Barney Greatrex: From Bomber Command to the French Resistance – The Stirring Story of an Australian Hero by Michael Veitch

barney greatrexTitle: Barney Greatrex: From Bomber Command to the French Resistance – The Stirring Story of an Australian Hero

Author: Michael Veitch

Genre: History/Biography

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $35.00

Synopsis: The incredible untold World War II story of Australian hero BARNEY GREATREX – from Bomber Command to French Resistance fighter.

A school and university cadet in Sydney, Barney Greatrex signed up for RAF Bomber Command in 1941, eager to get straight into the very centre of the Allied counterattack. Bombing Germany night after night, Barney’s 61 Squadron faced continual enemy fighter attacks and anti-aircraft fire – death or capture by the Nazis loomed large. Very few survived more than 20 missions, and it was on his 20th mission, in 1944, that Barney’s luck finally ran out: he was shot down over occupied France.

But his war was far from over. Rescued by the French Resistance, Barney seized the opportunity to carry on fighting and joined the Maquis in the liberation of France from the occupying German forces, who rarely took prisoners.

Later, Barney was awarded the French Legion of Honour, but for seventy years he said almost nothing of his incredible war service – surviving two of the most dangerous battlefronts. Now, aged 97, Barney Greatrex has revealed his truly great Australian war story to acclaimed bestselling author Michael Veitch.

~*~

The legends, stories and tales that make up Australian history cover nearly everything about our country, and every Australian student is taught about the ANZAC legend, and the formation of this legend on the battlefields of Gallipoli and Word War One at various fronts throughout Europe, creating an image that has been carried through the decades since for each war, each battle and every serving member over the past century. In school, we learn in general terms about major battles, and about some important figures. It is the individual stories, – the heroic and the flawed aspects of the people they are about, that give our national story about our role in the wars an interesting colour and human face to them.

There are probably many stories that need to be told of the men and women that fought, but recently I read the story of Barney Greatrex, a RAAF/RAF bomber who, after being shot down over France, spent several months fighting the Gestapo in France with the French Resistance, striving to free France from German occupation and destruction – acts which would in the end, see him rescued and ultimately, France freed from German occupation at the end of the war.

Barney’s story begins in the leafy suburbs in Sydney Pymble, where he attended Knox Grammar in the decade before the war. During his time here and at The University of Sydney, Barney had been part of the cadets, something that prepared him somewhat for the rigours of military life. His training took him to 61 Squadron, and the task of bombing Germany during the Allied counterattacks. Facing enemy fighter attacks, and anti-aircraft fire night after night, each return to base, Barney was grateful to be alive. Until the aircraft he was in with six other men was shot down.

Barney was rescued by the French resistance, and joined the fight with the Maquis to liberate France from occupying German forces. It was to be many months before Barney’s family knew he had survived and was safe, and before he was able to return home, but not before endlessly recounting his experiences to the military.

Awarded the French Legion of Honour, Barney remained silent about his story for seventy years. In Michael Veitch’s latest book, he has done so. It is a story that should be read and taught alongside the stories of other heroes and battles, as it as much a part of the ANZAC story as they are, and gives a human face to a part of history that I have only ever known through statistics and facts, and that many more people may have only been exposed to through Fawlty Towers. Being able to read stories such as Barney’s when I studied Australian history in high school and at university would have made the far-reaching impacts of the war more interesting. We know the facts of much of the war, and the numbers of those who served, who died, through the Australian War Memorial and other books. These facts are, in general, not difficult to find, and are important to give background to the stories of individuals. As someone who has studied history, sometimes statistics and well known legends aren’t enough – sometimes it is the unknown stories, the stories that give the war a human face – whether on the home front, in battle or through people like Anne Frank, where war can really hit home for many people. These human stories allow people who may not have studied history, as I have to understand the war, and what people affected by it might have gone through during those years. This is why we need individual stories to be told alongside the facts. So that the ordinary people, not just the well-known generals and politicians, have their voices heard, their experiences understood.

It is a powerful story of the Australian spirit to dig in and never give up. Barney put his life at risk twenty times in the air, and then for months on end on the ground, before returning home to try and live a normal life – or as normal as he could for himself and his family. Those interested in history, military history, and Australian history can now know Barney’s story, and hopefully it is one that will be looked at in history class alongside other important battles and figures from Australia’s experience in the Second World War.

I found that the story was told sympathetically and without judgement, where Barney’s words told the story, and Michael Veitch was the vehicle that drove them out into the world. Eloquently told, and written so that it’s not jargon heavy, but terminology used can be worked out in context or looked up if the reader needs to, it is a gripping story of one man’s willingness to fight for what he believed in and keep himself alive.

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Every Word Is A Bird We Teach To Sing by Daniel Tammet

every word.jpgTitle: Every Word Is A Bird We Teach To Sing

Author: Daniel Tammet

Genre: Essays. Non-Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 29th August, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages:275

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A mind-expanding, deeply humane tour of language(s) – and those who speak, study, and invent them – by the bestselling author of BORN ON A BLUE DAY and THINKING IN NUMBERS.

Is vocabulary destiny? Why do clocks ‘talk’ to the Nahua people of Mexico? Will A.I. researchers ever produce true human-machine dialogue? In this mesmerizing collection of essays, Daniel Tammet answers these and many other questions about the intricacy and profound power of language.

In EVERY WORD IS A BIRD WE TEACH TO SING, Tammet goes back in time to explore the numeric language of his autistic childhood; in Iceland, he learns why the name Blær became a court case; in Canada, he meets one of the world’s most accomplished lip readers. He chats with chatbots; contrives an ‘e’-less essay on lipograms; studies the grammar of the telephone; contemplates the significance of disappearing dialects; and corresponds with native Esperanto speakers – in their mother tongue.

A joyous romp through the world of words, letters, stories, and meanings, EVERY WORD IS A BIRD WE TEACH TO SING explores the way communication shapes reality. From the art of translation to the lyricism of sign language, these essays display the stunning range of Tammet’s literary and polyglot talents.

~*~

In a series of essays. Daniel Tammet tells a story of language, of what language means to different people, and how his high functioning autistic savant syndrome and early childhood epilepsy shaped his understanding of language. To Daniel, in these early years, words were numbers, that evolved into images, in a way that only he could understand, and from there, he journeyed across the world, experiencing how other languages dealt with names, with sign language and lip reading, and the differing ways the Deaf community viewed themselves and experienced the world and their culture, and how language can define us, define our place in society and the world. Daniel’s essays explore why certain names are banned in Iceland, and the talking clocks of the Nahua. His focus on languages and how they evolved and sit alongside each other is often compared to British English, usually pointing out subtle differences in how they work, and offering explanations for the uninitiated in other forms of language an understanding of these differences. The essays investigate the power of language and how our use of the language or languages we know admit us to certain aspects of the world and our culture, or exclude us, or at least, limit our understanding, and may require us to have some help – through out his journey, Daniel had help from people who spoke and used languages he was unfamiliar with, but his keen interest in how language worked helped him to come to understandings and ultimately, write this book of essays.

The patterns and the music that words make are how we teach words to sing, how each word, as one essay ends, is a bird we teach to sing. The beauty of Daniel’s books lies in his interest in language, not only how it works for him and operates for him, but how it operates, works and makes meaning for others and their language. It is the mysteries of language that appeal to Daniel, and as a reader, they appeal to me to. The way one author writes, for example, is unique from every other author, and every individual experiences language differently. It could be visual, either sign language or seeing the shape of a word – something that as a writer I can relate to as sometimes the image of a word appears before the actual word itself, although in my case, this depends on the word, and not every word has an image, sound, colour or number attached to it as it might with others, who experience language through synaesthesia – which will manifest differently for those with that language experience.

Daniel has some interesting experiences with language and linguistics across the world, including the differentiation between deaf with a small d and Deaf – the former indicates, in Daniel’s work, those who are deaf but do not fully associate with Deaf culture, whereas Deaf is said to be more about the community and the essay this is in discusses sign language, cochlear implants and how children who grow up in mostly hearing families adapt and learn language differently to children who learn to sign early on. Daniel balances these, I felt, in a way that anyone can understand as he does with his other essays, and shows the importance of language to the hearing and non-hearing communities, and how different people identify within subcultures and communities as well as the larger, wider communities they are a part of.

Presented in short essays rather than a lengthy narrative style, I read these essays in order, but they are not interconnected, other than through the theme of language and linguistics, and could possibly be read out of order or consecutively – either will, I think, allow the reader to appreciate the book and experience it in a way that works for them, which connects to the theme of language and the operation of language through the world and its various countries and communities, and the theme of communication in written, spoken and visual forms that differ from person to person as well.

Interweaving his journey of reading and his experiences with the facts gave a human face to the story – Daniel’s written expression is lovely, and easy to understand. It is not complex, but there are levels of complexity. He has written for a broad audience and I hope future readers can gain as much as I have from this collection of essays.

This was a very interesting book; an exploration into language and its mysteries is always interesting and provides a deeper understanding of language for us. It allows a wider world of language to be opened up and explored, and understood, where previously, we may not have understood beyond our own linguistic experiences. This book would be of interest to anyone with an interest in language, and linguistic students, and will hopefully be something useful to students of linguistics to broaden their understanding of how language operates in the world beyond what they know.

The Children of Willeseden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen

willesden laneTitle: The Children of Willesden Lane

Author: Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 23rd August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A true story of courage and survival during World War II, and a celebration of the power of music to lift the human spirit.

Jewish musical prodigy Lisa Jura has a wonderful life in Vienna. But when the Nazis start closing in on the city, life changes irreversibly. Although he has three daughters, Lisa’s father is only able to secure one place on the Kindertransport. The family sends Lisa to London so that she may pursue her dreams of a career as a concert pianist. Separated from her beloved family, Lisa bravely endures the trip and a disastrous posting outside London before finding her way to the Willesden Lane Orphanage.

Here, her music inspires the other children, and they, in turn, cheer her on in her efforts to make good on her promise to her family to realise her musical potential. Through hard work and sheer pluck, Lisa wins a scholarship to study piano at the Royal Academy. As she supports herself and studies, she makes a new life for herself and dreams of reconnecting with the family she was forced to leave behind.

Based on the true story of her mother, Mona Golabek describes the inspirational story of fourteen-year-old Lisa Jura Golabek’s escape from Nazi-controlled Austria to England on the famed Kindertransport.

~*~

The human stories of World War Two, whether on the home front, or about those fleeing persecution, are the ones that always have the biggest impact on me when reading about them, because it can be easy to forget that wars were more than just the statistics of dead and injured, and easy to forget the human cost – not just in life and limb, but in loss of family, loss of country and loss of self. The stories about these people whether true, based on a true story or imagined and based on history, broaden the story told in history books and go beyond the statistics. The Children of Willesden Lane is one such story of the human face and the human cost of World War Two, and Nazi occupied Austria prior to the war.

In 1938, Germany enacts the Anschluss, annexing Austria, and placing it and its citizens under Nazi control. Just like the past five years in Germany, the Nazi Party begins to erode the rights of the Jewish citizens in Austria. In Vienna, Lisa Jura is forced to stop her piano lessons because she is Jewish – her teacher is heartbroken, but there is nothing else they can do, and so, Lisa’s mother teaches her until a spot opens up for Lisa on the Kindertransport to take her to London, away from the clutches of the Nazis, and where her family will make every attempt they can to join her as soon as possible. In London, Lisa finds her way to Willesden Lane, where she becomes part of a family of refugee children, and through her music, finds a way to get through the war, eventually gaining a spot in a music program, and a job playing piano at a hotel, which gets her through the dark days of the war.

Playing the piano at Willesden Lane gives Lisa and the other children, and those taking care of them, Mrs Cohen and Mrs Glazer a chance, even if just for an hour, to escape the war and the damage it is doing to London and Europe, and the hearts and souls of those directly impacted by the war and what has come out of the Nazi regime. It is a story of hope amidst tragedy and war, retold for children aged ten to fourteen, and anyone interested by Lisa’s daughter, Mona.

It is a story that I didn’t know much about, but that will stay with me. Like other stories of escape from the Nazis, or Anne Frank’s story, and novels such as The Book Thief, and the three novels by Jackie French about this period in history: Hitler’s Daughter, Pennies for Hitler and Goodbye, Mr Hitler, it serves as a reminder of what men like Hitler can do, and what the attitudes they spread and justify can do to ordinary people who have done nothing wrong, using it to back up their ideology and effectively, scare people into silence. Lisa’s journey was powerful and emotional, and it gives a human face to a war fought less than a century ago, showing the power of the human spirit to triumph over hatred and adversity.

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The Crying Years: Australia’s Great War by Peter Stanley

the crying yearsTitle: The Crying Years: Australia’s Great War

Author: Peter Stanley

Genre: History

Publisher: NLA Publishing

Published: 1st August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 264

Price: $44.95

Synopsis: The Great War of 1914-1918 affected all Australians and decisively changed the new nation. They were ‘The Crying Years’ according to writer Zora Cross, who lost her brother in 1917.

This visual history of Australia’s Great War offers a different perspective on a period of time familiar to many. It helps to connect the war overseas – the well-chronicled battles at Gallipoli, Fromelles, Passchendaele and Villers-Bretonneux – with the equally bitter war at home, for and against conscription, over ‘loyalty’ and ‘disloyalty’. Men faced life-changing choices: volunteer to fight or stay at home; join the revolutionary unionists or break the strikes. Women bore the burdens of waiting and worrying, of working for charities, or of voting to send men to their deaths. Even children were drawn into the animosities, as their communities fractured under the stress.

Prize-winning historian Professor Peter Stanley of UNSW Canberra uses documents, photographs, artefacts and images from the collections of the National Library of Australia to evoke the drama and tragedy, suffering and sacrifice, pain and pity of Australia’s Great War.

~*~

Peter Stanley’s new book, The Crying Years, coincides with the one hundred years since the Battle of the Somme. Rather than just being about the battles, and the statistics, it delves into the war they many fought at home – not as violent or deadly as the battle that the men who volunteered and those who were eventually conscripted from 1916 onwards had been –but a war none the less. Back home, people in Australia struggled with losing loved ones, not knowing where they were or where they had fallen, or been injured. Back home, those who hadn’t volunteered or were not eligible to serve were often thought of as shirkers, especially conscientious objectors.

The war that we know in most history books, whilst it deals with statistics, they also talk a lot about the Anzac legend and how it was formed, and what it means to be an Anzac and an Australian and the importance we give to it. Stanley’s book makes mention of this too, but highlights the darker side, the more tragic side of the war that led to the formation of the legend. We should still be proud of the men and women on the front, in hospital ships, and behind the lines and in the trenches who gave their lives for Australia during our early years as a nation, and also those back home, who lost family and loved ones, and by honouring their sacrifice, we do. But at the same time, we should remember it was not always heroic, that these brave men and women who returned home came with more than just physical wounds. Stanley states that when the last Anzac died in 2002, John Howard, the then Prime Minister, revived the Anzac legend – the idealistic one that seems to hide the dark and grim reality of the war, and presents the heroic image of a young nation and the sacrifice of 60, 000 men as what Stanley suggests was seen as worthwhile by a patriotic middle class – his interpretation of the fervour of war that perhaps did a disservice to the reality these men and women had faced. Stanley recognises the reality and the mythical legend in this book, and I felt he carefully balanced them out to give a more holistic understanding, through visual artefacts from collections and text, to the war and the Anzac legend.

The sombre images of battlefields, of war worn soldiers and nurses, reproductions of letters and other communications between officials contrast with the patriotic images of commemorations of Australia during the war and propaganda, and the profiles interspersed throughout of men and women who aided the war effort or protested it also give a more rounded view than some other books might. Stanley has attempted to be inclusive in this book as well, but as it is a visual history, acknowledgement must be given to what was available for him to utilise and write about during the research process.

An interesting book for anyone interested in history, and war histories, I think it is an important reminder that war has darker sides that were not as obvious back then, as it can be patriotic to those involved.

Under The Same Sky by Mogjan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari with James Knight

under the same sky.jpg

 

 

Title: Under the Same Sky
Author: Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari with James Knight
Genre: Non-fiction, biography
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 26th April 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 331
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: The powerful and incredibly moving story of Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari – two young Iranian asylum seekers who are showing that the power of love can conquer all obstacles.
After fleeing their homeland, Australian refugee policies threaten to tear this young couple apart. An unforgettable story of love, hope and a quest for freedom.
At seventeen, all Mojgan Shamsalipoor wanted was to be safe from physical and sexual abuse, go to school, and to eventually marry for love. In Iran, she was denied all of this.
Milad Jafari was a shy teenage boy who found his voice as a musician. But the rap music he loved was illegal in his country. All Milad’s father, a key maker, builder and shopkeeper, wanted was for his family to live free from the fear of arrest, imprisonment or execution. To do that they all had to flee Iran.
Mojgan and Milad met in Australia. But in the months between their separate sea voyages, the Australian government changed the way asylum seekers were treated. Though Milad is recognised as a refugee and will soon become a proud Australian citizen, Mojgan has been told she cannot stay here even though the threat of imprisonment and further abuse, or worse, means she can’t return to Iran.
UNDER THE SAME SKY, is a powerful insight into the human face of asylum seekers and the way history has shaped the lives of these two young people. It also shows the compassion alive in our suburbs. For Mojgan and Milad, their love keeps their hopes alive.

~*~

Under the Same Sky is the story of Mojgan and Milad’s lives in Iran, and their escape as asylum seekers to Australia. In Iran, both led very different lives under a regime that restricted what women could do, and promoted one religion over all others, persecuting anyone who didn’t fall into line with what the government dictated to them. Eventually, both their families saw the need to flee: Milad’s together, and Mojgan with one of her older brothers, Hossein. With the government as it was, each had to pretend they were only headed to Indonesia for holidays, and that they would return to Iran. Doing it this way, they were able to leave, yet still had to find a way to Australia, where they hoped to find safety. In each chapter, Mojgan and Milad tell their story as their journeys progress, and in some ways, they had similar journeys, but in other ways, their experiences as asylum seekers and refugees differed.

After traumatic events that led to Mojgan and Hossein fleeing Iran for Australia – with the uncertainty of their fate and the fate of the family members they had had to leave behind, and months spent in detention, the two met at a Baha’i camp, and became good friends, and eventually, started dating. However, the government had decided on Mojgan and Hossein’s fate – they had not been granted visas and after months of living in community detention, and a relationship, and marriage between Mojgan and Milad, the brother and sister were sent back to detention, where they were again in limbo, awaiting decisions.

Throughout these turbulent times, Milad, his family and the friends and teachers Mojgan had met at Yeronga at school began fighting for her to be freed, and returned to a safe home with people who cared about her. This fight is included in the story, in some of the chapters told by James Knight, who gives a lot of background to the instability of Iran and the changing attitudes towards asylum seekers and refugees and their treatment. Mojgan’s experiences in detention affected her deeply –even though she wasn’t always harshly treated, the instances she was, and the guards who were rough with her stood out in her mind. Even the guards who tried to help her , who were nice, couldn’t fully erase these experiences.

At the time of the publication of the book and the writing of this review, a final decision is yet to be made and Mojgan and Hossein, though now living with Milad and his family, are still in limbo.

Mojgan and Milad’s story sheds light on an issue that is fraught with complexities and often simplified in the media – which does not always allow for in depth discussion. Mogjan, Milad and James all acknowledge throughout the complexities, especially in the constantly changing attitudes at the political level and in public opinion about refugees, illustrated by interviews with teachers who knew Mogjan and Milad, and quotes from papers about refugees and asylum seekers and references to speeches by the former Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison. What these do is to establish the political backdrop of Australia, and in a way, contrast it against what Milad and Mojgan ran from – the stark contrast of a dictatorship like Iran, whose government demanded to know the whereabouts of Mogjan long after she left, and the freedom of Australia that they sought but that they were unsure they would ever gain. James Knight’s statements are supportive of those who helped Mogjan and Milad, and less supportive of the government of the time. Some come across as political because issues of asylum seekers and refugees can never be divorced from politics, but I feel like he fell short of outright condemnation and name-calling.

It was an interesting book to read, because it presented a side to the issue not often seen, and one that maybe, should be given more attention. Cases such as Mogjan and Milad’s, where they’ve fled danger and persecution, and simply want a safer life, are the ones we should be hearing about as well as any negative stories that come out. Reading it, I felt moved and shocked by what Mogjan had gone through in Iran and detention. It is only their experiences of fleeing and people smugglers, and becoming asylum seekers. It touches on the issue of how difficult it can be to leave a place like Iran for good. I recommend it for anyone interested in human rights and those wanting to know about the experience from the perspective of someone who has been there.

Born A Crime: Stories from A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

born a crime.jpgTitle: Born a Crime: Stories from A South African Childhood

Author: Trevor Noah

Genre: Memoir/Non-Fiction

Publisher: John Murray/Hachette

Published: 29th November 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $35.00

Synopsis: Growing up mixed race in South Africa, this is the fascinating and darkly funny memoir from Trevor Noah.

Trevor Noah is the host of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, where he gleefully provides America with its nightly dose of serrated satire. He is a light-footed but cutting observer of the relentless absurdities of politics, nationalism and race — and in particular the craziness of his own young life, which he’s lived at the intersections of culture and history.

In his first book, Noah tells his coming of age story with his larger-than-life mother during the last gasps of apartheid-era South Africa and the turbulent years that followed. Noah was born illegal — the son of a white, Dutch father and a black Xhosa mother, who had to pretend to be his nanny or his father’s servant in the brief moments when the family came together. His brilliantly eccentric mother loomed over his life — a comically zealous Christian (they went to church six days a week and three times on Sunday), a savvy hustler who kept food on their table during rough times, and an aggressively involved, if often seriously misguided, parent who set Noah on his bumpy path to stardom.

The stories Noah tells are sometimes dark, occasionally bizarre, frequently tender, and always hilarious — whether he’s subsisting on caterpillars during months of extreme poverty or making comically pitiful attempts at teenage romance in a colour-obsessed world; whether he’s being thrown into jail as the hapless fall guy for a crime he didn’t commit or being thrown by his mother from a speeding car driven by murderous gangsters.

~*~

Trevor Noah’s biography, Born A Crime, finds a way to deal with apartheid South Africa and growing up during this time and the turbulent years that followed in a moving, humourous and effective way. Growing up in a world where your very existence is considered a crime because your mother, a Xhosa woman, had relations with a white Swiss man at the height of apartheid can shape you. Using his comedic skills, Noah manages to convey the hatred and segregation, and struggles of the era to an audience who may not be quite familiar with it. We know it happened, we know how bad it is – but how many of us who didn’t live there at the time or who haven’t spoken to people who lived through it know how truly bad it was? Noah’s ability to tell the story through the eyes of a child who did not quite understand at first how his existence was breaking the law, and the innocence of these days illustrated how some people may have tried to deal with it – protect your children, yet they will still become aware of the harsh realities surrounding their lives.

Noah discusses the flaws in apartheid, and how the logic of race classifications was actually illogical: The Chinese were classified as black, but the Japanese were classified as white: Noah’s suggestion is that as South Africa received imports from Japan, they were given the white classification to keep them happy. Yet at the same time, a black person could become classified as coloured, or an Indian person could become classified as white. A coloured person could become classified white and a white person could have their white status downgraded to coloured or black. Even a child born to two white parents, he says, could be classified as coloured and the family separated unless the parents chose to reclassify as coloured. Yet Noah was too white to be black and too black to be white – so where did he fit in?

Trevor Noah has told a side of apartheid that may not have been possible to tell in the early nineties, so soon after it ended. As he is mixed race, Trevor Noah was able to move between the groups at school: speaking various African tribal languages, English and some Afrikaans, his ability to be a chameleon in a world where colour was given a lot of attention was something he soon found he could use to his advantage. In writing this memoir, he has invited fans of his comedy and other readers into a world that had humour, love and some moments of pure terror and fear, and the confusion that some people had, not knowing how to deal with a boy who could speak at least seven languages and who wasn’t quite white, but wasn’t quite black. Like all of us, these experiences growing up in the final years of apartheid and in the years following, where people who were still products of apartheid weren’t always sure of what to do, have shaped Trevor. His words can affect everyone. Though he is a comedian, his words are strong, and could encourage unity and working together, showing the ineffectiveness of dividing people up based on race or skin colour. Further division came in the category of black based on whether you were Xhosa, Tswana, Zulu or a member of another tribe or cultural group, and this could determine how you acted within this group according to your gender. Apartheid not only set race against race, but sometimes set people who had been classed as one race against each other.

Reading this book was eye opening – I knew how bad it was from my parents, and that’s why they left, so I wouldn’t grow up exposed to any of the impacts of apartheid, because it could affect everyone adversely, as Noah pointed out. Though some groups gained more privileges than others, the fact that these could be taken away with what Noah describes as the slash of a pen and the whim of the person wielding it, likely instilled fear in many. Noah’s world as the child of a black woman and a white man, a mixed race child, in a world that didn’t accept him or always know what to do with him, is one that not many of us will really know, yet through his words, we can visit and find out what it was like – mainly for him, but also, the world seen through his eyes as to how anyone and everyone could be affected by apartheid is just as powerful. The limitations of what people could do for work were determined by race.

A great read for anyone who lived through apartheid, or who wishes to know more. Trevor Noah shows that people have the ability to become more than what society tells them they are, that yes you may struggle and fight, you may face adversity but in the end, you can get there.

The Word Detective by John Simpson

 

 

Title: The Word Detective: A Life in Words from Serendipity to Selfieworddetective

Author: John Simpson

Genre: Non-fiction

Publisher: Little Brown/Hachette

Published: 11th October 2016

Format: paperback

Pages: 366

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Language is always changing. No one knows where it is going but the best way to future-cast is to look at the past. John Simpson animates for us a tradition of researching and editing, showing us both the technical lexicography needed to understand a word, and the careful poetry needed to construct its definition. He challenges both the idea that dictionaries are definitive, and the notion that language is falling apart. With a sense of humour, an ability to laugh at bureaucracy and an inclination to question the status quo, John Simpson gives life to the colourful characters at the OED and to the English language itself. He splices his stories with entertaining and erudite diversions into the history and origin of words such as ‘kangaroo’, ‘hot-dog’, ‘pommie’, ‘bicycle’, not ignoring those swearwords often classed as ‘Anglo-Saxon’! The book will speak to anyone who uses a dictionary, ‘word people’, history lovers, students and parents.

 

~*~

 

Words are what make us human. They create societies, cultures and nations, and in turn, are also created by societies, cultures and nations. Within each of these groups, sub-groups emerge that develop their own linguistic patterns and dialects, their own words that signify membership to these groups, and that can perhaps exclude those who are not part of these groups. As humans, we are all part of different groups and sub-groups that have shared and non-shared words and language that help us identify with people we have things in common with.

As language can unite and divide us in many ways, understanding each other was a lot harder before the advent of dictionaries. One person using a word may have used it to the exclusion of others, and been smug in the knowledge that only a select few will understand. The advent of a dictionary that all could access has changed things.

Since its humble beginnings in Victorian Times, the Oxford English dictionary has endeavoured to include as many words and their origins as possible. Over the years it has evolved, and it perhaps saw a fair amount of evolution during John Simpson’s thirty-seven years there, from 1976, where he started as a reader, helping compile words to investigate and include, to his time as chief editor, when the dictionary began to enter the digital age, first being compiled on CD ROMS, and eventually, though slowly, moving towards the Internet.

The Word Detective is John Simpson’s journey with the dictionary over the years and the developments, from working out possible new words, to establishing partnerships with the US, Australia and New Zealand, and tracing origins of words from those nations for inclusion, to talks with European counterparts about finding ways to protect European languages and allow cross-cultural and international communication at the same time. Through his journey with words, John also delves into a few personal anecdotes about his family that he links to his love of language and words, and what this meant for his second daughter, who never learnt to talk. John’s high regard for words shines through, and while he marvels at some words and developments, he laments the struggle with some words of finding an origin, and the administrative side wanting to save money.

In his role as a lexicographer, John also describes the process he implemented to recruit new lexicographers, stating that a love of words would simply not be enough. His efforts to move with the times, but also keep traditional methods of working alongside the new ones made for an interesting read. How does someone who has seen so much change, and often in rapid succession over the final years of their tenure, decide how to proceed? In keeping the old and the new, John gave his team the opportunity to learn both methods, where they could use one or the other, use them together or even have a back-up with the manual system should there be a temporary technological glitch – something anyone working with computers must keep in mind.

There were a few amusing anecdotes in relation to some words and phrases. One such phrase was couch potato. Around 2000, this word was put forth for inclusion. When this happened, there was a small demonstration by the British Potato Council. They were protesting the inclusion of the phrase in the dictionary because it was derogatory to the poor potatoes who could not stand up for themselves. As John tells it, the argument was peaceful and civilised, and the whole issue died down after the company received the publicity it was after. With the inclusion of the couch potato entry, the OED settled back down into their lexicographical den.

Reading this story was intriguing and eye-opening. It opened up the world of lexicography and dictionary compilation to the reader, and made me realise that the dictionary did not just appear out of nowhere, that there has been decades, centuries even, of hard work going into compiling words – relevant and irrelevant, used and unused into a book or online resource for everyone to use when necessary. A fascinating read, especially if you are interested in the development of language.