The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami: A Personal Perspective

Gold Coast Author Sandra Sweeney tells her story of loss, resilience and survival

The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami: A Personal Perspective

Book Review

The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami took the lives of more than a quarter of a million people within a matter of hours.

Peter Beattie, who wrote the Foreword to Sandra Sweeney’s book
‘Ripples from the Wave: After the 2004 Tsunami’ accurately describes her as ‘an extraordinary person’. Sandra is most certainly a strong woman.

Sandra lost her son Craig in the 2004 tsunami when he drowned on Phi Phi Island, Thailand. Only nine months before, Craig had married a beautiful young Thai woman, Maliwan, in a traditional Thai ceremony in Thailand. Sandra and her daughter Sheree attended the wedding, which Sandra describes in all its colour.

Craig and Maliwan had been celebrating a late honeymoon on Phi Phi Island and Maliwan was pregnant. When the wave came, she and her unborn child miraculously survived.

I say Sandra is a strong woman because she lost a son, she took on the traditional Thai grandmother role of raising her granddaughter almost single-handedly, and she continues to work full time as a teacher of English as a second language. Sandra and I met around ten years ago, in 2010. She had begun making notes for writing a book only a month or so after the tsunami. Over the years, in between the tasks of a demanding daily life, she would find time to write a few chapters. We would catch up periodically by phone or in person to talk about her book.

While editing and proofreading Sandra’s book, no matter how many times I read it, the same parts always brought tears to my eyes. Sandra is a stoic person by nature, and not given to sentimentality, but her writing is deeply moving. ‘Ripples from the Wave’ is, in fact, a deeply moving and personal account of one woman’s loss after the horrific Boxing Day tsunami in 2004.

‘Ripples from the Wave’ traces three rites of passage in Thailand: Craig’s wedding, his funeral nine months later, and the birth of his and Maliwan’s child. It also shows how Sandra and her daughter navigate their way through immense cultural differences, the funeral being especially difficult for them.

The book is also a celebration of life, and it contains many humorous moments. It delves into the relationship between Sandra and her Thai daughter-in-law Maliwan and shows how, in the interests of raising Demi, the youngest tsunami survivor, the two women overcome huge cultural and language differences.

In summary: a hugely readable and moving book. I’ve spoken to several people who’ve read it and they said they couldn’t put it down.

  • Sandra Sweeney, Ripples from the Wave: After the 2004 Tsunami, 2018, Sandra Sweeney, Australia.
  • 195 pages

Email the author direct to buy her book: ripplesfromthewave@gmail.com


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Book Review on Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One

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Book Review on Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One

This book review on Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One, by French author Raphaelle Giordano (I seem to have had a bit of a focus on French authors recently!) is an interesting mix between novel and self-help book.

According to the book description, it reached best-seller status in France, stayed in the top ten books there for more than a year and has now been published in thirty-six countries.

The Story

The story follows thirty-eight-year-old Camille, a Parisian who seemingly has everything to make her happy: a steady job, Sebastien, a loving husband, Adrien, their nine-year-old son. So why is she dissatisfied with her life?

One Friday evening, after a frustrating day chasing jobs in ‘an uncharted wilderness’ – which she suspects is her boss’s punishment for agreeing to a four-day work week – her car tyre bursts as she’s driving back into central Paris during ‘an almost biblical storm’.

Out of mobile range, she abandons her car to seek help in what appears to be an empty woodland area, and comes upon a mansion set behind iron gates. The man who opens the door to her resembles a ‘Gallic Sean Connery’. Ooh-la-la! Introducing himself as Claude Dupontel, he welcomes her in.

Despite what you may be thinking right now, the story isn’t about a torrid love affair between them! Claude is happily married, an empathetic man who shows her kindness.

The routinologist

All of Camille’s pent-up frustrations are released when he shows concern, and she breaks down in front of him. Claude looks her ‘straight in the eye’, not judgementally, but in a way that is ‘like a benevolent pair of open arms’. Instinctively, she knows she can trust him and feels a surprising bond with this man she has only just met. She admits her dissatisfaction with her life and is taken aback when he tells her she is suffering from ‘acute routinitis’, a ‘sickness of the soul’ that affects many ‘happiness illiterates’, especially in the West. Claude tells her he is a ‘routinologist’ and that he can help her.

He explains that while ‘routinitis’ is seemingly benign, it can cause real damage: ‘epidemics of pessimism, tsunamis of discontent, catastrophic storms of bad moods. Smiling could become endangered.’ His gentle humour and accurate analysis of her malaise make Camille sit up and listen. She wants to have the courage to do what really makes her happy. She does not want to keep feeling that life is passing her by.

Universal theme

Herein lies the universal theme of the story. We all want to be happy. We all want to have the courage to make changes in our lives that will lead us to feelings of true fulfilment. None of us wants to feel that life is passing us by. Most of us want to live our lives to the full.

It takes courage and commitment to break out of routine, to recapture the excitement and passion of love that makes us go ‘weak at the knees’, to set boundaries with our children so that as parents we can also ‘have a life’.

Does Claude really have the answers? Well, the book proves that indeed he does. Gradually, by having faith in and following Claude’s steps towards a meaningful life, Camille’s life begins to change. She experiences the inevitable obstacles and frustrations and misgivings along the way. But with perseverance, she achieves happiness in surprising ways.

And the story ends with a curious twist.

Style

I found the style and tone of writing interesting. In parts, it sounds more like a self-help book than a novel. This reveals the author’s profession as a personal development expert and the fact that this is her first novel. For me personally, this is one of the weaknesses of the writing. However, the story is strong enough to overcome that and the overall experience of the read is a feel-good impression. In the final analysis, it ‘works’, and that’s what matters the most in literature.

Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One, Raphaelle Giordano, 2018, Penguin Random House Australia, Sydney, Australia. English translation copyright © Nick Caistor 2018. (First published in France in 2015 as Ta deuxieme vie commence quand tu comprends que tu n’en as qu’une by Groupe Eyrolles.)

About the author

Raphaelle Giordano is a writer, artist and personal development expert. She lives in Paris, France.


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The French Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Book review

When does a book sell more copies because of its title rather than its cover? When it’s called “The French Art of Not Giving a F*ck”!

cover of the french art of not giving a f*ck

Fabrice Midal, the author, is a philosopher and ‘one of the world’s leading teachers of meditation’.

So it may come as a surprise that a practitioner of the esoteric should give his book such a blunt (but funny, you have to admit) title.

More serious than it sounds

With its title, I was expecting The French Art of Not Giving a F*ck to be a humorous read. While parts of it are, Midal’s overall purpose is to make us aware that we spend much of our lives living up to others’ and society’s expectations of perfectionism by ‘adopting norms, rules, and models that don’t necessarily work for us.’

We are all products of our conditioning, that is inevitable. But Midal encourages us to step back for a moment and look more objectively at the tremendous pressures we put on ourselves and the demands we make of ourselves because of this.

The French Art of Not Giving a F*ck: Offering alternatives

Midal proposes alternatives to the commands screaming around in our heads, and these are reflected in the subtitles of his chapters. So Chapter 1, titled ‘Fuck Meditating’, offers the alternative ‘Do nothing’. He goes on to explain that there need be no pressure to force ourselves to meditate in a certain way or to use specific techniques. We’ll only be able to meditate when we stop trying. Revolutionary? Or just plain commonsense perhaps.

And ‘Fuck Being Calm’, instead ‘Be at peace’. Have you ever been told to ‘calm down’? How did it make you feel? As Midal says, ‘saying “Calm down” never calms anyone down’. The feeling we seek is peace. He acknowledges that people may reject the notion of not being calm ‘when expressing emotions in any lively way has become taboo … society tells us to be cogs in the machine – perfectly calm, perfectly smooth, truly effective, smiling … ever-successful, from morning till night’.

I’m stressed already! Yes, I understand this. If someone tells me to ‘be at peace’ I will ‘calm down’ a lot quicker than if that person tells me to ‘calm down’!

Midal continues to turn our accepted conventions on their head in the chapter ‘Fuck Being Conscious’ and invites us instead to ‘Be present’. In his meditation classes, he teaches ‘full presence, rather than full consciousness’. That makes sense to me. It’s what my own yoga and meditation teachers say.

More F* chapters

There are fifteen ‘F*’ chapters in The French Art of Not Giving a F*ck. In this reasonably short book (185 pages including notes, appendices and further reading), Midal has a simple hope for us. That we dig through the layers of complexity in life and find happiness, not the ‘watered-down … sugar-coated, comfortable’ kind, but happiness as a ‘genuine adventure, complete with unexpected twists and turns’ that can be scary but infinitely exhilarating.

I hope you enjoy the read.

Midal, Fabrice, The French Art of Not Giving a F*ck, 2018, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW Australia (first published in France under the title Foutez-vous la paix!)

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Book Review of The Empyrean Quest

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Debut Queensland author

Don Horsfall has done himself proud with his first novel. The Empyrean Quest is part story and part mystical personal development journey.

The self-help aspect of the book, however, does not detract from the story. I recently read another self-help fiction book, Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One, which I enjoyed immensely and learnt a lot from, but it read in many parts like a work of nonfiction that had been fictionalised.

John Demartini

If you know of Dr John Demartini, human behavioural specialist and educator, you may recognise some of his concepts in Don’s book. These include contemplation of our life direction and purpose and of destructive patterns we may have in our lives. Dr Demartini has written the foreword to The Empyrean Quest.

The story

Beau Sterling is a bright young Sydney lawyer set to take over the family law firm run by his domineering father. His whole life feels laid out before him, including his future marriage to a beautiful socialite. He seems to have no control over his own future.

Then he experiences the double betrayal of his fiancée and his best friend, and what had been a vague sense of unease escalates into a personal crisis. He sets off on a journey to gain perspective, starting in New Zealand and meeting Ellen, a fascinating American woman who has travelled the world seeking the answers to ‘life’s big questions’.

New Zealand adventure

They hike through remote parts of the South Island and Ellen learns that Beau is a keen sailor. She persuades him to join her as crew aboard a yacht sailing the South Pacific. On their mutual quest for answers and meaning, Beau and Ellen develop deep feelings for each other.

Sailing

In the last third of the story, their yacht is wrecked and part of the crew heads ashore, reaching a mystical lost island. After much adversity, during which part of the group returns to the yacht, Beau and Ellen are guided to a village inhabited by evolved people from a different realm. The couple is led through personal challenges that unravel their deepest traumas – of which the reader has not been aware until then. This leads the pair to discover answers to some of life’s ‘big questions’ and ultimately, to achieve healing.

The Empyrean Quest is an immensely readable story of just over 200 pages. It will appeal to a wide adult audience that enjoys books such as Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield and The Magician’s Way by William Whitecloud.

Don Horsfall, The Empyrean Quest, 2018, Don Horsfall, Australia. Available in Kindle and paperback.



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Book Review – A Town Like Alice

Book Review – A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute, is a novel I have heard about since childhood yet until recently I had not read it. Having done so, I realise what I’ve missed.

The story, narrated by her solicitor, Noel Strachan, follows Jean Paget, daughter of a Scotswoman and an English army captain. After the First World War, the family moves from England to Malaya where Jean’s father works on a rubber estate. Jean’s father dies in a car accident when she is eleven, and the family returns to England.

Jean’s life, according to her, falls into three parts, ‘…the first two so separate from the rest that she could hardly reconcile them with her present self’.

Second World War

When Jean is about eighteen, she returns to Malaya to work as a shorthand typist on the same rubber planation in Kuala Lumpur where her father worked and where her brother now works. It is 1939 and the Second World War has just broken out. No one believes this is likely to affect Malaya and for eighteen months, Jean enjoys a wonderful social life.

The Japanese enter the war. However, when America soon follows, the expatriate community feels no threat. But soon after that, events move quickly, the Japanese draw ever-closer and there is a rush for the evacuation of women and children to Singapore. For a group of thirty-two women and children, however, who have missed the limited trucks, boats and flights out of Malaya, the Japanese reach them before they are able to escape.

Odyssey of Hardship

So begins an odyssey through Malaya for this group of women and children that will last three years. During this time, more than half will die of malaria and dysentery. They suffer from inadequate clothing, food and water, and endure long marches through all types of terrain, including unhealthy marshlands. They have ‘nowhere to go, because no one wanted us’. The conquering Japanese do not know what to do with them, no commander wants to take responsibility for them, so they are shunted as prisoners of war from one Japanese command post to another, always with the promise of redemption at the end of each relentless march. For the group, redemption is a prisoner of war camp.

Five months into their march, when the group of thirty-two has reduced to seventeen, they come across two Australian prisoners of war employed by the Japanese to drive and maintain their trucks. Sergeant Joe Harman, a ringer (stockman) from the Queensland Outback, stumps Jean with his Australian argot such as ‘dinky-die’ and ‘tucker’, but she soon finds out about his Aussie ingenuity when he obtains medicine, food and soap for them. In the short time they spend together, she encourages him to speak about his life in Queensland, which distracts and comforts them both from the grim realities of their current lives. Concerned at her impression that the middle of Australia is only desert, he corrects her, speaking fondly of Alice Springs. ‘Alice is a bonza place. Plenty of water in Alice.’

Joe’s Punishment

Joe obtains pork for the women and children by stealing a Japanese captain’s prize pig. But the theft is discovered and Jean is interrogated for hours, desperately clinging to an unlikely story in order to protect Joe. Her interrogators slap her face, kick her shins, and stamp on her bare feet with army boots. Joe Harman intervenes, admits to the theft, and is severely beaten, crucified and left for dead. The women and children are all made to watch the horror before they are forcibly marched off again.

The reduced group of women and children then spend three years living in a village. They labour as rice planters in exchange for having a home and food.

Return to England

Six years later, and back in England, Jean Paget is contacted by Noel Strachan who informs her that as the sole remaining heir in her family, she has inherited a considerable sum from an uncle. Jean decides to return to the village in Malaya to pay for a well to be constructed, in gratitude for the villagers’ kindness.

There, she learns something about Joe Harman, which sends her on an incredible quest.


If after reading this book review – A Town Like Alice – you’d like to read the story, you can find it here: A Town Like Alice.


Trailer acknowledged to The Movie Chronicles Inc. for this Book Review – A Town Like Alice

1950’s Literature

Reading a book first published in 1950 is an interesting experience. The strongest curses used are ‘bloody’ (only a couple of times), ‘mucking’, a euphemism for the same word beginning with ‘f’ (used twice in one scene), and the exclamation ‘Oh my word!’ There is just one sex scene, although the characters only get a bit steamy and do not consummate the act. Overall, sex is mostly implied.

Historical veracity

For World War Two history buffs, I’ll insert here what Shute says in his Author’s Note about historical veracity: ‘…I expect to be accused of falsifying history, especially in regard to the march and death of the homeless women prisoners. I shall be told that nothing of the sort ever happened in Malaya, and this is true. It happened in Sumatra.’

About Nevil Shute

Shute, whose full name was Nevil Shute Norway, was an aeronautical engineer born in England in 1899. He shortened his surname to Shute to avoid possible negative publicity around his novels that might affect his engineering career.

When Shute was fifty-one he emigrated with his family to Victoria, Australia, where he died at age sixty.

If you enjoyed this Book Review – A Town Like Alice, read my review of The Incorrigible Optimists Club by Jean-Michel Guernassia. And watch out for more book reviews to come.

Contact me to chat about your manuscript. You may be ready for an edit, or you may like a manuscript appraisal, or ask about writer coaching. Asking is free and I’m very approachable! Check out my testimonials while you’re on my website. Read some of the other informative blogs!

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Book Review – A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute

The Incorrigible Optimists Club

the incorrigible optimists club

A Book Review

I had never heard of The Incorrigible Optimists Club or the Algerian-born writer Jean-Michel Guenassia. I came across it in the library when I was selecting books for my Christmas holiday reading. The original is written in French and I read the English translation by Euan Cameron.

It is quite untrue that covers don’t sell books. I was drawn to the cover and then I was hooked after reading the blurb and the first page. (It wasn’t until later that I noticed the border design of the book bizarrely matched that of my laptop case.)

I love long works of quality fiction, especially for Christmas holiday reading, and at 624 pages, this one fulfilled my craving.


A Highly Recommended Read!

The Incorrigible Optimists Club is one of those special books that’s hard to set aside when you have to do necessary things, like cook meals, or sleep.

It’s hard to believe that The Incorrigible Optimists Club is this author’s debut novel. Written against the backdrop of the Algerian War (the war for independence between France and the Algerian National Liberation Front 1954—1962), and the era of the Iron Curtain, the book offers no facile solutions to the issues raised. Neither does it excuse the terrible tragedies caused by politics and war. What’s more, the author manages to maintain an optimistic tone, and insert humour, despite the seriousness of some of the issues.

Paris 1959

The year is 1959, the place Paris. The story follows Michel Marin, a twelve-year-old compulsive reader and amateur photographer who’s a champion table football player at the local neighbourhood bistro.

But for his age, Michel has an extraordinary interest in the wider affairs of the world and a special empathy. He is drawn to a curtained-off area at the back of the bistro where a group of exiled Eastern European men gather to chat, play chess and smoke: the Incorrigible Optimists Club. As he is gradually accepted into their circle, he listens to their stories about their homelands before they fled to France, and becomes involved in their lives.

He forms a friendship with a Russian former doctor and expert chess player, Igor, who teaches Michel to play chess. He also becomes friends with another exile, Sacha, who is rigorously and aggressively denied access to the club, especially by Igor and another Russian, Leonid, whenever he dares show up. We do not learn until the end of the book why these two men hate him so much.

Michel becomes an important connection to the outside world for Sacha. In his turn, Sacha becomes a trusted sounding board for Michel’s teen angst in the absence of his father who has moved away from Paris when he and Michel’s mother, an aloof figure in Michel’s life, separate.

The club is also the occasional haunt of Jean Paul Sartre, French philosopher, writer and political activist, and Joseph Kessel, Argentinian-born French journalist and novelist. Many of the men in the club survive thanks to the generosity of Sartre and Kessel. The author drops these famous characters into his book as if he were telling the time of day, although the characters treat them with due reverence: “We gazed at him [Sartre] from a distance, slightly intimidated, feeling we were privileged witnesses of creativity in action, and even those who disliked him watched in silence…”

In the tense resolution of the story, Sacha’s strange rituals and the mysteries surrounding him are finally revealed in a way Michel could never have foreseen.


Jean-Michel Guenassia, The Incorrigible Optimists Club, 2014, Atlantic Books Ltd, London. Available through the Book Depository with free shipping.


Gail Tagarro, Editor (AE)


Contact me to have a chat about your manuscript. You may be ready for an edit, or you may like a manuscript appraisal, or to ask about writer coaching. Asking is free and I’m very approachable! Check out my testimonials while you’re on my website. Read some of the other informative blogs!


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