Category > Autobiography

Band-Aid for a Broken Leg

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Band-Aid for a Broken Leg by Damian Brown, book reviewBand-Aid for a Broken Leg by Damian Brown is the author’s account of his experiences working for Medecins San Frontieres in Africa. Although there are no instances of giving a band-aid for a broken leg, the title represents the organisations struggle to manage serious conditions with limited resources, and that for all the work it does, it cannot cure Africa’s problems.

Brown is South African by birth, and moved to Australia with his family as a child. His first posting in Angola is a shock to the system: the climate, the danger of landmines, the hospital and the work under difficult conditions.


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Daughter Knows Best

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 Dad's the Word by Soumya Bhattacharya, book reviewThis small breezy book tells the story of Soumya Bhattacharya bringing up his daughter Oishi with some help from his wife. Under the breeziness is Bhattacharya’s conviction that becoming a father changes you forever. He quotes Philip Roth to prove it: “You don’t know suffering until you have children. You don’t know joy. You don’t know boredom, you don’t know — period,” Of course, as the whole world knows, there’s a very special relationship between daughters and fathers which is balanced by the ones between mothers and sons and Bhattacharya outlines that special relationship as he tells the story of bringing up Oishi from her babyhood to her teens.

Bhattacharya began writing columns on his experiences for the Hindustan Times and the book brings those columns together in a tale of parenting with all its joys and a few sorrows.


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A Mountain of Crumbs

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A Mountain of Crumbs – Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain, Elena Gorokhova, book reviewThe biography department of any bookstore can be a tricky place to look for a good read. There are the celebrity biographies that sell well, especially around Christmas time or released to coincide with the celeb’s latest scandal or relationship, which are usually ghost written and air-brushed to tell the fans what they want to know. There are the ‘tragedy’ or ‘event’ biographies where someone’s story becomes important or interesting because of something that happened to them – surviving the Titanic, escaping from a brutal regime – or because they just happened to be in the right place at the right time when something really significant was happening around them. The category that I find can throw up some of the best and some of the worst biographies is the ‘personal memoir’.


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Three Thousand Miles for a Wish

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Three Thousand Miles for a Wish, Safiya Hussain, book reviewThree Thousand Miles for a Wish is one British Muslim woman’s account of going to Saudi Arabia to take part in the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Growing up in the UK her religion had become such a minor part of her life that she barely noticed that she’d lost touch with her roots. Succeeding academically, she trained as a lawyer and hated the tedium of the job. She went to nightclubs, drank and got a boyfriend. But ‘living the dream’ turned out to be more of a nightmare. When the dream boyfriend turned out to have a fiancé about whom she knew nothing until the other woman was screaming in her face, Safiya’s life started spiralling into dangerous depression. She ripped up her prayer mat, blamed God, screamed at her parents, abused her friends and family and was heading on the fast-track to self destruction. Then one day her parents told her they were going to Mecca for the Hajj and she found herself asking to go with them.


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A Tale of Two Indians

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A Tale of Two Indians - Maharshi Patel, book reviewMaharshi Patel is a well-to-do student attending a top US university and spoilt by his successful oncologist father and his doting mother. He is arrogant, selfish and self-indulgent. He likes fast cars and expensive watches not because they’re fast or they tell the time better but because they tell everyone around him just how wonderful his life is. There’s no point being a success if the world can’t SEE how fabulous your life is, after all. When a series of deaths amongst family and friends sends his privileged lifestyle off its axis, Maharshi has a breakdown, fails at his studies and his father threatens to cut him off financially. It’s taken him a while but the realisation dawns that he can’t take his life of privilege for granted. In search of an escape from the life that’s spiralling out of control, he heads to India to spend time with his paternal grandfather in search of truths about himself, his father and his father’s father.


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How Good is That?

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How Good is That?  Jane Tomlinson, Mike Tomlinson, book reviewJane Tomlinson was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 27 in 1991. Nine years later in 2000 she was told that the cancer had spread and was untreatable. She was given six months to live. Like many people with a terminal diagnosis she wanted to travel and to create memories for her husband and children to cherish when she could no longer be with them. Unlike most people that urge to travel turned into seven years of performing feats of great physical endurance all over the world to raise money for charities. She competed in marathons, Ironman triathlon events and undertook several long distance bicycle rides including Lands End to John O’Groats, ‘Rome to Home’ (from Rome to Yorkshire) and her final big expedition to cross the USA from the Golden Gate Bridge to Brooklyn Bridge. It’s that final ride which features in this book How Good is that?

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The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper

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The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper by James Carnac, book reviewDespite happening over a hundred years ago, the six killings over the autumn of 1888 that were attributed to Jack the Ripper continue to hold a powerful grasp over our collective imaginations. While not the first serial killer in history, he was the first to have his crimes sensationalised by the media of the day, and the first to be given a nickname. Hundreds of books, articles and films have been produced speculating as to the identity and motive of the killer, and are still being produced – the study of this particular series of crimes has even spawned its own name: “ripperology”. I am far from being a ripperologist, but do have an interest in true crime and have read a number of books about Jack in the past. The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper is something quite different from other things I have read, however.


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The Time of My Life

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The Time of My Life , Patrick Swayze and Lisa Niemi, book reviewWhen Patrick Swayze’s character Johnny Castle ran his fingers down the arm of Jennifer Grey’s character ‘Baby’ in the 1980s film Dirty Dancing, women watching in cinemas around the world let out a collective groan of pleasure that was probably not matched until decades later when Daniel Craig stepped out of the sea in Casino Royale in ‘those’ swimming trunks. For most of us Johnny was the role that made Swayze a major sex symbol and paved the way for his other great love story, Ghost. What I and many others didn’t realise was that Swayze was already an old hand in the industry with plenty of aggressive he-man adventure films already in the can.


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C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too

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C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too... , John Diamond, book reviewJohn Diamond was a journalist and broadcaster known for his wit as much as for his marriage to Nigella Lawson and he was by his own admission, a hypochondriac. After decades of seeing every little twinge as a portent of medical doom and waiting almost expectantly for the heart attack for which decades of over-indulgence must surely qualify him, it was as much a self-fulfilling prophesy as a big surprise when a lump in his neck turned out to be more sinister than he’d expected.

In March 1997 he was given a diagnosis of a cancerous lymph node in his neck and the doctors told him with confidence he had a 92% chance of being fine and dandy in no time at all. Sometimes doctors get things wrong – and ‘C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too’ is Diamond’s best selling account of his experience with cancer, based in part on columns that he published in the Times newspaper’s Saturday magazine.


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Twisting my Melon

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Twisting My Melon,  Shaun Ryder, book reviewWhen Shaun Ryder appeared in (and very nearly won) the 2010 TV series of ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’, the nation split into two camps. The over 55s and under 35s mostly didn’t have the slightest idea who he was and those whose age lay between knew exactly who Ryder was but were flabbergasted he’d survived the years of drugs and hard living with his mental faculties sufficiently in tact to be capable of doing much more than sitting in a corner talking to himself. As front man of the Happy Mondays, Salford-born Ryder was at the forefront of the late 80’s and early 90’s ‘Madchester’ movement, a major earner for the late Tony Wilson’s ‘Factory’ record label and by his own admission one of the people responsible for introducing the rave drug ‘Ecstasy’ into the UK via the now defunct but at the time notorious club, the Hacienda.


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Ghosts by Daylight: A Memoir of War and Love

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Ghosts by Daylight: A Memoir of War and Love, Janine Di Giovanni, book reviewTwo war reporters decide to settle down to a more ordinary, domestic life, away from the world’s conflicts, in Paris. They are having a baby. This effort at normal life turns out to be more stressful for them both than they could have imagined.

Janine di Giovanni has had a long and successful career reporting conflicts around the world, including Sarajevo, Grozny, Pristina, Baghdad, Mogadishu, Algiers and many others. I remember reading her articles and finding them powerful and moving, and the content horrific.


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Cloyne Court

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Cloyne Court (Paperback) By (author) Dodie Katague, book reviewStudent days are for many people the best days of their lives. Free at last from parental supervision and not yet encumbered by the responsibilities of work, marriage and mortgages, the years at university can be fantastic – more so perhaps in the past before the introduction of massive student loans and tuition fees. Cloyne Court by Dodie Katague is a student ‘coming of age’ novel set in one of the wildest times and settings. As California turned on, tuned in and dropped out in the mid-1970s Berkeley students benefited from the widespread availability of drugs (many of them not yet illegal), access to the pill and plenty of alcohol and made the most of what life had to offer. It was a time before the shadow of AIDS fell across promiscuity and drug use when the sense of ‘anything goes’ was on the increase. At that time there was surely no place wilder or more easy-going than Cloyne Court – a co-ed (i.e, mixed gender) student co-operative.


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