Take a country languishing under a brutal military occupation, where bulldozers tear down homes, bored young soldiers shoot as soon as look at you, and children are shot dead for throwing stones. Itâe(TM)s this situation, only too familiar to anyone interested in the ongoing saga of Israel/Palestine, that is the setting for a powerful modern-day gospel story by David Rhodes.
Narrated in the pacey present tense, echoing crime writers like Damon Runyon, the story fairly races along in a sequence of short, action-packed episodes. Unusually, the author has put the story-telling in the mouth of a sparrow with attitude, nicknamed âe~Monsieur le Wazzoâe(TM) by the first character we meet, a hard-drinking newspaper reporter called Johnny Palotski:
Johnny is not very good at his job. This is because he has the unfortunate habit of telling the truth and, in these troubled times, that is not always a helpful thing ... Many journalists are embedded with the army and they write the sort of stories the army likes to see. But Johnny Palotski is somewhat averse to being told what to write âe¦
Like his biblical namesake, Johnnyâe(TM)s tendency to tell it like it is means itâe(TM)s not long before he ends up dead. The focus of the story then switches to the main protagonist, a young drifter called Jez, and a motley crew of characters who travel from town to town, encountering a host of ordinary people with lives turned upside down by the occupation âe" the old man driven mad when his house is flattened with his children still inside, the woman who resists by making sparkling glass angels from the shattered fragments left after the tanks have been in town.
And then there are the religious authorities âe" the Robed Ones âe" up to their neck in collaboration with the forces of occupation. For them, talk of justice, hope, love and resistance is the last thing they need, and a way has to be found to put a stop to it.
Warm, funny and beautifully written, Sparrow Story is a book to make people who have never thought about the issue of Palestine sit up and take notice. Its short, snappy style should go down well with young people, making it a useful resource for anyone wanting to introduce the topic in schools. And it would also make a good present for atheist activists who like a little challenge in their lives!âe"Jenny Lynn
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