It has taken me a very long time to knuckle down and write this review – much to my chagrin. The fact that it has bothered me for so long (not least because I haven’t sat down to review it) is testament to the accuracy of the viewpoints Smorenberg investigates in this book. This was probably one of the most difficult books I read in 2016/17.
The book tackles many topics – racism, bullying, abuse, science, religion, fear, terrorism, prejudice… Yeah. It’s a very complex book. And what drives it home even more painfully – even as a reader who is an English-heritage, white, Christian, South African – is just how realistic it is. In oh-so-many ways.
I’ve mentioned that I’m a Christian in the previous paragraph, so let me tackle that. For me, science and my belief/trust/faith/knowledge of/in God are not incompatible. Historically, it was Christians – protestant Christians, note, NOT Roman Catholic – who were the forerunners of today’s scientists. Isaac Newton being one I can think of off the top of my head – and I know he doesn’t stand alone. These men were free – a freedom granted by their belief in God – to question the world they lived in and seek to understand it. That is the essence of science. So. To bring this back to me, personally… For me, science has always reinforced my knowledge of the God as revealed to us in the Bible. No, I don’t always agree with the interpretation many scientists (the non-Christian ones) put on the evidence at their disposal, but by the same token, I don’t always agree with the interpretations scientists who are Christians put on the same evidence. And likewise, the fact that I believe in God does not make me fear science or, for that matter, interpretations scientists place against the evidence they find.
Simply put, I do not, as a Christian, hold to the anti-science prejudices characterised in this book. That said, I will in no way dispute that there are far too many Christians of whom the anti-science Christian characters in this book are wholly representative of. In that, Smorenburg’s portrayal is entirely accurate and extremely well conveyed.
This book is really a melting-pot of a complex state of affairs that drives the narrow-minded, racist, bullying leadership in a rural town to confront the modern world, with disastrous consequences. I appreciated that Smorenburg treated all aspects of the topics he tackled very well, enabling each side their moment in the spotlight, with a very clear illustration of what behaviour is acceptable, what drives people to do all sorts of things, and yet he enabled each party to maintain dignity as far as was possible. Not an easy task, for sure.
This book is not an easy read, as it includes some graphic descriptions of violence. That said, I would go so far as to say that it’s an important book.