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And look no further for the guiding idea behind The Illusion of Separateness. In 15 short chapters, Van Booy introduces us to half a dozen characters, their tales told in chronologically jumbled episodes ranging from just before World War 2 to the near-present.
The story opens in 2010 when we meet Martin, a Jewish orphan, now a good-natured orderly looking after ageing former actors. Then Mr Hugo, a grossly disfigured former German soldier, enters the cast. More follow: young, blind Amelia, running education programmes for the blind at the Museum of Modern Art; John, who survived the crash of his B-24 in wartime France; Sebastien, who discovers the old wreck of a plane in his father's fields; and so on.
At first sight, they seem to have nothing in common, but keep Thich Nhat Hanh's quote in mind as you gradually discover - as they do - the connections between them.
The book is quite short, as is the list of characters, so you won't need a notepad to keep track of who's who. It's not a detective story and I made most of the connections without much trouble.
Instead, it is a skilful, generously written work that makes the case that small acts of kindness, such as sharing food on a battlefield, can have unpredictable positive consequences.
Even if you don't believe that, the book makes satisfying reading. Only once or twice, when Van Booy indulged in waffly scene-setting paragraphs that read like a New Age manifesto put through a Babelfish, did I feel disappointed. Where are the editors when you need them?
- Gavin McLean is a Wellington historian.