Conversations with Opa: Sharing Wisdom About the Universe and Lesser Things

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Author(s): 
Release Date: 
December 20, 2011
Publisher/Imprint: 
Prometheus Books
Pages: 
168
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“Conversations with Opa is not a lengthy tome, but its contents cover the origins of life evolving from one-celled animals and four billion years of evolution, progressing to the future of man.”

Conversations with Opa: Sharing Wisdom About the Universe and Lesser Things
is a dialogue between octogenarian Albert and his nine-year-old godchild, Quintana. It is touching to picture this young, but very bright girl coming to visit her Opa (Dutch for grandfather) for an afternoon of pithy discussion on such matters as the origin of the universe.

This cross-generational duo considers the conflicts between science and religion. Opa makes no bones about his atheism and laments that more people do not read and understand science, instead of having “blind faith” regarding life. This conflict tends to be the leitmotif in each of the topics that are discussed.

Ultimately, Opa offers an endorsement of secular humanism. “Live life to the fullest, by being good, helping others and trying to make each day a little different and more exciting.” Surely, there are few in this world who would not subscribe to this idea. He also envisions an ideal world with efficient, functioning economies and enlightened social structures—a recipe for contentment.

Conversations with Opa is not a lengthy tome, but its contents cover the origins of life evolving from one-celled animals and four billion years of evolution, progressing to the future of man. Will life continue if another asteroid or a nuclear disaster heads our way? Opa says, “Human beings are incredible self-contained machines with great minds and sophisticated emotions. They have the power to do wonderful things—and the capability to end civilization as we know it. If humanity makes the right decisions, life will go on.”

Quintanta and Opa collaborate to list the triumphs of our civilization. Here, and in many other places the dialogue does not ring true. Would a child of this age identify speech as the first attribute that is essential for the advancement of the species?

She also weighs in on psychokinesis (i.e. mind over matter). While the concept of an Elder teaching a child is plausible, her questions and responses are not always believable. The author does not indicate if Albert and Quintana are fictional or if they represent real life characters. If it is the latter, Quintana is a very unusual nine-year-old child.

The exclusive use of a question and answer format makes for a contrived and artificial way of expounding on life. The work might have benefited from a less Socratic and more narrative approach—perhaps Opa illustrating his theories as situations arise in their respective everyday lives. Is Quintana a different or better person as a result of her many afternoons with Opa? Expansion on this question would add legitimacy.

Conversations with Opa is intended to encourage dialogue and even stimulate argument between people of all ages. It contains opinions on a very diverse array of subjects with which one could agree or disagree. Scientific, religious, and philosophical works fill library shelves relating to the topics discussed here. Consulting these works is necessary if the curious reader chooses to pursue one of the many diverse topics in greater depth.