Reviewer – Steven Waling
This is an unusual, but I feel a very necessary book. It’s not a book full of facts and figures. Nor is it about the important issues of the day such as the ecological crisis, war and the oppression of people in the world, and yet it full of those things. It’s not designed to make you angry, or to despair about the state of the world.
Instead, through the telling of stories and meditative prose, it encourages those of us engaged in the struggle to change the world for the better to carry on; and also, maybe, to realise that we don’t have to carry the burden of hope alone.
David Gee tells stories of people resisting oppression not through violence, but through living an alternative. The Palestinians who lose their homes to Israeli violence still practising hospitality in the ruins, the refugees facing the tragedy of the world with open eyes and hearts.
At the start and the end of the book, he retells two stories, from the point of view of the powerless not the powerful. He tells the story from the Enuma Elish of how Babylon was built as a violent military power through dividing people into the ‘civilised’ and the ‘heathen’, the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside,’ and by killing the wildness to bring in the dubious merits of ‘civilisation.’ The final chapter is an imaginative retelling of the story of how the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus meet Jesus, this time as an old mute woman who offers them soup, and begin to heal from the trauma of losing their leader.
David Gee looks throughout this book for the wildness in the world, for the dissident voices saying, “it doesn’t have to be like this.” I thought of Thatcher’s mantra of ‘there’s no alternative,’ but this book sees that there are many. From the campaign to stop child recruitment, to projects to grow vegetables on reclaimed industrial land; from support groups for women facing domestic abuse to Extinction Rebellion.
We can be overwhelmed by facts and figures, by the sheer enormity of the tasks ahead of us. Climate change is terrible, there are wars and rumours of wars in every corner of the globe, whole peoples are being made homeless and wandering through the world to find shelter and food. We could – as David Gee points – easily fall into despair and burnout. But, through storytelling, David Gee is seeking hope against that despair. This book is like an oasis. It doesn’t pretend that the road to justice and peace isn’t long and difficult. It does, however, say that hope is possible; that the road to justice may be long but it is tending upwards.
There is a lot more about this book that I can’t cover in a review. It’s suggestive rather than prescriptive, imaginative rather than logical; but human beings are not just logical. We need stories and music and dancing as much as we need facts. I love the idea of ‘heathen’ coming in from outside, not to become ‘civilised’ but to bring the wildness back home.
Hope’s Work: Facing the future in an age of Crises, published by Darton, Longman and Todd, 2021, £9.99 Available from the Quaker Bookshop