Friday, November 21, 2008


Halloween's long over: but I'm "haunted".  Haunted by a recent book and movie.  Jenna Blum, a first-time novelist, wrote Those Who Save Us in 2004, but the book has increasingly gained notoriety since then.  She has another one in the making: The Storm Catchers.  In her first novel she traces the lives of a mother, Anna, and Anna's daughter, Trudy. Anna lived through World Ward II in Weimar, and was faced with many compromises, both with her own family and the Nazis.  Out of that anguish Blum spins her story of how Anna cares for and protects Trudy at all odds, even to the point of incurring the disdain of many of her countrymen.  She is mistress-under-duress of a brutal schizophrenic Obersturmführer who uses the twisted relationship to drive away his own unspeakable demons.  There is a good bit of sex in the book, as you might imagine.  One reader on Jenna's blog objected to the sexual content and said that she'd deposited the book in a wastecan in a large European city while she was travelling.  I thought Jenna responded quite kindly and patiently, clearly explaining why she felt it was necessary.  "...Why? Because Anna is a prime example of Stockholm Syndrome--moreover, she is a sexual victim of war.  Many, many women suffered such ravages during wartime, and it would have been dishonest of me to write Anna's story without this realistic component..."   She goes on to voice the hope that, even though the person threw the book away, "perhaps another reader rescued it from the trash, picked it up, and read it...who knows? As long as the story gets out into the world, I don't much care how it does..."

The film I saw was The Secret Life of Words (2005) featuring Sarah Polley, a Canadian actress, Tim Robbins, and the great Julie Christie (whom I've idolized since her role as Lara, years ago, in Doctor Zhivago).  Sarah plays the role of Hannah, a Yugoslav nurse living in Ireland, but working in a factory.  She's kind, efficient, has had her job for four years, but is very much a loner by choice.  Tim, who plays Joseph, is part of an oil rig team out in the middle of the ocean and is badly burned in an accident where another member of the team dies.  Part of the plot is that his company has reasons for not sending him to the mainland right away.  His doctor begins to look for a nurse who's willing to take on the double challenge of living on an oil rig, as well as of caring for Joseph until he's well enough to be moved to a hospital ashore. A very jovial, "bad boy" type, for the most part, Joseph is stymied (because of the accident, he's temporarily lost his sight) by his new nurse who is non-communicative, except for basic necessities, about much of anything, including her real name.  It becomes obvious to both of them and the viewer that Hannah and Joseph are dealing with serious messy stuff from the past.  Little by little, a tenuous bond begins to grow, as they each pick up clues from one another and as each begins to take the risk of their vulnerability. Finally, Hannah becomes free enough to relate at least the highlights of what happened to her and her friend in her home town during the Bosnian crisis, and how this has brought her to where she is today.  The scene where she does this is extremely emotional and heart-wrenching, and raises many questions for viewers.  One of the questions is why do we so quickly forget?  In the movie, Hannah notes that it's only been 10 years.  

The book and the film have made me remember that time in history not so long ago.  While driving one day, I remember hearing a horrible, tragic story on NPR during the time of the conflict in Bosnia about a family whose women had all been brutally raped by a group of soldiers, one of them a young teenager.  It was hard for me as a man to relate to the horror such an experience like that would hold for any human being, much less a young woman.  For a long time after that I prayed, helplessly I might say, that in some way she might find a way through that nightmare. 

World leaders came together in September, 2000, and adopted the United Nations Millenium Goals, with a plan to implement them by 2015.  A number of mainline churches, including the Episcopal Church, have joined the effort in the years since then.  One of the goals has to do with gender equality.  If these Millenium Development Goals are to be more than "nice" things important people put on paper, then forget about, there needs to be a major effort to help sensitize people, especially us men, around the world to the shameful treatment of women and children, especially girls, in virtually every country.  

I urge you to take time to read the book and see the film mentioned above, and then to respond to the MDG's in whatever way appeals to and is most effective for you.  Consider this part of my two bits for the cause!

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