Tag Archives: biography

Unbreakable, by Jelena Dokic

Publisher:North Sydney, N.S.W., Ebury Press,, 2017.
ISBN:9780143784227 
Characteristics:310 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : colour illustrations, colour portraits ; 24 cm.
Additional Contributors:Halloran, J

I remember Jelena’s father, Damir Dokic, when he was on Bourke’s Backyard, and he looked ready to explode at any moment. I’ve never seen Don Burke be so careful with a guest. This was a small sample of what Jelena’s father was like. 

Unbreakable is very dark in places, the abuse both physical and verbal is frequent and disturbing. Being a successful professional tennis player was not enough to stop it. It’s hard to comprehend how a father can treat his own child in such a way. Her mother was abused but it’s unclear if her brother Savo suffered the same fate.

Damir suffered abuse as a child, but mainly verbal abuse degrading his abilities and then later being a war veteran would not have helped his mental state. His behaviour is so crazy at times that I think he must have some sort of psychological issue. Tennis Australia did try to intervene with professional help but Damir refused, no doubt he thought he had no problems.

Migrating to Australia proved problematic, Damir could not get work and when he realised Jelena’s tennis talent he saw her as a meal ticket. Jelena needed her father’s keen knowledge of tennis to succeed. She missed his coaching but this came with a terrible price. His behaviour embarrassed her and impacted on Jelena’s relationships with her tennis colleagues. Being a migrant the local talent was jealous of the help she got, and this resentment was made worse for example, by Damir shaking the fence behind Jelena’s opponents when serving,

I couldn’t understand why Jelena always publicly defended Damir’s behaviour. I was hoping Jelena would rebel and get out of the situation, but she didn’t want to break up the family and she dearly loved her brother Savo.

She later on had trouble getting rid of Borna Bikic, a coach, who not only gave no advice but began dating a tennis opponent. I think Jelena is too “agreeable” for her own good. She needed someone to defend her but the one person, her father, who should have defended her, abused her. Jelena met her supportive boyfriend, Tim Bikic, the coach’s brother; so something good came out of the relationship.

Damir’s determined coaching may have helped Jelena’s start in tennis, but his abuse and many bad decisions severely hampered Jelena’s professional tennis career later on. 

Conclusion

A highly moving story about Jelena Dokic that gives the reader a behind the scenes view of a volatile father and a determined daughter. You just wish that it could have ended sooner for her. Highly recommended. 

 

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris

Book – 2018  
Publisher: Richmond, Victoria, Echo, a division of Bonnier Publishing Australia, 2018.
ISBN: 9781760403171
Characteristics: 277 pages : maps, portraits ; 24 cm.
Additional Contributors: Faith, Nicholas 1933-,
Wolmar, Christian

I saw this book featured in a Melbourne newspaper; and from the review it sounded great. The local library had it so I reserved it immediately, which was just as well because when I finished it there were over one hundred people waiting for it!

At first the novel comes across as an easy to read Mills and Boon like romance tale. But once I read more about the terrible situation in the prison camp and the small actions that can make a difference whether you live or die I soon appreciated it for the great story and inspirational story that it is.

It’s clear that Lale Sokolov is excellent at communicating with people and befriending them. He uses his network to help him get through the extremely difficult situation that Auschwitz imposes on him. I liked learning how he traded items and favours to help himself plus others to make the camp a little more bearable and to avoid being singled out and killed by the prison camp officers.

Quotes 

“You know something, Tätowierer? I bet you’re the only Jew who ever walked into an oven and then walked back out of it.”

He laughs loudly, slaps Lake on the back and strides off ahead.

And yet here he is now. Two years have passed. He lives in community largely split into two Jewish and Romani identified by their race, not their nationality, and this is something Lale still cannot understand. Nations threaten other nations. They have the power, they have the military.

How can a race spread out across multiple countries be considered threat? For as long as he lives, be it short or long, he knows he will never comprehend this.

A highly moving and tragic story that’s true and been sourced from a Melbourne resident. A top read.

 


Further information

Heather Morris

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Walk Through Auschwitz

 

I Tried to Run a Railway, by Gerard Fiennes

I Tried to Run a Railway

by Gerard Fiennes

Book – 1967  
Publisher: London, Head of Zeus,, 2016.
ISBN: 9781784977368
Characteristics: 214 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm.
Additional Contributors: Faith, Nicholas 1933-,
Wolmar, Christian
 

This is definitely for railway enthusiasts but readers with an interest in business management will also find it fascinating.

It’s written in a somewhat quirky style. There are many expressions that have long since disappeared from common language, and some have never been used in Australia.

You can feel Gerard’s frustration with dealing with the upper echelons of British Rail’s management in getting many of his plans implemented. No matter how hard you try sometimes your plans just can’t be sold.

Despite the frustrations he did have quite a bit of success improving services for passengers and reducing costs by merging goods yards.

He is critical of British Rail’s decision not to change over to diesel or electric traction sooner and of Gresley’s push for steam, his favourite way to haul trains. For a manager like Fiennes trying to get the most economical running out of the railway as a business steam traction would be the least thing he needed.

Conclusion

An interesting insight into business management in Britain in the 50’s. Railway enthusiasts and those who study business management will enjoy reading this book.

 

Working Class Boy, by Jimmy Barnes

Sydney, N.S.W., HarperCollins Publishers Australia,, 2016.

362 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates

This book was released before Working Class Man and it would have been helpful to read it first.

It covers Jimmy’s early years beginning in Glasgow, Scotland and then moving to Australia. Life was difficult in both places but at least the weather was nice and warm in Australia.

His father was a well known boxer and both parents were accomplished ball room dancers. The father was an alcoholic and often he came home on payday with all funds spent on booze leaving nothing for food and other necessities for the young family.

Once Jimmy Barnes’ decided to move on it was uplifting to read how Reg Barnes made a significant difference to the family when he joined the family. He was the stable father figure that the family needed. Reg introduced music to the family with a piano and family singing sessions.

Overall it was a tough life for immigrants in the outer Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth. There was constant trouble and fighting, making it very similar to the problems caused and faced by the South Sudanese in Melbourne and possibly Australia today. It shows that settling immigrants has never been easy no matter where they come from.

The book ends with the beginnings of Jimmy’s music career covering a few gigs at the local venue in Elizabeth.

Conclusion

Working Class Boy is a good introduction to Jimmy’s life and to the next book Working Class Man. The second book is the better of the two I think, as amongst other things it covers the very colourful era of Australian rock in the 70’s.

The Life of Beatrix Potter, by Matthew Dennison

‘Over the Hills and Far Away’

The Life of Beatrix Potter

Dennison, Matthew

Book – 2016
Publisher: London, Head of Zeus,, 2016.
ISBN: 9781784975630
Characteristics: 262 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 22 cm

Even as a child I don’t recall reading any of Beatrix Potter’s stories but seeing that Matthew Dennison wrote her biography I was keen to see his style again. As for his book, “Queen Victoria, A Life of Contradictions”, the writing is very concise and informative with many words needing a look up in the dictionary.

It’s always interesting to learn about where highly creative people come from and their environment that helps to shape them. In Beatrix Potter’s case she and her younger brother led a very sheltered life with almost no contact with other children thanks to their protective and very wealthy parents.

The only friends she had were the imaginary ones she found in her many pets including rabbits. She gave them human traits and drew them in scenes as if they were people. Her drawing and painting skills were highly advanced, due to natural talent, but also because of the art education she had access to thanks to her family’s wealth.

Botanic Artist

Foxgloves painted around 1900, by Beatrix Potter.
Foxgloves painted around 1900, by Beatrix Potter.

Early on Beatrix developed a skill in capturing plants and later animals in great detail.

 

Later Life

Free from her parents’ domination Beatrix married her publisher by the time she was in her late 40’s.

Tragically she lost her brother Bertram to alcoholism, losing her only immediate family.

Hill Top Farm

As a child Beatrix spent many holidays in the Lake District and it is no doubt that the beauty of the area helped develop her interest in plants and animals.

As a wealthy and successful author she could afford to buy Hill Top Farm, a beautiful rural property in the Lake District. Beatrix spent much effort and money meticulously redesigning the farm house, grounds and gardens.

The farm was used as a backdrop for a number of Beatrix’s books.

In her will Beatrix left the property to the National Trust for the benefit of all, and as a conservation gesture.

Conclusion

‘Over the Hills and Far Away’, The Life of Beatrix Potter is a well written, informative biography that is a pleasure to read. Enough detail to make it interesting, but not too much to make it laborious. Beatrix’s life is presented in a way that is easy to read.

Highly recommended to those who like reading about creative talent and the forces behind its creation.

Working Class Man, by Jimmy Barnes

  1. Working Class Man, by Jimmy Barnes

 

Published 2017. 490 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates

An interesting and uplifting read from Jimmy Barnes. It’s a sequel to “Working Class Boy” but you don’t need to have read it to appreciate “Working Class Man”, although some knowledge of Jimmy’s early background would be useful.

It’s a fascinating read into the Australian rock and pub band scene from the 70’s and beyond. Interwoven are many famous names of Australian music which shows how much musicians network throughout their careers.

You can feel Jimmy’s pain as he struggles with drugs, alcohol, family pressure and the gruelling touring. At the end there is Jimmy’s recovery with the help of his ever supporting family, his friends and his dogs.

“Working Class Man” is a fascinating insight into the behind the scenes of being famous, with a happy ending. A great read and excellent book. Highly recommended.

 

Einstein, by Walter Isaacson

Einstein, His Life and Universe

Book by Walter Isaacson

Publisher: New York, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks,, 2017.
ISBN: 9781501171383 
1501171380 
Characteristics: xxii, 675 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm. 

After watching the series Genius season 1 I was curious to see how well it followed the book it’s based on. The TV show paints Einstein’s wife, Mileva, as an overlooked scientist rather than the assistant to Einstein that she really was. The TV show even compares her to Marie Curie suggesting that her husband shared the credit and so should Einstein. According to Isaacson Mileva was a second rate scientist who failed to pass the entrance exam and was more of a personal assistant than a fellow scientist when it came to developing the Theory of Relativity.

Poisonous Gas Development

The TV series spends a good amount of story time on the development a chemical weapon consisting of a poisonous gas which causes friction between Einstein and his friend; this is not mentioned in the book at all so I guess it’s a side plot the producers wanted to include. Not being in the book I don’t know if it’s true, but the side plot shows Einstein’s ethics and that he’s willing to disown friends if they go too far.

Theory Development

Einstein’s job at the patent office taught him to be sceptical and to question everything. This mentality led to him not accepting the current understanding of the physics of the universe but to develop his own ideas. Thankfully the book covers much of the development of his Theory of Relativity and even attempts to explain it to the reader. I feel a few diagrams to illustrate the ideas would have been more helpful than text alone. 

His personal life is probably more interesting to most readers and the book covers dealing with the difficult and fiery Mileva (portrayed well by Samantha Colley in the TV series) and his heartbreak being separated from his beloved sons due to problems with the marriage.

Conclusion

The book is an engaging read and it thoroughly covers Einstein’s life from childhood to the misuse of his theory to develop nuclear weapons. There is much content to get you thinking about many related issues. Highly recommended, along with the TV show too.

Idea Man, by Paul Allen

Idea Man, by Paul Allen. Front cover.

Idea Man
A Memoir by the Co-founder of Microsoft
Allen, Paul
Book – 2011 (from YPRL)

After reading about Steve Jobs it was interesting to contrast him with Paul Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft. One meeting between the two described in the book has Paul shocked at how rude and abusive Steve Jobs is to one of his employees trying to get a demonstration of a computer going.

Steve Jobs was not a technologist like Bill Gates and Paul Allen so he never appreciated how much effort it could sometimes take to get something working.

Paul uses the last part of the book to discuss his life after Microsoft, including owning and operating one of the largest privately owned research vessels in the world; with the aim to improve the understanding of the environment.

Like Bill Gates he has a significant interest in philanthropy. An excellent and inspirational read.