The troubled life of Vincent Van Gogh is cleverly portrayed in Barbara Stok’s graphic novel, ‘Vincent’.
Van Gogh’s struggles, inspirations and family support are revealed as Barbara focuses on the ‘brief and intense period of time that the painter spent in the south of France.’
In simple ways, ‘Vincent’ also brings to life the way in which artists of the time influenced, and were influenced by Van Gogh, such as Paul Gaugin.
The idea of artist colonies/houses /communities springs up, as does the need for many talented artists to be sponsored by someone – in Vincent’s case, by his dedicated brother, Theo. The good times and the bad are pictured, as Stok reveals the character of Van Gogh, his ‘pursuit’ and ‘purpose’ of painting, and his artistic intensity and drive.
Fans of Van Gogh will recognise the natural elements which inspired the artist at this time – haystacks, starry nights, sunflowers. Within this time, however, there are also periods of mental illness, including when he cuts off his own ear. Ultimately even though family support comes through, Van Gogh’s tortured existence continues.
In many ways, Van Gogh’s art both drives him, and demonises him. The ability to paint sees him through many tough times, but the need to paint also divorces him from many aspects of normal life.
Reading ‘Vincent’ makes you ponder the life of an artist – and offers a little understanding of the life of Van Gogh; the difficulties he faced, the sacrifices and the troubled existence of an infamous Dutch artist and his colleagues.
N.B. I am not an art student, and found this an interesting reflection of an artist introduced to me by a teacher in year 3!
Twins think and act alike, right? Even fraternal twins do many things the same, right?
Yes, to some degree. I can speak from personal experience of fraternal twins who would often pick the same birthday cards for relatives, and scheme together against the other siblings in the family – often in their own personalised language.
However, as many twins (both identical and fraternal) scream – they are still individuals! The twins in ‘Are You Seeing Me?’ are certainly individuals – both of whom scream for different reasons…
Perry screams when his world gets out of hand. At times when he is faced by the unfamiliar, “Perry has trouble with people – mixing with them and communicating with them – and it sometimes results in inappropriate behaviours.”
This is the spiel that Perry’s sister regularly rolls out to explain her twin brother’s unusual behaviour. As his twin, she is determined to protect him from the judgemental gaze of others. When Justine screams, however, Perry isn’t the cause – it’s the interfering concern of others, like her boyfriend, Marc.
In ‘Are You Seeing Me?’ much of the journey for Perry and Justine takes place as they travel to Canada, to seek out their estranged mother, Leonie. She left the twins in their father’s care when they were 4, unable to cope with twins – especially since Perry has a ‘special needs’ tag. Unfortunately, in their nineteenth year, Perry and Justine are left alone as their doting father dies of cancer.
There is also an emotional journey for them as they attempt to re-establish links with Leonie – and she has much to learn about Perry. A chance for her to re-connect.
I love the characters Darren Groth has created. They are authentic and believable. The communication between Justine and her father occurs through a diary he kept from birth, and it provides her strength, understanding and support as she strives to support her brother as he tenuously begins to negotiate the adult world. Perry’s comments and insights provide a ‘look inside’ as he struggles to find independence and ‘free’ his sister of her twin commitment.
Finding out that Groth’s own twins were the inspiration behind this book cements the authenticity and appeal of this book. While it has been aligned to Mark Haddon’s ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’, it tells a completely different tale. The relationship of twins shows how the Autism Spectrum Disorder impacts the whole family – and how they adapt and deal with it.
What was your childhood career dream? Fireman, racing car driver, ballet dancer, astronaut? How many of us actually followed through on our childhood dreams? Ryan Campbell was passionate about his, and has begun the path to achieving his dream career:
‘I loved our holiday in Vanuatu, but I just could not wait to get back on that aeroplane… Not to go home, just to go flying. That was the day when I decided I would be a jumbo jet pilot when I grew up.’ (He was 6 at the time.)
On June 30, 2013, Ryan took off on a journey to circumnavigate the globe, solo – and with the aim to be the youngest person to ever achieve this. However, as his book Born to Fly details, his departure on this day was the result of a great deal of planning and persistence – with many hurdles to overcome before his journey was to become a reality.
Just exactly how would you begin to plan a circumnavigation around the world in a light aircraft? Where would you begin? Indeed what would even inspire such a massive endeavour? How could a young adult even consider doing it?
Ryan’s passion and determination are evident in Born to Fly – and some credit for this must come from his uncle and grandfather, both passionate aviators. It is also clear that, while he is very much an average young adult in some ways (he admits that he was a fairly non-motivated student at times, a day-dreamer too), once he set his sights on achieving goals related to flying, he became very focussed.
With lots of research, he began to discover what he had to do to learn to fly, ways to supplement his earnings at the local supermarket to pay for lessons, and also how to meet academic standards for aviation qualifications. Achieving his first solo flight on his fifteenth birthday was just a small indication of things to come!
Soon, with the confidence from his achievements, Ryan began to dream of bigger challenges, which culminated in his record-breaking solo flight. There is great detail included in his story – the flying challenges, communication challenges, daily revision of decisions and insights to what it is like to undertake such a mammoth journey. He also acknowledges his many mentors and supporters – including Ken Evers, Jim Hazelton and Dick Smith.
There is much to be taken from this story – for both aviation enthusiasts, and others seeking inspiration to achieve their life goals. Born to Fly speaks not only about the challenges and difficulties he faced on this venture, but the ways in which he overcame events and situations that could test even the most experienced aviator. I am sure, Ryan would be the first to admit that he might have done a few things differently, but his courage and determination shines through.
Born to Fly is not the end of Ryan’s story. He is not yet a ‘jumbo jet pilot’. However, he aims to use his influence to encourage other young people to follow their dreams. And he will continue to work on his dreams, stepping towards his ultimate goals while encouraging others to find theirs:
I am proud to have learnt at a young age, proud of my achievements so far and excited at the prospects the future holds for me. I live for aviation, and I know that it is this passion, along with my dedication and commitment that will determine the successful outcome of my next endeavour. (Source: http://www.teenworldflight.com/my-achievements.html)
(Lots more detail is given at theTeen World Flightsite, with of course a great focus on aviation.)
N.B. This would also be a great related text for ‘Journeys’ and ‘Discovery’ – a remarkable journey by a young adult, out to discover the world and himself.
One of the great values of ‘reading’ an audiobook occurs when there is a distinct accent that knits the story together. This is certainly the case for Unpolished Gem, which I have been enjoying recently on my way to work.
The story is the memoir of Alice Pung’s immigrant family – their heritage including past lives in Vietnam and in Cambodia under the regime of Pol Pot. Alice, now a successful writer and lawyer, recounts her impressions of life as a child living across two very different cultures in suburban Melbourne.
Her family arrives in Australia and is in awe of all it has to offer – so different from their homeland experiences, and indeed, so different from the current migrant experience. For them, the suburban streets, shops and government support systems provide so much. In fact, every day her grandmother blesses ‘Father Government’ for giving old people money.
As refugees from the Pol Pot regime, her parents have great expectations of their new homeland, not the least of which is the value of education for their family. The family works hard – her mother as an outworker, while her father eventually becomes a ‘business entreprenuer’ embracing the miracle of franchising.
Naturally, though they embrace the Aussie dream, theirs is tempered by many strong cultural ideals. Insights into the Chinese culture are given with snippets of family conversations revealing their thoughts on how things should be done, must be done, as Alice struggles at times to bridge both cultures.
Listening to Unpolished Gem was fun – to hear Chinese expression, and the repetition and patterns of stilted Chinglish. The frustrations and struggles of Alice’s childhood also feel very authentic in the audio version, as her voice switches from recounts of the things she needed to learn, and things she needed to help her parents (particularly her mother) understand. Pung also loves language and Unpolished Gem is full of quirky sayings, and vivid playful language, so also dipping into the physical book was immensely satisfying.
Published in 2006, Unpolished Gem received much acclaim, and I imagine it would be an interesting contrast to the refugee experience of today. With the authentic insights it gives of a cross-cultural childhood, it is an unforgettable story with moments of tenderness, humour and bittersweet struggles well worth revisiting.
In an interview Writers Talk, Pung reflects on her family, inspiration for writing the book and the migrant experience:
A great book for concepts of belonging, cultural identity or journeys. Or simply a great read!
It’s been interesting getting into Life of Pi in a number of different ways, as I have read the book from both a paperback and while driving my car (obviously with an audio version…).
Life of Pi has been on my to-read bookshelf for some time and, of course, came to my attention again recently, when promotion of the movie began. By ‘reading’ using combined audio and paperback, I found an unusual richness was added to the story with the contribution of a quality audio production*.
Martel’s writing is where all the magic begins, however, as he tells the tale of a young Indian boy on his journey to manhood. Pi has struggled for many years with taunting at school, derived from his name, Piscine. In spite of this, (or because of this?) Pi is a strong willed young man with a great curiosity of life and how the world around him works.
With a somewhat unusual homelife as a zookeeper’s son (what child wouldn’t love to grow up in a zoo?), Pi has developed keen powers of observation of animals of all kinds – humans included. This awareness of animal behaviour provides a great background later in the story, when he is set adrift in a lifeboat with a menagerie of different animals. His survival skills are well and truly tested to the limit!
His questioning nature is also revealed as he digs into the 3 main religions which exist in his Indian homeland – Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. As a curious child, he seeks an understanding of the differences and similarities of these faiths, and commits to all 3 – much to the ire of each of his religious teachers!
A move by his family, away from the politics brewing in India, results in their journey on a Japanese cargo ship to Canada. Their zoo is dismantled and animals are sold afar; some of which journey on the ship with them. The tragic sinking of the cargo ship begins another section of the book, where Pi faces the many challenges of being afloat on a lifeboat with very unusual company – including Richard Parker!
Martel’s writing is memorable, poetic and so rich that it is believeable. It is a book to make you think long after you finish it. It is fantasy, but also holds many truthful observations within it, and doesn’t necessarily provide a neat ‘happy ending’. As a winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2002, Life of Pi has had many reviews over the years, and has now been made into an award winning film (which I can now see, having first read the book!)
What messages did Life of Pi relate to you? Is it a believeable tale? Or is it an abstraction from reality? An allegory about human existence perhaps?