CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 12 . . . . February 2, 2007
Who Am I to Complain?: A Quick Perspective Adjustment.
Renfrew, ON: General Store Publishing House, 2006.
105 pp., pbk., $17.95.
Harper, Michael, 1968–Health.
Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Cathy Vincent-Linderoos.
As far as I am concerned, I feel that my life was pretty much standard for a Westerner. I can only look back with fondness on all that I have done (although I still do not know why a post-high school bender was necessary). After initially listening to Isaac's stories, my perspective on life changed. Granted, his was a different way of life; however, paralleling his brand of eventual misery with mine was the only way to highlight one relevant fact: I could complain about my situation, but relatively speaking, I shouldn't. There are much bigger things occurring in the world that most of us cannot fathom. Once you have realized and accepted this, only then will you call your complaints trivial.
Who Am I to Complain? is an autobiographical story about courage, family and friendship.
It was written by a man who, despite the extreme physical limitations imposed upon him by his MS (multiple sclerosis), reflects gratefully upon his life to date.
We learn of Mike Harper, self-described as "spoiled North American," father, and friend to many people including Isaac, his stalwart home-support worker and attendant, a survivor of the Sudanese genocide and refugee camps. In comparing their two struggles, Mike pays tribute to Isaac and shrugs off what another might have called the ongoing nightmare of his own life-and-death struggle with MS. It is an understatement to say that the author does not wallow in self-pity, but rather, he enthusiastically celebrates what he does have.
Who Am I to Complain? is "a good conversation" - just as Mike describes Isaac. At times, the author seems to be recounting personal details directly to his daughter so that she might have a permanent record of her family origins and her dad's love for her. Many black and white full-page photographs help to tell the story. The book also tells of Isaac's struggle to survive in southern Sudan where the murderous rampages of the "janjaweed" directly impacted Isaac and his family. In this respect, it is the general audience who is being addressed and educated at some length. The tenacity of this writer - who cannot move any part of his body except a single finger - is evident to the reader. I was engaged by the author's humorous style of writing and even though I'm not a hockey fan, a collector of T-Shirts or a parent, I found that his message rang a bell. Once, upon reading a book about people in Africa getting infected with the Ebola virus, and dying horrific deaths, I concluded that my lot in life - even with an unexpected diagnosis of MS at 33 - far surpassed that of Ebola victims! Comparing my own grim reaction to MS and that of Mike Harper in this book, I'd suggest that the book might have been titled "Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 1"!
In recommending this book, I'd say that story is indeed "a quick adjustment of perspective." There is always someone who has a worse situation than you, no matter what your individual challenges and circumstance. The author is indirectly asking his reader to recognize that everyone's life has its problems - using barbed wire on the cover as a visual metaphor for constraint - and he shows there is joy in finding a way to "walk through the fire," without bitterness, cynicism or giving up.
Who Am I to Complain? would appeal to young people who are interested in working with people with disabilities or with people who are refugees from war zones. As well, many people with MS themselves would no doubt find the book to be a refreshing way of looking at the big picture. The author is clearly a kind man, an entertainer, and he does not "preach." Many cautionary tales from growing up in small-town Ontario are liberally sprinkled throughout Mike Harper's book and much of his book is written in slightly off-beat, colloquial English.
Cathy Vincent-Linderoos is a person with MS and retired teacher who lives in London, ON.
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