Sea Prayer

Beautifully written by Khaled Hosseini and magnificently illustrated by Don Williams, Sea Prayer is a short but impactful book dedicated to the thousands of refugees who have perished at sea fleeing war and persecution.

The theme is serious and the writing evocative. It is in the form of a poem/letter from a father to his son on the eve of a journey away from their war-torn country, a journey that could prove tremendously dangerous.

Subtle yet searing, this is a cry for life. It is haunting, moving and meaningful.

It’s Ok To Tell

In the memoir It’s Ok To Tell, Lauren Book recounts the horrifying physical, sexual and psychological torture she suffered in the hands of her nanny for four years from the time she was 12. The experience is heartbreaking, shocking and enraging but the messages about the dangers that lurk in unexpected places are inspiring, powerful and courageous. With excerpts of court documents, her memory of the events are honestly told.

This is the first time I’ve come across a memoir about a girl being sexually abused by a woman. The usual assumption is that it’s a male abuser, but family dysfunction (dad often not around because very busy with work and mum battling mental illness) is an opening that gives a sexual predator (here, it is the nanny) an opening she exploited for her own ends.

One of the tricks child predators employ to lure children into their control is to “groom” the victim into being a perfect and docile prey. (In this case, the nanny gave treats and special attention to the lovely, neglected and shy Lauren, which was especially appealing.)

Lauren was caught between two opposing fears: doing something perverted and dirty and therefore punished, yet if she stopped the nanny would leave and she would be alone again. She was a double victim of her mum’s neglect and the nanny’s abuse. Her fear of being alone made her vulnerable to abuse; she was terrified of her nanny’s leaving without protection from the chaos caused by her mum’s emotional instability. She was desperately needy and deathly afraid of abandonment.

Lauren was indoctrinated in a matter of a few months. She was ashamed and confused as the rule in the family was to keep private things private. It was a complicated jungle of feelings. She was in a near-constant state of emotional confusion, confusing love with total power or fear.

Things were weird and nothing was normal in the house and the stress of keeping up with so many competing rules increased. The feeling of hopelessness was overwhelming. She became sad and withdrawn.

When the matter came to light, her dad’s reaction was one of horror and remorse but gave her the assurance that he believed. When the nanny was arrested, Lauren was ostensibly safe but she still suffered from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), unable to sleep, had zero appetite (which developed into anorexia), had a tendency to be startled (felt paranoid) and crumbling with fear, slipping into depression. She had to see seven other psychiatrists (besides her own), then get psychological counseling from a Sexual Assault Treatment Centre.

Lauren’s family never wavered in their support and she discovered new things about herself. In the end there was victory and closure. There was elation, excitement and a sense of relief.

Everyone faces tragedies or wounds in their lives. It is important to work through the pain of the wounds, to have the strength and clarity to speak up. No matter how bad the situation, help is available and things can get better. The first step is telling.

Original Sin

I seldom buy novels because I can’t possibly read all that’s available at the library. However, when I saw Original Sin by Tasmina Perry at an atrium sale on my way to a medical appointment, I just had to buy it as the library does not carry any book by this author. I had previously enjoyed her Gold Diggers and Guilty Pleasures and wish to read more of her books.

What I like most about this author is that she has done a lot of research on the subjects written about: for example, the book publishing business, the media training (“the art of being vague and uncontroversial”), the intuitive bullishness in journalism, the health care system (for example the treatment of microcephaly and dyslexia), the cosmetic industry, cosmoceuticals (a term coined for a combination of cosmetics and pharmaceutical expertise), family, wealth, ambition, success, power, prestige, loyalty, companionship, relationships (in business, in the family, between friends, between lovers, and between co-workers), drug abuse, human smuggling and even politics (in government).

I leaned facts like: the Gutenberg Bible and Bob Dylan’s original handwritten lyrics to “Blowing in the Wind” are found in the Morgan Library in New York, and John Grisham’s self-published first book was sold from the boot of his car. I like how issues like emotions (such as pain and passion), trust, sacrifices, risks, networking, competition, business deals, social and financial opportunities, under-handedness, respectability, secrets, destiny, family obligations and responsibilities are woven together by the quirky characters in a thrilling plot (which includes murder).

I like how certain truths are observed: “people are like snakes; the second you have something that everybody wants, people will be out to get you”, “what was done was done so no one can turn back”, “behind every story there is an interesting story”, “people come into our lives and disappoint us”, “you can see a person for the longest time, the person who you think is right for you, but it can be wrong”, “love isn’t about passion – love is about understanding, a companion and a friend” and “love isn’t enough to make a relationship work – other factors like family and ambition are in the equation”.

There is enough excitement and drama to keep the reader hooked from the first page through to the end of page 662.

I hope the reader who picks up this book from the neighborhood library’s Book Exchange Corner enjoys the novel at much as I did.

Wet Season

Much has been said about Camera d’Or winner Anthony Chen’s Wet Season, which won one (Best Leading Actress) out of six nominations for the Golden Horse Awards (Asia’s Oscar) but I have not come across anything about the metaphor used.

The wet season in Singapore is the year-end, when there’s most rain. Rainy weather means sunlight is dim and this is metaphor for a forlorn mood. That there’s rain in most scenes is necessary because of all the things it symbolises – a sense of foreboding, darkness, growing despair, depression, humiliation, derision, death and overall darkness. It heightens drama and also symbolises tears.

The weather is a big part of life as it impacts our daily actions more than we realise. A season changes, meaning it is impermanent. Like the natural cycle of seasons, emotional cycles and everything else that exist too are impermanent. A season is merely a phase, so confusion and pain will also come to an end.

The wet season does not last indefinitely as the monsoon rains, though cold, is preparation for a new season. A heartbreak is the heart’s way of purifying itself. It is not a torture but a search. It signifies that change is in progress for a deeper understanding of life itself.

The final hug in the rain and the scenes immediately following say that “you’re done with that; from now on, seize the day and live in the now.”

The themes of marital woes and unfulfilled maternal instincts, solitary home life, loneliness, infatuation, confusion, intergenerational love, social and legal issues and natural kindness are delicately observed with striking maturity.

Silence, which really speaks volumes, is effectively used in many scenes. The music used are most appropriate, especially the Baroque piece by Handel and the guitar solo in the final scene and during the end credits.

I look forward to Anthony Chen’s next opus, which I hope does not take six years to materialise.

Too Scared to Cry

Written by a foster carer, Maggie Hartley (a pseudonym), this book contains three short stories – Too Scared to Cry, A Family for Christmas and The Girl No One Wanted. The stories are based on actual cases and told from first-hand experiences.

These stories give factual information of the world of foster caring and the challenges faced every day. It is insightful and heartbreaking to learn about the emotional neglect and physical abuse these vulnerable children face.

Hartley’s big heart, determination and support is just amazing. She believes that “it’s never too late to find these children a stable, happy home. There’s always hope.”

Reading the stories remind those who are with their own families how lucky they are!

The Golden Son

The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda is such an enjoyable read that I’m sure a good screenwriter would be able to adapt it into a wonderful script for a movie.

This is an adventure story, a love story, a story of family, community and friendship, of overcoming the odds to realise dreams, and the complexities and beauty of Indian culture – the monumental challenges related to religion, family, castes and traditions, beliefs, values, marriages, deaths, acceptance and integration, the impact of higher education and selecting/following a career path.

The novel is heartwarming, deeply moving and unforgettable.

I will definitely look out for Gowda’s earlier book, Secret Daughter, of which there is only one copy for loan in one library (out of 26 public libraries in Singapore).

Girls Can’t Be In The Mafia

I can’t pinpoint why Girls Can’t Be In The Mafia by Danielle West caught my attention, but it is quite unusual to find in the Adult Non Fiction section of the library a book written by an American published in Singapore with endorsement from a Singaporean magician who is also a writer.

Despite the tiny font size, I decided to borrow the book after reading the blurb as it sounded more than interesting.

Danielle West was born in a suburb of Boston. She was once homeless and later became a dominatrix in Boston and a professional MMA fighter in London before arriving in Singapore in 2013. This is such a raw and honest memoir that it took me longer than usual to read a book, though of course the font size slows down reading considerably.

There are details of Danielle’s life’s countless ups and downs and her journey of self-discovery. The chapter headers hint at the pain and heartbreaking truths of an inspirational story within: ‘What Happens in This House Stays in This House’, ‘Life Is One Long Dead Milkmen Album’, ‘Love and other Pyrrhic Victories’, ‘You Are Tougher Than You Are Tired’, ‘Good Things Happen Every Day’.

In her Afterword, Danielle quotes from CS Lewis: “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny”, and her message is that “No one appreciates anything that comes easily, particularly experience or knowledge.”

Help! My Leg Is In Pain!

This over-subscribed (some attendees had to sit on the steps of the auditorium) talk in Mandarin this afternoon at the HDB Hub Convention Centre was jointly organised by Singapore Paincare Centre and Mt Alvernia Hospital. It was an enlightening and interactive session hosted by veteran 96.3fm DJ Anna (extreme left in photo below) from SPH Radio Pte Ltd.

The medical specialists were (from right to left) Dr Tan Bee Gawh (well-known TCM physician), Dr Jeffrey Loh (Paincare Practitioner), Dr Chang Haw Chong (Orthopedic Surgeon) and Dr Bernard Lee (Consultant Pain Specialist).

The panel provided deep insights on musculoskeletal conditions and its impact on the psychological well-being to the sufferers and the available treatments from evidence-based perspectives on musculoskeletal conditions and the use of various types of medication that complement the overall treatment both physically and psychologically.

Pain affects the quality of life, and nine in ten ailments involve pain – joints (arthritis), muscles, ligaments, inflammation, cramps, stress fractures, nerves, peripheral artery disease, deep vein thrombosis, varicose veins, burns, sores, bone spurs, slipped disc, gout and so on. Close to 40% of people above age 60 experience leg cramps up to three times a week. Both oesteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis affect mostly females aged 40-60; there is no cure besides temporary relief from therapy and it is crucial to prevent further damage (eg, from overuse of fingers and other joints). Plantar Fascia is often caused by being flat-footed, inappropriate footwear (like wearing high-heeled shoes and worn-out shoes or going barefooted) and obesity. Other factors for such ailments include poor blood circulation, sitting for long periods, frequent dizziness, breathing difficulty and coughing blood and those with a high risk of diabetes, heart diseases and stroke. Age and deterioration (“wear and tear”) can also cause damage, besides external injuries and incorrect posture and gait.

Regular exercise is essential to prevent stiffness but it must not be overdone as sprains can occur. Swimming is the best exercise but if that is not possible (for example, yours truly has aquaphobia), then cycling would be the next best thing to do; walking and jogging is not as desirable due to the strain on the knees. (No wonder my physiotherapist told me to stop using the treadmill but insisted that I cycle for at least 30 minutes a day five times a week.)

“Prevention is Better than Cure”. This would include maintaining correct posture (for example, in using the handphone, sleeping, walking, holding a pen, using the computer). Exercising is important (“Life is about moving”); so are nutrition, sleep and mental health.

The various non-evasive treatment (such as painkillers, physiotherapy, maintaining a healthy weight, using walking aids and injections) and surgery (such as partial/full knee replacement, artroscopy, makoplasty, nucleoplasty and vertebroplasty) were discussed. All surgeries carry risks. There is also a 15% chance of the same problem recurring for there is no guarantee against wear and tear, age and deterioration.

All the speakers were competent but I found Dr Chang to be the most interesting, endearing, witty and humorous. I particularly enjoyed his banter with Dr Lee (aka “Dr Pain”).

Fatal Inheritance

Fatal Inheritance by Rachel Rhys is another random pick for its comfortably large font size. The plot sounds intriguing: an English housewife Eve Forrester has been bequeathed a one-quarter share of an enchanting villa in France by a wealthy stranger, Guy Lester, in attonement for past wrongs.

It has been an interesting but unchallenging read and not as compelling as I expected it to be, given the premise of mystery and secrets hidden in the past. I find there’s too much meandering in telling the story, with a number of random characters that don’t really factor in the story.

However, I enjoyed reading about the money, love, fame, art, literature, politics, respect, honesty, decency and relationships involved. I will try to find a book on the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, after learning about his marriage to a wife who went mad, the alcoholism and the early death.

I Am Not a Label, I Am Gary

I was immediately drawn to this book lying flat on a library shelf in disarray because the cover is so unusual (see picture above): there is no author’s name, the image is of a heavily-tattooed vaguely-familiar person, and the title reads like “I am gay” at first glance. I immediately took it to the borrowing station. I read it (168 pages) in one sitting after I got home.

I was excited at the contents (see photos below):

I applaud Gary for his strength, courage and bravery for baring his all in this memoir. I watched the Mandarin documentary on Mediacorp TV last year so I already know something of Gary’s story. I hoped to find out more about his background (like his unconventional family and his tattoos) in the book but ended up quite disappointed as there isn’t very much revealed that was not mentioned in the documentary.

However, it is heartening to read the testimonies of many individuals who have positively influenced and helped Gary in the various stages in his life.

I wonder how many other young people like Gary there are in our society.