Tag Archives: Anne Frandi-Coory book reviews

5 *****  



Dr Helen McGrath is currently an adjunct professor at both Deakin and RMIT Universities.

Cheryl Critchley is a prolific investigative journalist.


The fifteen crimes analyzed in this book, all carried out in Australia,  involve three women and twelve men. The criminals were generally not diagnosed with a severe mental illness, however, they were all diagnosed as having a mental disorder, such as a personality disorder, and they were well aware that what they were doing was wrong. The difference between mental illness and a personality disorder is explained in detail at the beginning of the book.

The various personality disorders are delved into at length by the authors. MIND BEHIND THE CRIME is well set out, divided into chapters and parts  e.g. each chapter is devoted to one specific crime with the offender and victim/s involved in that particular crime listed at the beginning of the relevant chapter. Parts of the book are divided up into the specific, diagnosed disorders as they relate to each perpetrator’s behaviour and decision-making in the lead up to their horrendous crime.

PART 1: Filicide and familicide – Killing Your Own Family

‘Men commit nearly all familicides and filicides (92-97 %) and there is evidence that such mass murders are increasing in Australia.’

Filicide is the term used to describe a situation in which a parent intentionally kills one or more of their children …the parent may or may not then kill themselves. The motive and case history of each of these crimes is explored thoroughly.  Familicide and familicide-suicide are the two terms most commonly used to describe a situation in which one family member kills or attempts to kill all members of their direct family and then often suicides. Classification schemes are used to aid the reader in identifying the behaviours and mental disorders that motivated these murderers.

Family annihilation is described as a subcategory of mass murder, defined as the killing of four or more members of the one family in one location and during one event. Family annihilators are mostly men.

‘Associate professor Carolyn Harris Johnson, a leading expert in filicide and familicide…points out that the media frequently romanticises (saying they acted out of love) and sanitises this type of crime, to soothe the anxieties of the audience because the subject matter of child murder is taboo, or too confronting for most people. But this approach distorts the public’s understanding of why these events occur and the extent of the perpetrator’s responsibility. This makes it much more difficult to identify actions that can be taken as early warning signs and prevent such child murders in the future.’ [my emphasis]

A summary of each of four categories are:

The self-righteous killer-seeks to blame their partner for damage to family, breakdown of relationship, etc. Has been controlling and possessive in the past, engages in over- dramatic behaviour and comments, may attempt suicide to avoid facing the criminal justice system.

The disappointed killer – concludes their family has let them down, their family is an extension of their own needs and aspirations, self-obsession prevents them from seeing their children as separate entities.

The anomic killer – perceives they have damaged their family’s income or lifestyle, have lost their economic status, lost their job.

The paranoid killer – perceives there is an external threat (real or imagined) that will destroy their family e.g. social services may take their children.

 PART 2: Narcissistic personality disorder and malignant narcissism – arrogant, dangerous and sometimes vulnerable.

PART 3: Dependent personality disorder – desperately needy.

PART 4:  Paranoid personality disorder – you can’t trust anyone

PART 5: Antisocial personality disorder – Life outside the rules. People with ASPD can be dangerous and difficult to detect. They lurk in homes and workplaces, playing the role of the perfect partner or colleague until they decide to use and abuse those around them for their own ends.

PART 6: Criminal autistic psychopathy and sexual sadism disorder –

a dangerous combination:

1. autistic spectrum disorder.

2. Asperger’s syndrome.

3. pervasive developmental disorder.

A diagnosis of this disorder can be made when there is evidence of behaviours such as those listed in the following two categories:

1. behaviours that indicate deficits in social communication and interaction. (Deficits in social communication and interaction are listed in more detail in this section).

2. restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities.

Every one of the above disorders is explained at length in each section to help the reader understand the mind and behaviours of the perpetrator at the time the crime was committed.

All of the cases chosen for this book are recent high-profile Australian murders most readers will already know about.  MIND BEHIND THE CRIME refers to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual and other classification schemes to help explain each disorder and the subsequent motives of the perpetrators involved.

The authors argue that no amount of mild to moderate depression excuses killing those closest to you. It is never justified and the perpetrators should be called what they are – murderers. They go on to say:

“A common myth about these crimes is that parents who kill their children do so out of love and that the extreme love they feel for their child/children means they can’t bear to be separated from them…loving fathers and husbands don’t kill their kids. And unless the public’s perception of these murderers changes, other men will continue to feel that if life gets too tough they, too, can take this option and be eulogized by their loved ones in the media rather than condemned  as they should be.’ Most children were killed in a brutal and violent way; in their last moments knowing that it was their father who killed them.

‘The positive way many of those who kill their children are described in the media has the potential to influence others to commit the same crimes. Such coverage also detracts from the victims’ suffering and makes the crimes seem less horrifying. It implies that nothing can be done about these killings because they are neither predictable nor preventable. This would not be the case if, as a society, we accepted the hard reality about these crimes and focused more on identifying potential warning signs.’

It is clear at the outset that the authors care deeply about the victims involved in these crimes. They warn of the dangers that men with these disorders pose to their wives/partners and children. There is an appendix at the rear of the book: ‘Where to go for help and support’.

This is a book for our times, and I recommend it to readers who may know of someone in their family who is at risk, or for anyone interested in trying to make sense of why these murders are occurring across Australia. There is also widespread concern that Australia’s Family Court system requires reform to ensure that justice is done and that families and children are better protected.

-Anne Frandi-Coory 14 December 2018



Updated 23 May 2018


THE PLANETS  &   LONGITUDE  –  Book Reviews

I think these two great little books by Dava Sobel go together:


Dava Sobel writes about science in a way that young readers and adults alike can enjoy without constantly referring  to a dictionary or a science magazine, although I did find having a simple map of our solar system at hand, very helpful.   “If reading these pages has helped someone befriend the planets, recognising in them the stalwarts of centuries of popular culture and the inspiration for much high-minded human endeavour , then I have accomplished what I set out to do” A quote from Dava Sobel in  The Planets. She could also add: and the inspiration for much romantic poetry.



Although I love reading the results of  research and discovery the world of  science brings us, I am not a science buff and too much science jargon can be confusing. I recommend these books to young readers with enquiring minds and adults who don’t read science publications,  because they are enthralling to read and the author takes readers through hundreds of years of brief history with such easy to read, beautiful prose.

I have to admit to being  a little blasé about planets and space travel; I have enough going on here on planet Earth without stressing about what’s happening on Mars and Mercury.  Until I read Dava Sobel’s The Planets, that is!

This is not quite a whodunnit, but I couldn’t put the book down once I read the first couple of pages. I learned in those  first pages the names of the nine planets and their order of distance from  the sun and committed them to memory using Sobel’s “appealing nonsense-sentence mnemonic” … My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies: Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto  …I’m almost ashamed to admit that I didn’t know any of this before reading The Planets.

Readers will learn how planets were discovered, how they’re named and in recent years, through remarkable discoveries via  satellites, spaceships  and research stations, we have gained intricate information about the makeup of planets, and even when and how they were formed. We now know how long they take to orbit the sun, how often a planet  rotates on its own axis.  The author ventures into mythology and astrology, which adds to the fascinating stories surrounding   each planet.

Now ‘morning star’, now ‘evening star’, the bright ornament of the planet Venus plays a prelude to the rising sun, or post script to the sunset. –  Dava Sobel waxes lyrical about Venus.

Sobel tells us that Ishtar metamorphosed into Aphrodite, the Greek incarnation of love and beauty. She became the Venus of the Romans, revered by the historian Pliny for spreading a vital dew to excite the sexuality of earthly creatures…Only the Mayans and the Aztecs of Central America seem to have seen Venus as consistently male. The rhythmic  association between Venus and the Sun inspired meticulous astronomical observations and complex calendar reckoning in those cultures, as well as blood rituals to recognise the planet’s descent into the underworld and subsequent resurrection. [Obvious inspirations for gods and divine resurrections in so many religions]

But Sobel also brings us back to Earth so to speak, with the reality that is planet Venus: …some of her volcanoes may well be active. Right now, sulphurous gases hissing from Venusian fumaroles could be making their way up to the clouds above the planet, to augment them and sustain them, and thereby ensure the enduring brightness of Venus to our eyes. That fair appearance of unassailable purity once made Venus the darling of poets, whose words  still best express her effect on the night’s blue velvet – ‘a joy forever’, as Keats said , ‘ a cheering light / unto our souls’.

You’ve probably guessed that my favourite planet is Venus, and that’s because she was once thought by ancients to be Ishtar returning to the heavens. Poets wrote beautiful poetry in honour of  Venus:

Thou fair-haired angel of the evening,

Now, whilst the sun rests on the mountains, light

Thy bright torch of love; thy radiant crown

Put on, and smile upon our evening bed!

Smile on our loves, and, while thou drawest the

Blue curtains of the sky, scatter thy silver dew

On every flower that shuts its sweet eyes

In  timely  sleep. Let thy west wind sleep on

The lake; speak silence with thy glimmering eyes,

And wash the dusk with silver.

-William Blake  To The Evening Star

A reviewer for the Independent,  John Gribbin  wrote: ‘If you like your science lyrical, Sobel is the author for you.’  I can assure you though, Sobel knows her science. She is a former science journalist for the New York Times. Sobel informs us that we are very much in a golden age of spacecraft and they are on their way to Mercury, Pluto, and Mars. During  her extensive research for The Planets, the  thing  that was most surprising to Sobel, was the size discrepancy  between the Sun and the rest of the planets and she believes  that ‘really the Solar System is the Sun’. To be honest, there were many wonderful things that surprised and overawed me while  I was reading The Planets!



Dava Sobel writes:

Here lies the real hard core difference  between latitude and longitude – beyond the superficial difference in  line direction that any child can see: The zero-degree of parallel of latitude is fixed by the laws of nature, while the zero-degree meridian of longitude shifts like the sands of time.  The difference makes finding latitude child’s play, and turns the determination of longitude, especially at sea, into an adult dilemma – one that stumped the wisest minds of the world for the better part of human history. Any sailor worth his salt could  gauge  his latitude well enough by the length of the day, or by the height of the sun or known guide stars above the horizon…the measurement of longitude meridians, in comparison, is tempered by time. To learn one’s longitude at sea, one needs to know what time it is aboard ship and also the time at the home port or another place of known longitude –at that very same moment. The two clock times enable the navigator to convert the hour difference into a geographical  separation…

Precise knowledge of the hour in two different places at once-a longitude prerequisite so easily accessible today from any pair of cheap wristwatches-was utterly unattainable up to and including the era of pendulum clocks. On the deck of a rolling ship, such clocks would slow down, or speed up, or stop running altogether. Normal changes in temperature en route from a cold country of origin to a tropical trade zone thinned or thickened a clock’s lubricating oil and made its metal parts expand or contract with equally disastrous results. A rise or fall in barometric pressure , or the subtle variations in the Earth’s gravity from one latitude to another, could also cause a clock to gain or lose time.

In Longitude, the author  takes us on an historical voyage through time, whipping up a storm of an exciting and intriguing brief history  of astronomy, navigation and clock making  at the centre of which, is the fascinating story of John Harrison the Yorkshire clock maker and his forty year battle to build the perfect time-keeper, changing sea navigation forever. Dava Sobel allows the ghosts of ancient seafarers  to walk through the pages…

Reading THE PLANETS  and LONGITUDE has increased my knowledge of the world around me;  the sea, the land and our solar system.  Thank you, Dava Sobel

-Anne Frandi-Coory 17 April 2016

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While doing research into my Italian ancestry for my book, Whatever happened To Ishtar? I read somewhere that if you wanted to know what it was like living in 19th Century Italy, you might wish to read Village Commune by Maria Louise Ramé, otherwise known by her pseudonym, Ouida. It turned out to be very good advice. I searched for the book online and found it  in a tiny obscure USA second hand book shop. When I received what is now a prized possession, I discovered it was a First Edition published 1881 by J. B. Lippincott & Co.  Philadelphia/

The Commune 2

Published in 1881

My great grandparents, Aristodemo and Annunziata Frandi experienced similar hardships to those described by Ouida in Village Commune. Many young men from poor families were conscripted into the regular army to fight against the Austrians, as was Aristodemo, who came from a family of farmers. The Frandi family, by then including three young children, emigrated to New Zealand in 1876 and I now fully understand why.  Although Aristodemo talked to family about life in Italy, both of his hated time barracked with the regular army  in the far north of Italy, and his time fighting in the south of Italy with Garibaldi, I had no real understanding of just how difficult life was at that time.

I had always thought of Italy as a wonderful country, full of poetry, art, fabulous food and generous citizens. I have visited the country often and I have never been disappointed. But of course there was, and is, another side to Italy altogether.

Ouida’s eloquently written and absorbing stories of life in northern Italy are heart-rending. Farmers and agriculturists, whose families had lived on the land for generations, had their land taken at the whim of wealthy, corrupt government officials and were left homeless and hungry. The burgeoning Industrial Revolution needed land for factories, and dwellings for workers moving onto the countryside. Land was also needed to build mansions for wealthy officials, and for railways.


The Commune

Note the prices listed for Ouida’s publications. The handwritten name and date came with the book.



The author connects on an emotional level with the reader, as she relates beautifully crafted, albeit harrowing, life stories.  One such story is of a young Florentine farming peasant :

He was a peasant who had been taken by conscription just as a young bullock is picked out for the shambles, and he had never understood why very well. His heart has always been with his fields, his homestead, his vines, his sweetheart. He had hated the barrack life, the dusty aimless marches, the drilling and the bullying, the weight of the knapsack and the roar of the guns; he had been a youth, ere the government had made him a machine…If the enemy had come into his country he would have held his own hamlet against them to the last gasp; but to be drafted off to Milan to wear a fool’s jacket and to eat black bread while the fields were half tilled, and the old people sore driven…no, he was not a patriot, if to be one, he must have been a contented conscript. 

 Ouida gives a vivid portrayal of the numerous Roman Catholic and other festivals:

Italian merry-making is never pretty. The sense of colour and of harmony is gone out of our people, whose forefathers were models of Leonardo and Raffaelle, and whose own limbs too, have still so often the mould of the Faun and the Discobolus. Italian merry-making has nothing of the grace and brightness of the French fairs, nor even of the picturesqueness and colour of the German feasts and frolics; even in Carnival, although there are gayety [sic] and grotesqueness, there is little grace and little good colouring. But the people enjoy themselves; enjoy themselves for the most part very harmlessly and very merrily when they forget their tax-papers, their empty stomachs, and their bankrupt shops.

Ouida writes extensively and in detail about the corruption and cronyism of government officials, and the cruelty they meted out to hapless villagers. If citizens had wealth, and were well connected, they had plenty of food and their sons escaped conscription! But peasants lived frugally off the land, and life for them was harsh and often brutal.

One of  Ouida’s famous quotes “petty laws breed great crimes” highlights her intimate knowledge and understanding of what life was like for the peasant landowner (agrario).

The commune of Vezzaja and Ghiralda, whose centre is the village of Santa Rosalia, is, like all Italian communes, supposed to enjoy an independence that is practically a legislative autonomy. So long as it contributes its quota to the Imperial taxes, the Imperial government is supposed to have nothing to do with it, and it is considered to be as free as air to govern itself. So everybody will tell you; and so inviolate is its freedom that even the prefect of its province dare not infringe upon it – or says so when he wants to get out of any trouble.

Anybody who pays five francs’ worth of taxes has a communal vote in this free government and helps to elect a body of thirty persons who in turn elect a council of seven persons, who in turn elect a a single person called a syndic, or as you would call him in English, a mayor. This distilling and condensing process sounds quite admirable in theory. Whoever has the patience to read the pages of this book will see how this system works in practice.

Now, in Vezzaja and Ghiralda the thirty persons do nothing but elect the seven persons, the seven do nothing but elect the one person, and the one person does nothing but elect his secretary; and the secretary, with two assistants dignified respectively by the titles of chancellor and conciliator, does everything in the way of worry to the public that the ingenuity of the official mind can conceive. The secretary’s duties ought to be the duties of a secretary everywhere, but by a clever individual can be brought to mean almost anything you please in the shape of local tyranny and extortion; the chancellor (cancelliere) has the task of executing every sort of unpleasantness against the public in general, and sends out his fidus Achates, the usher, all kinds of summons and warrants at his will and discretion; as for the conciliator (giudice conciliatore) his office as his name indicates, is supposed to consist in conciliation of all local feuds, disputes and debts, but as he is generally chiefly remarkable for an absolute ignorance of law and human nature, and for a general tendency to accumulate fees anywhere and anyhow, he is not usually of the use intended, [my emphasis] and rather is famous for doing what a homely phrase calls setting everybody together by the ears…Power is sweet and when you are a little clerk you love its sweetness quite as much as if you were an emperor, and maybe you love it  a good deal more.   

She elaborates further: Tyranny is a very safe amusement in this liberated country. Italian law is based on that blessing to mankind, the Code Napoleon, and the Code Napoleon is perhaps the most ingenious mechanism for human torture that the human mind has ever constructed. In the cities, its use for torment is not quite so easy, because where there are crowds there is always the fear of a riot and besides there are horrid things called newspapers , and citizens wicked enough and daring enough to write in them. But away in the country, the embellished and filtered Code Napoleon can work like a steam plough; there is nobody to appeal and nobody to appeal to. The people are timid and perplexed; they are as defenceless as the sheep in the hand of the shearer; they are frightened at the sight of the printed papers and the carabinier’s [sic} sword. There is nobody to tell them they have rights , and besides, rights are very expensive luxuries anywhere and cost as much to take care of as a carriage horse.

In Village Commune Ouida dissects the family lives of unfortunate peasants in 19th Century Italy. I believe that many of these soul destroying Italian tragedies are on a par with the famous Greek plays left to us by Aeschylus or Sophocles. There is much irony within the pages of Village Commune

There are far too many long sentences, semi-colons and commas in this book, but they take nothing away from the wit, sarcasm and  beautiful prose flowing from Ouida’s pen. I highly recommend this wonderful little book… if you can find a copy.

* *********************************************************************

Ouida's headstone.jpg



Ouida Tomb

OUIDA’S TOMB in Bagni di Lucca


‘Nature she knew by heart: on birds and flowers
She could discourse for hours and hours and hours.
Sententious, sentimental, repetitious, she
Would never choose one word if there were three. Pith was her weakness;
clichés were her strength. And here she lies now, as she wrote, at length.’
– Christopher Stace, from ‘At first seeing Ouida’s tomb in Bagni di Lucca’ as published in The New Yorker 



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Every Five Minutes


Every Five Minutes

This is a beautifully crafted story about love, but it never-the-less cleverly leaves so much unsaid. Words like ‘I love you’ are unnecessary and time isn’t always about yesterday, tomorrow or next week …time is a touch, a smile, a smell, each  transporting  a lover to memories  they may want to sink into.  By these visceral descriptions the reader gains a clear insight into the thoughts and reactions of the two main characters, Gina and Mark.

Mark seems to know intuitively what is on Gina’s mind. Although he lives a very ordered life, and wears an “anti-wedding ring to repel predators”, he is gentle, extremely patient and he loves his dog, Electra.  Electra is an  intermediary  between two people skirting around a  love affair that wants so much to happen. It falters and stumbles because of the protective wall Gina has built around herself against the risks of intimacy. We never learn the detail of what has happened to Gina in her past, but you get the gist by her gestures and actions. Mark always seems to understand, lets Gina lead the way, well mostly. His minutely planned inventiveness in getting Gina to say ‘yes’ is surprising, when all she wants to do is to think about ‘it’ for two or three weeks.

The style of writing is refreshing, the format quirky. New Zealand author Bronwyn Elsmore  puts it all together in a way that allows the reader, from the first few sentences, to know Gina and her foibles well. We come to empathise with her deepest fears, respect why she needs her comfort zones that border on the neurotic. At the same time, her persistent suitor, Mark, manages to steal our hearts.

This is a relatively small book of 187 pages. The author could easily have written the same story with double the number of pages, and words, but it would have been a completely different work.  It may then have been thrown into the genres of either  Chick Lit or Romance. Instead, we have a powerful novel about a once-in-a-lifetime-love, which would sit comfortly on shelves dedicated to ‘Behavioural Psychology’ or perhaps even ‘The Philosophy of Relationships’ in a library

Such a bitter sweet story;  funny, heart-breaking, whimsical  and  endearing. You will find yourself alternatively smiling, tearing up, or sighing, as you turn the pages.

Available here: AMAZON 

Bronwyn Elsmore


More about Bronwyn Elsmore:


– Anne Frandi-Coory  9 March 2016


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j matthew waters faceCongratulations to my friend J Matthew Waters –

my favourite contemporary American poet.

Three books of poems published and that is no mean feat:


in-the-middle-of-somewhere-book-cover-clsJ Matthew Watersjdub poems


John’s beautiful poems cover the whole spectrum… love, hate, war, fantasy, the spiritual and every day life. If you love poetry, you will enjoy these wonderful books of poems

One of John’s latest poems:

four seasons poetry

in the unpredictable spring
the poet writes of rain and birth
welcoming freshness
unfolding everywhere

in the hot summer sun the poet
writes of sweat and stifling heat
lemonade and iced tea
and the faraway sounds
of the ice cream van

when autumn approaches and
death is sure to follow
the poet writes of impending doom
and desperate days to come

but when winter arrives
and sub-zero temperatures set in
the poet remains silent
except when northern winds
or black bird wings
bring back to life
backyard metal chimes


january two thousand sixteen
copyright j matthew waters
all rights reserved

View J Matthew Waters’ Biography and his Books of Poetry on  AMAZON:

  • Anne Frandi-Coory 22 January 2016


When The Roller Coaster Stops



Susan Tarr

Susan Tarr

I normally shy away from books with a storyline around terminal illness; the emotional trauma, the suffering the illness causes and the despair of friends and family.  However, Susan Tarr, with her exquisite writing skills, manages to make ‘When The Roller Coaster Stops’ into an adventure full of life, hope and quirkiness.

The two main characters, Bethany and Kate, although from very different backgrounds, manage to bring the very best out in each other. Well maybe not in the early stages of their relationship, but certainly towards the end. Frumpy Kate meets stylish, perfectly coiffured Bethany when she is employed by Bethany to clean her luxury apartment.  There are so many ‘truths’ here, about personal interactions, ulterior motives, and co-dependency that I marvelled at how expertly the author managed to stay on track to keep the reader transfixed right to the last few words written.

Weaving in and out of the two women’s lives, are gay friends, Bethany’s ex husband, and other friends who are not always welcome. There are plenty of tranquil days when the two friends can relax at a beachfront holiday house or lie together in bed talking and sleeping. Contrasted with these days, are the never ending bitchy tiffs between Bethany and Kate, and gay friends, Simon and George.  During the different stages of her illness Bethany suffers episodes of depression and self pity which she takes out on soft targets Kate and George. Bethany could be manipulative and positively cruel to those who genuinely cared about her.

Even allowing for the subject matter, I thoroughly enjoyed this book from beginning to end. It is essentially a book about the brutal honesty of shared intimacy, human failings, and the untimely interruption of fate. Then again it could very well be interpreted as a story of loyalties in which sacrifices are made for another’s well being, or not.   But you know, I think it’s more about a vibrant, once selfish young woman’s terminal illness slowly shrinking her privileged, dazzling world into the confines of her apartment with a handful of people who she finally realises mean everything to her. Like all Susan Tarr’s books, you never know what to expect from one chapter to the next.

Anne Frandi-Coory  8 October 2015


Updated 12 June 2019

The Hospital By The River



THE HOSPITAL BY THE RIVER exceeded all my expectations. I have always admired Dr Catherine Hamlin as an Australian heroine. What she has achieved in her lifetime, is a superhuman feat.

In her book, Dr Catherine Hamlin begins by writing about the family histories and medical backgrounds of both her and her husband, Dr Reg Hamlin, in Australia, New Zealand, and later in the UK. Both came from privileged backgrounds. Intertwined with the Hamlins’ wonderful work saving the lives of hundreds of mothers and their babies in Ethiopia, are expressions of their deep Christian faith, and the comfort it brings them. Even though I am not a religious person, I can fully understand how their faith kept them going through some very difficult and challenging times, not least of all, a dangerous war. The couple sacrificed a great deal in order to build their hospital and bring healing to hundreds of poor Ethiopian mothers and their babies. However, I felt that in following their God’s mission, their only son Richard, also paid a heavy price.

Dr Hamlin goes on to detail the travelling and begging the couple had to engage in to bring in funds to keep their dream, and the hospital they had built, afloat. She documents the perfection of surgical techniques used in the repair of fistulae to restore quality of life to their frail, and sometimes, dying patients. Many babies were born dead, sometimes jammed in the birth canal for days, because of protracted labours. Cultural practices mean mothers are made to squat for days during labour causing terrible injuries to their bladders, bowels, and vaginas. Some mothers’ uteri burst with devastating consequences. These injuries leave afflicted mothers with a life lived in misery, unable to control their bladders or bowels. They are abandoned by their husbands and families, left to fend for themselves in filth, and near starvation.

The hospital the Hamlins built in Ethiopia, with the help of worldwide financial donations, and the support of powerful Ethiopians, has given hope to thousands of women; more than 90% are fully cured. Those who cannot be cured, perhaps left with minor wounds, are able to live in adjacent hostels within the hospital compound.  Some of those who are cured, stay on to be trained as nurses and midwives. Others progress to operating assistants and surgeons.

The compelling stories of the lives of long suffering patients are truly heart rending, and yet uplifting, due to the vibrant spirit of Ethiopian women. These brave, often under-nourished women, walk for days, months or years, to get to the Hamlin hospital of hope, where they can have life saving surgery.  Be that as it may, I could not but help see the great irony within the pages of this book: The Hamlins, as Anglican Missionaries, worked tirelessly, operating on these poor, rejected mothers with horrific rectovaginal fistulae, mostly caused by giving birth too young, or by being raped. The majority of women they performed surgery on, were of a Christian Orthodox religion which culturally supports child marriages, often girls as young as eight. As an Orthodox priest remarked: “otherwise they will fall into sin like Western women who don’t have children until they are 30”!!  So here we have Christian missionary surgeons repairing horrific injuries which another Christian sect, in essence, fully condones!  No blame whatsoever attached to husbands or rapists.

At the end of the book, I couldn’t help but wonder, in an ideal world, would it not have been wiser and more efficacious for the Christian World to unite, and spend those millions travelling around Ethiopia, educating the men and empowering the women? But then the hallmark of religion has always been more about tradition than visionary reform.


Dr Catherine Hamlin celebrates 60 years in

Ethiopia in 2019.



© To Anne Frandi-Coory All Rights Reserved 14 May 2015


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