Monday, 23 July 2012

Review—Maurice Andrew (Professor of Old Testament Studies)

After the Launch

We became friends with Gisela and Maurice Andrew in 1972 after their arrival in Dunedin.  There are many memories: meeting at Opoho Church; family meals together, both Gisela and I loved to share our immigrant experiences and try out our national recipes; Gisela, Theresa and Alexa often popping in on a Saturday afternoon which in those days made a refreshing break between getting our new house and garden settled; Chris in the same class at Opoho School as Foster and Ray.

Our carpet had suffered from the sun.  Gisela's stunning hand-woven rug near our sliding door not only covers the worn patches but is also a daily reminder of our strong friendship.

Nowadays I go back into the past a lot but among so many memories one memory sticks out.  The washing machine overflowed the day before I wrote my first-ever university exam (1988).  The carpet had to be lifted, dozens of towels needed washing and drying after mopping up.  Maurice rang:  'I just want to wish you well for your exam tomorrow.'  I cried, 'Maurice, I can't do this, I can't concentrate, I'll just have to forget about it.'  Maurice's answer followed, acknowledging the problem (which I knew to be my own insecurity).  And then those wise words: 'If you don't write this exam, you'll always be wondering how you would have done.'   Thank you, Maurice, even after all those years!  Thank you, too, for your book Set in a Long Place (Hazard Press, 1999).  It's given our family much pleasure.

Thank you, Maurice, for your literary review of The Madonna in the Suitcase.

Maurice, Gisela and Sue at Miriam's 50th

Dear Huubje
I have read The Madonna in the Suitcase with great enjoyment and appreciation.  The title itself suggests someone who has to be brought out, and you have done that superbly.  The mosaic is an appropriate image that is carried through the book well: it gives expression to the colours that are also there both literally and metaphorically.  The thing that strikes me most about Miriam's art is its composition and colour, and that is in the book as well.

You often give descriptions in pictures, and you clearly have a sharp memory for colours and the clothes that are themselves clothed in them.  You see many links between life and art.

Such descriptions often make the reader feel with you both physically and emotionally.  The pram was hard to push after your acquaintance failed to acknowledge Miriam.  The meaning of the name, by the way, is not clear, but one suggestion is 'a wished-for child', and that would certainly be accurate in your case.  But what a struggle you have had to bring other people to see that.  Your description of the loneliness of a mother of small children is moving.  How many hurtful comments you have had to endure even from the 'experts', and what a trial to have to struggle to bring professionals to realize that Miriam had a [struggle!] stroke!  You will have wondered sometimes how much more you were expected to put up with.  What a terrible time after the visit to Melbourne!  But you kept going, and you take readers on this journey with you, even if they cannot join it completely.

Right from her birth you give a sharply focused picture of Miriam: the clothes she (and you) liked, the food, the people to whom she responded.  It was important too that she knew her limitations, if that is a correct interpretation of her love of routine.  Your style too brings all this to clear expression: it is at least partly the address to Miriam that brings the reader to feel both physically and emotionally.  Short sentences are often effective in expressing the growing confidence in both you and Miriam.  The short comment at the end of a paragraph is a sharp summing up of what has preceded.  You often have an imaginative combination like the one between you, Hildegard, and Holbein.  So your style brings out your combination of human relations with learning and artistic appreciation.  It would be praiseworthy in anyone, but in one for whom this was (once at least) a second language, it is doubly so.  And you make clear that you haven't done it alone – Bart and the boys were an essential part of the whole.

Maurice Andrew
Professor of Old Testament Studies, Knox College (retired)
Dunedin, New Zealand

About the book...

Huberta Hellendoorn's book tells the story of a young married couple, Dutch immigrants newly arrived in New Zealand, whose first child, Miriam, is born with Down syndrome.  Rather than being sad or negative, the book clearly demonstrates how their daughter is embraced into the family with love and optimism.  While this book courageously depicts the hardships inherent in raising a child with special needs, it also celebrates the joys and the triumphs.

Miriam’s emergence as an artist is supported by her family, teachers and friends and her talent is acknowledged and fostered.  Further, Miriam is depicted as a child and then a young woman of courage and determination and with a sense of humour and an enormous capacity for empathy and sensitivity.  She is both loved and loving.
This is an extraordinary story told with insight and elegance.  Huberta is a published – and a very talented – writer.  The book is carefully crafted; written without sentimentality but with attention to detail and language.  The stylistic device Huberta uses – the book is written as an address, or letter, to her daughter – engages the reader so that they share and are involved in the experiences.
The book, while appealing also to the general reader, would provide inspiration to any family raising a special child.  It would also give hope and comfort to families of stroke victims.
This is a story of grace, inspiration and hope.  A story of courage, determination and celebration of creativity, as well as a valuable and rewarding resource for families caring for a child with special needs and all professionals working with people who have a disability.
Paddy Richardson, 1997 Burns Fellow, University of Otago

Some of the many letters sent in