Susan: Convict’s daughter, soldier’s wife, nobody’s fool, By Stella Budrikis

susan book review aldershoot 1866.jpg
Garrison town, Aldershot, England, where David Whybrew was stationed in 1871. 

Book Review by A. G. Moore

Stella Budrikis’ excellent biography, Susan, takes readers on a journey through the hardscrabble existence of Australia’s early European settlers. The eponymous Susan is Susan Mason, the author’s great–great grandmother.  The characters in this book are real people who struggle in the harshest of circumstances.  Fortune, will and physical endurance allow some to reach maturity and raise families.  Survival is a lottery in which perseverance and serendipity play equal roles.

Nature granted Susan the ability to bear numerous children.  Fortune took many of these from her.  This was a common occurrence at that time, but more likely to befall those who were crowded into the hull of a ship or crammed into a fetid slum where immigrants congregated.

Susan eventually migrated to England, where she settled with her husband, David Whybrew, a soldier in the British army. David’s income barely supported the growing Whybrew family. Throughout her sojourn in Australia and England, Susan had repeated contact with the police. Indeed much of the record cited in this book is derived from official court records.   Budrikis does not shrink from the less attractive aspects of Susan’s life. It is the author’s unflinching treatment of her subject that renders her narrative credible.

One of the several Whybrew children who did reach maturity, Eliza, was destined to be the author’s great grandmother. Eliza’s life followed a very different path from Susan’s. This may have been partly due to temperament and partly to the influence of her husband, William Beales.  Beales and his family were active in the Salvation Army.  This involvement likely offered Eliza the sort of stable guidance that had not been available to Susan.

In the “Afterword” to Susan, Budrikis wonders if she’s done right by her forbear in telling this story  without attempting to conceal blemishes. Budrikis writes, “I hope that by telling her story I have given her, and other women like her, a recognition that they were denied in their lifetime”.  Indeed she has. Susan Mason made choices that put her afoul of the law and forged for her a chaotic path through life.  But those choices also helped her to survive.  Susan Mason and thousands of others had only their wits and their determination to help them prevail over daunting odds.  They survived.  When life is stripped to its barest essentials, that becomes the ultimate test of character.

Stella Budrikis has written a book about more than family legacy.  It is about a time and place in history, about pioneers who were essential to the foundation of Australia.  The book is informative and entertaining.  I highly recommend it.

 

Ms. Budrikis maintains a website that traces her family history.  It is a fascinating read.

 

 

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Modern Arcana Not Responsible for Broken Windshields, By Tom Wingerd: Book Review

FEMA_-_44376_-_truck_windshield_with_hail_damage_in_OK.jpg
Image from the FEMA Photo Library.  Picture taken by Win Henderson.  Public Domain.

 

In Modern Arcana: Not Responsible for Broken Windshields, Tom Wingerd writes about relationships–not the sort that exist between family and friends, but the sort we all have to everything and everyone. Wingerd writes: “Your house, car, office, city are all affected by your daily interactions in space.” He states further, “Your life is the combination of your movement through space, and the ripple impact of every one of your actions…”. These are weighty pronouncements, but they don’t come across as such in the book.

Mr. Wingerd offers prescriptions for existing in an interrelated universe. With each of his statements he provides a pictorial representation of the concept. The effect on the reader is not one of complements but of exponents. This may be by design or it may merely prove his thesis: everything we see and do, everything that exists, affects everything else. Mr. Wingerd has an analytic approach to his subject. Some of his propositions are structured as mathematical formulas and, he makes clear, these formulas operate in a relative universe.

Though this is a book with a philosophical perspective, Mr. Wingerd at times adopts a light tone. He writes, for example, about his bisexual wife and gay son. A few pages later he admits that his son isn’t “real” but is a “six year old figment of my imagination, named Orion”. In another segment he advises:

Trust your heart first
Your brain second
And your
Genitals
Well
They’ll do what they want anyway.

Before I began reading Modern Arcana: Not Responsible for Broken Windshields, I didn’t pay much attention to the title. After finishing the book I googled the phrase, “Not Responsible for Broken Windshields”. It turns out this is a statement likely to be found on the back of trucks that spew window-shattering debris. The driver’s message is clear: I’m not responsible for how my existence, how my behavior, affects you. Mr. Wingerd’s book is a refutation of that notion.

I enjoyed this book and I related to the author’s mindset. His pictures are as evocative as his words. The book would be a stimulating read for anyone who is inclined to be philosophical. It would be a great gift for someone who is not philosophically inclined, especially if that person is likely to post a sign that asserts: “Not Responsible for Broken Windshields”.

 

A. G. Moore October 3, 20017

Forgotten Reflections: A War Story, By Young-Im Lee

 

South Koreans_harvest_rice_in_the_Demilitarized_Zone_of_Korea,_1988
The photo was taken by an employee of the United States government and is therefore free of copyright restriction.


Some books are read hurriedly. We rush through the pages to get to the end and find out ‘what happened’.  Some books invite us to linger, as descriptions of exotic backgrounds and high-energy exploits demand attention.  Forgotten Reflections: A War Story holds the reader’s attention in both ways. It is a thriller, with a mystery that is not solved until the very end. It is also a moving love story, and character study.  Author Young-Im Lee has woven a tale that takes place mostly in wartime.  This is the Korean War, but the situation evoked is universal.  Even well-planned wars are chaotic for those at the center, civilians and foot soldiers.  Their challenges are universal: How do they survive the violence? How do they eat? Who can be trusted and who is a traitor?

Much of what Miss Lee writes may be familiar to Korean readers.  Western readers, however, will be introduced to contemporary Korean culture and its foundational myths. Forgotten Reflections: A War Story is a considerable achievement.  Using flashbacks and flash-forwards, Ms. Lee nimbly manages a narrative that spans half a century.  She accomplishes this without ever breaking the thread of the story.  I admire Ms. Lee’s skill as a writer and her apparent passion to explore ideas central to the identity of her country.

There is no need here to belabor the importance of the Korean peninsula in world affairs.  Many people in the West are perplexed by how this relatively small area came to be a tinderbox that threatens to explode into a global conflagration.  Reading Forgotten Reflections: A War Story will help to explain the origins of the conflict.  The book accomplishes this in a way that is entertaining and credible.  Ms. Lee’s book is well-worth a reader’s investment of time and money.  I highly recommend it.

 

About the picture:

South Koreans are harvesting rice near the Demilitarized Zone.  The picture is appropriate for this review because so much of the people’s energy during the war was spent in trying to feed themselves and in trying to preserve rice stores for the future.   After reading the book, I find it hard to look at the bounty in the picture without reflecting on the struggles of the South Korean people during the war.