Accidental Gods: On Men Unwittingly Turned Divine by Anna Della Subin - review by James Hamilton-Paterson

James Hamilton-Paterson

Beware White Men Bearing Corned Beef

Accidental Gods: On Men Unwittingly Turned Divine


Granta Books 488pp £20

Anna Della Subin’s book begins with three case studies of men who, by a fluke of circumstance and for different reasons, came to be considered gods by particular groups of people: Haile Selassie, the late Duke of Edinburgh and General Douglas MacArthur. The story of how Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia, became Ras Tafari, via Jamaican religious dynamics and the work of ‘dreads’ who followed prophets like Marcus Garvey, turns out to contain the essential element that underpins the deification of all unlikely characters: the political. No man gets worshipped as a god unless the underlying politics are right. Mussolini’s attack, poison gas and all, on an ill-defended Ethiopia did wonders for Ras Tafari’s reputation (a rare howler has Subin referring to the Italians’ ‘circling fighter jets’ in 1936). One might indeed argue that without Herod and the Roman occupation, the carpenter’s son named Jesus would never have been acclaimed Son of God. Early on, Subin describes the type as she sees him: ‘He appears on every continent on the map, at times of colonial invasion, nationalist struggle, and political unrest.’

Prince Philip happened to drop by the South Pacific archipelago of New Hebrides (today Vanuatu) twice: first on holiday

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