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Review of “The Year of the Dragon”

28 April 2019

I don’t usually have guest posts on this blog, but an exception is Bishop John Davies, who has kindly written a review of my recently-published book The Year of the Dragon.

Reviewed by the Rt Revd John D. Davies
Honorary Assistant Bishop, Diocese of St Asaph, Church in Wales

by Stephen Hayes

This book has two natures in one binding.

Primarily, it is a lively adventure story. It has a whole range of classic ingredients – a puzzling bequest, a search for beneficiaries, a strange exploration of possible treasures, along with a possible link to another
search for treasure in an earlier phase of history, an investigation which takes us from Southern Africa to the UK and to the USSR, dealings with oppressive and dishonest police, travels across deserts and into trackless woodlands and treacherous rivers, imprisonments, malaria, pursuits by armed militias, violent deaths, and a strenuous battle with crocodiles. And it is all set in the violent and destructive context of South Africa.

What more could you want?

But at the same time, the narrative introduces an element which goes way beyond physical adventure.

In an age when, in all sorts of enterprises, people and things are being described as ‘ikons’ or ‘iconic’ – everything from footballers to sopranos, experimental buildings and motorbike designs – this story depends on identifying and handling ikons in the original and accurate sense of the word, the special art of painting the features and figures of saints, paintings which serve as access-ways between ourselves and the world of holiness which the saints inhabit and represent.

A major issue in the book is the difference in the ways in which some historic ikons are valued – valued by lawyers and police and auctioneers, and valued by people who treasure and use the ikons in the way that their creators intend. This further raises the valuation put upon different types of people. In the story, the people with greatest wisdom and insight, on whose characters the total balancing of the story depends, are some rather ‘ordinary’ black priests. They put together the connections which make the story work. But they do not come across as exceptional. In the eyes of the white police they are just kaffirs.

To get the point of the story, the reader needs to recognise the geography; although the author acknowledges that he has somewhat adapted the landscape of Southern Africa, the reader would be helped if there were at least an outline map, showing the boundaries of the western Cape, Natal, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia etc -And the reader needs to recognise the stage of history, when (as I understand it) the apartheid regime is beginning to crack, but the police are still forcibly ready with hippos, helicopters, saracens, and other hardware for suppressing opposition, still ready with detention without trial, functioning in buildings designed to intimidate and terrify.. So, along with the struggle for truth and survival at the level of the physical adventure, there is a parallel struggle for truth of the spirit.

This gives the story its edge and interest, along with a thread of dislocation which requires the reader to identify which genre of struggle we are engaged in at any particular stage of the story.

Altogether, an enjoyable read, and a valid exploration of new roads of encounter.

Nyddfa, By Pass Road Gobowen SY11 3NG, UK
Honorary Assistant Bishop, Diocese of St Asaph, Church in Wales
2nd January 2019

In the interest of openness and transparency I should point out that the review might not be entirely unbiased, as I have known the reviewer for 60 years. John Davies used to be Anglican chaplain at the University of the Witwatersrand, and was at one time national chaplain of the Anglican Students Federation of South Africa (ASF) when I was a student in the 1960s.

Revd John Davies, ASF Chaplain, Modderpoort 1964

At one of the conferences of the ASF he led a series of Bible studies on the first three chapters of Genesis, which was later expanded into a full-length book with the title Beginning Now. He was also one of those who identified the ideological underpinning of apartheid as a pseudogospel, and thus more than a mere heresy, and that in turn helped to shape my own theological understanding apartheid, and hence the view of it reflected in my own book.

In 1970 John Davies when to the UK on furlough, and was in effect not allowed to return to South Africa by the apartheid regime, so his main involvement with South Africa was during the 1960s. For the rest of his career, see John Davies (bishop of Shrewsbury) – Wikipedia.

Read this if you have a proprietary e-book reader like Kindle, Kobo or Nook

If you don’t buy an e-book from the manufacturer of your e-reader (eg Amazon in the case of Kindle), you will need to “sideload” it on to your reader. So if you buy The Year of the Dragon from Smashwords, you will need to “sideload” it. Instructions for sideloading are given at the following links:

One Comment leave one →
  1. 29 April 2019 2:49 am

    Nice review 🙂

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