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Q1: Book Review: “The Ryan White Story” by Ryan White and Ann Marie Cunningham
The greatest fear this decade is facing is not of war but of AIDS, a dreadful disease caused by a retrovirus that attacks the human immune system. Most of us have read about AIDS and its causes, symptoms and eventual fatality. This book entitled, “Ryan White: My Own Story” written by Ryan White and Ann Marie Cunningham, is the first book written by an AIDS patient and reveals how a boy battled for his life for nineteen years until finally, he lost the struggle.
This book is different from the other books on AIDS one has read. It actually traces the life of Ryan White, one of the more popular persons to have died of the dis ease. It shows his teenage years, how he grew up just like anyone else and how he struggled to educate others on AIDS and to fight against prejudice. Ryan White was among the few who had AIDS, before information and studies on it had progressed. No-one knew much about the disease then, thinking it was a “gay’s disease.”
Ryan White was born in Kokomo, Indiana in December 1971. The doctors found out he had haemophilia when they circumcised him. Haemophilia is the inability of the blood to clot quickly. It takes a haemophiliac about thirty to forty minutes for his blood to clot. Women carry and pass on the haemophilia genes to their sons. Being born with haemophilia proved to be inconvenient in many ways. Ryan could not play basketball like the other children
for fear of injuring himself. His grandparents were constantly worried for him. Other children with haemophilia had to wear helmets but Ryan wanted to be just like the rest and would never wear one. Ryan was a dare-devil, so, instead of playing basketball, he was interested in cars. He owned two. He used to scare his grandparents by pedalling his racing car over to visit them.
All through his childhood, Ryan encountered many problems. Once in a while, he would fall down, break an elbow or suffer from severe bleeding. He was often covered with bruises from internal bleeding. Once he slept on some matchbox cars and the next day woke up with a swollen neck. Every time bleeding occurred, his mother, Jeanne, would inject him with Factor VIII from the hospital, sometimes everyday.
Factor VIII is made up of blood products. People from the States donate blood to make Factor VIII. It contains a clotting factor so Ryan would get injected and heal quickly. Factor VIII allowed Ryan to do almost all activities. Everytime he bled, however, he needed an injection.
Ryan went to Western Middle School in Russiaville. He was in junior high when AIDS was diagnosed. Be fore that, Ryan led a normal life with a girlfriend and many friends. In 1984, Ryan and his grandfather read about this disease called AIDS. No one knew much about it. At that time, scientists thought only gays contracted it. His grandfather began getting paranoid after he read that less than 1% of haemophiliacs get AIDS by blood trans fusions or Factor VIII.
Soon Ryan started night sweats, coughing and had swollen lymph nodes. The doctors said he had hepatitis, a liver disease, from Factor VIII. He was thirteen and in an Indianapolis hospital when they diagnosed that he had pneumocystis pneumonia. Finally, after his condition worsened, they discovered he had contracted AIDS. Ryan was not told this until the day after Christmas because his mother knew Ryan always enjoyed Christmas and it could have been his last one.
Ryan owed to fight this disease or “I’ll die trying.” The days and months that followed in the hospital were trying for his family, his mother and sister, Andrea, especially. One day his mother told Andrea, “I don’t want go on without him. You and I should go to the garage, close the doors, sit in the car and let the motor run.”
The hospital expenses grew large so Jeanne’s company helped out. Through the months, prejudice attacked the family, especially Ryan. He was the butt of gay jokes. Preachers, healers and strange people visited the Whites offering cures. Ryan longed to go back to school but they did not want him. He was not permitted to return but instead they put him on a two-way telephone hookup to school. Children teased him and he lost his girlfriend, all because people were ignorant of how one could contract AIDS. They were afraid to touch him or come close to him.
All this time, Ryan had his seizures. One day, he was allowed to return to school. The next day, he was made to leave because rumours spread about him threatening to “infect” others. Parents felt unsafe to send their children there. In February, Ryan lost his case to return to school. At the same time, he made many appearances to talk about AIDS. There was a programme made about him on television. Ryan became popular and even people like Michael Jackson and Elton John came to know and love him.
The Whites moved to Cicero where Ryan was allowed to attend Hamilton Heights School. Before he came, the authorities organised talks on AIDS for the students and when Ryan came, no-one was prejudiced, everyone. helped him and was friendly.
Then Ryan’s condition got worse in 1990. He was rushed to Indianapolis. His coughing worsened and he was put on a ventilator. He was fighting for his life. Get well messages from around the world came through the mail. Elton John came to see him and Michael Jackson flew down, too. Family members were at his side.
On April 1990, at 7.11 am, Ryan White passed away on Palm Sunday. Thousands of people attended his funeral including Barbara Bush, Michael and Elton, who sang for Ryan. Ryan’s car was decorated by his friends and other children.
I highly recommend this book for those interested to find out more about AIDS. It is readable and entertaining, especially for teenagers as it opens their eyes to this disease. It shows the courage and hope someone young and frail can have, and also strength of character and dignity.
His legacy is to have given us more compassion for people infected with AIDS. It is not so much the disease that kills but more the ignorance that surrounds it.
Q2: Book Review: “The Soong Dynasty” by Sterling Seagrave
It was an era of war and confusion in China during the Ming dynasty. China was renowned for being the “Sick Man of the East”, which reflected the poor health of the Chinese and also the weakness of the nation as China was defeated by foreigners (Japanese, French, etc.) in numerous battles.
Charlie Soong was born in 1875 on Hainan Island. Although he was the son of peasants, he longed to be educated in America and his dream was fulfilled when his uncle adopted him when he was nine and brought him there. On reaching America, he cut off his “pigtail” and worked in his uncle’s shop while being sent to attend church services. It was during one of the services that he was converted and he decided to returned to China as a medical missionary.
After Charlie was converted, he found a job at a printing shop and began learning the business. Later he went to college to be prepared as a missionary. When he went back to China his fate changed when he married Ni Kwei Tseng, who bore him three sons and daughters. Charlie Soong then went on to spread Christianity in a “business-like” way by selling Bibles. In 1888, Charlie was initiated into a powerful secret society, the “Red Gang”. Later, he, ironically, was promoted to a fully-fledged minister and transferred to Shanghai where he established his own printing company and resigned from preaching. He went into the business of printing Bibles while his gang helped in the distribution. He built up his fortune gradually. In 1890, his daughter Ai-ling was born, while in 1892 his second daughter Ching-ling was born.
By 1894, Charlie Soong had become a successful industrialist and befriended Sun Wen, who later became known to the world as Sun Yat-sen. Sun was sent to Hawaii as a boy but later returned to China to study medicine. However, Sun realised that the Manchu rule was bringing more misery than happiness to the people and thus, he returned to revolutionary work. Thus, both Sun and Soong cooperated to form a small society of their own for revolutionary work to overthrow the Manchu rule. This group of revolutionaries grew rapidly, with Sun leading while Soong was the main sponsor. By 1911, the Kuo Ming Tang or KMT was formed, which led to the fall of Manchu rule and the birth of the Republic of China.
As a non-history student, I found the events in this book very interesting. For example, though Sun Yat-sen is renowned as the “Father of Revolution”, it is not very likely that one would imagine him as a triad leader. This book also reflects on the aims and goals of the Chinese in China at that time. Sun Yat-sen was one of these ambitious revolutionaries and dedicated his time to creating a brighter future for all people in China. Despite his being hunted down by Manchu officials and seeking refuge in country after country, all the difficulties did not dampen his enthusiasm for his goals. This book also shows how the Chinese lived in foreign lands. For example, Charlie Soong only earned fifteen American dollars a day and was despised and ill-treated by customs officers when he first went to America. Since Sun and Soong were both educated in a way that differed from traditional Chinese teaching, several events showed that they, being westernised, were not so well-accepted by the others in China initially.
Hence, to sum it up, this book not only tells us about China’s history, it also records the problems of the society as well as the differences in Eastern and Western cultures.
Q3: Book Review: “The Nadra Tragedy” – The Maria Hertogh Controversy
This book, written by Haja Maideen, is about a true incident more than forty years ago, when a Malay foster mother fought hard for the custody of a thirteen-year-old Dutch girl in the post-war colony of Singapore. It may sound rather trivial and makes one wonder why such as small matter raised so much concern and interest among the people – both in the East and West. Well, this is be cause religious fanaticism, race and nationalism were involved as a result of unwise handling of sensitive issues. Together they created a battle between the East and the West.
Maria, the thirteen-year-old Dutch girl, is the main focus of this real-life drama. Nadra is her Muslim name – a name given to her by her foster-mother, Aminah, after she adopted Maria at the age of five in 1942. This is how the story goes: Adelaine, Maria’s natural mother, gave Maria away to a childless woman, Aminah. Adelaine could not afford to provide for all her six children as it was war-time and her husband’s whereabouts was unknown. She gave Maria away to ease some of her burden before leaving the colony of Singapore.
Aminah treated Maria like her own flesh and blood. She was showered with love, care, and concern. As Aminah was a businesswoman, she brought Maria everywhere that she went to trade. They finally decided to settle down in Kemaman.
There Maria had many friends and enjoyed the kampung life. She was enrolled in the Chukai Malay Girls’ School and excelled in both her academic and sporting pursuits. She was also a talented dancer and was selected to represent her school in a dance competition.
It was during this competition that Maria caught the eye of a British adviser present. Maria was attractive and her European features, complexion and face triggered off something in his mind. He was suddenly reminded of a request by the Dutch council to look out for a Dutch girl adopted by a Malay woman.
The British adviser then sent his men to find out more about Maria and Aminah and the information he received confirmed that Maria was indeed the girl the Dutch were looking for. However getting Maria was not easy as Aminah was a fierce and protective foster-mother. In a desperate at tempt to get them both to Singapore to settle matters in court, Aminah was tricked and was told that the trip to the colony was to legalize her adoption of Maria. Unknown to the mother and daughter, the trip actually marked the end of their carefree and happy lifestyle. A few days after reaching Singapore, Aminah had officers visiting and questioning and demanding to see Maria. It was not long before Aminah realised that she had been tricked when she received a court summons and was told about Maria’s natural parents’ desire to have Maria returned to their family.
Aminah panicked and could not bear to have Maria taken away from her. She got help from Majid, an influential friend who helped her get lawyers. The legal tussle for Maria began. Maria had to stay in a girls’ home during the period of the trial. Eventually, after about two months, Aminah was given custody of Maria on the grounds that Maria’s mother had not included names and addresses of Maria’s nearest relatives as requested by the law.
The happiness of Maria and Aminah however, was short-lived. Soon after the grant of custody, Maria got married to Mansoor and caused a lot of unhappiness and mixed feelings among the people -especially the Dutch. They accused Aminah of plotting the marriage and argued that it was illegal for Maria to marry as she was still a minor at thirteen, according to Dutch law. Maria, brought up as a Muslim by Aminah, married under the Muslim law and it was legal as Maria had attained puberty then.
When the Europeans considered Maria and Mansoor’s marriage null and void, it caused a lot of controversy as the Muslims in the country felt that the Europeans were showing disrespect for the Muslim law. It spurred them on to fight for their rights. This was no longer for the custody of a child but a battle between religions. The mass media was the main battle-ground.
The Hertoghs capitalised on the chaotic situation and began their tussle for their daughter again. Summonses were sent and this time, Maria had to stay in a convent, together with her natural mother, Adelaine.
After many trials, Maria had to be returned to the Hertoghs. Aminah collapsed upon hearing the verdict. The pain of losing her precious daughter was just too much for her. Maria refused to go and kept insisting that she wanted to stay with Aminah. She had no choice. She had to go by the law, which saw her natural father as the rightful parent and believed that the Hertoghs would pro vide her with a better life and brighter future compared to life with Aminah. Meanwhile the Muslims fought hard and tried to win
Maria back but to no avail. Maria and Mansoor’s marriage was annulled by the Dutch and this caused riots and mob violence as the Muslims were offended and fought to uphold Islamic rights. It hardly changed any thing. Maria had to remain with her parents in Holland.
I would greatly recommend this book to all my friends. It is always good to be knowledgeable about historical incidents such as this, to realize the vulnerability of Asians and to take note of the fact that a small issue can spark off flames of unhappiness when approached from the wrong angle. It makes one more sensitive to the people around when one realises how easily the very fabric of society can be ripped apart by insensitivity.
This book has its fair share of prejudice. In my opinion, the verdict was due to plain prejudice. Instead of allowing Maria to choose who she thought would be a better parent and whom she wished to stay with, the court claimed that the Hertoghs were better – just because they were Europeans and considered superior to Aminah.
This prejudice led to disaster as can be seen later on in the book when Maria expressed her misery and un happiness at living with her family in Holland and wished she had remained with Aminah. Having to stay in Holland against her will, Maria began hating her mother and blaming every failure she encountered on her.
This book is good as it gives a detailed account of the events – complete with dates. The myriad details allow the reader to have a greater understanding of the feelings of the people involved – whether Aminah, Maria, the Hertoghs, the Europeans, the Muslim leaders and followers. We get to empathize with the people and there were times when I detested the Dutch law for taking away Maria’s happiness.
The book also revealed what Maria confessed to the Dutch papers-having to share her parents’ love with five other siblings and not getting enough attention from them. This makes the readers realize the needs of a child and how he or she can be adversely affected by the lack of love, as can be seen in Maria’s insecurity. The many quotations and extracts from newspapers and speeches drive readers closer to history and allow them to make their own judgements, rather than merely reading and accepting the author’s point of view.
This book also boasts thirty-five black and white photographs of the people involved in the legal battle and Maria’s life in the Malay village and in Holland. This helps readers visualise the events better.
After reading the book, girls of Maria’s age will be thankful that they need not face the dilemma Maria faced – especially choosing between the two religions, Islam and Christianity- and the agony of being forced to separate from a loved one to lead a strange life faraway and having to make adjustments at such an impressionable age.
All in all, this book has proven to be most emotional and gripping. It also serves to show that courts are not the best judge of a human’s future, as we see from the distraught and miserable life Maria led after the verdict.
The book has managed to open my eyes to the needs, feelings and reactions of different people and I strongly recommend this book to everyone. It will definitely move you and provide those who have read it with an interesting topic for discussion.
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