Christina Lamb

Another interesting video featuring Christina Lamb, author of Nujeen, mentioned in my previous post

Posted in Christina Lamb | Tagged | 1 Comment

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.

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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:

 

Posted in biography, Christina Lamb, Melissa Fleming, politics, refugees, War | Tagged , , , , ,

number9dream, David Mitchell

number9dreamI’ve liked most of what I’ve read of David Mitchell’s work.

He writes in interesting ways – never satisfied in telling a story in the most straight forward way, he experiments with genres, styles and, writing forms; even in the same novel, and somehow manages to keep it all coherent.

In number9dream, 19 year old Eiji Miyake has moved to Tokyo to search for the father he’s never known. Every step taken leads him to a disappointing, often dangerous  detour, sometimes real, other times not. Alternating between actual experience and various imagined scenarios.

Mitchell seems to have a talent for incorporating incidents and dialogue with potential to offend or disgust; yet not gratuitous offence for the sake of it.

Those occasions are used sparingly to spotlight the deep moral corruption of a character’s make-up. In this book there are some scenes of gruesome, brutal violence, effectively showing the world of the Yakuza, (powerful Japanese organised crime figures) into which Eiji stumbles.

I enjoyed a lot of this book but it definitely isn’t my favourite example of Mitchell’s work.  One section in particular didn’t work for me, more or less a story within the story, where the protagonist is hiding away for a time and discovers a writer’s manuscripts. The content of the manuscript stories is alternated with the main narrative of the book, but I haven’t got a clue why. To me it seemed like padding and lacked the coherence I mentioned above.

The end of the book was also a disappointment. For those who’ve seen David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive: I felt the book’s concluding section took a surrealist bent like the end of that movie… and then it just

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While History Passed, by Jessie Elizabeth Simons

Knowing that I love to read, whenever I visited Gloria’s family, her dad would hand me one of his very few books.

He’d served in the RAAF in Borneo towards the end of WWII and as a result disliked the Japanese.

I always thought he wanted me to read the book so I’d know why the Japanese were so contemptible. The book was White Coolies by Betty Jeffrey.
As politely as possible I resisted his attempts to “indoctrinate” me, so after a brief flick through the book I handed it back unread.

220px-paradiseroad1997posterFast forward a couple of decades, and not long after his death, I realised the book was probably something worth reading. By that time I’d heard more about the events it described. Unfortunately no trace of it could be found among his possessions and I regretted the lack of interest I’d shown over many years. If only I’d foreseen the interest I now have in the lives of military nurses.

White Coolies is Jeffrey’s account of her time as a prisoner of the Japanese, captured after the sinking of the ship, SS Vyner Brooke that was taking her and other nurses away from Singapore and its imminent capture by the Japanese army.
The story was adapted into the 1997 film Paradise Road

I haven’t yet obtained a copy of Jeffrey’s book. Maybe I need to get over the realisation that I could have obtained a hardcover copy, old but in good condition, that also had a few relevant, period news clippings slipped between its covers.history But I have come across other accounts of the same events such as On Radji Beach by Ian Shaw, a book I’ve had for a while but haven’t yet read and While History Passed by Jessie Elizabeth Simons, who was part of the same group of nurses held prisoner by the Japanese. I came across a second-hand, ex-library copy a few weeks ago. Until then hadn’t been aware of the book’s existence, so was willing to overlook its condition. (It seems a child decided a lot of the pages were too plain without their addition of colourful scribbles).

Simons tells her story of evacuation from Singapore as the Japanese were moving in, of the sinking of the ship taking her to safety and of her subsequent capture and imprisonment by the Japanese after surviving some time afloat at sea.

Others weren’t so lucky. Many drowned and those reaching shore first were rounded up and murdered by the Japanese. Men were taken into the jungle and bayonetted. The nurses were forced into the sea and machine gunned.

Simons survived three and a half years of the malnutrition and disease that claimed the lives of many of those imprisoned with her. She wrote:

“…the death rate soared to a new record, daily broken.
We had to dig graves, construct rough coffins and bury our own dead, often at the rate of three a day in our own circle of acquaintance. For mothers who had sacrificed from their own rations for the past two and a half years to give their children a better chance of coming through, Muntok camp was a grim, never-to-be-forgotten last stand against their children’s starvation. Far too many of them fought a losing battle; one woman saw four of her five children die within a week from the accumulated effects of malnutrition. Total war!

Somehow there were always a few flowers for the funerals, pathetic little processions of a few friends paying respects to one who had “gone before” – a banal phrase that leapt to new life and meaning as the half-dead wondered whose turn would be next.”

This was posted on 12th February 2017. I had intended it to be on  the 75th anniversary of the Vyner Brooke’s sinking, but somehow along the way I mixed up the dates. The anniversary was the 14th.

Posted in Betty Jeffrey, Jessie Elizabeth Simons, Nurses, POW, War | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

One Woman’s War and Peace by Wing Commander Sharon Bown (Ret’d)

one womans warTHIS is a book I was very eager to get from the time I heard it was being published. I pre-ordered a copy months ahead of publication, and then had to wait longer, because Gloria insisted on paying for it to add to my Christmas presents

 

Sharon Bown was a vital part in my growing interest in military medical work, after I came across a quote from a speech she gave, providing a moving and poetic, but graphic description of her work as an RAAF nurse in Afghanistan.

 

“I have worn their blood
So many of us have worn their blood”

Bown enlisted in the RAAF three years after her graduation as a nurse. Her autobiography takes us through each stage of her military career, from officer training, through service in Australia, overseas deployments and her role as Aide-de-Camp to the Australian Defence Minister.
A defining moment came in East Timor, during a flight to an isolated village where a woman was going through a difficult child birth. The helicopter crashed and Bown was severely hurt, receiving spinal fractures and a broken jaw among other injuries.

It seemed like her career could be cut short, but with determination she pushed through to a remarkable recovery and was eventually able to be deployed overseas again: in Afghanistan.

During her time in Afghanistan, Australian troops were involved in significant confrontations with the Taliban, one of which resulted in SAS Trooper Mark Donaldson being the first Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross since 1969.

While she mentions Donaldson by name in relation to his award, she earlier tells the story of a tall red haired soldier who had been blown metres into the air from an armoured vehicle after it had triggered an explosive device. He fell almost uninjured still holding tightly to his gun. While she doesn’t name this soldier, a comparison with VC winner Mark Donaldson’s biography makes it clear that he was the tall red-haired soldier in her story.

Like so many who serve in war zones, Bown wasn’t untouched by PTSD. She continued to be haunted by memories of her helicopter crash, with recurring nightmares and flashbacks related to the crash.

Bown is now retired from the RAAF and serves as a member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial.

Posted in Afghanistan, Nurses, War | Tagged , , ,

Military Medicine. Three Conflicts

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Bad Medicine by Terry Ledgard.
Subtitled “a no holds barred account of life as an Australian SAS Medic during the war in Afghanistan”.

This would be the most disappointing book of the “military medic” books I’ve read. Firstly I thought it had too little about the author’s work “during the war in Afghanistan “ (as the title led me to believe). Secondly I found the “no-holds barred” description relates more to a style dependant on clumsy “blokey” crudities than on gritty uncompromising reporting of a medic’s work in a war zone. It seemed to me that he was trying too hard to come across as a “bad boy”

 

combat-medicCombat Medic by Terry Pickard.
Now THIS is the kind of book I expected when I bought the one mentioned above. Despite the slight similarity in author’s names, I thought this book presented a far more honest “no-holds barred” account of a medic faced with the horrors of a war zone. In this case the author recounts his experiences during the Kibeho Massacre in Rwanda in April 1995.

Engaged in a UN peace keeping mission, Pickard and his colleagues found themselves caught up in a devastating killing spree carried out against refugees by the Rwandese Patriotic Army where more than 4,000 men women and children were murdered. The exact number of dead far exceeded the confirmed number, but further counting of the casualties was prevented by the RPA after UN officials had reached the 4,000 mark. Also it was clear that many bodies had been disposed of prior to the count starting.

Pickard’s return to Australia after his deployment in Africa saw him suffer severely from PTSD, resulting in his discharge from the Army just short of the 20 years’ service that would have entitled him to a military pension.

 

tearsTears on My Pillow by Narelle Biedermann.
Here is a slightly different side to the military medical story, concentrating on Australian nurses serving in Vietnam.
The first part of the book gives a brief background history of the war, an overview of the successive Australian field hospitals and a brief introduction to the nurses’ role.

The second part gives individual stories of several of the nurses who served throughout Australia’s involvement in the conflict. Heartbreaking stories could never be avoided when young men, just entering manhood were regularly being killed or maimed in horrific ways, but there are also lighter moments of all too short breaks from the heavy workloads of understaffed operating theatres and recovery wards.
Stories from several different nurses show how differently each of them coped (or not) with what they were facing, but two things remains constant, firstly how little preparation they were given to get them ready for the extremely demanding and stressful work and conditions they were sent to face. And secondly how little support they were given to help them return to lives back in Australia.

Posted in Afghanistan, Narelle Biedermann, Nurses, Rwanda, Terry Ledgard, Terry Pickard, Vietnam, War | Tagged ,

New Salman Rushdie novel depicts Obama and Trump’s US

According to publisher Jonathan Cape, The Golden House, Rushdie’s 13th novel, follows “a young American filmmaker whose involvement with a secretive, tragedy-haunted family teaches him how to become a man”.

Starting with the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2008, the book will include current and recent political and social events, including the rise of the ultra-conservative Tea Party; the Gamergate scandal, which saw the widespread online harassment of female gaming journalists framed as a debate about media ethics; the debate over identity politics; and, perhaps most urgently, “the insurgence of a ruthlessly ambitious, narcissistic, media-savvy villain sporting makeup and coloured hair”.

Publishing director at Jonathan Cape, Michal Shavit called it “the ultimate novel about identity, truth, terror and lies” for “a new world order of alternate truths”.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/07/new-salman-rushdie-novel-depicts-obama-trump-us-golden-house

Now waiting for Trump to issue a fatwah sending Rushdie back into hiding again.

A book definitely on my “to buy” list.

Posted in politics, Salman Rushdie | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loc

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte, is one of several books I’ve read over the past couple of years about WWI, its origins and its ongoing effects.

What it says about the spiritual conditions leading into (and through) the First World War seems disturbingly familiar. The specifics may have changed, but the general spirit of those conditions is unmistakably in the world again today; disguised to a degree – but with a flimsy mask.

“The alliance of church and state allowed the secular goals of government to get mixed up with the spiritual goals of Christianity.”
“Add to this the rise of the most potent political ideology of the hour: nationalism. The nation-state was replacing religion as a powerful source of meaning and identity in people’s lives…

…For devoted nationalists, their patriotic faith was equivalent to membership in an alternative church. For religious believers, nationalism offered a grandiose political outlet for their faith commitments. The result was the birth of Christian nationalism, the near sanctification of the modern state.”

That hybrid of nationalism and religion may have worked well at first for the recruitment of willing soldiers (“for God, King and country”) but it later had a detrimental impact on the faith of many. Christianity and God had been portrayed as being aligned with the cultural, political and philosophical systems of the age leading up to WWI, so:

Since Christianity was considered integral to Europe’s political and economic system, the perceived failure of that system was a spiritual failure as well.

…the Great War had defamed the values of the Old World, along with the religious doctrines that helped underwrite them.

Loconte writes about the despair and disbelief affecting the generation that lived through the War, and how it was reflected in post-war literary expression.

Postwar writers seemed to have no mental category for the nature of the conflict, no set of beliefs to understand it.

However he observes a difference in the work of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis who “rejected the sense of futility and agnosticism that infected so much [literary] output of their era”.

The dark horrors of their experience such as the scale of death and destruction informed their writings”

Central to their experience was an encounter with the presence of evil: the deep corruption of the human heart that makes it capable of hunting down and destroying millions of lives in a remorseless war of attrition.
A conviction emerged in both of these authors, however, that the problem of evil was not explainable only in natural terms. Rather, evil existed as a darkness in the soul of every human being and as a tangible spiritual force in the world.

But they also drew on aspects of “light”, things like the strong and often sacrificial relationships that sustained men through their time in the trenches. That close interdependent bond is the strength that, despite setbacks, ultimately leads the authors’ characters through the obstacles they face, looking ahead for the hope and promise of victory. But that hope wasn’t based on mere, vague wishfullness.

After returning to England from the front, Tolkien and Lewis might easily have joined the ranks of the rootless and disbelieving. Instead they became convinced there was only one truth, one singular event that could help the weary and the broken hearted find their way home: the Return of the King

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…the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thess 4)

[All quotations, apart from the last are from A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte

Posted in Christian, CS Lewis, Joseph Loconte, JRR Tolkien, War | Tagged ,

Edith Cavell: Faith before the firing squad, by Catherine Butcher

Edith Cavell: Faith before the firing squad, by Catherine Butcher.

Edith Cavell was an English nurse who helped establish a nursing school in Brussels, at a time when nursing practice in Belgium had low standards and little community respect. Cavell sought to change all of that by training young women to the same kind of standard she had learned during her own training in London and through her experience as a practising nurse in Britain. In 1907 she accepted the role of matron at the new training school in Brussels.

edith-cavellIn 1914 Germany invaded Belgium, thereby drawing Britain, allies of Belgium, into the First World War. Cavell chose to stay in Brussels with her trainee nurses and helped to look after wounded troops from both sides.

When wounded French, British and Belgian soldiers were in danger of being killed by the German invaders, she started to help the Belgian resistance to get them to safety across the Dutch border.
In August 1915 she was arrested and two months later was tried, sentenced to death and shot by firing squad.

This book tries to piece together a part of Cavell’s life that has probably been omitted from many other biographies: the way her Christian faith prepared her to face premature death.

The author looks at the religious routine Cavell followed throughout her life, first as the daughter of a Church of England vicar, and later as a continuing part of her daily devotions, following the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and readings from other devotional books known to be used by Cavell.

Apart from Cavell’s own story, the book touches on the role of religious practice across general society, particularly within a hospital environment, where it is said that prayer and bible reading were the essential starting point of each day in the wards.
How things have changed!

Cavell was shot at dawn on the 12th October 1915.

“Her last glimpse of life on earth would be the gloomy mists of an autumn dawn in Belgium. Her expectation was that in the ‘twinkling of an eye’ she would be in the presence of Jesus.”

Posted in Catherine Butcher, Christian, Historical, Nurses, politics, Religion, War | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

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

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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.

Posted in David Clarke, politics, refugees, UFO, Young Adult, Zana Fraillon | Tagged , ,