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Bent Not Broken
- New Zealand Book Review

Dorothy - 4/2/00

Bent Not Broken - front cover
Bent Not Broken - front cover

 

Bent Not Broken
The frank account of the life of Lauren Roche who achieves a seemingly impossible ambition after years of destructive experiences

Bent Not Broken - front cover - Photo of Lauren by Vlad Petrovic, Images by Woolf, Streetwalker deatil from mural designed by Quadratura, painted by Michael Benseman and Michael Ting, 1990, photographed by Lorraine Ellen, cover design: Lynn Peck

Who should read this book?
In my view, most people!

Teenagers questioning what life can offer them.
Parents - those whose children are coping with serious emotional and behaviour problems, and those who think their children will be immune to such troubles.
Grandparents, especially those who condemn the young of today.
Social workers, teachers and politicians.
Those who have had sheltered lives or who say that the media exaggerate the problems of the country's young people.
Those who think such young people have brought their problems on themselves.
Above all those who feel that there is no hope of a better life, so that their hope can be restored.

Why am I so enthusiastic about this book?
I believe it can have a powerful influence for good because it is the frank account of the life of a woman who succeeds in fulfilling a seemingly impossible ambition after years of destructive experiences. Her story has the classic elements of a life of hardship - a downward spiral into abuse, loss of ambition, depression alternating with craving for excitement, teenage motherhood, prostitution - yet changes to become an upward spiral into career success as a doctor.

Few people could write a life story like Lauren Roche's. Few could have suffered as she did, and emerged as a skilled writer who could portray her experiences so vividly.

My attention was instantly caught in the Prologue as she writes of her feelings as she contemplated suicide at eighteen. Then comes a tribute to her mother, loving and caring when sober, yet given to wild mood swings and addicted to drugs and alcohol and driven to suicide at thirty two. The opening to chapter 1 is a disturbingly vivid description of a recurrent nightmare of abandonment.

It was as well that the cover said, "Stowaway, stripper, doctor", because I read on knowing that at some point the tide of misfortune must turn. This certainty persisted, but with amazement, as I read of neglect, malnutrition and sexual abuse in childhood while in her mother's care. By the time relatives gave Lauren a more comfortable life the impact of her earlier experiences made it impossible for her to see relevance in settling down as a school student achieving success through her high level intellect.

Abandoning the conventional way of life she works at a variety of jobs, including one as cleaner in a hospital. How she reveres the nurses and wishes she could have their skills of caring, but dismisses the idea as an achievement beyond her abilities.

She travels to the USA as a stowaway and becomes an accomplished liar in her predicament as an illegal immigrant with no one from home prepared to rescue her. She is sent back to New Zealand, enters a relationship, becomes pregnant, refuses to have an abortion, keeps her baby, works as a stripper, and in a massage parlour and then as a prostitute to increase her earnings. Drugs help her to tolerate her work as a prostitute. She is at risk of a fate like her mother's.

When she takes an overdose she is found in time and put in hospital. Given time to contemplate she decides that education is the only way out of her situation and returns to school. She is amazed by her success as a student and despite problems along the way she eventually qualifies as a doctor.

Lauren relates her story in a simple time sequence and gives telling details which make the narration gripping. She doesn't spare us the fears and the longings, the sights and the smells that are part of the disastrous happenings in her life. but I never felt that she was deliberately working on my emotions. The strong feelings I felt were aroused by the happenings, not by the author's manipulation. She makes no excuses for herself, but acknowledges openly the mistakes she made, the deceptions she practised and the risks she took.

What signs were there in her earlier life that Lauren Roche could be a successful doctor?
A people person

In all that happens in her life Lauren gives clear evidence of being a people person. The whole story is peopled with vividly drawn characters. In her childhood she cared for her sister trying to keep her safe and make life easier for her. In all the varied roles she took as she grew up she shows concern for others, especially for those who were in difficulties.

She doesn't hesitate to acknowledge the loving support her grandmother and her sister gave to her and her first son.

For much of her life she was battling for survival alone which may be why she so enjoyed involvement with groups as different as fan clubs for pop groups, protest groups against the Springbok Tour, and groups of student friends at the Medical School.

Tolerance
Lauren showed tolerance and acceptance of others' lifestyles. Even before she recognised that she was happy in a lesbian relationship she had homosexual friends. Some of her best friends were gay men whose caring undemanding friendship meant a great deal to her.

Courage and humour
I greatly admire the courage and openness she showed in writing about her life, and in struggling on despite clinical depression during many of the down times. Except at the very low points in her life she shows a lively sense of humour, can laugh at others in a kindly way, and more importantly can laugh at herself.

Her love of books
Through all the varied phases of her life she continued to value her books. In her room at the massage parlour she kept and read Einstein's Universe, The Dragons of Eden, The Body in Question, The Art of Sensual Massage and the Holy Bible. Her mind was alert and ready for study when she felt motivated to return to it.

Such a woman has some vitally important qualities for a doctor. A woman who has suffered and can share the experiences of patients with similar life stories has unique gifts to bring to the medical profession. In a recent radio interview on Top o' the Morning she told Brian Edwards that the police and CYPS send troubled young women to her. She can understand their situation and is well aware of the types of lies they tell!

"Bent Not Broken" Her courage in writing the book means that others can learn from her experiences and those who have lost hope can begin to hope once more, recalling the quotations inside the front cover .

"I have been bent and broken, but - I hope - into a better shape."
Estella in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

"The bent reed he will not break.
The smouldering wick he will not snuff out."
Matthew 12.20






 
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