Monthly Archives: November 2013

Book Review: The Monsoon Bride by Michelle Aung Thin

Publisher: Text Publishing
Publisher’s Summary
Burma, 1930.
At their final marriage lesson, when the priest had talked on and on, Desmond bent his head to hers and whispered, ‘Our world is newer, faster and better—you will see.’ She took his hand in hers then and squeezed it. His skin had a peppery, meaty sweetness, a smell that seemed to stick to her dress, her hair and skin. She named it ‘the scent of men’. Beside her, he snored gently in his sleep, his face no more than an outline, rising and falling in the dim light. She decided that she liked the sound.

Winsome is just married and filled with anticipation. Her new husband is a stranger—one of the suitors chosen for her and the other mixed-race girls from the men who apply to the orphanage. But as the night train rattles towards her new home she sees possibility in this uncertain destiny. She knows she is headed for a new life in the metropolis.

She does not know about Rangoon, this city cradled in the arms of rivers. That it is about to be torn apart in the struggle between its ancient owners and new masters. That it will seduce her, possess her senses and change utterly her notion of what kind of woman she can be. When she meets Jonathan—when the monsoon comes—she begins to find out.

Review by Hazel Barker
I enjoyed reading The Monsoon Bride. The author has created vivid and strong settings and rightly depicts the mood and atmosphere current during that period of history. I particularly liked the way Michelle Aung Thin wove history into the narrative.

The opening chapter grabbed my attention. I found both male characters, Desmond and Jonathon, true to life, and as the story progressed, my sympathy went out to them. The story gripped me, making me eager to read on and discover whether Winsome could return to Desmond as the repentant sinner.

Winsome’s behaviour, however, is so unlike a girl who had been brought up in a convent. The distinction between social classes in Burma were too rigid at the time, and when she wandered alone in dangerous areas and showed sympathy for a coolie who had been wounded during the riots, I found her attitude more like that of a contemporary female than that of a girl in the 1930s.

I would also like to point out an error in the story. In 1930, an Indian bearer would never have addressed anyone as Thakin, but as Sahib; not even a Eurasian.

Despite these discrepancies, The Monsoon Bride held my attention to the end, and took me back to my childhood days as I read the familiar names of streets and places in Rangoon.

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Excerpt from ‘Telegraph’, UK

Telegraph.co.uk
Touching letters from WW2 soldier to his pacifist brother
One was a pacifist whose principles prevented him fighting in the Second World War, the other signed up took part in the gruelling campaigns to push the Germans out of North Africa and then Italy.

A letter from Douglas to Clarence Dover dated Sept 1 1943.
Now, letters between two brothers have emerged, almost 70 years after the conflict ended.
The correspondence was sent from Douglas Dover, serving in the Royal Army Service Corps, to his older brother Clarence, who had joined the Friends Ambulance Unit, a Quaker-run organisation with whom he was stationed in China.
The letters show the closeness of the pair, despite their different beliefs. Douglas, a driver, recounts his experiences in the heat of Africa coming under attack from the Germans, and then as his unit advances through Italy.
He described seeing an eruption of Vesuvius as “a marvellous sight with a column of smoke miles high with the base a mass of fire” and referred to Naples as “a city now famous for racketeers and filth.”
The brothers’ mother Ada died of a heart attack while both sons were overseas. Douglas wrote: “I know it will be a shock to you, I cannot believe it yet, or rather I can’t take it in yet. We lost the one who we all loved so much.”
When Douglas was granted a period of leave, in August 1945, he told his brother: “Only one thing is missing and that is that you will not be there, but maybe will we be together soon.”
On his arrival back home in Nottingham, he sent another letter telling Clarence: “Nottingham looks very much the same as when we left, but the girls seem to have lost all sense of moral control.”
The letters continue until May 1946, when Douglas was about to return to Nottingham again. The collection ends with the line: “Well C, I will not make this a very long one. For the folks do not know I’m coming … cheerio for now, my next letter will most likely be from home.”
Douglas died in 1989 and Clarence in 2001. The letters were found by Clarence’s daughter June Cobley, 61, from Beeston, Nottinghamshire. She said: “I am really proud of my dad for refusing to fight. I could not have done that at the age of 20.
“We never quite knew what his family’s reaction was at the time but I have a letter from his mother in which she said she was standing by him.
“She wrote to him: ‘I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that you have laboured for the benefit of peace’.
“My father did not talk about it much. In some ways, I think he was braver not to fight because of the pressure that was on him.”

See: The Chocolate Soldier: story of a conchie by Hazel Barker. Story based on Clarence Dover during World War Two.

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Waking up in Heaven by Crystal McVea and Alex Tresniowski

Publisher: Howard Books. A division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Publisher’s Summary
The remarkable story of a woman, plagued with guilt and skepticism, dramatically changed by the nine minutes she spent in heaven.
“God let me see me through His eyes. And in that instant I knew that God had always loved me, through all of those dark and difficult years when I doubted His existence, through every crisis and every heartbreak that made me turn away from Him more. I knew, in that instant, that His love was endless and boundless, and that if He loved me so much, how could I not love myself?”
For most of her life, Crystal McVea was a skeptic whose history of abuse and bad choices made her feel beyond the reach of God–who questioned if God was even real. She had all but given up hope. Then came December 10, 2009–and the moment that changed everything.
For nine minutes that night, Crystal went into full respiratory arrest. She was unconscious and unable to breathe on her own, unaware of the crisis happening around her as the hospital staff rushed to save her life. Crystal doesn’t remember the trauma or losing consciousness; she just remembers waking up in heaven, next to God.
Waking Up in Heaven invites readers to witness the relentless pursuit of God in a life that was broken and seemingly beyond hope, an awe-inspiring account of love, forgiveness, and redemption, and the healing power of God’s presence.
Waking Up in Heaven is the story of Crystal McVea, the day she died for nine minutes, went to heaven, and stood before God. In this remarkable autobiography, Crystal shares her experience of walking with God towards the gates of heaven – a place so full of light and love that she did not want to leave. But Crystal was miraculously revived and came back to consciousness in a hospital room surrounded by doctors, nurses and her own mother. Previously a sceptic with a dark, troubled past, Crystal’s encounter with God made her a believer. In Waking Up in Heaven, Crystal toggles back and forth between her experience in heaven and her life story, both the good and the bad, in the hope of spreading God’s message of love and redemption.
Review by Hazel Barker
Waking up in Heaven is a redemptive story depicting God’s love and patience. Crystal McVea writes about God chasing her in one of her bleakest moments – something He does time and time again.
She also states, ‘It was God taking the very things the enemy used to try and destroy me – anger, bitterness, self-hatred – and instead saving me and showing me He is real.’
The story is a faith-enriching one and relates her near-death experience but barely touches on what the title leads us to expect – Heaven itself although the author does feel God’s presence. The book is disappointing for those drawn to it in the hope of sharing her experience of Heaven.
I read the book because my brother also had a near-death experience and saw lights. He heard heavenly music and felt peaceful. Unfortunately, the vision didn’t bring him closer to God. Perhaps someday…
The author asserts that the medical profession attribute such phenomenon to lack of oxygen and that when the heart stops beating, the brain loses oxygen and can trigger memories of the past, and bright lights appear. Whatever cynics may say, if such an experience leads to conversion, then surely it’s due to God’s mercy.
The story tends to bore the reader because of the continual switching back and forth in time and the constant repetitions.
Despite its drawbacks, Waking up in Heaven has many interesting sections on child molestation and sexual abuse. Reading the book may warn us of dangers facing younger members of our family.

https://hazelmbarker.wordpress.com/

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A Year in India

Clarence, a conscientious objector during World War Two, is stranded in India. He has volunteered to work for the Friends’ Ambulance Unit in China, but dysentery holds him back. A year passes before he can fly over the ‘Hump’ via Japanese-occupied territory into China. Meanwhile, he experiences the changing seasons in India.

Calcutta 1943At first Clarence was dismayed at the sight of countless cesspools, drains teeming with rats, cow dung and human faeces on the roads. In time, however, he saw beyond the wretchedness and lost himself in a world of mystery where snake charmers kissed cobras, fire-eaters swallowed flames and sadus walked on live coals.
Around March, at the Hindu festival of Holi, Hindus in white clothes with bright red stains, danced and sang in a spirit of abandon. They threw coloured powder or water on others – their hair and clothes a mottled red.
As the year progressed, Clarence experienced the seasonal cycles within the vast continent. In March, a bank of dark clouds appeared. Violent winds tore up and tossed giant trees to the ground, stripping and carrying off top soil. Dust seeped through closed shutters, assaulting his eyes and mouth. His skin shrivelled and eyelids grew paper-thin. The earth became a breathless furnace. Perspiration beaded his forehead and ran in rivulets down his face. He consumed copious amounts of water with a teaspoon of salt, surprisingly refreshing on a hot day.
Even late in the evenings, the heat was stifling. Fans whirred above but he tossed in bed at nights. He slept beneath the fan and threw off his sheets. Perspiration drenched his pillow.
He found the dirt, dust and lust unbearable.
During the Unit’s first medical check in India, the doctor had warned, ‘Whatever you do, don’t get the clap,’ but needs outstripped caution and latent carnal cravings grew uncontrollable.
Some members of the unit visited the marketplace where pimps accosted likely customers.
‘You want boy? You want girl?’ the pimps asked. ‘Very beautiful. Very clean.’
Young Indian girls made themselves available.
At the end of the month, the sky turned to a pewter grey and trees appeared dark and solemn. Then a flash of lightning zigzagged across, followed by a clap of thunder. The first few raindrops sank into the dust, devoured by the thirsty earth.
‘Indra, the god of thunder, has loosened his arrows,’ Indians said.
The weather remained hot between bursts of rain, with humidity even more unbearable than the dry heat. The thermometer crept up and prickly heat covered everyone like a hair shirt. Soon, a dank odour arose in houses, shoes gathered mould overnight, and, in cupboards, clothes turned a mossy green.
One morning, a gale battered the windows and rain poured down in sheets during a coffee break at the office of the Friends’ Ambulance Unit. Angus, a member of the unit, entered the room, holding a soggy newspaper. Wind swept papers off the desk, and his mackintosh shed pools of water on the floor.
‘The streets are like a torrent, and the basement has flooded,’ he explained, handing Clarence the mushy mess. ‘We’ll have to dry this before we can read it.’
Clarence relieved him of the papers. Painstakingly, he peeled off each page, laid them out on the carpet and, falling on his knees, he read the headlines:
Gusts of wind over a hundred and ten miles per hour tear down trees. Tidal waves break Hooghly River banks. Rice fields flood. Seawater flows into dams and rotting carcasses pollute them.
‘Well. Well. Get ready for emergencies, lads,’ Angus said. ‘We may soon be back on to ambulance duties doing the job we’ve been trained for.’

Nearly fifteen thousand people and two hundred thousand head of cattle perished in the floods and cholera epidemic that followed. India had already been short of rice when Japan occupied Burma. Soon after, the price doubled from its pre-war level and, by the middle of 1943, famine gripped the State of Bengal. The starving population moved from rural areas to urban centres, increasing the multitude of beggars already clamouring for aid.
His heart sinking at the sight of such suffering, Clarence joined four others from the Friends’ Ambulance Unit. They boarded a launch with medical supplies for the sick, and sped down the Hooghly River, hoping to bring some relief to the starving.
Normally half a mile broad, the river had broken its banks and flooded low-lying fields and villages. Families had taken shelter on the roofs but even these could be covered if the water continued to rise. Villagers shouted and clasped their hands together, begging for succour.
With a little toot in reply, the launch swept past.
A wave of pity overcame Clarence, but he realised that he was powerless to help. Stocked as they were with essentials, there was no room for anything or anyone else.
Corpses of cattle and men drifted towards the ocean. Flocks of vultures tore at the carrion. ‘They won’t starve from the famine,’ Angus said.
Clarence’s mind went back to his journey on SS Strategist, when bodies of his fellow countrymen had floated among the debris of torpedoed ships.

In October, when the golden hues of autumn turned into a fairyland of falling leaves in shades of red, orange and yellow, the famine was over. His thoughts flew home. It pained him to think of how well he ate while his family lived on meagre rations. A sense of guilt overcame him at first, but in his heart he knew his mother would never begrudge him the luxuries he could obtain.
He posted home some tins of butter and a dozen eggs that had been preserved in lime to prevent them from going off in transit.

At Ramadan, Muslims kept the strict Ramadan fast. Winter ushered in Dewali, the Hindu Festival of Lights dedicated to the goddess Kali. Clarence and his friends visited her temple, curious to know more about Hinduism. He marvelled at the differences between the two major religions. No wonder Muslims and Hindus often fought among themselves.
The atmosphere in the temple reeked with the stench of blood from animal sacrifices. Pilgrims queued before a half-naked sadu who held a bowl containing saffron-coloured powder and imprinted their foreheads with it.
Clarence paused before the black-faced deity who held a severed human head dripping with blood.
‘It’s not uncommon for humans to be sacrificed to Kali, even though the practise has been banned,’ his friend informed him. He’d been stationed in India for several years.
Clarence shuddered and turned green. ‘Their god is more like a devil, with her bloated tongue and ravenous mouth. This place gives me the creeps. Let’s get out of here.’
They left, revolted by the stench of blood.
That evening, Clarence only had a bowl of soup for dinner. The sight and smell of blood had made him lose every vestige of appetite.
At nights, during the five-day festival, buildings were illuminated, firecrackers spluttered, rockets streaked across the night sky and Hindus celebrated. They devoured rosgullas, a speciality of the city. Mixed with milk, wheat and lentils, the dessert was shaped into balls and fried, then drenched in sweet syrup.
Clarence indulged his palate and developed an instant liking for them. They slid down his throat. He loved the cloying sweetness of the reddish brown balls. As he bit into them, he recalled the high teas he had enjoyed on a visit to Scotland.
Would England ever return to normal?

Excerpt from The Chocolate Soldier:story of a conchie by Hazel Barker
Published in Carindale Writers’ Group ‘Seasons Anthology’ 2013

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Though the Bud be Bruised by Jo Wanmer

Publisher: Even Before Publishing

Book Review by Hazel Barker
Though the Bud be Bruised by Jo Wanmer is a powerful story based on fact. Written mainly from the mother’s point-of-view, the story unfolds, exposing gross indecency, paedophilia and the lesser-known concept of Christian witchcraft.
The book is not simply a tale of sexual abuse, but a poignant description of the family’s struggle to cope with the aftermath of the crime. The perpetrator of the evil had persuaded his victim to lay the blame of his actions on her father. The parents, Sam and Zara, suffer – each in their own way. Sam agonizes over the loss of his daughter’s love and respect. Zara blames herself for what her child has undergone, and struggles to retain her faith in God.
The author handles a difficult subject with great skill. The opening chapters gripped my attention and, as the story progressed, my sympathy went out to the family, wrenching my heart.
The victim’s constant tantrums and long drawn-out hospital stays may tend to be tedious at times, but at the same time, it portrays the hardships and sacrifices, the patience and despair undergone by the whole family. Their trials become too strong to bear. As a consequence, Sam and Zara lose their faith.
The story is based on fact. I leave the reader to find out, for themselves, the outcome of the suffering endured by the family.
https://hazelmbarker.wordpress.com/

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Bushwalking in Queensland

Springbrook National Park

Springbrook National Park

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The Spirit of O’Reillys by Peter O’Reilly

Publisher: Endless Summer Publishing

Review by Hazel Barker
The Spirit of O’Reillys is a history of the guest house and also a family history, as both are interwoven. Written in a colloquial style, it can best be appreciated around a campfire, listening to the author as he pushes back his akubra and reveals his hair, now bleached by the sun and the passing of time.
Peter takes us from the family’s pioneering days on the McPherson Range in 1911 through to contemporary times. Eight O’Reilly boys establish a dynasty in the rainforest-covered ridges. They clear the land, build roads, construct bark huts, plant grass seeds for dairy cattle and lay the foundations for the Guest House.
The boys contend with financial hardships and the prospect of their land being requisitioned by the newly-established National Park. The situation improves when the author’s uncle, Bernard O’Reilly, finds the crashed Stinton, and his book, Green Mountains, is published. Both events bring fame, and firmly establish the O’Reilly Guest House.
The Spirit of O’Reillys is a sequel to Green Mountains. Peter’s description of the Stinson episode makes me feel I’m there in that summer of 1937. The campfire nights and mountain-walks bring to mind my campfire nights in the Snowy Mountains during the early years of my marriage.
The book is peppered with anecdotes like the Old Blitz, the Ford V8 that ‘could be cranky at times’ and ‘had no doors so it was easy to bale out.’ Then the author, ‘lost a finger in the mincing machine,’ and it ‘made the guests wary the next time there was mince on the menu.’
Many more interesting tales dot the pages of Peter’s book – a bower bird and the blue car, the stinging tree, and the blue cray in the blocked pipe. But best of all, the escaped murderers who serve as cooks.
The writer’s second son, Danny, is born with a disability. The author’s wife, Karma, establishes an association for handicapped children, and receives the Citizen of the Year Award in 1982, for her work within the organisation.
When lapsing into the conditional past tense, frequent use of the word, ‘would,’ tends to wear one down, but I urge the reader to read on, because the book gathers speed as it progresses, when the author drops into a pleasing narrative style.
Anyone who enjoys hiking will relate to the story of the O’Reilly’s. The Spirit of O’Reillys is essential reading for lovers of history and visitors of the Guest House. I have no doubt it will be treasured by family members, and be preserved within our national archives.
The Spirit of O’Reillys ends in a true Irish vein, with the author’s blessing.

Published in QWC Magazine 2009

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