One Fourteenth of an Elephant, by Ian Denys Peek


At the start of the Second World war, Denys Peek was living as a civilian in Singapore, with his brother Ron and his parents. Like most other able bodied expatriates, he signed up as a volunteer to help in Singapore’s defense. When Singapore fell, in February 1942, Denys and his brother became prisoners of war, interred with tens of thousands of other British, Australian and Commonwealth men.

Transported to Siam, Denys spent the next three years living in Japanese run labor camps, forced to work on the building of the Burma-Thailand Railway.

 

In appalling conditions these men fought to keep both bodies and spirits alive, whilst enduring harsh and unreasonable work expectations, limited food rations, no sanitation, and the dismal prospect of never seeing their families or their countries again.

 

Over 20,000 men died in the construction of the railway. Many times during his three year ordeal Peek faced the prospect of joining their ranks. Miraculously, he survived, spurred on by a stubborn refusal to die, the bond he shared with his brother and his mates, and, at times, by psychic happenings that defied explanation.

 

In One Fourteenth of an Elephant, Peek shares his story with an intimacy and openness that stirs deep feelings in the heart of the reader. Writing in present tense, he recounts events as they happened, taking the reader with him on his daily quest for survival.

 

This is a book which reveals horrific suffering, events and brutality that almost defy belief – yet it is not a depressing story. Peek’s own survival and the courage and humanity showed by his fellow prisoners are an incredible demonstration of just how people can triumph over the strongest adversity.

 

Powerful, evocative – essential reading.

 

One Fourteenth of an Elephant, by Ian Denys Peek
Pan Macmillan, 2003

 

Manhattan to Baghdad, by Paul McGeogh

In early September 2001, Australian journalist Paul McGeogh returned to New York from a trip to Afghanistan. When he woke on September 11 it was to the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Centre. As he turned on his television he was just in time to see the second plane hit. McGeogh was on the streets in time to witness the towers collapsing. Being witness to these shocking events was just one of McGeogh’s strokes of fortune that saw him in the right place at the right time (from a journalist’s perspective – some may argue he is often in the wrong place).

The twelve months following September 11 saw McGeogh return to Afghanistan to witness and report on the subsequent events, travelling to Israel and the Occupied Territories to report on the ongoing conflict in that region, venturing into Baghdad to gain insight into the effects on Iraq of ongoing sanctions and the threat of another war, and onto Saudi Arabia.

Manhattan to Baghdad is McGeogh’s account of his personal journey, of the events he witnesses and of the people he meets along the way. This is a highly personal account, yet has the precision of a journalist’s observation. As well as allowing the reader a glimpse into McGeogh’s life, it ultimately provides a deeper insight into the events of the months since September 11, and of the current war and ongoing turmoil in the region.

This is essential reading for anyone who wants a better understanding of the tumultuous world we now inhabit. Both entertaining and educational.

Manhattan to Baghdad, by Paul McGeogh
Allen & Unwin, 2003