Saturday, September 26, 2009

FOB DOC by Captain Ray Wiss, M.D.

FOB Doc was not what I expected. I expected a diary filled with medical terms and situations but what I got was much, much more.

Dr. Ray Wiss, an emergency medicine specialist at Sudbury General Hospital, re-enlisted in the Canadian Forces with the intention of helping support the Canadian mission to Afghanistan. He served overseas with Task Force Afghanistan from November 2007 to February 2008. During his time in Afghanistan, he kept his family informed of what he experienced by mailing diary entries to them. This writing helped keep him busy and was also beneficial to his family and friends. When his hometown newspaper wanted to publish part of his diary, he sought the approval of the CF. It was felt that the diary could benefit a wider audience and eventually Wiss found a publisher willing to take his book. Any profits made through the book's sale go to the Military Families Fund.

This is a book that focuses on many aspects of the Canadian mission to Afghanistan rather than on the medical trauma a medical specialist might encounter in the Middle East. Dr. Wiss is totally committed to the Canadian presence in the country and I found his candor a refreshing contrast to the offerings of Canadian mainstream media. He discusses how the Western media is very focused on the body count rather than the major accomplishments Canadian forces have achieved over the years. He writes:
"I mentioned that the media play a lot of attention to us whenever a Canadian is killed. I am conflicted about this. On the one hand, I wan the sacrifice of our fallen to be recognized. On the other, I wish they would do a better job of placing our losses in context. For the media to place so much emphasis on the death and not on the conflict in which it occurred does a real disservice to the Canadian population. This is a war we're involved in. There are going to be casualties. They should be honoured, but they should not be the whole story.
I am most bothered by the way the media make a point of keeping a running total of our deaths but not of our successes.....Why do we almost never hear the statistic that makes those deaths worthwhile: under the Taliban, there were 600,000 students of all kinds (primary, secondary and university) in the country, 2 per cent of them female. Now, there are six million, 20 percent of them female. And why are Taliban atrocities, which routinely kill dozens of civilians, never given more than a passing reference?"
Wiss also discusses combat psychiatry and how the modern Canadian army treats soldiers suffering combat stress reaction. There are entries about how Wiss and CF members react and cope with the constant threat of IED's, the stress of being away from home and army protocol. Wiss's writing is direct and passionate at times.

There are number of interesting features of this book besides the diary itself. First all the members of who died in action during Wiss' time in Afghanistan are remembered and honoured in a photo gallery which is at the end of the book. Many of the faces will be familiar to Canadian readers. This was a very gallant gesture on the part of Wiss and a very necessary one. It put a face on those who gave their lives to help make life better for Afghanistani's.

Secondly, there are lots of relevant colour pictures throughout the book which help to place the diary entries in their proper context including shots of ramp ceremonies, mine-clearing vehicles, living quarters, FOB's and even the local Tim Horton's.

Check out the limited preview from Google books:

Highly recommended.
The following links may also be useful:

Publisher profile of Dr. Ray Wiss

Sudbury Northern Life article

National Review of Medicine 2008 article

Serialized version from the Sudbury Star

Book Details:

Book Details:
FOB DOC A Doctor on the Front Lines in Afghanistan. A war diary. by Captain Ray Wiss, M.D.

Douglas & McIntyre Publishers Inc. 2008

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Day The Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

When I was in my local public library last week, this book's title caught my eye . I have to preface my review with the fact that I'm enamored with the history of Niagara Falls. This is in part due to the fact that when I was a child, my music teacher, for reasons unknown to me, always had lots of books in her studio on Niagara Falls. The result is that I grew up knowing all about Blondin, Farini, Annie Taylor and the ice jam of 1848. I was thrilled to read about the people who went over the Falls in various contraptions, some of which worked, many of which, did not. Added to this, was my family's yearly visits to Niagara Falls to picnic in a small meadow beneath the huge black water tower - both long since gone. So, little wonder the title alone was enough to push me to pick up the book!

Cathy Marie Buchanan, a native of Niagara Falls, who has the eclectic mix of degrees in biochemistry and business from the University of Western Ontario presents an astonishingly good first offering with The Day the Falls Stood Still.

This historical romance opens with Bess Heath, the protagonist, leaving Loretto Academy at the end of her junior year. Her father, is director of the Niagara Power Company and her family has led a privileged life up to this point. But Bess's life begins to unravel right from the start.

Her father had recommended to all his friends that they invest in aluminum but with the war, the price of aluminum plummets, the smelter fails and many suffer severe financial losses. This leads his boss, Mr. Cruikshank to fire him and his son, Boyce Cruikshank, to call off his engagement to Bess's beautiful, older sister Isabel. Bess's father reacts by drowning his sorrows at the Windsor Hotel while Isabel struggles with depression and some other hidden worry.

When her father does not show up for Bess's final night at Loretto, she and her mother must take a trolley home. Along the way, they are offered help with Bess's trunk by a handsome, young man, Tom Cole, who deftly carries the trunk to Glenview, the family mansion in Silvertown, Niagara Falls.

Bess falls for Tom Cole who we learn is the grandson of Fergus Cole a legendary Niagara Falls figure in the 1800's, known for his fearless rescues and his knowledge of the river. Tom Cole lives at the Windsor Hotel, serving drinks and also works fishing "floaters" out of the river. Not surprisingly, Bess's family are not impressed and her older sister Isabel advises her that "while the Boyce Cruickshanks of the world might be out of the question" she doesn't have to "settle" for a fishmonger.

Despite an attempt to please her family and choose a man they approve of, in the end Bess follows her heart. The second half of the book is therefore devoted to describing her life with Tom Cole and her family's struggles set against the backdrop of life in the early 1900's in Niagara Falls and that of World War I. Buchanan bases the character Tom Cole loosely on William "Red" Hill, Niagara's most famous riverman.

The prose is often elegant, filled with delightful descriptions.
At first blush, Mother's garden seems as immaculate as always. Intricate blooms of columbine nod in midmorning sun. Coneflowers stand erect, their central cores thrust forward, bristling with seeds. But all except the hardiest spires of foxglove and delphinium lay toppled, stalks collapsed under the weight of their own flowers. Peonies droop, their heavy blooms, unsupported by stakes, decaying on the ground. Beneath the garden's canopy of foliage, purslane spreads its weedy tendrils. Fronds of yarrow and tapered blades of crabgrass poke through once orderly beds of hosta and cranesbill.....
Pictures and drawings of the environs of Niagara Falls add to the overall sense of history and understanding of the Falls. Buchanan also drew from the considerable canon of literature on the Falls as evidenced in her acknowledgments at the back of the book.

However, The Day the Falls Stood Still is more than just a historical romance. It is filled with tragedy and sadness. Buchanan writes about Bess's loss of faith in God, the separation of people due to different classes in society, the aftermath of World War I on soldiers, marriages and society, the controversy over the construction of the power dams on the Niagara River and the struggles of ordinary people at the turn of the century to survive personal tragedy. Buchanan's writing also imparts a sense of what life was like for single and married women in Canada during the era of World War I.

Although this book didn't have the ending I longed for, I thoroughly enjoyed this first novel and can't wait to see Cathy Buchanan's next offering.

Book Details:

The Day the Falls Stood Still  by Cathy Marie Buchanan
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd        2008

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Silent In An Evil Time by Jack Batten

Silent in an evil time: The brave war of Edith Cavell by Jack Batten tells the story of Edith Cavell, a British nurse who helped to rescue hundreds of British and French soldiers trapped behind German lines during World War I.

Author Jack Batten accomplishes a great deal in this book, providing historical information on the development of the nursing profession from the late 1800's into the early 1900's, as well as background information on the events and conditions that led to the start of the Great War. In this way, Silent in an evil time is much more than just a biography about a remarkable woman. Young readers will be familiarized with many prominent figures of this era and in the years immediately preceding the early 20th century, including Florence Nightingale and Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

I will leave it to readers to discover the significance of the phrase, "Silent in an evil time" to Edith Cavell. In the end Edith was not only known for her nursing and for her heroic efforts in helping Allied soldiers during the war but also in her belief that "Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone."
Batten directs his young readers in an informative and captivating way to this book's sad ending.

Highly recommended for ages 10 to 15.

Book details:

Silent in an evil time: The brave war of Edith Cavell
by Jack Batten

Tundra Books 2007

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Canadian YA Historical fiction

Here's a few Canadian historical fiction I plowed through in the past week:

Bridget's Black 47 by Dorothy Perkyns

A quick read at 157 pp, this YA novel deals with the Irish potato famine and the subsequent Irish immigration to Canada. This book is not an indepth treatment of this period in Canadian history but gives a general idea of what happened in Ireland in the 1840's and how the Irish were forced to immigrate to North America. The story ends on a positive note and is sure to interest readers from Gr.5 to Gr. 9 inclusive.

The way lies north by Jean Rae Baxter.

A great story that held my interest throughout. Centered around Charlotte Hooper whose family are Tories and the effect the Revolutionary War has on their life, this historical fiction is filled with excitement. Forced to flee their home in the Mohawk Valley, Charlotte and her parents begin the long journey to freedom, to Canada. The Way Lies North mixes a bit of romance, tragedy and adventure with historical fact to provide a read that is both engaging and informative. A little lengthy at 340pp for some YA readers. Once Charlotte's family arrives in Canada, the plot slows but soon picks up to the satisfying end that most YA readers will expect.

Highly recommended for ages 12 to 15.

Book details:
Boo Details:
The Way Lies North
by Jean Rae Baxter

Ronsdale Press 2007