Sur­viv­ing the war that came home to Rock­hamp­ton

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

This pow­er­ful per­sonal nar­ra­tive is a dif­fi­cult book to ne­go­ti­ate, not least be­cause it com­prises 309 pages of text en­tirely de­void of chap­ter num­bers or head­ings, fol­lowed by a blank page and the ac­knowl­edg­ments.

But this caveat in no way means that the book — the au­thor’s first — is not an enor­mously re­ward­ing and re­veal­ing ex­plo­ration of the ef­fects of war on fam­ily life and on the hu­man soul and psy­che.

En­emy be­gins with a strik­ing open­ing sen­tence: “I was born into the war still rag­ing in­side my father.” In­deed Ruth Clare’s first mem­ory — at the age of three — is of her Viet­nam vet­eran father, Doug Cal­lum (born in 1946), sav­agely beat­ing her un­til she be­came badly bruised and lost some hair.

Born in Bris­bane in 1974, two years af­ter Aus­tralia’s in­volve­ment in the war ended, she was raised in Rock­hamp­ton where, af­ter hav­ing been a baker, her father taught fit­ting and turn­ing at TAFE. Now liv­ing in Mel­bourne, the au­thor has been a pro­fes­sional writer since 2004.

En­emy is ded­i­cated to her sib­lings: her el­der sis­ter Ker­stin and her younger brother David, “and the child­hood that was”, and to her own chil­dren, Scar­lett and Alex, “and the child­hood that is”. This is ut­terly ap­pro­pri­ate be­cause af­ter she be­came a par­ent, Clare was gripped with a dark and in­tense fear that she was some­how doomed to re­peat her father’s vi­o­lent and ul­tra­con­trol­ling be­hav­iour.

Tellingly one of Clare’s key ac­knowl­edg- ments is of deep grat­i­tude to her ther­a­pist, Mary, whose lov­ing at­ten­tion helped her “find the light” when she first brought out of the shad­ows the sto­ries that com­prise this book.

Her other heart­felt vote of re­spect and thanks is to the Viet­nam Veter­ans As­so­ci­a­tion, the Viet­nam Veter­ans Coun­selling Ser­vice and to all those war veter­ans who shared their of­ten har­row­ing, but some­times up­lift­ing, sto­ries about con­scrip­tion, the war and their re­turn to civil­ian life.

Af­ter read­ing this emo­tion­ally charged and thor­oughly en­gag­ing book, it seems clear it was only the com­bined force of the ex­pe­ri­ences of the Viet­nam veter­ans she read about and in­ter­viewed, plus the as­sis­tance of her (seem­ingly Jun­gian) ther­a­pist, that en­abled the au­thor to ul­ti­mately find con­sid­er­able emo­tional em­pa­thy for the flawed and vul­ner­a­ble man who had caused her so much pain and dam­age and heartache. As En­emy re­veals, Clare was per­haps wounded emo­tion­ally, even more than phys­i­cally, by her deeply dam­aged father — who had been a con­scripted na­tional ser­vice­man — and her chain-smok­ing, gen­er­ally pas­sive mother, who was un­able to pro­tect her chil­dren from her hus­band’s un­pre­dictable rage and fury.

Some sec­tions of the book, es­pe­cially those about try­ing to stop her father hit­ting her, brought me close to tears. As well, her father (and some­times her mother) cru­elly un­der­mined her suc­cess at school, which was for Clare a safe place to learn and de­velop, so un­like the un­pre­dictable en­vi­ron­ment at home.

The ter­ri­ble truth is that even when Ruth tried to do some­thing nice for her father, he al­most al­ways found a way to make it bad. No mat­ter how hard she tried, it was never good enough. As she puts it, in some­thing of an un­der­state­ment: “It was im­pos­si­ble to skate

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.