'THE GOOD LISTENER : HELEN BAMBER, A LIFE AGAINST CRUELTY'

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9780297819042: 'THE GOOD LISTENER : HELEN BAMBER, A LIFE AGAINST CRUELTY'

Since she went to Belsen in 1945, to work with survivors of the camp at the age of nineteen, Helen Bamber's life has been devoted to working with people who have suffered the most appalling physical and psychological damage at the hands of others. From survivors of the holocaust and of the Burma railroad, through the victims of South African, Argentinian, Iraqi, Iranian and Israeli regimes, she has worked to heal those who have suffered at the hands of political and military torturers. Neil Belton will use her story as the basis to examine the resurrection of torture as an instrument of political power in our century, the experiences of sufferers, in a book that will be both a powerful and harrowing examination of the darkest sides of humanity, and of the character of one extraordinary, good and complex human being.

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Review:

When Helen Bamber was a little girl growing up in 1930s England, her father read her sections of Mein Kampf to inure her to the evil in the world. In 1945, at the age of 19, she traveled to the former concentration camp at Belsen to help with the physical and psychological recovery of Holocaust survivors. "Above all else," she said, "there was the need to tell you everything, over and over and over again. And this was the most significant thing for me, realizing that you had to take it all." Later in life, she became active in Amnesty International, and in 1985, she founded the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture--an organization whose name, in the words of her biographer Neil Belton, "says more than most of us wish to hear." Her remarkable life and her noble cause is now the subject of The Good Listener.

Blending history, biography, and moral indignation, Belton presents a view of the late 20th century darkened by cruelty. Bamber's lifetime of work--protecting children in hospitals, exposing unscrupulous doctors, and international human rights activism--is interwoven with capsule biographies of people who have influenced her, including Maurice Pappworth, whose book Human Guinea Pigs enraged the medical profession and resulted in the gifted physician's blacklisting. Belton also delivers searing indictments of governments still inflicting torture--indictments strengthened by the wrenching stories of some of the people Bamber has helped, including Adriana Borquez, tortured under Pinochet's regime in Chile, and people who have disappeared, such as Bill Beausire, with whom Borquez was imprisoned in 1975. Any book on the subject of torture and human rights is bound to be difficult and disturbing; The Good Listener, however, remains powerfully inspirational. Bamber maintains that the work she and her colleagues do is not heroic. She is clearly wrong. --C.B. Delaney

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Praise for The Good Listener

"Intelligent and thought-provoking . . . The Good Listener is neither an ordinary biography nor a depressing litany of case studies. Belton has achieved a book that is thoroughly absorbing yet lacking in prurience. It is a kaleidoscopic view of the horrors that have so disfigured our century, which nevertheless retains a sense of human proportion because of the irrepressible human person at its core."
--Times Literary Supplement

"Belton's synthesis of biography and history is masterly: it is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the way in which the abuse of political power led to horror in many countries in the twentieth century."
--The Sunday Times (London)

"A highly original fusion of the personal and the public, [The Good Listener] straddles the genres of biography, history, and reflective moral essay, employing the techniques of the novelist as well as the journalist, stretching the boundaries of conventional biography. An engaged, acutely sensitive narrative [and] a challenging act of witness to the bleak truths about this century's recent history, viewed through the prism of one exceptional woman's life."
--Irish Times

"Extreme good is as rare as extreme evil, although this is rarely noticed. What makes someone want to do extreme good? That is what Belton's book [asks], which makes it most unusual and most valuable. . . . This is an essential story, well and sensitively told."
--The Independent (London)

"A riveting, original, and beautifully judged combination of biography, history, and moral reflection. I know of no book that succeeds so well in making us feel the intimate human reality of the twentieth century's long reign of political cruelty without ever reducing the scale of the unspeakable--a superb book."        
--Fintan O'Toole, author of A Traitor's Kiss: The Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan

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