Thursday, April 24, 2014

A new addition to our family

We gained a new member of the family on Wednesday.

His name is currenly Caramel and I'm tempted to keep it, but will he forgive me when he's a grown man swaggering around the house? My eldest daughter wants the name Pumpkin, my aunt has suggested Marmalade, and my mother's contribution is Marmaduke. (A big name for a very little kitten.)

Any more suggestions?

PS: do you have any idea how hard it is to take pictures of something that moves that fast?!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Kelly Hunter's 'What the Bride Didn't Know'

I read this book in three hours. I know this because at 01:32 I saved my manuscript (according to the computer’s records) and picked up the book. At 4:31 I put the book down and turned out the light.

For the first half I still thought I could put the book down at any point and get some sleep. Once past the half way mark I didn’t think about it at all. I just kept turning the pages.
So be warned: it’s that kind of book. If you start reading it late at night, you will not sleep.

I’ve said this in other reviews of Kelly Hunter’s books, but every one of her books is better than the last. I loved Flirting with Intent so much that I was sure What the Bride didn’t Know couldn’t better it.
In fact, having met Lena and Trig in previous books, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to enjoy their book. Lena seemed too difficult and Trig too devoted.

Boy was I wrong. This book was better. In fact, it may just have become my favourite Kelly Hunter (at least until the next book comes out).

This book didn’t lag for one second. The story kept moving, I liked the characters. I laughed at the dialogue and the one-liners. And it has an exotic setting added to the mix, which Ms Hunter is so adept at.

As a writer, I know how difficult it is too make a book like this so easy and fun to read. While I admire her books, and wish I could write like that, I don’t come away feeling “oh my god, how could I ever be that good; I might as well give up now!” Instead, I come away feeling uplifted and inspired. If I can be half as good, I’ll be happy.

And if I ever get to meet Ms Hunter in person, I’ll kiss her hem and thank her for writing so many of my favourite books.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Smiles and Tears

This weekend I became an aunt for the first time. I have a nephew!

The as-yet-unnamed little tyke has that gorgeous new baby, warm and cuddly thing going for him, that you just want to hold and hold... until he cries and you hand him back to whichever parent is closest at hand.

My brother and sister-in-law are still searching out names, but they're keen to give him a family name from my father's (ie. the German) side of the family as a middle name. So as the family's resident genealogist, I pulled out the family papers and put together a list of family names for them.

Whenever I go through this particular file, I always get a lump in my throat. Copies of birth and baptismal certificates, my grandparents' death certificates, and then the really interesting papers: an admittance letter to a refugee camp for my grandmother and her three children (no husband in sight as he was in a Russian prisoner of war camp at the time. Whether my grandmother knew this or whether she thought he was missing or dead, we will never now know) and the release papers from the refugee camp, many months later. Then in 1952 the papers confirming their passage by ship from Italy to South Africa, to start a whole new life in a country not destroyed by war.

Then last night, as I packed away the file, I stumbled across a packet of letters I'd never seen before, dated 1950-1952. They were letters from my father, aged 6-8 years old, to his family.

I always knew that my father lived with his grandparents in Berlin for a while, apart from the rest of his family. He was something of a musical prodigy and in order for him to study the piano properly he needed to be in Berlin.

But knowing and understanding are two different things. It was only as I read these letters, no more than a dozen in a child's large handwriting about seemingly inconsequential things like Easter eggs and birthday gifts and a story the teacher told him in class, that I truly understood. For at least two years, in Grades 1 and 2, my father lived so far away from his parents and his siblings that the only contact he had with them was through the lost art of letter writing. No telephones, no cars to nip down the highway for weekend visits, no skype. These were the letters of a child the same age as my own daughters are now, written with effort, saying so little and yet so much.

And yet what brings tears to my eyes isn't this glimpse into past lives. It's the fact that even though my father is sitting in the same room with me, I can't ask him what he remembers of that time. I can't ask him where the rest of his family were living, or how it felt to be reunited with them to make the journey to South Africa, or to ask if he remembers the aunts, uncles, childhood friends he mentions in his letters.

Because that child prodigy is now an empty husk. If I talk to him he smiles at me and nods, and I don't know if he understands or even has any idea who I am. Alzheimers is a cruel disease.

If anyone deserves a do-over, I think my father does. Born in a war, raised in a country wracked by poverty, split from his family, then relocated halfway around the world to a completely foreign land where the talent and opportunities of his youth were stunted, never to see the grandparents who'd raised him again, and now finally to this.

We can't undo the past, but we can damn well ensure that the beautiful new children we're bringing into this world have every opportunity, all the love and family and health, that they deserve. Let's not squander a moment of this precious time. Let's cuddle our babies and be thankful we live in a world where halfway across the globe is no longer an untravellable distance and where we no longer have to rely on a few clumsy words on paper to express our love.

I think of the great big plastic box under my bed, over-flowing with pictures and paintings and school notices and birthday party invites, and first school books, and I can't even imagine how hard it must have been for my grandmother to reduce their lives to the suitcases and boxes that the family brought with them by ship to their new life in Africa.

I am so incredibly grateful that I have so many momentoes of their lives to pass down to my children.

And I will be forever grateful that my grandmother kept a dozen letters from a lifetime ago. I will treasure them as much as she clearly once did.