Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Review: A Woman's War: The Exceptional Life Of Wilma Oram Young, AM
A Woman's War: The Exceptional Life Of Wilma Oram Young, AM by Barbara Angell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I accidentally left "Bad Faith" at work for the three-day weekend, and so hot on the heels of that review comes this one.
This review is probably the more scathing one. Sorry 'bout that.
This book is about a woman who is awesome. Who achieved an amazing amount in her life, and possibly the most amazing thing was that she survived the Japanese Prisoner of War camps along with her fellow army nurses. I don't want this review to take away from that at all.
This book is about a remarkable old biddy. However. She would hate me, and I doubt I'd be all that enamoured of her as a result. So there's that from the beginning. She's just far too much like my grandmother. (Odd that Keating's 1993 election win is mentioned negatively, and yet no mention is made of Howard's 1996/7 win. Suspect bias on the part of the author, but have not yet determined in which direction this suspected bias lies.)
Anyway. The first two sections of the book are fine. The first describes Wilma Orem (Young)'s childhood and training as a nurse; the second her time as an Army nurse and then as a prisoner of war; the third her life following her return to Australia after the war.
The second section is the most impressive and thought-provoking; in particular the gruesome yet matter of fact descriptions of war, violence and torture.
However the whole is negatively impacted by Angell's unimpressive writing; while the drama of the second section carries the reader along, in the first and third, the pedestrian nature of the writing makes the reading experience drag. The third section is particularly tedious: every ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day, every reunion with her fellow-prisoners is described as 'particularly special'. I would have expected more from a writer with Angell's apparent credentials as a screenwriter and teacher of writing, but there was just so little energy once the prisoner-of-war section was over.
In sum: the story is important, and I value it. The presentation lets the story down, as does the confusion relating to the politicisation of Orem Young's later years (ie, why the mention of the Labor win but not the Liberal? Was that because the author wanted to emphasise or minimise the difference (or lack thereof) of Veterans policy between the governments of the two parties. As I said, I'm unsure.)
This past January I went to the Australian War Memorial's special exhibition on nurses in war. I also saw (briefly) some of the work done by the nurses in the PoW camps. What these women survived was amazing. I only wish that the book I just read had been more worthy of what they themselves went through.
(Betty Jeffrey's "White Coolies" is going on my To-Read shelf despite my automatic flinch at its title.)
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