Life in the winds of change

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Book Review of LIFE in the WINDS of Change

By Jill Parris & Sirage Kifamunyanja

Published 2012

ISBN 9 781921 775949

Non-fiction

Sirage Kifamunyanja’s stories, related by Jill Parris and illustrated by Isabella Dupre, are engaging, moving, and disturbing. Sirage is a Ugandan man, who was persecuted in many situations in different African countries before he came as a refugee to Australia. Once here in Melbourne, his persecution does not end. I expect for middle class white Australians, which many of us Quakers are, the stories are eye-opening. Sirage and Jill emphasise the resilience of the human spirit, hope, and the importance of adherence to respectful and gracious values.

This is a collection of stories that are Sirage’s accounts of many events in his complicated life, including early family upheaval, forced independence, intermittent poverty and plentitude, entrepreneurship, travels, relationships, corruption, escapes, incarceration, torture and invincibility. Sirage cannot write but through telling the stories he explores different possible narrative lines, reflects on the implications and identifies morals he wants to share. Jill Parris scribes for him, and reports to me in personal conversation that she reduces 100s of thousands of words into this simplified account of many things. From time to time in the book, Jill Parris uses her own voice and offers help for us to stay with Sirage’s stories. His and her voices are distinguished in the book by using a different type face for each.

The stories reveal multiple perspectives on a person’s experience, which is important because what we see depends so much of the point of view we choose. The experience of people like Sirage, and their sense-making tools are so different from many middle class white Anglo-saxon people, like me. We can be baffled by all the differences, especially all the difficulties, but sometimes too by the apparent strength and capacity to transcend those difficulties at times. With such reactions inside us, it can be difficult to connect with people like Sirage. Being provided multiple perspectives allows many ways to enter into the stories, a variety of ways to appreciate Sirage’s experiences and those with similar experiences.

Jill Parris’ gift to us it to be able to provide the variety with literary coherence that invites us to stay with the mixed senses of disquiet, criticism, hope, relief and respect that are all evoked by this story.

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