Thursday 1 October 2009

Gold and Fishes - Donna Carrick

When the World Trade Center was destroyed in September 2001, 2,750 people lost their lives. When Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in 1997, 3 people lost theirs. And every year on the anniversaries of these tragic events, TV stations and magazines and online chat forums are full of tragic documentaries, photos and messages to commemorate the victims. Dozens of books have been written about the circumstances before, during and after these tragedies, with numerous eye witnesses', survivors' and simple acquaintances' contributions. Every aspect of these horrific events has been scrutinised from every possible angle, time and time again. And yet, when the Boxing Day 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and resulting tsunami killed an estimated 230,000 people, the media circus died down within a few weeks. Very little was shown about the impact of the tragedy once the clean-up operation was finished. There are no commemorative TV documentaries on the anniversary. Maybe natural tragedies are less media-friendly than man-made ones ? Maybe the timing was unfortunate and nobody wants to watch pictures of suffering and tragedy as they chow down on their Christmas turkey ?

Whatever the reason, I came to this book with very little background knowledge, aside from the constant TV pictures of people desperately clinging on to the tops of palm trees as the mud and water destroyed everything in their path. I was slightly concerned that the author would somehow exploit the victims' stories, but she avoids sensationalism while depicting the absolute tragedy of their tales - in fact, she even criticises in passing the sellers of tacky tsunami Tshirts in Thailand.

This is a work of fiction but Donna Carrick has done some thorough research and presents us with a highly detailed depiction of the apocalyptic aftermath of the tsunami. It was a real eye-opener for me and gave me some serious food for thought. I was largely unaware of the political backdrop with groups of insurgent rebels, a thriving black market for stolen humanitarian aid parcels and pervading corruption at all levels. The individuals' tales are heart-breaking : whole families wiped out, the total lack of children in the survivors' tents because they were too small to outrun the wave, victims buried in mass graves which could not respect the Muslim tradition of the dead facing Mecca, amputees who, for the rest of their lives, risked the stigma of being taken for thieves having undergone the traditional punishment for stealing in Muslim law ...

As well as portaying the victims and survivors, the author gives us a fascinating glimpse into life as a humanitarian aid worker. I had never considered the hostility and danger of this occupation before reading this book. I was certainly a lot more knowledgeable about the human and political stories once I'd reached the final page. The whole story is haunting and tragic, but we also see the bravery and resilience of the survivors and the aid workers.

My only slight criticism is that the blurb on the back of the book doesn't really reflect the book as a whole. New York Times best selling author Ellen Tanner Marsh is quoted as saying : "Author Donna Carrick pens an exciting blend of murder, mystery, disaster and rescue". It IS all there but the murder and mystery are such minor elements that they hardly seem worth mentioning. The main focus - and the main interest of the book - lies in the description of the humanitarian aid workers and the people they help.

Each of the characters has a colourful enough background to have their own book written about them - in particular I would love to see Ayla and Zonnie appear in another novel and find out more about their harrowing childhood. The downside of this is that some elements seem overly condensed - the love affair between Ayla and Kenny is squashed into a few pages and the whole murder/mystery aspect is covered in just a few paragraphs. It's almost a shame to "waste" them here - the aid workers'/victims' experiences are enough to carry the book by themselves, and the other elements (the murder, the love affair, the childhood trauma ...) could have been more fully developed in another novel.

It's a fascinating read with believable characters and a lot of detail, based on fact, that gives the reader a real insight into the consequences of the tsunami. It's a fitting tribute to all those who lost their lives.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Booksurge Llc (27 Jul 2006)
ISBN-10: 1419641859
ISBN-13: 978-1419641855

star rating : 4.5/5


  1. I had the honour of reading Gold and Fishes when I was a judge for the Crime Writers of Canada "Arthur Ellis Awards", and I found Donna Carrick's writing to be deeply emotional, especially considering much of her book delves into such a tragic event.

    I agree with the Cheryl above--news reporters seemed to ditch the story awfully fast and we rarely ever hear references to the tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

    Donna takes you inside that world with the stories of the people, their adversities, the dangers and a glimmer of hope. I found the book very moving.

    Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
    bestselling author

  2. Thank you, Cheryl! And thank you, too, Cheryl!
    The Cheryl's are very kind ladies!
    Best in writing,

  3. What a great review! Good for you!


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