4 Books on the Power of Transcendence and Vision in a Divided World

I shall be leaving fiction for a while and returning to non-fiction, specifically philosophy and biography.    Here is a list of four books that I shall be reading and reviewing over the coming weeks. 


Wild Silence

Raynor Winn (author)

Hardback (03 Sep 2020) | English

I am beyond excited to be awaiting my copy of Raynor Winn’s The Wild Silence.  Her previous – and debut – book The Salt Path tells the story of how after being made suddenly and shockingly homeless after a saga of a lawsuit that sets your teeth grinding on edge and makes you want to run into the court room and start shouting.  The couple have nowhere else to go other than the home they are now forced to sell and no money either. 

As if that is not enough, Moth, Winn’s beloved husband has received a terminal diagnosis. What to do under such circumstances?  The answer may not be obvious to everyone but it was to Winn  and Moth as they set out to walk the 600 odd miles of the South West Coast Path. 

The Salt Path is a book about walking of course but so much more it is a journal of struggle and discovery, of the natural world but also of self-discovery – which many of us perhaps will never make because we are not forced into the position of having to make it.   The book is also a love letter to the natural landscape through which they pass aching mile by aching mile, the creatures human and otherwise that inhabit those coastal swathes, and to the man with whom Winn has spent her whole life. 

This author could turn a shopping list into a poetic endeavour and I am agog to read her new book which charts the couple’s return home and attempt to go back to ‘normal’ living. 

The publisher’s synopsis states:

After walking 630 miles homeless along The Salt Path, the windswept and wild English coastline now feels like their home.

And despite Moth’s terminal diagnosis, against all medical odds, he seems revitalized in nature – outside, they discover that anything is possible.

Now, life beyond The Salt Path awaits. As they return to four walls, the sense of home is illusive and returning to normality is proving difficult – until an incredible gesture by someone who reads their story changes everything.”


Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times

Jonathan Sacks (author)

Hardback (05 Mar 2020) | English

Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks discusses the many extreme pressures under which we are currently living and how it is possible to find a way forward through a common moral foundation.

Synopsis:  Delivering a devastatingly insightful critique of our modern condition, and assessing its roots and causes from the ancient Greeks through the Reformation and Enlightenment to the present day, Sacks argues that there is no liberty without morality, and no freedom without responsibility.

If we care about the future of western civilisation, all of us must play our part in rebuilding our common moral foundation. Then we will discover afresh the life-transforming and counterintuitive truths that a nation is strong when it cares for the weak, and rich when it cares for the poor.

Here is an inspiring vision of a world in which we can all find our place, and face the future without fear.

(My thanks to SLZ who told me about this book).

It is a short step from a philosophy of inclusiveness to buddhism which leads me to my next book.

From a Mountain in Tibet A Monk’s Journey

Yeshe Losal (author)

Hardback (27 Aug 2020) | English

Synopsis

Lama Yeshe didn’t see a car until he was fifteen years old. In his quiet village, he and other children ran through fields with yaks and mastiffs. The rhythm of life was anchored by the pastoral cycles.

The arrival of Chinese army cars in 1959 changed everything. In the wake of the deadly Tibetan Uprising, he escaped to India through the Himalayas as a refugee. One of only 13 survivors out of 300 travellers, he spent the next few years in America, experiencing the excesses of the Woodstock generation before reforming in Europe.

Now in his seventies and a leading monk at the Samye Ling monastery in Scotland – the first Buddhist centre in the West – Lama Yeshe casts a hopeful look back at his momentous life. From his learnings on self-compassion and discipline to his trials and tribulations with loss and failure, his poignant story mirrors our own struggles.

Written with erudition and humour, From a Mountain in Tibet shines a light on how the most desperate of situations can help us to uncover vital life lessons and attain lasting peace and contentment.


My Name Is Why

Lemn Sissay (author)

Paperback (02 Jul 2020) | English

I am a great fan of biographies of poets particularly Elaine Feinstein’s biographies of Anna Akhmatova and Ted Hughes.

(I am struggling to get hold of a copy of Elaine Feinstein’s biography of Marina Tsvetaeva if anyone knows of one please let me know?)

I have never read a contemporary autobiography of a living poet before so I am fascinated to find this one from Lemn Sissay.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to be in foster and care homes all your life and then suddenly discover that your name is not the name someone gave you and your mother has been pleading to have you back since your birth.  I do not have to imagine it as  Sissay’s the book will tell me what this was like because this happened to him: 

Synopsis


At the age of seventeen, after a childhood in a foster family followed by six years in care homes, Norman Greenwood was given his birth certificate. He learned that his real name was not Norman. It was Lemn Sissay. He was British and Ethiopian. And he learned that his mother had been pleading for his safe return to her since his birth.

This is Lemn’s story: a story of neglect and determination, misfortune and hope, cruelty and triumph.

Sissay reflects on his childhood, self-expression and Britishness, and in doing so explores the institutional care system, race, family and the meaning of home. Written with all the lyricism and power you would expect from one of the nation’s best-loved poets, this moving, frank and timely memoir is the result of a life spent asking questions, and a celebration of the redemptive power of creativity.