Reviewer Lois C. Henderson: Lois is a freelance academic editor and back-of-book indexer, who spends most of her free time compiling word search puzzles for tourism and educative purposes. Her puzzles are available HERE and HERE Her Twitter account (@LoisCHenderson) mainly focusses on the toponymy of British place names. Please feel welcome to contact her with any feedback at LoisCourtenayHenderson@gmail.com.
Author: Ted Neill
Author: Ted Neill
“Wonder” is the key element of this memoir, punctuated by a fictionalized series of stories about African children living in children’s homes in Nairobi, Kenya, primarily in the Rainbow Children’s Home. How Ted Neill integrates his own experience as an aid worker with that of the children in an ongoing narrative makes for fascinating and heart-wrenching reading. Just as he tells his own back story from the turning point of where he seeks to participate in his own emotional and spiritual recovery post a suicide attempt six years later, so, too, does he reveal the back story of the children with whom he becomes most closely involved while working in the Home. The latter story is fictionalized, as his retelling of their traumatic experiences is at least partly an amalgam of those of a number of children whom he grew to love and empathize with.
This deeply personal account exposes the reader to a moving poignancy that reverberates throughout the text. Although awareness of the HIV/Aids epidemic is ubiquitous worldwide, what is less well-known is the impact of the disease on the everyday life of those growing up in the developing countries. The grueling reality of having to live with the stigma and social isolation of being an HIV/Aids sufferer, while one’s own body is rapidly deteriorating, is brought home through the eyes of innocent victims, who have done nothing to deserve their fate. As each child’s story unravels painfully, counterpoised against those of others, as well as against the author’s own mental and spiritual anguish at his realizing how little, in reality, he can do to alleviate the poverty and traumatization of others, especially the young, which he once thought, as a public health worker and child care specialist, he could help alleviate, the empathy of the reader is irrevocably aroused, to the extent that (s)he, too, becomes a fellow sufferer along the way.
Two Years of Wonder: A Memoir, with the two years involved referring to the years 2002 to 2004, is a deeply troubled and troubling work, though it stands in stark contrast to the recollection of colonial times, when the plight of the “poor unfortunates” in “deepest, darkest Africa” served as a conduit for the expression of missionary zeal. The impotence of the modern-day philanthropist to help in any meaningful way to counter the scourge of rampant disease and malignancy that has come to permeate the present-day psyche and being on so many different levels has led to much greater awareness of the fallibility of the human entity to intervene in any substantial way. Though financial aid has clearly led to the rollout of many successful ARV campaigns in developing countries, particularly in Africa, the empathic acceptance of those who bear the burden of primarily sexually transmitted disease still has a far way to go. That said, writings like “Two Years of Wonder: A Memoir” should spearhead a deeper awareness and appreciation of the sanctity of human life than has ever before been possible—may the work reach a wide audience across the continents. It certainly deserves to do so.