24 September 2014

An Impossible Marriage by Meriel Brooke

 Samuel Singleton, a farmer's boy from Shropshire, joins the Army as a teenager in WW1 and eventually transfers to the Royal Flying Corps. He survives the trenches and again survives, whilst on patrol flying in his Sopwith Camel, being shot down in flames. After recovering from his physical wounds, he returns home and starts to rebuild the family farm. The mental scars from his days at war, take longer to heal and the nightmares persist... A letter from a friend who is working abroad tempts him to begin a new life, and so he sets sail to Malaya and a new life as a rubber planter.
On the voyage over, he meets an Oxford graduate, Ruth Birley, and theirs is an instant attraction. However, he has left behind his sweetheart Mary, who, unknown to him, is already pregnant with his child.
Eventually Sam and Ruth marry, but all is not as easy as it might be, especially for Ruth who finds it hard to adapt to the life on a rubber plantation far from the bustle and excitement of Singapore.
Mary marries a neighbouring farmer, and they bring up her child as their own.
Life is stormy for Sam and Ruth, and they are parted when Sam is imprisoned in the infamous Changi goal during the Japanese invasion of Malaya in WW2.
Years later, Sam's children from each of his relationships meet and fall in love.
Good people sometimes make bad decisions with consequences that can cause complications across distance and time.
Can love and courage confound problems and overcome the obstacles of an impossible marriage?

This book was a big departure from what I usually read.  There’s a lot of interesting history contained in this book, with a lot of drama!
Sam is a farmer from Shropshire.  He enlists in the Army in WWI and comes back as many do a changed man.  He decides to begin over in Malaya as a rubber plantation owner and on the voyage there he meets Ruth.  They fall in love and marry, and what Sam didn’t know was that the woman he left behind, Mary, is pregnant with his child.  Mary settles with another man, and they raise the baby as theirs.  Several years later, Sam’s kids meet and fall in love…which is an interesting twist to the tortured life of Sam. 
This is one of those stories that come tragically full circle.  The overwhelming emotion I had during reading this was one of sorrow for Sam.  I mean, the guy goes through SO much.  And then the way it all comes together at the end I found to be completely heartbreaking.
I think one of the hardest parts of this book to read for me was when Sam goes to the prisoner of war camp when the Japanese invade Malaya.  Wow…I had NO idea.  That was rough.
I think the best thing about this book is the way in which the story is told.  It’s a skillfully written tale, because it includes a lot of information about people, times and places, but manages to keep your interest in the story.  It’s paced well and just really well done.  I found myself really enjoying this one even though it was more of a serious book than I’m used to.  4 stars.

Meriel Brooke has always wanted to be a writer, but it's taken a long time and several careers to achieve this ambition.
She was born in Malaya, where her father was the manager of a rubber plantation. At the age of three, she was sent to boarding school in England, with her sister, who was five. They saw their Mother, briefly, every two years, and their father every four years, so they did not have a family life as children, but they had happy holidays in homes, where they met other children whose parents lived abroad. Meriel and her sister were evacuated to Canada during the Second World War, and soon began to enjoy school life. Meriel was a bright child, and did well in all subjects, especially English and Dramatic Art, and excelled in sport as well.
After returning to England, she gained a place at Bristol University to study languages.
However, she decided she wanted to go into the theatre. Her parents were not supportive, and at the age of seventeen she had to earn her own living. She became a student nurse at Saint Bartholomew's Hospital, earning £100 per annum. While a student nurse, she became engaged to a medical student, whom she married after she qualified, and later had two wonderful children, a boy and a girl.
Meriel answered an advertisement in The Times, and became the nursing assistant to a Guy's plastic surgeon, who sent her to do some extra training under Harold Gillies at Rooksdown House, Basingstoke. Years later, Meriel discovered that Gillies had done reparative work on her father's serious facial injuries after he was shot down as a Royal Air Corps' pilot in the First World War. He was awarded the Military Cross for the action in which he sustained these injuries.
After eleven years working in Plastic Surgery, Meriel's love of acting once more came to the fore, and she gave in her notice. She auditioned for Joan Littlewood and, after working in her Company, acted on television and stage, including the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, and the American Shakespeare Company 
She divorced in 1974 and re-married in America in 1982, to an Englishman working in IBM.
It was difficult to get work in the theatre when she returned to England, and she took a Drama Teacher's Diploma, LLAM, gaining Gold Medals in Verse and Prose and in Public Speaking.
She wrote a thesis on Stress and Relaxation and made a professional relaxation tape for actors, and was short-listed for Voice Assistant at The Royal Shakespeare Company.
In 1990 Meriel wrote a play, Apples of Gold, based on movement and verse-speaking, which was runner up for the Arts Council Best Fringe Play Award. She directed three plays and was elected to the Directors’ Guild.
In 1993, she moved to Herefordshire with her husband and they set up a small organic farm, rearing rare breeds of geese, poultry, pigs, cattle and sheep, and working with a horse.
In 1997 Meriel Brooke wrote the book, Pot of Gold, a humorous account of smallholder life, which was published by Miller Freeman. She has since written two novels, An Impossible Marriage, an historically accurate fictional story of life in the colonies, partly set in Malaya, and based on her father’s life, and Sweet Mungo about a boy, born in the prejudicial era of the 1940's, harshly treated by his father and abused by his tutor at Choir School. She has also written a children’s story Jacqueline and Gladwin, about a clever jackdaw.


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