Tag Archives: war

War Horse – the show


War Horse has made it to Melbourne!

war horse
After being premiered in London in 2007 , War Horse went on to win a number of awards including two Laurence Olivier Awards and five Tony Awards. It has been played at London’s National Theatre, the West End’s New London Theatre and New York’s Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Centre. And it has just hit Melbourne.

War Horse – the show – is based on a book by Michael Morpurgo. I have not read the book, but I have seen the movie by Steven Spielberg. The story is about Joey, the horse, and Albert, the boy who raises him. A strong bond develops between the two and Albert is heart-broken when his father sells Joey to the British cavalry at the outbreak of World War I. Joey is then shipped to France where he is caught up in enemy fire and goes through a number of terrible adventures between German and British troops. Amazingly, Albert who could not forget Joey and has enlisted, manages to find the horse and bring him home. Okay, the story is a bit lame, but it does captivate the mind. It’s not a light story, the movie itself is very graphic, and so is the show. One thing that kept bothering me is how much time is spent weeping over the horse when hundreds of thousands of soldiers are being killed – often in horrible circumstances – around him. I know that this is the story, but it is at the same time a little disturbing. There are differences between the movie and the show, the story takes shortcuts in the show, but that’s to be expected, and sometimes it’s even outright different. I have not read the book, so I don’t know what the original story is like.

War Horse is quite the spectacle. I was amazed at the life-size puppets, created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company. They are totally amazing and look eerily real. It was wonderful to see those horses on stage and you quickly forget they are puppets. The way the ears move, the shiny eyes, the tail, the limbs, it’s all wonderful, really. If anything, that’s just worth going to see. The horses even gallop on stage! It was breathtaking. I found the second part too dark for my liking, but it’s all about the war after all. The episode with the French girl is puzzling – I found it lacked clarity in the show and didn’t add much. The casting was interesting, as the French girl is black in the show, and her mother white, so you have to assume the father was black – a very common thing nowadays (Thank God) but very unusual in 1915, especially in the Somme region. I can’t help wonder what the original girl was like in the book, does anyone know? Of course, the accents are fake (I, for one, can tell!) but they help wonderfully when the French, the British and the Germans are talking to each other. All together, a great show.

Here’s the movie trailer:

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Filed under Australia, Movies, Music, Theatre

The Girl in the Picture, by Denise Chong


The Girl in the Picture tells the true story of Kim Phuc, the nine year old Vietnamese girl who runs naked on a road after a Napalm attack on her village during the Vietnam War. This photo, taken by Nick Ut, is probably the most famous photo of the Vietnam War, one that had a great influence in making the public aware of the atrocities of the war, and in helping – in some way - to end it. This is a fascinating story, very sad at times, scary, depressing but also full of hope. Denise Chong has done a lot of research and she starts her book with a detailed story of the life of Kim’s family before the event. This in itself is very interesting and you learn a lot about the way of life of Vietnamese people in the country. Kim’s life will be changed by the attack forever: she will suffer from deep burns all over her body but will miraculously recover; she will be used against her will by the Vietnamese Government as propaganda material; she will travel a lot, ending up studying  in Cuba for several years before taking refuge in Canada where she currently resides; she now works as ambassador for peace at UNESCO. You will be touched by her story, but also by the plight of the Vietnamese people. Chong does a good job with detailed descriptions, clear explanations, and well-researched facts, making this book a very interesting read.

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Author interview: Patrick Michael Murphy


Patrick Michael Murphy is offering TWO free copies of his novel, Across the Desperate Miles, to the first two persons who post a comment on this interview. The free copies are available in eBook format for the Kindle. The only condition for those interested is to post a review of the novel on Amazon.

Jerome: What can you tell us about Across the Desperate Miles?

Patrick: Across the Desperate Miles is the current-day story of Kera and Rand Priven, a young couple who must journey across America to find and protect their children.  The catch is, they are not getting along, at all, and, America is in the throes of a revolution brought about by outside and inside forces.  There is war and anarchy within our borders.  The systems have shut down.  They are completely on their own.  It’s a story of transformation and survival.

Jerome: Who are your readers?

Patrick: I have had very positive feedback from 20somethings to 70somethings.  I think it does well with contemporary fiction readers as well as action/adventure, thriller, military history, political readers, pop culture… and anyone wondering about the direction and future of the United States (and world really).  The book is on Amazon and I don’t really know anything about the people who purchase it, but it seems to appeal to readers on many levels.

Jerome: What was your journey as a writer?

Patrick: I started writing as a teen. I then joined the Army as a cameraman and travelled the world at a peaceful time, photographing pretty much anything I wanted, and a few I didn’t want.  I did very well there and in civilian life, won a couple Emmys for my photography and writing, but two decades later I was burned out on it and wanted to turn my own writing into a career.  I am not going to say it’s been easy, but I am going to say it’s been a challenge and a lot of fun.  

Jerome: Do you follow a specific writing process?

Patrick: Let’s see.  I am a fairly disciplined guy in many ways.  But.  There’s always that but, isn’t there?  In filmmaking I learned about formulas and used them until I became sick of them.  I saw the ruin of formulas and yet, it seemed, everything was being done with them, especially TV and screenplays.  I began experimenting, and had some great success.  I think we are all so inundated with media that new approaches are often not new at all.  But for me, the idea is to not simply recreate what you or others have done.  Use courage.  Go out on your own and believe in yourself.  So I have used time-tested approaches for writing screenplays, essays, novels, and poetry, but my process is really to consider deeply what the piece is about and let it go its own way… within reason.  I take long periods off between writing projects.  But when I am writing I get obsessive.  At least through a draft.  Across the Desperate Miles was first written in the late nineties. Before the horror of 9/11.  I sent it out a few times back then and then I shelved it. When I took it out again several months ago, at the urging of Jan Takac, my new editor, I planned to read it just to let her see it.  But when I opened it all this new energy came out and with Jan’s help I tightened it and rewrote two more times.  So, I am not saying part of my process is to let a manuscript sit for 10 years, but this story is much better for the wait.          

Jerome: Where do you find inspiration?

Patrick: In life.  Good God, it’s all about.  It helps to also have a deep desire to communicate and be understood.  If you’re feeling uninspired… travel.  Look.  Listen.  Question.   Go anywhere but your everyday places.  I get bored, depressed, angry.  I think we need to be ourselves, but look for the positive, and definitely use every emotion and every question that has ever come through you.

Jerome: Who are your favourite authors?

Patrick: Larry McMurtry, Wallace Stegner, Deepak Chopra, Peter Matthiessen, Ernest Hemingway and a lot of others.  I also enjoy newer writers but the earlier ones helped shape me.

Jerome: Is there a book you wish you had written? Which one?

Patrick: No, but there are stories I’d liked to have lived.  There are many books I marvelled at the talent it took to write.  There is no question that great writing that moved me emotionally also inspired me to write.

Jerome: Do you have any tips for budding writers?

Patrick: I am now 53.  Years pass quickly.  I have always been impatient.  Perhaps that is our worst enemy, impatience.  Yes, go, yes, do, but also be patient with who you are, who you are with, and what you do.  It’s worth it.  Write the pieces you have said time and again you want to write.

Jerome: What are you working on at the moment?

Patrick: Publicizing Across the Desperate Miles.  And a collection of essays about my life and life in general.  This will be out on Amazon in a couple of months.  Then, my next novel.

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A concise history of Hong Kong by John Carroll


As part of the research for my next novel, I’ve been reading A concise history of Hong Kong, by John Carroll, and I’ve learned a lot. The book was written with the general public in mind and is not full of technical and historical details only relevant to historians. The focus in on the days since the founding of the British colony in 1841. I wish there had been more about the Japanese occupation from 1941 to 1945, a period I am fascinated with, but overall I found the book very interesting. The strikes and riots of 1967 are well covered, as well as all the politics around the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 (almost too much). It’s a good first read for anyone who’s interested in the history of Hong Kong.

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Nicaragua, twenty years on…


I recently went back to Nicaragua to visit friends. It was twenty years since I had lived there myself, and I couldn’t help reflect on the changes that have happened all over the country. I was twenty-four when I left Paris for Managua, staying away for two years and coming back changed deep inside. I had gone over there to work for a Franco-Nicaraguan cooperation programme, in lieu of my – then obligatory – military service in France (Given the choice between living in Central America for two years and spending the time bored out of my tits – forgive my bluntness – walking in the countryside carrying a gun and practicing useless military exercises, I hadn’t hesitated one second.). I had chosen Nicaragua for several reasons: I had never been to Latin America; I wanted  to experience something new; the job sounded interesting; I thought learning Spanish could be useful; and the country was in the midst of a civil war, which, in my naivety, would add spice to the experience, even if, to be honest, it did worry me and my mum a little. What I found in this amazing place far exceeded my expectations.

I arrived in Managua towards the end of 1989. By then, the Sandinistas has been in power for almost ten years, since the coup that saw the former, cruel, blood-thirsty, filty-rich dictator Anastasio Somoza flee the country with his family, leaving behind an exhausted and impoverished country. Unfortunately for them, the Sandinistas happened to be Marxists, so they quickly found themselves fighting against Americans as well, who forced an economic embargo down the country’s throat and funded the Contras (Nicaraguans who fought against the Sandinistas), as well as part of the civil war that was going to ruin the country for ten long years. It’s actually very difficult to talk about Nicaragua without mentioning the political context, even these days. I loved the place as soon as I set foot on it, the heat and the humidity, the lushness of the vegetation, the warmth of the locals, the music everywhere, the richness of the food, and the depth of the friendships you could build with people. I was stunned to see sixteen-year-olds holding AK-47 (also called Kalashnikov automatic rifles) everywhere on the streets, but I very soon got used to it. Most of the fights happened in remote areas outside the capital, so they were easy to avoid, even if I did travel extensively through the country for work. Having said that, I remember one Christmas when we had decided with some friends to go horse-riding in the mountains. It was a fantastic, exhilarating experience, but at some stage, far enough from any significant town, we found ourselves caught between crossfire, with bullets zooming above our heads. As a result, we spent nearly twenty-four hours hiding until the fighting ceased and we were able to escape… Because of the embargo and the war, many items were hard to come by, such as spare parts. For example, if one of the headlights of your car was broken, you only had two options: one was to do nothing about it, which made the roads extremely dangerous at nights, because many cars drove without lights, or worse, with only one light, therefore looking like motorcycles and creating accidents; the other option was to go to the Oriental Market and “order” a light. You only had to come back the next day to pick it up, most certainly stolen from another car – sometimes your neighbour’s! I remember my surprise at entering a supermarket for the first time and seeing nothing but empty shelves. Sometimes the same shelves would be covered with only one item: rice, corn, or… black dolls! (most probably a gift from Cuba or Russia, the main trade partners at the time). The eggs were presented in plastic bags, which was definitely the best way to break them  and to help develop a healthy population of cockroaches roaming around. Another consequence of the dire economic situation was rampant inflation (7,430% in 1989, but only 3,000% in 1990 with the introduction of a new currency!) and devaluation of the currency, the Cordoba (by the end of 1990, you needed 3.2 million Cordobas to buy US$1!). But there was plenty of food on the markets and life was not as difficult as it sounds. In fact, people were happy, and I was amazed to see my friends content with little, struggling to make ends meet, but never failing to smile and be happy. The Sandinistas lacked experience; in fact they were all very young. Daniel Ortega was only thirty-four years old when they took power. They made mistakes, and the Marxist system they dreamed of didn’t work (I could see that first-hand in the management of agricultural resources). This left Nicaragua the poorest country of the Americas at the time, along with Haiti. However, there were many good things too: very little corruption, no crime, and one of the highest levels of alphabetization on the continent. I loved my life there. I learned to speak Spanish with a Nicaraguan accent, I made lifelong friendships, and I learned about life and death, and what it really means to survive. I also happened to be present at a very interesting time of Nicaraguan history, when the opposition won the elections overseen by the UN, ten years after the Sandinistas had acquired power. We saw the first female President of Nicaragua, Violetta Chamorro, who was the widow of a martyred journalist, and funnily enough when you think she won as part of the opposition, had taken part in the Sandinista revolution beside Ortega. I remember meeting her once – she looked more like a grandmother than a president, but she was lovely. Interestingly enough, it’s just after these elections and the accession of the opposition to power that I was exposed to the most danger, with riots that took over Managua and saw me struggling to get home and avoid shootings in my street.

Twenty years later, I can’t help wonder if the situation of the people has really improved. The Sandinistas and Daniel Ortega, now sixty-five, are back in power. They’ve abandoned their Marxist ideology, but don’t seem to be managing to improve the country’s economy. Supermarkets are full with products coming from all over the world. Giant, luxury shopping centres have sprouted all over the country. Nicaraguans who had fled the regime, often to the US, have come back. And the rift between the rich and the poor has widened. In fact, the rich seem richer and the poor poorer. Slums have not disappeared; in fact they may even have grown. Managua is not the safe city it used to be anymore. And my friends struggle more than ever, with high unemployment and increased cost of living. The alphabetization rate has unfortunately also slightly decreased. And the people still need help. But I still love the place. It is a little bit like home, and I’ll keep going back. I have my friends there. And I will never forget that Nicaragua helped me change the way I see the world, making me a better person for it. See you in another twenty years’ time?

Guns are not allowed in this trendy shopping centre from Managua!

Active volcanos are a common sight in Nicaragua.

Managua’s new cathedral… one of the weirdest looking buildings I have ever seen.

Managua city centre

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The Devil of Nanking / Tokyo


Tokyo (or The Devil of Nanking, depending on which edition you’re reading) by Mo Hayder is a book that is hard to put in a box, and that’s not a bad thing. Some classify it as thriller, others as horror or even historical fiction. It’s a little bit of everything. Thankfully, the horror side of it is not prevalent, it’s just that some parts, especially towards the end of the story, are not for the faint-hearted. Tokyo is the story of Grey, a disturbed young British woman on the search for a film, which is supposed to exist somewhere in Japan, and which she needs in order to prove the world she is not as crazy as it seems. Her search will take her from ladies clubs in Japan to Tokyo’s underground and its frightening yakuzas. The story is interwoven with a depiction of the invasion of Nanking and the ensuing massacres by the Japanese army in 1937. I won’t spoil the story by saying much more about the plot.

Hayder’s writing is okay. She doesn’t really keep us guessing until the end about what really happened and what Grey’s search will uncover, even if some aspects of me still took me by total surprise. There are enough hints at what is at stake throughout the book so that one is prepared for the grisly ending. It’s a good story, however, in so far as you are kept wanting to read on to know more. The plot has its holes or bits that are hard to believe, but to be honest, it does not matter. It’s a great read, which will keep you thinking for a while. Plus, it takes place in Japan and China. For someone like me who loves Japan and lives in China, it’s just perfect! I’m not a fan of gore and I won’t be necessarily rushing to read more Hayder, but I’m glad this one’s been recommended to me. I read it in one go and I can guarantee you will too.

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City of Thieves


I’ve just finished reading City of thieves by David Benioff. I loved it. The topic is not easy: the survival of two children during the Nazi’s brutal siege of Lenningrad. Lev and Kolya have been given an unexpected and very dangerous mission: secure a dozen eggs for a Soviet colonel’s daughter’s wedding. The story is gripping, at times tender and funny, at times violent, but always clever and full of suspense. You feel the cold, you feel the harshness of the war, you feel the desperation of the people, but love and hope are never too far. You also learn about the terrible conditions of Lenningrad’s siege and what people had to do to survive. I highly recommend it.

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