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The Full Catastrophe

By Tracey Leonard
HiddenSpring, 1999
RRP $27.95

Reviewed by Karyl Davison.

Last month I read Where the Hell is God? by Richard Leonard.

He begins the book by recounting some of the comments made to his sister who, while working in a remote indigenous community in the Northern Territory, received catastrophic injuries in a car accident.

How could people suggest that God was punishing Tracey after all the good she’d been doing in her young life?

His brief description of Tracey grabbed me – I wanted to find out more about her life.

Ms Leonard is a natural and engaging storyteller.

The Full Catastrophe describes the few years the twenty-something spent as a volunteer with the Sisters of Mercy in Calcutta caring for the dying and destitute during the day, while partying with Calcutta’s ever changing expat community at night.

On her return to Australia, Ms Leonard went to work as a nurse in the remote community of Port Keats.

There she encounters problems very different from the streets of Calcutta, but equally challenging.

It is on returning to Port Keats from a weekend away that Ms Leonard suffers the injury which renders her a quadriplegic.

Far from being depressing as one might imagine, her account is both moving and full of humour.

She speaks of her experiences in both India and the Northern Territory with great warmth and frankness.

It is only in the final chapter of the book that Ms Leonard gives an account of the accident that changed her life forever.

I would love to have heard a little more about how she came to terms with immobility and relative dependence however I can only agree with Thea Astley’s assessment that this book is “a triumph of the human spirit – a marvellous and moving work.”