Seamus Heaney. While there is an obvious link in name between Death of a Naturalist written by Heaney back in 1966, and also much similarity in the language used and the familiarity with nature, an alternative title to this book could have been “Flowering of a Naturalist”.

 

For people who already have a strong connection with nature and those who might want to get an introduction to the fascinating world of which we are a part, this is a book not so much to read as to experience. These two quotes from Dara give a taste of the treasure that lies in wait.

Diary of a Young Naturalist – Dara McAnulty

Published by Little Toller Books

Price: From €14 plus postage

Available from various online book stores.

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Africa, July/August 2021, Vol. 86 No. 6

Reviewed by Fr Leo Traynor

Walking the Camino
Philosophy, Poetry and Song

by Michael Brophy

Let me at the outset say I loved this book. There are many reasons for this, chief among them the fact that the author walked almost exactly the same route to Santiago that I did in 2015 and at much the same time of the year. So, in reading this account of a Camino I was filled with so many rich memories. My strongest feeling after my Camino was the call to simplicity, how little I really need and how it is companionship that is so important. I suspect that in these pandemic times we are all a little more aware of that deeper truth.

 

Prior to my walk I had read a few books in preparation and devoured Brierley’s Camino guidebook, which like Michael Brophy I found invaluable. In the years since my journey, I have read a few more books on the Camino de Santiago in order to gain some more insights from fellow pilgrims. There has been a huge interest in the Camino, as its simply called now, over the past twenty years or so. Several St Patrick’s Missionary priests have walked it and many different forms of books have been written on it. Each book brings its own gift to the reader and this one is no exception. As Michael lays out his story day by day, often accompanied with a timely quote or humorous comment, I found myself walking with him. That is one of his gifts to the reader – you feel connected to the journey, you want to move to the next day and find out what happens next, so in that sense this book is a page turner! A rare enough thing for a book of this kind.

 

The whole book is beautifully laid out, wonderful photos, pieces of poetry, (one being a great description of drinking a pint of Guinness p199) and a steady sharing of wisdom. Like I said above I loved it. The photos are all clearly labeled, and page referenced so it’s easy to pop to the page and get the story behind the photo.

 

This is a very personal read. Michael has given us a great sense of himself. Reading his book was like listening in on a conversation as he reveals his feelings, his thoughts, his challenges. At the heart of his journey is the Knitted Heart – a book he carries of ‘In Memoriam’ names most especially Rita his wife (see pages 49 and 95), Sean his brother and Mairead his mother-in-law. In some ways another title for this diary of his Camino could have been ‘the way of the book’. Buy it and read it and you will know what I mean. In this book we are privileged to share in intimacies, and they touched my heart making the book a compelling read at a deeply human level.

 

I feel lucky to have been asked to review this special book. Having walked almost his route and passed the night in many of the same villages I can say it is a very honest reflection of this Camino route, warts and all. If you have walked this route, you will enjoy this book, if you haven’t but hope to do so then this is a read for you. And if you wished you could make the journey but know it’s beyond you now then join your heart to Michael’s and walk it page by page from within your heart and spirit.

 

A final few comments, the A to Z of Personal Learnings on the last few pages is profound and challenging. If you’re a Dublin GAA fan then buy this book as Michael’s love for his team literally bounces off the pages. In a short review like this I cannot cover all the gems this book offers and why would I? The joy of gems is finding them for yourself.

 

I’ve been listening to the radio as I typed these few words. Brendan Gleeson has just come on making an appeal for St Francis Hospice in Dublin. The same hospice that supported Michael and his family during Rita’s journey to her death and all proceeds from this book go to St Francis Hospice. Another good reason to buy it.

Walking the Camino – Michael Brophy

Published by Rainsford Press.

Price: From €20 plus postage

Available from St Francis Hospice, Dublin. Link: www.sfh.ie

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Africa, June 2021, Vol. 86 No. 5

Reviewed by Fr Frankie Murray

Live While You Can

A Memoir of Faith, Hope and the Power of Acceptance

by Fr Tony Coote

Father Tony Coote had a flag outside his Church in Mount Merrion, Dublin. It read “Love not Judgement”. This could easily be the title of this book, the sound track of Tony’s life written with honesty, great humility and always the kind word. The book tells the story of three journeys, the story of his family, interwoven with the story of Tony as a priest in the Archdiocese of Dublin. It interweaves another journey that Tony makes through the sudden diagnosis of Motor Neuron Disease (MND). It is a journey Tony makes with great courage, totally aware of the awful physical and emotional suffering but also aware of the friendship and the faith that keeps him going. Finally it’s a story of a journey that he led from his wheelchair from Letterkenny to Ballydehob, the length of Ireland, raising awareness and funds for MND.

 

One of the first things that struck me about Tony’s book is the number of names that he mentions, that “people” all these three journeys. His great gift was to reach out and include people and a desire to help and care for others in need and to inspire others to work with him. In the end, an even greater gift was his capacity to allow others to help and to care for him.

 

Growing up in Fairview, Dublin, on his 8th birthday Tony’s infant brother Alan died. He writes poignantly about being left at home during the funeral, staring out the window, refusing to move until his parents returned, and when they did no word was spoken into the pain of his struggle to understand. Because of violence at home, his mother was forced to leave their home taking her four boys with her. Tony remembers how this was a stigma for his family as they experienced what it is like to be poor, an outsider and to be forgotten.

 

Twenty-five years later Tony spent Christmas with his dad in Texas. Leaving for home, his father said “Tony I am sorry for all the ways I have hurt you.” It lifted a great burden for Tony, but he remarks “My father gave me this apology as I was about to leave. I have often found that important things are said when there is little time for discussion”.

Life as a priest was happy, active and fulfilling. Chaplain in Ballymun secondary school, he was pained by the prevalence of a drug culture that he was unable to change but nevertheless he was inspired by the goodness and generosity of the young people and staff in the school. As chaplain in UCD, his work brought him on trips with young volunteers to India, Haiti and Nicaragua. He grew to love the people in these countries and many of those young people became lifelong friends. Many of them who may not go to Mass but have a tremendous generosity and care for others, of them Tony says “we need to broaden our understanding of what practice of the faith means”.

 

On New Year’s Day 2018, now working in Mount Merrion and Kilmacud, he had a bad fall. Tony was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease. It was the week of a very bad snowfall. Leaving the Beacon Clinic, the landscape was transformed by the snow. On that day Tony’s personal landscape was transformed beyond recognition in a way that would never thaw out to the familiar reality of his life again. Reaching home, numbed by the diagnosis, he writes: “I sat in my sitting room and prayed, as I have always done, in my own simple and inadequate words asking Jesus to be with me through these days and months”.

 

Never content to rest in the armchair of self-pity, Tony decided to organise that walk, the length of Ireland. “Walk While You Can”. In no time at all he gathered an army of people to help and support him, a unique gift Tony had. He intended to walk himself but the disease had developed so rapidly he made the journey by wheelchair. Through towns and villages in the West of Ireland, Tony experienced kindness, generosity and hospitality and as always names many of those he met along the way.

 

As mentioned Tony loved to give people their name. One name that he mentions again and again is the name of Jesus: “I have always known Jesus has been with me, but with this illness I see it lived every single day and every moment of the day through the kindness, help and love of other people.”

 

Fr Tony’s ministry was built on three words, Inclusivity, Compassion and Love, perhaps another name for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Tony invites us to share the journey with him, as he calmly and courageously faces each new day and every new and horrible limitation to his physical movement. Always he shares this story as it is transfigured by the kindness and care of so many people evoking in him a sense of gratitude and prayer.

 

“My prayer everyday is simple. I just rest in the presence of God…… I awake very early. I literally place myself in a presence in the darkness. It is at this time, I reconcile everything going on within me and around me. This is when I am at my most calm and I hear the words of Jesus to Peter: “Courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.” Matthew 14:27

 

On the last page Tony imagines that he is on a fast train, “When the train stops, I will step on to that platform with hope and no fear”. Tony’s train stopped on August 28th 2019.

 

For me turning the last page was like the end of a powerful film. You need to sit awhile as the melody and the words of the sound track continue to play in your memory.

 

Live While You Can, Love Not Judgement, Walk While You Can….Inclusivity, Compassion and Love.

 

Some books educate, some entertain, others challenge or disturb. Fr Tony’s book is Fr Tony. You meet a friend who inspires you to be brave and to be kind and to live, walk and above all to love while you can. 

Live While You Can – Fr Tony Coote

Published by Hachette Books Ireland. Price: From €13.99 and from £9.99 Available from bookshops and online.

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