A Rainbow In The Night by Dominique Lapierre

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Now for the first time in English, this international bestseller – telling the tragic and heroic story South Africa – is published as the Rainbow Nation hits the headlines once again. April 6, 1652. A boatload of Dutch gardeners disembarks at the southernmost tip of Africa. Their mission: to grow vegetables that would prevent the sailors of the powerful Dutch East India Company from succumbing to the scurvy that threatened to decimate their fleet. Dispatched to fulfill a strict mission, these men were instructed to turn their backs to the continent, and have no ambitions of colonial conquest. Yet the settlers, and the immigrants who would join them later, soon defied not only the will of their patrons in Amsterdam, but the land itself – inhabited by savage animals, disease-carrying insects, and of course, native people – to penetrate to the heart of the continent. They would write the first chapter in the history of a nation that did not yet exist – South Africa. Convinced by their strict Calvinist faith that they were among the ‘Elect’, chosen by God to rule over the world, these first colonists would, over time, take on the black tribes, fortune-hunters in search of diamonds and gold, and the scarlet-clad regiments of Queen Victoria. Their saga, bloody, ferocious, and fervent, would culminate three centuries later in one of the greatest tragedies in history – the establishment of apartheid, the racist regime in which a white minority would subjugate and victimize millions of blacks, which only ended with the liberation from prison of one of the moral giants of our time, Nelson Mandela. Lapierre spent three years researching in order to write the chronicle of these men and women – famous and obscure, white and black, European and African – who have, with their blood and tears, brought to life the South Africa that is today known as the ‘Rainbow Nation’.

City Of Joy by Dominique Lapierre

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Exactly halfway through Lapierre’s The City of Joy, a missionary priest exclaims, “Bless you, Calcutta, for in your wretchedness you have given birth to saints.” It is about several such saints struggling against overwhelming wretchedness that this account of life in the most squalid of Calcutta’s slums, Anand Nagar (“The City of Joy”), concerns itself. In the telling, the protagonists find themselves overwhelmed in turn by a love and compassion as transforming and inexplicable as grace. The tale is initially absorbing, constantly disturbing and ultimately uplifting. Anand Nagar, according to Lapierre (who spent three years in Calcutta and Bengal researching the book), has the densest concentration of humans anywhere on earth. More than 70,000 Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists are crammed into an area smaller than two football fields. Their average income is less than 10 cents a day. With one latrine for every 2,500 people and one fountain for every 3,000, sanitation is, to all intents and purposes, nonexistent. And yet, despite the crowding, the poverty, the scorpions, mosquitoes, rats and ordure, “The City of Joy” glows with human feeling. Orphaned children are immediately adopted by neighbors; religious festivals joyously praise a variety of gods; lepers are embraced and cared for; eunuchs (damned in Hindu theology) are revered. Lapierre traces the progress of a handful of idealists through this Indian Inferno-Purgatorio-Paradiso: the rickshaw-puller Hasari Pal; a Polish Catholic priest, Stephan Kovalski; Max Loeb, a young American doctor; Bandona, a beautiful Assamese nurse. Even Mother Teresa makes an appearance at the periphery of the narrative. Their alternating and, eventually, intertwining stories create a tapestry of human suffering, sacrifice and courage.
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