Melanie Verwoerd is a human rights campaigner and former South African Ambassador to Ireland. Her memoir When We Dance hit No 1 in the best seller list and gives a fascinating account of the life of a woman who played a major role in South Africa’s journey from apartheid to democracy, went on to become South African ambassador to Ireland and head of UNICEF Ireland, and was the partner of the late RTÉ presenter Gerry Ryan. As part of our campaign to try and ensure everyone buys at least one book this Christmas, we asked Melanie for her Top 5 recommended reads, and here they are:
A few years ago I spent a few very happy hours at the elephant sanctuary in Nairobi, Kenya which was founded by Daphne Sheldrick decades ago and is still run by herself and one of her daughters. I was so moved by the amazing elephants, who played around with soccer balls under the watchful eyes of their dedicated keepers that I decided to sponsor a little elephant called Makoena for a year. “An African Love Story” is a beautifully written, totally compelling account of Daphne Sheldrick’s astonishing life. She vividly describes Kenya in the colonial times, her dedication to animals and her life long struggle to serve and save elephants. She also writes movingly about her love for her husband David and the void his untimely death left in her life. It is a fantastic read which I could not put down. It is also lovely to be transported to a country of sun, dust and heat when it is so cold and dark around us at Christmas.
Ever since I read Martha Beck’s first book “Expecting Adam” (about her little boy Adam who has Down Syndrome) I have been a big fan. I enjoy her writing in O-magazine (Yes, I confess, I am an Oprah fan) and have read a few of her other books. “Finding Your Way in a Wild New World” is an intriguing book. It is a self-help book, yet it is something much more. It is practical, yet deeply spiritual although not religious. It is about how to live in our modern world, yet draws heavily on her experiences over many years of visiting in the African bush. I am reading the book for a second time at the moment. It is just such a book; you finish it and then you know you have to read it again, as there is so much in it. Since the holiday season is a time for reflection and plans for the New Year, this is a perfect read. But be warned, it is one of those books that will persuade you to make a lot of changes in our life.
Fly Eagle Fly! by Christopher Gregorowski (Foreword by Archbishop Tutu)
I bought this book almost 20 years ago for my children in South Africa and have over the decades given numerous copies to many children and adults. “Fly Eagle Fly!” was written by Christopher Gregorowski for his little daughter who was dying from leukemia and has a very strong and uplifting message. The book relates how after a stormy night, a farmer searching for his lost calf finds a baby eagle that has been blown out of its nest. He takes it home and raises it with his chickens. But when his friend comes to visit one day, he tells the farmer that an eagle should be flying high in the sky, not scrabbling on the ground for grain. How the farmer’s friend proves that the bird is an eagle and destined to fly to the sun is lyrically told and challenges us to remember who we are meant to be. Niki Daly’s bright water colour illustrations are spectacular. The fact that this book still sells after all these years is a testimony to its beauty. If you are going to buy just one children’s book this Christmas – this is the one to buy.
It is sad how Christmas is often the time where people have to deal with financial fears more than any other time of the year. I recently came across this book by Lynn Twist. I was intrigued by the title, since in my experience the words “soul” and “money” rarely go together. I was concerned that it might be yet another how-to-live-without-any-money-and-still-be-happy book, but was pleasantly surprised. Lynne Twist is a very successful fundraiser and activist in America. It was through her fundraising work for the developing world, that she started to question our attitudes and relations to money and the extraordinary power money wields over our lives. She relates, for example, her experience in introducing a young man from the Achuar tribe based deep in the Amazon forest to money for the first time. It is a fascinating book by someone who works with money, and has money, but took a step back to look at her and our world in an honest and critical way.
John O’ Donohue’s writings played a big role in my decision to come to Ireland. After I arrived here in 2001 I contacted him and we became good friends. This book was published after his very tragic death in 2008 and features an introduction by his brother Pat O’ Donohue. It is John at his best, drawing inspiration from his Celtic heritage and the landscape of the west of Ireland. The paperback edition has just been released and as always it is lyrical, spiritual and deeply moving – ideal for Christmas time. I savor this book and read only a little piece every night – so that it can last (like good chocolate) for a long time.