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Heaven Tempers the Wind by Hazel Barker

Review by  Kathy Stewart

I knew very little about the conflict in Burma during the Second World War and read this book with great interest. It struck me as the story of many wars, both personal and on a larger scale, as mother and father come into conflict, as they battle to keep true to their values, and as the father’s growing alcoholism impacts on his nature and his relationship with his family. All this is played out against the backdrop of a vicious and confronting war that had consumed the whole world.

Hazel Barker was just a small child, unable to grasp the enormity of what was about to be thrust upon them when the bombs first fell on her home town, Rangoon. They had lived an idyllic lifestyle, wanting for nothing, but their magical world was soon shattered and they were forced to flee, before being propelled into a battle for their very existence. Facing many hardships, not least of which were famine and the death of a beloved family member, they struggled to keep their family intact while their war raged both internally and externally.

An interesting and honest account of the ravages of war and also of individuals’ struggles to maintain their strong sense of self and of their values.44

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Review of Heaven Tempers the Wind

Hazel Barker was a four-year-old living in Rangoon when the Japanese invaded in 1941. Until that time her father worked for the British establishment and the family was relatively well-to-do, but that all changed on Hazel’s birthday with the onset of bombing, causing the family to flee to Mandalay, then north again, until the invading Japanese army caught up with them. For the next four years the family’s fight for survival became ever-more desperate as the family savings dwindled to almost nothing and they were forced to live on the charity of relatives in the area of Mandalay.

The background of Hazel’s family is told incrementally; an Anglo-Indian mother, Burmese father, her two elder brothers, Rupert and Bertie, her elder sister, Jane, and the infants Rose and mentally-handicapped Herman. We are told of the tribulations suffered by her mother at the hands of her father who could be violent, and who, as the years progressed, became ever more isolated from his kin. This is doubly confronting when money is spent on liquor while the rest of the family are starving.

We learn of the bravery of Hazel’s brothers in the face of the enemy, of religious conflict between a Christian mother and her children pitted against a Muslim father and his relatives, of beriberi that afflicted all the children, of malaria that nearly claimed the life of her brother, Rupert, and of the death of her sister, Jane, following a vaccination given by the Japanese.

Adding to the story are insights gleaned from Hazel’s research into the war in Burma and from interviews with others who witnessed the invasion, or were involved in military action against the Japanese.

This is a compelling tale of courage, love and endurance, told largely from the perspective of a child. The book passes the critical test of compelling the reader to keep turning the page. After the Japanese were forced out of Burma Hazel’s father regains employment with the British and the family is required to return to Rangoon from the relative comfort of Mandalay. But at the close of the book the living conditions are desolate and only a sense of duty, or powerlessness, binds mother to father. What becomes of Hazel’s parents and siblings? How did she come to end up in Australia? This is all revealed in her next book, yet to be read by me. I look forward to it.

Review by Martin Line, retired academic and author of several publications in various disciplines.heaven tempers the wind cover

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Book launch of Heaven Tempers the Wind by Hazel Barker

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A big thank you to the staff of Victoria Point Library for hosting my book launch of Heaven Tempers the Wind, to all my lovely friends – old and new – for attending this wonderful event and to Sarah Davies for her photos of this memorable day. Last but not least a big hug to my publisher Anne Hamilton of Armour Books for introducing me and my dear husband Colin for all his support. Without his help this book wouldn’t have eventuated.

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Chocolate Soldier. The Story of a Conchie by Hazel Barker

chocolatesoldieresHazel’s debut novel Chocolate Soldier will be released by Rhiza Press in October, 2016. Book One of her memoirs Heaven Tempers the Wind was released by Armour Books this month. Both books are set during World War Two – the former in England and the Far East; the latter  in Burma.

Hazel Barker lives in Brisbane with her husband Colin. She taught in Perth, Canberra and Brisbane for over a quarter of a century and now devotes her time to reading, writing and bushwalking. From her early years in Burma, her passion for books drew her to authors like Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. Her love for historical novels sprang from Scott, and the love of literary novels, from Dickens. Many of her short stories and book reviews have been published in magazines and anthologies.

Adults, especially those interested in history of World War Two, those with a strong stance on involvement in war versus conscientious objections, would be inspired by this book. There is a faith/beliefs struggle which some may identify with or be inspired.

‘Historical facts taken from diaries of a real person going through the trauma of war make this compelling and very impactful. Interesting historical and cultural information about Britain in war as well as aspects of war from Egypt, India and China. Captures the internal battle of a conscientious objector in war: the prejudice he faced as well as the questioning of his beliefs.’ CALEB unpublished Fiction Manuscript Report 12/4/2012

 

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The Brave Men who recaptured Burma

Heaven Tempers the Wind. Story of a War Child by Hazel Barker will appeal to both sexes. Lovers of war stories will be interested in learning of the American Volunteer Group, the Chindits and Merrill’s Mauraders. In the next few days I’ll be writing a few notes on these brave men who helped re-capture Burma from the Japanese in 1945.

The American Volunteer Group was officially employed by a private military contractor, the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company. Although called a volunteer group, they were the highest paid combat fliers, their monthly salary being no less than $600, while pilots in the American Armed services were receiving no more than $170 per month. Besides their monthly salary, pilots received $600 for every Japanese plane shot down. The 1st and 2nd squadrons were assigned to both ends of the Burma Road, and based at Kunming, in China. The 3rd squadron was based at Mingaladon airport, a few miles out of Rangoon. AVG fighter planes were painted with a large shark on the front. The pilots were the only Allied pilots trained in Japanese combat tactics. They fought against odds of more than five zeros to one P40. During the first two raids over Rangoon, on 23 and 25 December 1941, the AVG had only 14 planes at Mingaladon, but they shot down 36 Japanese planes with a loss of only two AVG fliers.

Between 23 December 1941 and the beginning of March 1942, they flew the oldest model P40, the Tomahawk, shooting down well over a hundred Japanese planes.IMG_1699

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Heaven Tempers the Wind (Dedication)

This book is dedicated

 

In loving memory

 

Of my mother,

 

May Josephine White,

 

Who peacefully passed away in Perth

 

On the eighteenth October, nineteen hundred and seventy six     

 

 

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BOOK ONE OF MY MEMOIRS

Book One of my memoirs Heaven Tempers the Wind. Story of a War Child will be in print by September. The title is taken from Psalm 6: 2.

In Charles Kingsley’s book Hereward the Wake, the protagonist Hereward says, “They say heaven tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, but it tempers it too, sometimes, to the hobbled ass.”

heaven tempers the wind cover

 

Heaven Tempers the Wind. Story of a War Child tells the story of a Eurasian family caught up in the Japanese occupation of Burma during World War Two. Much of the family story is told from the point of view of the fourth child. It depicts their flight from invading forces, and gives vivid accounts of the war.

The narrative follows the family from a comfortable life under British colonial rule, to the invasion of a foreign power which renders them homeless, sick and starving. The story concludes with the end of war.

Heaven Tempers the Wind is a story of suffering which never fails in its universal appeal. The resonances then, are twofold: firstly, the conflict is one that is familiar in the Australian collective memory; secondly, another less obvious appeal lies in the retelling of some of the history of contemporary Burma, in particular the part played by Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi). Readers familiar with contemporary politics would be interested in the history preceding it.

The popularity of personal war stories is widespread. Within the context of a familiar war, Heaven Tempers the Wind tells an unfamiliar story that will also be of interest to readers who still live with memories of the war in Asia. Part of Australia’s national mythology is defined by war, and particularly potent are those stories of war that involve suffering. Gallipoli is evocative, not because it is a place of victory, but for the opposite reason.

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