Archive for the 'Reviews' Category

Book review: Graeme Clark

Graeme Clark: the man who invented the bionic ear by Mark Worthing, 2015, Sydney, Allen & Unwin.

Graeme Clark grew up with a powerful and compelling vision.

He wanted to develop some way of helping his father regain his hearing. In a simple way this encapsulates the driving force behind why he became a doctor, surgeon, and later an inventor. Along the way he developed many other skills necessary for his dream to be realised. The road to success was, at times, a very bumpy one. One of the many skills Clark had to learn was fund-raising to support the development of the bionic ear. Bizarre – yes – but often that is the way with visionary people; nothing can stop them, even if the road takes some unexpected twists.

Worthing has resisted the temptation to dwell primarily on the technical side of the development of the bionic ear. Sure, there is enough scientific detail for readers who would like to know. Instead, the author has let his focus be on the man himself, what motivated him and the role of Clark’s Christian beliefs and values in the whole process. This comes through very strongly throughout the book. The author has successfully portrayed an ordinary Australian man, with a uncomplicated values but with an extraordinary vision driving him.

Probably the one thing that most impressed me about the portrayal of Clark the man was his uncomplicated reliance on prayer. Whenever the going got tough, whenever obstacles faced him, whenever he was perplexed, and whenever he faced criticism or outright opposition, Clark prayed. The development of the bionic ear was technically, electronically and medically very complex. Clark’s almost child-like faith in God and his simple, uncomplicated prayers carried him forward.

Now hundreds of thousands of profoundly deaf people all over the world are thankful to this man.

It is a truly inspirational book and highly recommended.

My Privilege:

I had the privilege of reading early drafts of this work. This came about through my involvement in a writers’ group run by the author. Dr Mark Worthing was one of my lecturers and mentors at Tabor Adelaide when I was completing my Master of Arts Creative Writing. Later we became friends and lecturing colleagues at Tabor.

You can read more reviews I have written here.

Good writing. Good reading.


Book review: Kerenza: a New Australian


Kerenza: A New Australian


South Australian author Rosanne Hawke recently published another fast moving and interesting novel for children. Karenza – a New Australian is the story of a young girl growing up in Cornwall who is suddenly taken by her family in the early 1900s to a strange new land on the other side of the globe – South Australia. The family boards a steamship for Port Adelaide, and after a short sojourn in suburban Adelaide the family sets off out into the bush.

The Mallee region of the eastern parts of South Australia is at that time sparsely populated by new settlers. The Aboriginal people, however, have lived in this area for millennia, but for the Europeans it is strange, foreboding and harsh. Kerenza and her family take some time to adapt to being farmers the new environment, and living is difficult, challenging and often dangerous. How they cope, adopt new ways of living and grow to love this new country is the backbone of this new novel by one of our Australia’s foremost authors.

On a personal note I strongly identified with this story. In fact, I grew up within about 20 kilometres of where this story is set. My own grandparents were early settlers in this area, so I know it well. In fact, I have long had the desire to tell a fictional version of my own family’s story. They migrated from Silesia in Germany (now part of Poland) in the 1840s due to religious persecution, and came to the Barossa Valley in South Australia. Later, in the early 1900s, about the same time as the setting of Rosanne’s book, they moved to the Loxton area. Together with his sons, my nephew still works the family farm.

Publication details:

Hawke, Rosanne, Kerenza: a New Australian, 2015, Omnibus Books, Parkside, South Australia.

Further reading:


About Rosanne

Rosanne Hawke


Book review: Through My Eyes: Malini

Book review: Malini by Robert Hillman.

Published by Allen & Unwin – Through My Eyes series.

Set in Sri Lanka during the recent civil war, this novel is a powerful portrayal of how a war can seriously impact the daily lives of so many innocent people, and especially children. The action begins from page one when Malini and her younger sister Banni are thrust into the conflict one morning at dawn. The Tamil soldiers come to their village in northern Sri Lanka and force everyone out of their homes at gun point.

Terrified, and not knowing what it is all about, their family is on a forced march towards the coast where they will be used as human shields against the army. Their quick thinking father helps them to escape into the nearby forest, after thrusting a mobile phone into Malini’s hand. The two sisters successfully escape detection, but that is just the beginning of their troubles. Malini is unwillingly forced into the role of a parent, and when they “adopt” another group of vagrant children, all orphans, her troubles just multiply. Not only does she need to care for her growing “family”, she has to avoid the numerous patrols, find shelter for them to sleep, and feed them. The task is almost too much.

This story quickly becomes not only a story of survival against terrifying odds, it is a journey across the country in quest of her grandfather’s village where she hopes they will find refuge. Skilfully written, tense and with a great awareness of the culture, geography and people of Sri Lanka, the author has written a masterful novel, both fast moving and adventurous.

This is the sixth title I have read in the series Through My Eyes, a series dealing with the experiences of children in conflict zones. The dedicated website for the series includes teachers’ notes, author interviews and more. See the links below. I have also included links to other reviews I have written of books in this series.

Highly recommended.


Malini : Through my Eyes

Review: “Bystanders” by Valerie Volk


Valerie Volk is a leading and much admired poet here in South Australia. Her well deserved reputation is rapidly spreading far beyond our state and will continue to do so after the publication of her latest book. This is her first major venture into prose, though she has had short stories published before.

Bystanders: echoes of Stories Past” has recently been published in Adelaide by Wakefield Press. It is a captivating collection of short stories based around well-known Bible characters. Volk took those familiar stories and has transformed them into new accounts from a very different perspective, that of the bystander, a witness to the events portrayed in the Bible from some of the minor characters our eyes tend to gloss over when reading the accounts.

I have read and admired all of Volk’s previously published books and admire her command over the English language and her exceptional gift of writing accessible poetry. It was then with interest I came to this book of prose. I had previously read and enjoyed other prose she has written and I was certainly not disappointed with this new offering.

However (why does there always have to be a ‘however’?) the early stories in this collection read like poetry; the prose almost begs to be read in iambic pentameter. Because I have read a large proportion of her poetry and I have heard her read her poetry in a variety of settings, I constantly heard her distinctive poetical voice in the first few stories. Many passages read with such a strong cadence I almost had to read them aloud. I speculated that these first few stories had been originally written as verse; after all, Volk has written verse novels before. I was so intrigued that I contacted her but she assured me that all the stories were only ever written in prose. Interesting.

The stories all shine a new light strongly on the events we Bible scholars have grown to love. To hear the intriguing and much-loved story of Queen Esther, for example, from the viewpoint of the vanquished Queen Vashti is a revelation. I have often pondered on the cruel twist life served this tragic figure and now I have had to recast my vision of her.

By way of complete contrast is the earthy tale of the soldier who was messenger to King David (story ‘Orders are orders’) during the time the king took Bathsheba as a lover. It is a tragic episode in the life of the great David and we witness the behind the scenes manoeuvrings which culminated in murder. In reading this story we hear the voice of a soldier well versed in the ways of life, men and the military life.  Volk’s writing captures his voice to perfection, drawing a truly memorable character and bringing new life to an otherwise well-known narrative.

These are just two of the 15 stories in this wonderful collection. The voices change from one story to the next which makes this such an intriguing and insightful new interpretation of familiar Biblical accounts.  As a bonus, the author has included over 20 pages of questions for personal reflection or group discussion.

Highly recommended.

Copies of this book are available in bookshops, from the publisher Wakefield Press or from Volk’s website here.

Disclosure: Valerie studied for her Master of Arts Creative Writing with me a few years ago. We are both members of a writers’ group in Adelaide and I regard her as a wonderful and encouraging friend, mentor and inspiration.


Valerie Volk, South Australian poet, writer, teacher



Review: “I am Malala”

Every now and then one comes across a book or a film which has a lasting impact upon one’s life.

This is one such book.

The story of Malala Yousafzai is very well documented, so I only really need to give a bare outline here for the remote possibility that a reader may not have heard of her. Growing up in Pakistan Malala and her teacher father became known throughout their country – and worldwide – for their attempts to ensure that all children have access to education, and in particular girls.

During most of her life, however, Malala has seen the obstruction to this fundamental right by various leaders and influencers in Pakistan – and Afghanistan as well. The Taliban actively discouraged girls from becoming educated. Their lack of success led to them openly attacking whole communities, forcing the closure of hundreds of schools and even destroying them. In this process many thousands were killed or became refugees in their own country.

In this book, Malala graphically depicts her personal struggle to be educated, her father’s unwavering support and determination, and the terrible cost they as a family endured, culminating in her being shot in the head while on her school bus by a Taliban adherent. She plainly explains all of this this against the current political and religious environment, and her determination to continue.

The latter part of the book gives an almost matter-of-fact account of her treatment, first in Pakistan, then in the UK, and her eventual recovery. Despite the attack she seems to have no malice or bitterness about what happened but rather an even greater desire – a firm resolve – to see all children, and especially girls, be fully educated, and this on a global scale. Subsequently she has spoken personally to many world leaders, addressed the United Nations, and more recently been awarded the ultimate accolade – the Nobel Peace Prize, at age 17, the youngest ever recipient.

She is still a teenager.

I think that it is incredible to realise that she was only born in 1997. She has already achieved so much in her short life. Her life, and this book, should stand as an inspiration to the current generation of young people around the globe – and it am sure it will continue to be an inspiration to generations to come.

Highly recommended.

Good reading.