New Church Life NCL May/June 2018 - Page 55

BOOK REVIEW In the Shadow of the Dragon’s Back: A Young American Girl in South Africa During the Early Years of Apartheid By Rachel Odhner Longstaff Reviewed by the Rev. Dr. James F. Lawrence R achel Odhner Longstaff ’s mesmerizing reflection upon her youth sprouting up as a white Swedenborgian minister’s daughter in South Africa weaves interconnected journeys of a girl, a family, a church, and a nation during the now infamous social context known as apartheid. Her father’s new pastoral assignment in Durban commenced in 1948, the same year that apartheid (Afrikaans for apart-hood) was inaugurated with all its increasingly harsh laws. The family adventured from a staid and stately Philadelphia suburban world to one both newly exotic and troubled. Contemplating anew from four decades’ distance the social and spiritual spaces she inhabited there, In the Shadow of the Dragon’s Back refers to a prominent topographical feature of the author’s childhood now transformed as metaphorical muse for those complexly resonant times. A discovery late in life of photograph negatives taken by her deceased older brother of those years helped to stimulate the birth of this volume so lushly illustrated with Pehr Odhner’s crisp black-and-white photographs. An avid amateur photographer, Pehr’s bountiful illustrations open windows with the text revealing ambience and mood both innocent and ominous, and they evoke a depth in the stories whose brevity belies the profundity of the volume. The 22 chapters unfold their interwoven stories chronologically, with the 231