Broken memory, broken heart

Broken Memory: A Story of RwandaBroken Memory: A Story of Rwanda by Elisabeth Combres
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

April 1994. Rwanda is at war with itself. The Hutus and the Tutsi’s. On April 6th, after the assassination of the Rwandan president, the Rawandan army begins massacring the Tutsi population. Almost one million Tutsi citizens are killed. Emma’s mother is one of them.

Emma is five years old when her mother is brutally murdered by Hutu rebels. When they arrive at her house, Emma’s mother hides her behind the sofa telling her “you must not die, Emma!” These last words stay in Emma’s mind and make her determined to survive, no matter what the odds. After her mother’s death she finds herself swept along in a sea of refugees – ending up at the door of an old woman who takes her in.

Mukecuru becomes Emma’s substitute grandmother and gives her a sense of family. Slowly Emma begins to reach out to others, especially a boy named Ndoli, who has also lost everything and was horribly injured during the massacre. Ndoli befriends and old man and eventually so does Emma. The Old Man is someone who has been sent to Rwanda to help refugee children return home and begin healing the injuries of the past.

After a long time, he takes Emma home, where she sifts through what is left of her burned down house. As she sifts through the rubble, she picks up some of her mother’s possessions and turns them over in her hands. This triggers memories from her past that had been buried for a long time. She begins to remember her mother’s face, which had faded in her mind, and she breaks down amongst the rubble. This is a turning point for Emma. Her life will never be the same.

Recommended for ages 12 and up

Trouble crossing The Ink Bridge

The Ink BridgeThe Ink Bridge by Neil Grant

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a book I had been looking forward to reading very much, and as I read the first part of the novel, focussing on Omed and his story, I thought it would live up to my expectations. Omed’s life is a dangerous one, full of violence and uncertainty. The scenes where his tongue is cut out were among the most emotionally effecting I have read. I was enjoying Grant’s writing style and flourishes of prose. Then I started reading Hec’s story…and then the story of Hec as an adult trying to reconnect with Omed and it lost me. I found Hec a difficult character to like. I found it difficult to picture him in the situations he found himself. I found it even harder to connect with him as an adult character as I did not know enough about him as a child (in the middle part of the book). Even the ending felt incomplete to me. I was surprised to find myself not really caring whether the two were reunited. It just felt like the story had lost momentum for me and resorted to some cliched media-driven vignettes. My favourite part was the section about Omed and his situation in Afghanistan. To me, that is where the story was and for that I give this book 3 stars. I am disappointed I can’t give this a better write-up, because I certainly expected a lot more.

Anh Do really is The Happiest Refugee

The Happiest Refugee: A MemoirThe Happiest Refugee: A Memoir by Anh Do

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this biography/autobiography. I really hope the rumours I have heard about Anh not actually writing this book turn out to be false.

This is a story not just of Anh, but of his whole family and their triumph over very difficult circumstances. The writing style is VERY easy to read and I whipped through this in a day. The stories from Anh’s childhood are poignant and fascinating – there is much self-deprication here, and gratitude.

Certainly, as I read of the terrifying ordeal Anh’s family went through on the boat getting out of Vietnam, I realised just how lucky I was to be born here in Australia. The troubled relationship with his father and, later, the wonderful reconciliation were lovely to read.

Anh comes across as a loving son and brother, and his devotion to Suzie, his wife, is palpable. They truly seem like soulmates and it is clear by the end of the book that Anh is very happy with his lot here in Australia.

I thoroughly recommend this as a light but very interesting holiday read.