Ruth Clare’s debut Enemy won the Asher Literary Award, offered biennially to a female author whose work carries an anti-war theme. She was born in Brisbane, Queensland, and raised in Rockhampton. She earned a degree in biochemistry and journalism at QUT in Brisbane, Queensland. She went on to train as a copywriter and worked in advertising. During this time she had been working on a manuscript. After finishing it in 2014 she found an agent. Her first book was published in 2016.
With the opening sentence, “I was born into the war still raging inside my father”, the reader immediately gathers that this autobiography is not going to be an easy read.
Doug Callum is an ex Vietnam Veteran, with a wife and three young children, with Ruth being the middle child. He is a totally different person to the young man conscripted to Vietnam and who was involved in the Battle of Coral–Balmoral. This battle (12 May – 6 June 1968) was a series of actions fought between the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) and the North Vietnamese 7th Division and Viet Cong Main Force units, 40 kilometres north-east of Saigon.
Ruth tells her harrowing story as a child growing up in a household of regimentation and strict discipline. She and her siblings are often covered in bruises and Ruth lives constantly on guard in fear of upsetting her father, and feeling unloved and unwanted.
“I had never been to war, but I knew what it was like to be prepared to face the enemy every day. The difference was, my enemy wasn’t a faceless stranger. My enemy was someone I loved.”
She also tells her story as a young mother with her own children, looking back to take stock of her father’s behaviour, which she later learns has all the hallmarks of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She seeks out and communicates with numerous Vietnam Vets who admit to similar antisocial traits as well as seeking counselling through the Vietnam Veterans Association.
When Ruth’s parents inevitably divorce, we breathe a sigh of relief – though not for long. PTSD is insidious and leaches into other situations with frightening ramifications.
However, Ruth’s story is not all bleak and you can’t but admire her personal strength and resilience, as well as her compassion for her flawed father and other PTSD sufferers. On a more personal level I admire the author’s willingness to learn the details of her Dad’s role in the military, something he rarely discussed, which adds greatly to her understanding of his condition.
Doug Callum died too young of a skin cancer, suspected to have been brought on by sitting in the jungle of Vietnam for days on end with Agent Orange raining overhead.
I also respect Ruth for her compassion for her mother who has her own demons.
Written extremely well, this is another of those books that should be included on High School Reading Lists, not only for its information about the war in Vietnam, but also mental health awareness and domestic violence issues.
Not a “nice” book, but one that would have taken much courage to write.
NOTE: June is PTSD Awareness Month in Australia.
4 thoughts on “Australian Author Challenge : Enemy by Ruth Clare”
Thanks for this review, sounds like a book I must read. My Dad was older than the authors’, but was also affected by war. He was a fatherless small child in the occupied Netherlands during WW2. His Father spent 2 years in Mauthausen and died a year after the war finished. So much of what my siblings and I experienced growing up were a result of the fear and poverty experienced by him as a child. He was a good father, but his need to protect us manifested in fear and the need to control, I grew to understand him as I matured and did some “work”, I loved him deeply and I have missed him since he died of leukaemia 8 years ago, I still talk to him 🙂
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Jenny, you have made me tear up. Yes, my father flew planes over Germany over WW2. He was never violent, but forever cranky. We were very disciplined children and I grew up disciplined. It wasn’t till I divorced at 40 that I could become the person whom I was meant to be. I still talk to my Dad too. Big hug, Jennyrecorder.
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Being disciplined is what you knew to be. I too am in the process of getting a divorce and my former husband is irritating, but he taught me to stop sweating the small stuff as I was a control freak in my younger days!
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