Once Upon a Time in Africa – Stories of Wisdom and Joy (2004) By Joseph G Healey – A Review

This is a unique and intriguing book that remarkably captures the essence of African society in response to and in cooperation with Christianity, other religions, and foreign society. But this is not an academic book laden with complex and boring theories. Rather, the book contains close to 100 short stories that convey experiences of east Africans with christian missionaries from the west. Each story is unique and can convey an African parable, an abridged African story, an encounter with a group of Africans, missionary work in African schools, African response to death and dying, the extent to which Africans compete with each other relative to other world societies, the importance of Africans sharing and running together, how Africans perceive Christianity and foreign behavior, etc. Many of the stories are humorous, but the value message does not become lost. A Maasai moran wonders how great Jesus was. Relating to the Maasai aspect of recognizing greatness and manhood, the moran questions whether Jesus ever killed a lion and how many wives he had.

In a running competition, a nun wonders why the schoolgirls keep crossing the finishing line together. They tell her that they do not want to leave anyone behind, they want to finish together. Many of these stories convey African society as highly cooperative, not heavily dwelling on a person outpointing and crushing the other and taking the spotlight. Africans traditionally do not want to be separated from each other, and will work hard to stay together even when threatened by differences in religious belief. They are far less materialistic than many other societies of the world, they can achieve joy and happiness in the face of poverty and misfortune; they are generally not imbued with that western spirit of materialism, monopoly, and selfishness.

Africans believe in re-incarnation, believing that the spirit of a good person always returns to earth through a newborn, dead ancestors are guardian angels. African societies are shown to have their accounts of creation. African proverbs are numerous and tell a lot about Africans. In the book, Africans are portrayed in their homes, the gardens, in church, in prayer, in hunting, at work, etc. This is indeed a book about African joy and wisdom concisely illustrated with short significant stories, tales, proverbs, encounters and happenings.

Father Joseph Healey, who is originally from the United States and has operated in east Africa for several decades, managed to compile a gem of a book that one never gets tired of reading. Healey’s extensive practical familiarlization with many African languages and ways of life made him the ideal candidate to compile this heart-warming and objective volume. More than any other text, the book illustrates joy and wisdom in the day-to-day basic lives of Africans and their response to a new world that gets smaller and smaller and becomes more connected. The contents also illustrate how people from other parts of the world practically respond to and perceive African life. The stories in this book are short, but their messages are very powerful. Lessons on Africa are conveyed through aspects of adventure, ministering, religion, folklore, prayer, stories, African culture, poetry, spirituality, and tales.

Stephen King – "The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates" Review

This short story of Mr. King’s “The New York Times…” really needed to be longer, it is better than “Harvey’s Dream,” but that isn’t saying much. It starts off with a mystery, and ends in twilight. He is by far no Bram Stoker in writing short stories; it is goofy, a little gross, plainly written, more satire than drama or whatever: to be honest, when he wrote the book “Just before Sunset,” he should have reviewed some of H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories, and Clark A. Smith’s, and Stokers: you can see he’s out of practice.

It is about a plane crash, and although Mr. King has a great imagination, he unendingly and unnecessarily plants dumb innuendos here and there throughout this ten-page story, although I think he’s having fun doing it. Anyhow, there is not much energy in this story, but a good story line. He cusses, and I can’t guess why, do people really cuss that much around him-do people really get a jolt out of that? It doesn’t do the story any good. His style is like a flat balloon although his dialogue is better than “Harvey’s Dream” and the narration is one step up.

I’m not going to tell you the end of the story, a writer needs to sell books, good or not. If you read it, you’ll have to read it twice to absorb it completely I do believe: or read it slow. Plus, he could have found a better name for the story. He’s lucky he has a following; he’d starve to death if he depended on this book. (8-12-2010)

Book Review – The Dog Thief: And Other Stories by Jill Kearney

It is often hard to describe the intricate relationships between animals and their humans. In her book, “The Dog Thief: And Other Stories,” Jill Kearney has no such issue, delivering a poignant collection of short stories that pull at your heartstrings, leaving imprints not likely to fade when the reading is finished.

Inspired by her own experiences working as a care provider and dog rescuer, Kearney spins the narratives of people forgotten or displaced by society, and the animals that place their trust in them. In her own words, “I’m interested in the lives of people who feel like they don’t matter to anyone.” This statement truly echoes throughout the book.

The collection begins with the self-titled novella, The Dog Thief, in which neighbors of a downtrodden community band together to rescue a couple of dogs from their neglectful owner. Donald, the owner of the dogs, actually inherits the dogs upon the death of his mother and then later, his sister. Donald is lazy and neglectful toward the dogs, yet one gets the impression he feels duty-bound to keep them. His protectiveness of the dogs however belies any regard he has toward their well-being, placing his mental capacity into question, at least for this reader. The author also weaves riveting subplots into the story as we follow Donald’s neighbors in their efforts to help. Dealing with the injustices and the confines of their environment, Elizabeth, Blacksnake, The One-Eyed Woman, and others provide intriguing viewpoints of the complex issues they encounter as they learn first-hand how seemingly insignificant acts can make a difference in the world.

The short stories that follow the novella are just as captivating, each one striking a chord within, causing a need to stop for contemplation before moving onto the next. I was so drawn by some of the characters and the ways I could feel what they were feeling and going through, I actually read several of the stories twice.

Kearney’s writing is passionate, straightforward and direct. Foregoing the need to placate the reader with sugar-coated narrative, her voice and certain outspoken nature tells it like it is, with a wit and freshness that is as charming and endearing as it is haunting and discomforting. Seriously, there is no way one can help but be moved by these stories. Some of the most paltry surroundings, places I could never have imagined, became clear and distinct in my mind through the vivid and rich descriptions presented by the author.

Heartbreak, helplessness, hope, and inspiration – these words only hint at the range of sensations readers will feel in these pages. “The Dog Thief: And Other Stories,” by Jill Kearney is a book I highly recommend. Pet and human advocates will be hard pressed to put this book down as Kearney provides an insightful look into what truly matters.