22 April, 2010

The Forgotten Children

The Forgotten Children by David Hill

Imagine you are poor - really poor. You live in a not so good neighbourhood. You have a couple of children and you worry every day about them being caught in this never ending cycle of poverty. Now imagine someone comes and says "we can provide your child with good food, good shelter and a good education. We will send them somewhere will they will have lots of sunshine and a chance of a better life. Sign this piece of paper and we will send them to Australia and we will educate them and train them to become farmers and farmer's wives. The opportunities are endless." Remember you are poor, you want something better for your kids, and besides, if it doesn't work out, if the kids are miserable, they will be able to come home. You sign the paper. You don't read the fine print. The print that says you have just signed over guardianship of your children and may not be able to get it back.

You stand on the train platform and wave goodbye to your children as they leave to go to the docks to sail to Australia. You are discouraged from going to see the ship off - to distressing you are told, this is what's best. Your heart breaks as you let them go, but you know they are going somewhere better, somewhere they will have a life so much better than the one you can offer them. They will be cared for, educated and given a chance of being something.

This is what many poor parents of English children believed from the late nineteenth century right up until the mid 70's when they signed that piece of paper allowing their children to migrate to Australia without them.

Child migrant schemes were run by Protestant and Catholic churches, as well as child charities such as Barnardo's and Fairbridge. Some of these schemes did deliver what was promised. A better life, education, opportunities. Others tragically didn't.

The Forgotten Children is specifically about Fairbridge Farm School at Molong. The author, David Hill, and his two brothers were sent to Fairbridge in 1959 by their mother under the one parent scheme. They were actually one of the lucky ones. The one parent scheme allowed the children to travel to Australia unaccompanied with their single parent travelling out later, finding a job, establishing a home and then reuniting with their children. Earlier children were sent on the condition that guardianship was signed over to the Australian Government until the child was 21. It was thought by supporters of the scheme that they were saving these children  from failed or irresponsible parents. Signing over guardianship prevented the children from reuniting with their families. Parents who were unlikely to want their kids back were targeted, but many of the parents did not fully understand what they were signing and from it almost impossible to reunite with their children even if they wanted to.

Sadly the reality of life at Fairbridge was nothing like what had been promised. Made to work on the farm from early in the morning and then again in the afternoon, Fairbridge children were sent to local schools, but not encouraged in any way. At Fairbridge they were responsible for keeping the cottages they lived in clean, cooking, cleaning, chopping wood, milking, baking, working in the piggery, gardening, working in the orchard plus anything else you can think of that needs to doing on the farm. Many of the cottage mothers saw the children as their own personal slaves, issuing orders and never showing any affection. Some of these children were as young as 4 and a long way from home. They were separated from siblings and told to toughen up if they cried for their mothers. Aged four. My daughter's age.

This book broke my heart in so many ways. I felt for the parents who tried to get their children back and couldn't. The parents who thought they were sending their children to a better life only to discover through letters it was hell. I cried for the children who were abused, mistreated and destroyed by a system that saw them as labour and things to be used. I despair for those who told their stories to David Hill, whose lives were ruined by a childhood a Fairbridge, who cannot show affection to their own children because they never received it themselves. I mourn the lost years for families, for children who years later found parents they thought had abandoned them only to discover they had tried desperately to get their kids back and were blocked at every turn.

I can't imagine putting my kids on a boat and not knowing when I will see them next. I can't imagine being that desperate. I can't imagine the anger and guilt I would feel when I discovered that the better life I had been promised for my kids was a lie.

Books like The Forgotten Children are hard to read but so necessary. We need to know about this. We need to acknowledge these children, parents, families and the abuse they suffered. It won't make what they suffered any better, but maybe it will show them that someone does care about them.

21 April, 2010

Dymocks 2010 Booklover's Top 101 Reads.

I grabbed this list from The Random Ramblings of a Drunken Monkey

Bold = want to read
Crossed out = have read
Plain = don't really have any interest in reading

1. The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer
2. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
4. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
5. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
6. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
7. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
8. The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
9. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
10. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
11. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
12. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
13. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
14. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
15. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
16. Magician by Raymond E. Feist
17. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
18. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
19. Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
20. The Host by Stephenie Meyer
21. Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin
22. Atonement by Ian McEwan
23. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
24. Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
25. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
26. Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon
27. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
28. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
29. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
30. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
31. The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
32. Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden
33. Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody
34. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
35. The Inheritance Series by Christopher Paolini
36. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
37. Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
38. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
39. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
40. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
41. Ice Station by Matthew Reilly
42. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
43. Persuasion by Jane Austen
44. Tully by Paullina Simons
45. Seven Ancient Wonders by Matthew Reilly
46. Breath by Tim Winton
47. The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare
48. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
49. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
50. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
51. Emma by Jane Austen
52. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
53. The Bible - have read bits, no desire to read it all
54. Six Sacred Stones by Matthew Reilly
55. A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey
56. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
57. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
58. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
59. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
60. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
61. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
62. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
63. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
64. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
65. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
66. The Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris
67. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
68. Five Greatest Warriors by Matthew Reilly
69. On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
70. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
71. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
72. Wicked by Gregory Maguire
73. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
74. Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
75. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
76. Dewey by Vicki Myron
77. Dirt Music by Tim Winton
78. Marley and Me by John Grogan
79. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
80. Dune by Frank Herbert
81. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
82. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
83. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
84. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
85. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
86. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
87. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
88. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
89. Possession by AS Byatt
90. Finnikin of The Rock by Melina Marchetta
91. No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
92. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
93. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
94 .The Secret History by Donna Tartt
95. Silent Country by Di Morrissey
96. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
97. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
98. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
99. Still Alice by Lisa Genova
100. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
101. Gallipoli by Les Carlyon

17 April, 2010

The Christmas Quilt

The Christmas Quilt by Jennifer Chaverini

The eighth book in the Elm Creek Quilt Series

While this is the eighth book in the series, I am a little confused as where is in the timeline of the books. It appears to me to be set earlier in the series, several things are resolved, or at least are started to be resolved, in earlier books are back at the beginning. It also touched on many issues that have dealt with in earlier books in regards to Sylvia and the Bergstrom family. Lots of stories we have heard earlier are repeated, but not expanded. It was almost a compact history of what has happened so far.

Despite this, I still enjoyed the story. The stories about various christmas traditions for the Bergstrom's came about were lovely and I now have an almost overwhelming need to learn how to make strudel!

13 April, 2010

On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

This book is my Book Group's April read. Given I only started it on Sunday, I figure I'm way ahead on last month's (The Poisonwood Bible) which seemed to take forever!

I approached the book with mixed feelings. The only other Ian McEwan book I have attempted to read was Atonement and I just couldn't do it. However, the premise of this book sounded interesting, a friend had read it and said it was good, and it was only 166 pages long - surely easier than Poisonwood's almost 550!

I was pleasantly surprised. I quite enjoyed the book and was eager to continue reading it within the first few pages.

On Chesil Beach tells the story of Lionel and Florence, newly wed, virgins and both worried about the upcoming wedding night for different reasons. It switched from the present time - the wedding night, to their courtship seamlessly.

McEwan's characters were believable, their fears palpatiable and their reactions understandable. Given it is such a short book, I developed rather strong feelings for and against the characters and their way of handling the situation.

If you want to know my further thoughts on the book, highlight the area below. I will "hide" the text as it will contain spoilers.

Florence annoyed me. While her reticence is acceptable, I believe everything that happens could have been avoided if she had only spoken up sooner. It is hinted that there is a possiblilty of abuse in her childhood, it also suggested that she is capable of reacting to his touch and not all is lost in terms of sex. It is obvious they love each other - in his willingness to wait, not push and hers to want to please him, to be willing to try and subject herself to what she considers a terribly abhorrent act. She herself admits she should have spoken up earlier and it really would have been better if she had.


Lionel I felt sorry for. Really, the man did every thing he could. He had no idea that what he was taking as signs of excitement - shortness of breath, flushed cheeks - were actually signs of panic. His anger after she fled the room is understandable and his feelings of  being duped and led on, while incorrected, well it's easy to see how he got there. What I found intersting is that in the end, after they have parted, the divorce has been taken care of quietly and cleanly, it is his life that is followed. His sadness, his lack of relationships, his never finding anyone else. It appears that Florence returns to her life, her music with nary a backward glance. And in this I find total sadness for Lionel.
he had never met anyone he loved as much, that he had never found anyone, man or woman, who matched her seriousness
And despite everything, in the end, the blame is placed on Lionel - for he didn't go after her, let her go and didn't chase her down Chesil Beach.

11 April, 2010

Headgames

Headgames by Nick Earls.

So I am slowly making my way through Nick Earls' back catalogue. This is book number four and is a collection of short stories. And can I just say, Nick Earls has some really twisted ideas!

Short enough to read in a 15-20 minute settings, Headgames covers everything from the start of uni, trying to talk to girls, dying, mental illness and some other stuff I'm not really sure about!  What I will say is that I don't think I will ever look at Creme de Menthe, travelators or unicorns the same way again!

Three Letter Plague

Three Letter Plague by Jonny Steinberg

When I picked this up at the library, I thought it was about Jonny Steinberg's struggle with HIV. As I started to read it though, I realised it was research he had done into HIV in South African villages.

 In 2008, 5.5 million (about 18.8%) of adult South Africans were HIV positive. This is partly due to the Mbeki government denial that HIV could be fought using antiretroviral drugs (ARV). Mbeki claimed that AIDS was a collapse of the immune system, but that it wasn't caused by a virus. Instead, he said it was caused poverty, poor nutrition and ill health that caused the disease and the answer laid in alleviating that poverty, not in drugs.
(Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/26/aids-south-africa)

Medecins Sans Frontires (MSF) started a treatment program using ARVs despite the government policy. It set out to show you could effectively treat HIV positive people in the villages, but they had to be able to access the drugs via clinics that were within walking distance, not through hospitals which were harder to get to.

Steinberg went to one of these villages and ended up following one young man, gauging his reaction to AIDS, treatment and using him as an interpreter to talk to others. Sizwe is afraid to get tested. He is afraid of the stigma that could be attached to him if he is positive. He is afraid of the impact in will have on his chances of marrying and really, he's not so sure these white westerners are not just trying to poison him, that maybe Mbeki is right.

Sizwe describes a testing day when MSF came to his village to administer HIV tests. He says everyone knew who was positive and who wasn't, because those who weren't were kept longer for counselling. Those who were negative left straight away. However, as he followed Steinberg around, spoke to those who were infected, went to clinics, he had to admit, the ARV's helped.

This book made me think. Things that are so obvious to our media saturated, scientific focussed world just don't cut it in South Africa. The people aren't stupid. They have their own belief systems, and quite understandably, they have problems trusting white medicine. Mbeki's resistance to ARV's have affected SA in so many ways - not just in the number of deaths that could have been prevented, but ongoing issues with fighting for acceptance.

The Sugar Camp Quilt

The Sugar Camp Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

The seventh book in the Elm Creek Quilt series. Once again Chiaverini took us away from Elm Creek Quilts and expanded on earlier characters.

This book centres around Dorothea who we were first introduced to in The Runaway Quilt as one of Sylvia's ancestors friends and a stop on the underground railway. Sugar Camp is set just before the American Civil War and explains how Dorothea marries Mr Nelson, how they become part of the underground railway and why quilts were so important to the movement.

It's interesting reading a book where you know the ending! Chiaverini keeps you guessing. Dorothea originally detests Mr Nelson (whose first name I can't remember and I am too lazy to get up and find the book!) and is courted by someone you know supports the Southern cause. Their introduction into the underground railway is surprising it makes you realise how hard stations on the railway worked to stay as secret as possible.

I'm glad to say I am still enjoying these books and am looking forward to the next one!

The Secret Life of Evie Hamilton

The Secret Life of Evie Hamilton by Catherine Alliott

After Poisonwood Bible I needed something a bit lighter and this fit the bill perfectly! Evie Hamilton has the perfect life, a loving husband, a wonderful daughter, a comfortable lifestyle, but a secret is about to come out and it is going to complicate things!

Evie Hamilton is chick lit. And I love it! I can't say too much, or I will give the book away, but the secret is something that could destroy her family and keeps getting more complicated as more bits of it are revealed.

I found the characters and the resolutions believable. As with any book of this nature, everything was finished with a tidy bow and you left the book feeling good. A lovely, fluffy read!

The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

From Goodreads:
The year is 1959 and the place is the Belgian Congo. Nathan, a Baptist preacher, has come to spread the Word in a remote village reachable only by airplane. To say that he and his family are woefully unprepared would be an understatement: "We came from Bethlehem, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle," says Leah, one of Nathan's daughters. But of course it isn't long before they discover that the tremendous humidity has rendered the mixes unusable, their clothes are unsuitable, and they've arrived in the middle of political upheaval as the Congolese seek to wrest independence from Belgium. In addition to poisonous snakes, dangerous animals, and the hostility of the villagers to Nathan's fiery take-no-prisoners brand of Christianity, there are also rebels in the jungle and the threat of war in the air. Could things get any worse?
 I read Poisonwood Bible for our book group. I must say I found it challenging to start with. Many in our group struggled with the changing narrator, which I surprisingly didn't. I think my problem was more with the fact it was our third book in a row that dealt with colonisation type issues. (The first two being Every Secret Thing and Mr Pip) I started to enjoy it more towards the end and was glad I persevered.

Kingsolver gave each of her narrators (5 in all) a clear voice. It was easy to identify each of them simply by the style of speech. This also made it easy to like or dislike certain characters and their views or treatment of situations. I also liked how each character was followed through to the end, you knew what had happened to each of them and it wasn't always what you thought it would be.

Overall I enjoyed the book, I would recommend it, but would warn you need to read it, you can't skim! It took me over two weeks to read which is unusual, but it was worth the effort.

A Tale of Two Families

A Tale of Two Families by Jenny Pausacker.

I picked this up out of a pile of books I was covering for my son's school library. I've read and quite enjoyed some of the My Australian Story Series before so thought I would give this a go.

Set in Melbourne in 1974, Jan is 15 and a typical suburban Australian girl. Her family has bbq's with the neighbours, her mother stays at home and, despite the fact she has a pretty good kick, Jan isn't allowed to join the footie team.

The book covers several issues - women's liberation, the Vietnam War, draft dodgers, returning servicemen and sexism. Whie each of these subjects is dealt with fairly simplistically and everything works out in the end, the book provides a good jumping off point for discussions about these issues.