Blood on my Hands, a Surgeon at War by Craig Jurisevic

This is another book related to military medicine, but this one has a slight difference. Jurisevic was an Australian volunteer doctor who chose to help refugees who were fleeing from Kosovo to get away from a murderous campaign waged by Serbia under the government of Slobodan Milosevic.

What started out as a “simple” aim to serve in a surgical capacity for a volunteer organisation became complicated when Jurisevic exposed corruption at the main hospital in the town he was stationed, where severely wounded and sick refugees were being forced to pay for treatment or left to die.

He became a likely target for the organised crime group behind the extortion, so was encouraged by the Kosovan resistance to join them at their front line camp where they offered protection. He then found himself in situations far outside of his intended surgical role; seeing the need to train eager but woefully unprepared fighters from around the world in the essential basics of military competency.
Serving previously in a medical capacity under combat conditions in Gaza was helpful to him in ways he couldn’t have anticipated.




“They killed fourteen from my village. Three were children. They shot the children first so that their fathers and mothers could see. They shot the parents of these children with some others of my village”
( from a survivor of Sapuzane, Serbia, as told to Craig Jurisevic after fleeing across the border to Albania).


Hope and Persistence

These two books show humanity at its worst.

Firstly through the evils of the war in Syria that has made so much of that country impossible to live in.
Secondly through the treatment of those trying to flee the horrors inflicted upon their homeland by both governments and terror groups.
And lastly by the western nations that again close their doors to people in desperate need.

But despite all of that, many of those who have needed to flee from everything they’ve known, worked for and loved, have somehow drawn on those rare human virtues that can lie dormant until adversity of the worst kind is experienced.













Part of the story of A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea by Melissa Fleming is perhaps better told by the author herself in this video.

And the story of Nujeen Mustafa:


Opposite Ends of the Reading Spectrum

These are two very different books that I read at the beginning of my Christmas/New Year break.

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon


Subhi is a refugee who has never known life outside of the detention centre where he was born. His only experience of anything beyond the fences is in the stories he’s heard and the hope they give of the return of the father he’s never known. Until Jimmie, a young local girl living nearby finds a way into the camp and befriends him, bringing new stories and a glimpse of life outside.

Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow is fiction, but based on true reports of Australian refugee detention centres. It doesn’t hide the despair and brutality, but unlike the ongoing experience of those currently interred in the camps, Fraillon’s story maintains the potential of hope while avoiding the glibness of an unlikely happy ending.


How UFOs Conquered the World by David Clark

9781781313039I was once a sucker for some of the worst, most manipulative writings on the subject of flying saucers and other “unexplained” phenomena. Now I find the majority of that kind of thing unreadable.

David Clark’s work is one of the few exceptions in UFO publications. Avoiding unfounded sensationalism, Clarke addresses the topic with rationality, not as a  believer in alien visitation or as  a debunker resorting to snide quips to ridicule those who do believe,  but as a genuine sceptic interested in what the facts actually reveal.

His interest in UFOs began in childhood (as did mine) and he started out with a naively undiscerning sense of wonder (as did I) that put beyond doubt the fact that earth was being regularly visited by visitors from space.


Clarke now sees UFOs as part of a modern day folklore that is heavily influence by the media, and his argument and the evidence presented are far more convincing than most of the alternatives others have promoted.


The Morning They Came For Us, by Janine Di Giovanni

the-morning-they-came-for-usIf I wasn’t already aware of it, Janine Di Giovanni would make me realise how little I’ve managed to fit into my life.

A journalist reporting in depth on more than two decades of wars and conflict in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Di Giovanni has also written several books, contributed political analysis on TV shows in Europe and the USA – and more.

Not only living an active and productive life, the importance of the work she’s done contrasts significantly with the weightless trivia at the heart of so many comfortable lives (such as my own).

In The Morning They Came for Us, she gives a brutal, confronting and uncompromising look at the Syrian conflict where torture, rape and murder are no less weapons of war than bombs and guns.

Accounts are given of the ongoing cost to women suffering sexual abuse.

“…for a Muslim woman, who is meant to be a virgin upon marriage, it is the end of life, or the life she was meant to live. If she was single before, she will probably never marry. She will not have children, a family. In other cultures, this might be fine; but in the Middle East, where large families are a given, it means isolation form the rest of society”.

Many victims resorted to suicide to escape their perceived shame.

Di Giovanni also reports the experience of a man consistently tortured in the worst possible ways while being held prisoner by Government authorities. What he describes stretches the willingness to believe – that such things can be done by one human being to another: surgical procedures conducted without anaesthetic, not to relieve suffering, but to cause it, both physically and mentally.

But in the war zone day to day the struggle to stay alive involves much more than avoiding the constant presence of snipers and the threat of barrel bombs dropped from government helicopters. She describes a mother preparing to take her young daughter to buy bread in Aleppo in December 2012:

“She stuffed her miniature hands into socks instead of gloves to keep them warm. She was taking her to queue outside the bakery… There was no one to leave the girl with, she said unapologetically, so she was bringing her to stand in line with her. They might be waiting all day she told us.

‘If we get there early we might be lucky’, she whispered to the little girl.
If she were lucky, she would not be living in Aleppo. If she were lucky, she would not have to cook on a wooden stove. If she were lucky, her children could play outside, or not be afraid of the balcony, where people shot at you when you stuck your head out. If she were lucky, her husband would not have been jobless for the past four months. If she were lucky, there would be no war.”

This is the background to the millions of refugees who try to escape to safety, the refugees who many in the west are intent to demonise.


When Michael Met Mina, by Randa Abdel-Fattah


Humour, poignancy, foreboding, joy.

Just a few relevant words that come to mind to describe this book.

I could also add complex, but I wouldn’t want to give the wrong impression that its a difficult, confusing reading experience. The complexity relates to the issues explored, where face-value judgements are never helpful and people don’t always live up to stereotypes.

It is highly entertaining but is much more than mere entertainment; hopefully testing the reader’s preconceptions and biases.

There is a tiny hint of Romeo and Juliet in the story of Michael and Mina. They come from opposite sides of a political/racial divide. One is an Afghan refugee, a “boat person”; the other is the son of politically active parents who established the Aussie Values party devoted to “stopping the boats” and keeping Australia free of the taint of multiculturalism.

Michael first sees Mina on the opposing side during a confrontation between “Aussie Values” and an anti-racist group at a protest gathering. The kind of protest that is becoming increasingly familiar on Australian news programs. There’s no way he can realise how that brief glimpse of a Muslim girl will change his life.

Chapters alternate between the viewpoints of the title characters, starting with Michael, then moving on to Mina. Each chapter helps build up their stories to show us what has shaped their lives and current situations, and also how their developing relationship brings change.

I found the book very relevant in an Australia obsessed with “border control” where election results can be turned upon glib, three word slogans of exclusion. It has relevance when fear and racism can win votes.

It was one of those un-put-downable novels that  was a pleasure to read.


Author’s website:

Publisher’s website:


Notes on an Exodus, Richard Flanagan

xnotes-on-an-exodusNotes on an Exodus : an essay is a small book by Man Booker prize winning author Richard Flanagan, illustrated by Ben Quilty.

Flanagan and Quilty travelled to the Middle East and Europe with World Vision, visiting refugees in camps and on the road, who were escaping from the violence of their homes in Syria.

While described as “an essay” in its subtitle, the book is more a collection of brief written portraits of the people Flanagan and Quilty met on their journey.

People who had fled villages, towns and cities to escape either the day and night bombing by Assad supporting Russian planes, from the violence and oppression of Daesh (ISIS), or both.

People who had fled prosperous lives to live in makeshift tents constructed from recycled garbage.

People who once owned productive farms and orchards but now have to survive on meagre rations of bread and tea or scraps collected from the floors of vegetable shops. Where a family survives (barely) with the help of their nine year old son, working as a welder for $3 a day. who has half his weekly pay retained by his employer to ensure his return the following week.

These are the kind of stories that we in the west prefer not to know so we don’t have to see the refugees as REAL people with REAL lives who probably weren’t so different from other people we know. Individuals we can’t disguise and dehumanise as a “flood”.

Flanagan’s vignettes of people he met bring focus to the plight of millions who have been driven from their homes and homelands. They should stir similar feelings to those stirred by the photos of the small body of Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach that briefly moved the conscience of the world. But sadly they won’t. All too quickly our collective hearts have rehardened.

Suspicion and hostility against the flood have been restored.



Refugees are not like you and me. They are you and me.

Richard Flanagan,  Notes on an Exodus, p 53


This has also been posted on my other blog: The Onesimus Files