Book: Shatter

Shatter Shatter by Michael Robotham
This is the first book I read by Australian author Michael Robotham. Joseph O’Loughlin is a clinical psychologist who gets called to talk down an unidentified naked woman poised to jump from Clifton Suspension Bridge. He is unable to communicate with here as she seemed to focus on someone else speaking to her through a cell phone, and ends up jumping in front of his eyes. A few days later the victim’s daughter shows up on Joe’s doorstep, and voices her own doubts about her mother’s ability to commit suicide.

This enters Joe into a personal battle with the evil mind of a killer. Someone who can humiliate, violate and break his victims by shattering their minds. The story is a fast-moving and terrifying thriller full of characters you can relate to. Joe himself is a broken and flawed; he suffers from Parkinson, and has no illusions about his powers of understanding the human mind. There are many interesting insights in the narrative that make it more than just a fiction thriller.
Joe experiences a range of emotions that anyone can recognize, and dissects them in a very self-effacing way. He says he got involved into psychology in the first place to better understand the woman he loves, his wife Julianne, but he admits that she remains largely a mystery to him. Joe also reflects on the variability of the human mind, the different ways people deal with pressure and grief. He makes very truthful observation about family, love and children. It is heartbreaking to note throughout the book that it is much easier to break a human mind than to heal it. The fractures of the human mind are mostly on the inside.

The book is written from the first person perspective of both Joe the psychologist and the perpetrator, bringing in contrast their treatment of the human mind, and adds a chilling aspect to the novel.

Here is a quote that touched close to my heart spoken by a minor character. She is a mother describing one feeling that is common to all parents:
“You never stop worrying. You worry through the pregnancy, the birth, the first year and every year that follows. You worry about them catching the bus, crossing the road, riding a bike, climbing a tree.. You read stories in newspapers about terrible things happening to children. It makes you frightened. It never goes away. And then you think how they grow up so quickly and suddenly you don’t have a say any more. You want them to find the perfect boyfriend and the perfect husband. You want them to get their dream job. You want to save them from every disappointment, every broken heart, but you can’t. You never stop being a parent. You never stop worrying. If you’re lucky, you’re going to be around to pick up the pieces”.

 

My Ex and the Art of Manipulation

I spent nine years married to Robert’s father, and six months after our son was born he decided that he needed more from life. I was at the time trying to get back to work after an extended maternity leave and put up with living as refugee at a friend’s home and losing almost everything I worked long and hard for. Throughout all this there was one thing that kept me going and kept me alive it is loving Robert.

Throughout my marriage I always felt inadequate and not good enough. This feeling was enforced by the treatment of my ex husband, who always looked down upon me and made feel inferior. Five years ago I broke up with my husband for the first time. We were both working on HIS dream running our own business, a service station in a scenic coastal town of the Eastern Cape. During that time I worked as hard as he did, and for very little rewards, but still battled for my space. My salary went to pay off our bond and I was reduced to asking him for money. I was denied a computer, and an internet connection, because these were not part of his priorities. I was severely reprimanded when I used the internet connection at the office, and was given extremely harsh treatment on one occasion when I did some of my translation work late at night at the office.

Throughout all that I was working for HIS goals, and denying myself mine. I was manipulated by blind love for him and sense of responsibility of what makes a good wife. My unhappiness gradually drowned out my love for him. As the workload and responsibility of running the garage wore him out he became more and more hostile towards me, citing me as the only reason for his unhappiness and telling me at every opportunity: “We do not need you at the garage”, making me believe that the only things wrong at the business was my attitude which was bringing everyone down.  I lasted two years under this psychological torture and then I decided that I did not care anymore and drove over 1000  km  from the Eastern Cape to Cape Town.

He never thought I would do it. He tried every single trick he could, and in the end he decided to play soft instead of hard. He ended up convincing me that I would be carving a way out for US from the drudgery of running this business. I still loved him at the time so I took him back later when I had a job and a place of my own in Cape Town. It would have been the biggest mistake of my life if it weren’t for Robert. And because of Robert I can forgive every single cruelty his father committed against me.

I have been divorced now for two years, and I must admit that I still had feelings for my ex during the first year of our divorce. But sometime during this past year my feelings towards him were finally laid to rest. A week ago my friend Britt asked if Robert’s dad was seeing someone, and it struck me that I really did not care.. It was a relief and a revelation at the same time.

My ex is only important now inasmuch as he is important to my son. Robert loves his father dearly and I love my son enough to put up with what I consider typical insufferable behavior of my ex. But when he tries using my son as a manipulation tool I feel resentful again.

I do not dwell on the past much, and I battled to condense the narrative of my divorce story, there were many more ways my ex hurt and manipulated me in the past, when we were first married, and when I arrived in Johannesburg as love-drunk bride and found an austere and brooding husband I never really knew. These memories do not serve a useful purpose in my life at this moment and they are therefore filed away, for now. Unless typical ex behavior occurs, and today is one of these days.

I found out today that I might be a candidate for an interpreting course that could take me to Gauteng for a week. The course is part of a contract I may be doing for a government entity to interpret during the World Cup.

Typical ex reaction: You should think of Robert and not of yourself. Translation: It would really inconvenience me to look after him during these days. Okay I already had misgivings about leaving Robert for a week. I miss my son even when he spends one night at his dad’s, but still I answered: Huh, isn’t earning a living part and parcel of thinking about Robert? How about maybe I ask to increase maintenance?

Ex reaction (very shocked): You should think carefully of what you are doing. I am doing everything I can for my son and [insert here sob story about how hard done by he is and how he is on the verge of losing his job but this man told me just a few months ago that he was looking to buy himself a flat in a posh area of town]. He could tell that this was not having an effect on me, so he went on with a veiled threat: “Are you aware that our son can only leave the country with my consent?” “I would do everything I can so that he has a father, I will gladly be his guardian”.

Oh really? If one week with your son is considered strict inconvenience then how would you deal with a lifetime? Secondly, if I ever leave the country it would be because of a job offer and I know the answer that will shut you up for good if this situation arises:  Pay me an alimony equivalent to what the overseas job pays and I would gladly stay home.

My ex has no power of manipulation over me anymore. I see through his every action. He is motivated by fear of losing money in EVERYTHING he does. Losing me did not hurt him as much as the paltry alimony and divorce settlement. He is cold and calculating to the extreme. I would like to think that he is different when it comes to our son, for the sake of Robert. But still he blames Robert’s occasional misbehavior on ME. He wants me to speak to his teachers to stop giving him cakes on Friday because he figures sugar consumption makes him hyper-active. Friday is baker’s day at school and all the kids wait for it every week, and I am supposed to go and deprive my son of it just because my ex has him some Friday nights. It is so easy parenting on planet ex. I never ask or try to interfere with what and how he spends time with our son. Honestly I do not want to know his parenting style because I do not want to be judgmental. I trust that if I do what feels right on my side Robert will be okay.

If I ever over compensate in something with Robert then it is with love. I always try to show love, in words actions and behavior. I figure that this is one of the things that my ex did not get much of as a child and I pray that I am not raising the father over again. I cringe to think of my son’s world if he only has his father to come home to; a world of all rules, no sweets, no joy, no laughter.  I only cling to the one hope that my son with his love, his innocence and his intelligence will outdo the manipulations of his father.

Book : Baking Cakes in Kigali

Baking Cakes in Kigali Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Angel Tungaraza is a Tanzanian expat in Kigali, Rwanda. Her husband works as a special consultant at a local university and she has her own home-based business, baking individually designed western-style cakes. This helps make extra money for her large family, because after the death of both her children she cares for five grandchildren and their young minder.

As Angel designs the perfect cake for each customer and occasion she gets to know her customers and becomes sometimes part of their lives, and through their stories we get to know their world. Angel is true to her name compassionate, and exceptionally tolerant. She intervenes whenever she can giving people a push in what she figures is the right direction or helping them see things more clearly. Her good intention are rewarded most of the time.

There are many issues encountered in this book: The Rwandan genocide, AIDS, child soldiers, Gender equality, sexual orientation, poverty, African identity, female genital mutilation, and African wildlife (especially the endangered gorillas) among many others.
Angel is someone I would love to have as my best friend, because she has exceptional understanding and tolerance for all these themes. Although the book does not explain how a woman who has always lived on the continent and only went for visits to Germany, while her husband did postgraduate studies there, could arrive at such worldly tolerance and wisdom.

The book is fine for people who do not know anything about Africa, it brings it to them gently. It does not vilify Wazungu (White people) completely although it is funny to note that the only two asshole characters were a Canadian working for the International Monetary Fund and an American who the whole community knows to be working for the CIA. Other minor baddies/ eccentrics include an unbalanced former child soldier, the drunk manager of the building, and the Indians who are afraid of catching their death from germs; these characters all come across more comical than evil. All African characters are essentially good, even the prostitute is an honest working woman who looks after two sisters and an orphan.

If you are willing to suspend your disbelief for a few hours, and enjoy a story where small people try to make a difference and succeed, then you will enjoy this book. It is gentle and warm, does not have a complex plot, and reads like a series of stories with some direct sermonizing. But a skeptic like me would end up with a few exclamation marks (!) knocking about inside my head. For example, how on earth could an Italian-born man be such a strong proponent of “circumcising” his own daughter, while her Somali mother is not ?

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Potty Update

I know that I should have reported on progress with this earlier, but my silence in this case means that there were no more incidents. I can safely say that Robert was potty trained by the time he turned 32 months. One more milestone completed.