Monday, July 20, 2009

Running Amok by Mark Bowling

This book tells the story of Mark Bowling, an ABC foreign correspondent, during his years as Indonesian correspondent, 1998 - 2002.

Reading this book reminded me of an embarrassingly-less-than-profound moment I had a few years ago. In the year that I had my third child, quite shortly after my second and first children, I decided that life was just too full-on and something had to go. I considered the options and decided on "the news". The world would have to go on without me keeping tabs. It was a conscious and effective decision, and when we got to the end of the year and I checked back in to read the-year-in-pictures, I was surprised at how few of the photographs I recognised. Slowly life got a bit easier and one day I decided to tune back in. I would start with an episode of Foreign Correspondent. That night I sat down in front of the television and tried really hard to concentrate on the stories. Half-way through the first story I found myself thinking "Gee, that bloke looks really good in a black shirt. Perhaps I should get Peter a black shirt". Hmm, so much for tuning back into world news.

I had the same sort of experience reading this book. Part of me wanted to follow the story. I recognised the names, the places, was vaguely familiar with the events, but I just couldn't concentrate on the "news". Really, I wanted to hear more about his wife and children, and how they coped, and what support is offered to families of the foreign correspondents. I found myself skipping to the references to his family, which were rather sketchy. Mark Bowling was quite the work-a-holic, as is somebody very close to me, so it was interesting to hear a lot of my suspicions confirmed. Work really does mean more than family, for all the assurances that it doesn't.

So, I have skipped large chunks of this book. However, being the dutiful bookclub secretary that I am, I will still come up with a list of discussion questions. Forgive me if they are rather generic.

(And if anybody is wondering...I did get Peter a black shirt).

1. As a bookclub, we have read a number of books written by foreign correspondents (Our Woman in Kabul, Lost in Transmission, Holy Cow (well, Sarah was not a foreign correspndent but she was living with one)). How does this behind-the-scenes insight affect your interpretation of news stories as they are presented?

2. Were you familiar with the events and characters in the book? Did the book offer any additional insights? Give an example where this book may have changed your interpretation of events.

3. Do you remember the story of the Taman Safari animals? Mark expresses his frustration that animal stories can "capture the imagination of TV viewers more readily than poor and hungry humans" (p68). Do you agree with this statement? If so, how do you think the media can negate our apathy to poor and hungry humans?

4. Overall, how do you think Mark's wife and children would have viewed their time in Indonesia? Did you get enough of Kim's story, or would you like to know more? Foreign correspondents often put their lives at risk in search of a story. What are your thoughts on balancing work commitments (risks) with responsibilities to their families ? (The same question could be asked of adventurers...the balance between the need to fulfill personal ambitions with the responsibilities of having children).

That is all I can come up with for the moment...but I'm sure we'll find other things to talk about. See you Wednesday, at Outback Jacks.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

Hmm, I'll get back to this later