REVIEW: The Lives of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve (Review by Terry Purcell)

the-lives-of-stella-bainThis unusual mystery opens in a field hospital in Marne in early 1916 when a woman finds herself suffering from minor shrapnel injuries, shellshock and amnesia.  Her VAD uniform tells her that she must be a nurse’s aid but she knows little else about herself or her name.  She believes her name is Stella Bain, and learns that she is an American. Once her physical injuries are healed she goes back to work driving field ambulances along the front, retrieving the dead and wounded.

In October she is given leave and decides to go to London, because she thinks that by visiting the Admiraly that she might find the key to unlocking her identity. However, she is desperately ill when she arrives and in taken in by a kind woman whose husband is a cranial surgeon.

Through contacts the surgeon obtains permission to take her to the Admiralty and eventually this leads to her identity being revealed and her memory is restored and her reasons for being in France is revealed.anita shreve

Underpinning this novel is a narrative of a failed marriage which was told from the husband’s point of view in one of her earlier novels All He Ever Wanted.

In this latest novel Shreve vividly tells the story from the wife’s point of view revealing the far reaching consequences of the husband’s unethical and manipulative behaviour to achievall-he-ever-wantede the college Presidency he had sought for twenty years.

As was made clear during the earlier story, the husband reflected on what he had gained but also on his lost family and his failed search for redemption.

This time the ill-treated wife regains custody of her lost children, the satisfaction of apologising to the victim of the husband’s unethical and malicious allegations, and the love of the man whose support made such gains possible.

This is Anita Shreve at her best and I highly recommend both this her latest book and All He Ever Wanted. Excellent holiday reading.

Terry Purcell is a solicitor and was the founding director of the Law Foundation of NSW. He is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog.

Click here to pick up a copy of The Lives of Stella Bain today

REVIEW: Arthur Phillip: Sailor, Mercenary, Governor, Spy by Michael Pembroke (Review by Terry Purcell)

Click here for more details or to buy Arthur PhillipOne of the many revelations exposed by this important and interesting new book is that the “DNA of Australians” was not created by either God or Darwinian natural selection, but by Captain Arthur Phillip and his superiors in the British Government in the late 1780s.

Having selected Botany Bay as the replacement for their former North American colonies and as the place to transport prisoners from Britain’s overcrowded gaols, they adopted a new Enlightenment era policy which would see New South Wales offer their convict population the opportunity to redeem themselves and become model settlers in a new land.

In choosing Arthur Phillip to help plan and implement this new policy, history shows us that the British Government chose the right man.

Michael Pembroke’s new biography of Phillip, apparently the first full review of his life ever published, should go a long way towards enabling 21st century Australians to appreciate how much we all owe Phillip and his superiors for their wisdom and foresight.

Not only did he successfully lead the biggest and longest fleet transporting convicts through largely uncharted waters ever attempted to that time, but he did so with minimal loss of life due to his policies and practices to protect all concerned from the diseases normally endemic on long sea voyages.

Pembroke’s comprehensive biography explains how Phillip’s seafaring experience starting as a 9 year old and garnered over a long and colourful career in the British Navy, gave him the capacity to undertake and successfully complete the extraordinary task most Australians would have some familiarity with. His job was to build a new secure outpost in the Pacific for the expanding British Empire.Author: Michael Pembroke

Complementing this experience and his gift with a number of languages, was his intimacy with key politicians and sponsors within the Navy hierarchy and the relatively unusual and confidential tasks he undertook for them over many years.  Hence the unusual and intriguing title of this extremely readable yet authoritative biography Arthur Phillip Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy.

Having regards to his lowly birth, it is quite remarkable that Phillip achieved so much and died a very wealthy man living out a long and comfortable retirement in the beautiful town of Bath in an era so well recorded by Jane Austen.

Pembroke’s research and the effort he has put into this book, re-creating for the reader the life and times of Arthur Phillip during his long and adventurous life, is impressive.  It has enabled him to recreate for modern readers a very clear picture not only the political and historic events of the latter half of the 18th century when Britain, France and Spain were almost continually at war, but also of what it meant to be a naval officer during those tumultuous times.  Fans of Patrick O’Brian’s naval series set in the same era might well appreciate this book.

This important book is a long overdue tribute to Arthur Phillip and it deserves to be read by any Australian who has wondered about the source of that part of our national DNA about giving everyone “a fair go” regardless of their origins, station in life or religion – regrettably, something our 21st century politicians seem to have forgotten.

Terry Purcell is a solicitor and was the founding director of the Law Foundation of NSW. He is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog.

Review of Michael Fullilove’s Rendezvous with Destiny by Terry Purcell

Michael Fullilove’s Rendezvous with Destiny has been met with glowing reviews from all quarters. Terry Purcell shares his thoughts.

In 1939, America was nervous and parochial; yet in 1940, she began to re-arm and re-mobilise; and by the end of 1941 she was at war and her course was set towards global leadership.

This important new book by the Lowy Institute’s Michael Fullilove commences when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was still leading his predominantly isolationist country out of the Great Depression and despite ill health was still weighing up whether he should run for an unprecedented third Presidential term.

However, Germany’s invasion of Poland on the first of September 1939 made Roosevelt realise that he had to continue to lead America.  Once re-elected he needed to quickly acquire a deeper understanding of what was really happening in Europe, the nature of any threat it might pose for the US, and whether there was any possibility of a negotiated peace.

The focus of Rendezvous with Destiny is on the steps Roosevelt took through the astute appointment of 5 special envoys during 1940 and 1941 with both Democrat and Republican backgrounds to undertake this task.  He relied on five uncommon individuals – a well-bred diplomat, a Republican lawyer, a political fixer, a former presidential candidate and a tycoon.

The first sent was Under Secretary of the State Department Sumner Welles who visited France, Germany and Great Britain during “the phony war” in early 1940 in order to see whether Hitler had any interest peace. He also wanted to get a firsthand understanding of the capacity of France and Great Britain to respond to German’s threats and the role Italy might play.

While little overtly came from this initial foray, Roosevelt had a much better understanding of unfolding tragedy in Europe which was confirmed by the fall of France within weeks of Welles’s return.

Welles was followed in July and August 1940 by Republican war hero and lawyer “Wild Bill” Donovan to see if the British could hold out against a German invasion.

Next to go was Roosevelt’s most trusted aide and long term adviser Harry Hopkins in January 1941 to assess Britain’s needs and also to help Roosevelt get a better understanding the new idiosyncratic British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

This was to be the first of several missions Roosevelt sent the ailing Hopkins on during that year including visiting the Soviet leader Stalin to assess USSR’s capacity to withstand the German invasion and how the US could assist in terms of arms and munitions.

Hopkins’s first visit was quickly followed by defeated Republican Presidential candidate Wendell Wilkie sent to shore up support for Roosevelt’s Lend Lease program, the proposed basis for supplying Britain with much needed armaments, oil and food.

The final representative was Averell Harriman, a wealthy and politically ambitious Democrat with extensive management experience.  He was sent by Roosevelt to ensure the smooth running of Lend Lease program to ensure the British got what they needed, initially to defend themselves against invasion, and then to carry the fight to Germany in North Africa.

Taken together, the missions plot the arc of America’s transformation from a reluctant middle power into the global leader.

Of the five envoys, Harry Hopkins was the real star of Roosevelt’s strategy, who, despite ill health and no foreign relations experience, was the person charged with establishing a basis of trust and gathering vital intelligence initially with Churchill and later with Stalin.  Roosevelt knew neither and politically or personally had little in common with them as individuals, yet Hopkins’s judgment, charm, high intelligence and self-effacing nature ensured that a strong working relationship was quickly established between these truly unlikely allies at a time the world needed them working together.

Fullilove’s influential book is a highly recommended good read and fills many gaps in the understanding of Roosevelt’s leadership and vision in preparing America for war, a role long overshadowed by the later victories in Europe and in the Pacific and by the cold war struggle which so dominated the headlines for the next fifty years.

Click here to buy Rendezvous with Destiny from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

——————————-

Terry Purcell is a solicitor and was the founding director of the Law Foundation of NSW and is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog.

REVIEW: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (Review by Terry Purcell)

Click here to order The Signature of all Things.When I was handed The Signature of All Things I noted the name of the author and popped it on the pile of books marked, not urgent. Yep, I let my prejudice against the author of Eat, Pray, Love influence my decision even though it was obvious this new novel was a departure from the squillion copy selling EPL. Then, one night I overheard a couple of booksellers talking. One had taken the plunge and had read The Signature of All Things. This was a bookseller whose opinion deserved respect and she had loved it. Loved it.

The next day I picked up The Signature of All Things. It was immediately obvious to me that this was a work of historical fiction of the highest order but it was a big book and with so many other books on my pile already, I gave it to my dad. Here is his review:

Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,136 other followers

%d bloggers like this: