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I was raised within the community of the New Zealand, Seacliff Mental Hospital village during the 1950s, with each of our family members working in the psychiatric hospital at some time or another. We sometimes shared our primary school with young patients who came down from the hospital. On turning fifteen we often worked up the hill, helping in the canteen, laundry, ward I was raised within the community of the New Zealand, Seacliff Mental Hospital village during the 1950s, with each of our family members working in the psychiatric hospital at some time or another. We sometimes shared our primary school with young patients who came down from the hospital. On turning fifteen we often worked up the hill, helping in the canteen, laundry, wards or occupational therapy. From a young age we absorbed the stories, and it was difficult to know where fiction ended and the greater truth took over. To separate the truths from the almost-truths at this stage would be an impossible task as many of those concerned have died. Therefore I have blended together various stories in this narrative as representative of our family and friends' combined belief of what most probably did happen during the period covered by this narrative. Wherever possible, I have used correct dates, names and places. When there is a modicum of doubt in my mind I have changed names and details for the protection of those still living. As a child I knew Malcolm, who was then a young man, since Dad often invited him home for meals. He was one of the lost children, those forgotten or abandoned by their families. We followed Malcolm's story from childhood to adulthood as best we could even after he was eventually discharged back into the community. When considering the tragedy and abuse of Malcolm's wasted earlier years, it is a story of immeasurable sadness. Yet he ultimately rose above it all, and with admirable strength, courage and innate resilience, was finally able to 'free the regular boy within' as he had always wanted. This is Malcolm's story as I believe it unfolded.


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I was raised within the community of the New Zealand, Seacliff Mental Hospital village during the 1950s, with each of our family members working in the psychiatric hospital at some time or another. We sometimes shared our primary school with young patients who came down from the hospital. On turning fifteen we often worked up the hill, helping in the canteen, laundry, ward I was raised within the community of the New Zealand, Seacliff Mental Hospital village during the 1950s, with each of our family members working in the psychiatric hospital at some time or another. We sometimes shared our primary school with young patients who came down from the hospital. On turning fifteen we often worked up the hill, helping in the canteen, laundry, wards or occupational therapy. From a young age we absorbed the stories, and it was difficult to know where fiction ended and the greater truth took over. To separate the truths from the almost-truths at this stage would be an impossible task as many of those concerned have died. Therefore I have blended together various stories in this narrative as representative of our family and friends' combined belief of what most probably did happen during the period covered by this narrative. Wherever possible, I have used correct dates, names and places. When there is a modicum of doubt in my mind I have changed names and details for the protection of those still living. As a child I knew Malcolm, who was then a young man, since Dad often invited him home for meals. He was one of the lost children, those forgotten or abandoned by their families. We followed Malcolm's story from childhood to adulthood as best we could even after he was eventually discharged back into the community. When considering the tragedy and abuse of Malcolm's wasted earlier years, it is a story of immeasurable sadness. Yet he ultimately rose above it all, and with admirable strength, courage and innate resilience, was finally able to 'free the regular boy within' as he had always wanted. This is Malcolm's story as I believe it unfolded.

30 review for Phenomena: The Lost and Forgotten Children

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bronwyn

    I reviewed this book under its other name: Seacliff A Regular Boy Within - repeating it here This book is set in New Zealand, though the story it tells might well have occurred in many other countries. Through no fault of his own, Malcolm is put into a mental institution where he spends his most formative years – from small child to middle-age. The reader can not remain unmoved by his situation, yet the skill of the Author means one isn’t overcome by thoughts of blame and recrimination – rather, I reviewed this book under its other name: Seacliff A Regular Boy Within - repeating it here This book is set in New Zealand, though the story it tells might well have occurred in many other countries. Through no fault of his own, Malcolm is put into a mental institution where he spends his most formative years – from small child to middle-age. The reader can not remain unmoved by his situation, yet the skill of the Author means one isn’t overcome by thoughts of blame and recrimination – rather, the story that is revealed is one of humanity throughout. In the end it is not so much the horrors inflicted on Malcolm that remain in one’s mind, but admiration for the character who endured and, against the odds, managed to emerge from a seemingly inescapable situation. Well worth reading.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Susan Tarr

    Asylum. Mental Health. Psychiatry and psychology. Shock treatment and Eugenics. Humanity and survival. New Zealand (and England) history. It's all here. I breathe and live the characters. They are not entirely fictitious; some are very dear to me. The fiction has only been added to blur the lines a little and to safeguard those characters still living.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Robert Jr.

    review by Robert K. Swisher Jr. At one time I worked on a rural farm in Iowa. Next to the farm was an abandoned two story building that had heavy wire over the windows. When I inquired about the building I was told that years earlier the state kept crazy people and "crips" there. I went through the building one day, saw the old locks, the single beds, the small 10' by 10' rooms and wondered what anguish, loneliness, and alienation these people thought as their lives drifted by. The walls echoed t review by Robert K. Swisher Jr. At one time I worked on a rural farm in Iowa. Next to the farm was an abandoned two story building that had heavy wire over the windows. When I inquired about the building I was told that years earlier the state kept crazy people and "crips" there. I went through the building one day, saw the old locks, the single beds, the small 10' by 10' rooms and wondered what anguish, loneliness, and alienation these people thought as their lives drifted by. The walls echoed the cruelty of it all. At the time they called it, "GOD's WILL" Susan Tarr's novel is the story of these mental people and these "crips" in a different time and a different country. It is sad but also uplifting. Is there really a fringe to normal or are we all on the fringe, living within the absurdity of life because we can understand what society calls normal? Is the ability to walk and see the hallmark of our lives? It's a great book - even has a few smiles. There for the sins of our ancestors go you and I. See your review on the site

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jim Goforth

    Anybody can write a book featuring a dashing leading man, a triumphant hero, or a classy leading lady, a strong resilient heroine, but what about those people society sweeps under the rug, the downtrodden, the unusual, the lost and forgotten children? Susan Tarr’s gripping and poignant masterpiece ‘Phenomena: The Lost and Forgotten Children’ forgoes all those traditionally recognised central focus characters in favour of shining a light upon those who won’t get a chance to become the classic hero Anybody can write a book featuring a dashing leading man, a triumphant hero, or a classy leading lady, a strong resilient heroine, but what about those people society sweeps under the rug, the downtrodden, the unusual, the lost and forgotten children? Susan Tarr’s gripping and poignant masterpiece ‘Phenomena: The Lost and Forgotten Children’ forgoes all those traditionally recognised central focus characters in favour of shining a light upon those who won’t get a chance to become the classic hero so often fawned over. This grand, and occasionally very bleak, piece of work is the tale of Malcolm, a poor fellow who spends his life growing up institutionalised in an asylum in the 1940s in the country of New Zealand. Though this enthralling account of Malcom has essentially been fictionalised, it draws from very true facts and situations, and essentially it isn’t merely highlighting the intriguing, but often gloomy existence of our central figure, but also the whole environment he lives in and how institutions of this sort have altered over the years. The writing is crisp and concise, and woven together with adept skill, the characters wonderfully realised and portrayed, and they will elicit a wide array of responses from the reader, ranging from the thrilled to the grief-stricken, and in some instances you may be truly disgusted by some of the actions, but unable to stop yourself from laughing. There is such a classic moment relayed in here which fits this category well, but I certainly won’t reveal it, you will know what I speak of when you read it. As a general rule this type of book would not be in my usual span of genres, but I can say without hesitation that I’m supremely glad I read it and better for the experience. This is touching, it is uplifting, emotive and of course, also incredibly melancholy in places too, as one can well imagine how primitive methods of treating and dealing with institutionalised souls were back in the early days of the twentieth century. If not for the adroit skills of the author at being able to temper the mood where required, with sufficient splashes of humourous narrative, this could have become an extremely austere and depressing tome, but instead, it becomes a wonderful achievement that allows Malcolm to become a hero in his own right. ‘Phenomena: The Lost and Forgotten Children’ is a triumph. Read it, no matter what your ordinary choice of reading material is. You will be enriched by it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    C.N.

    It is easy to forget the unpleasant history of how we, as a race, tended to sideline those who were 'inconvenient' in some way or another. The forgotten people needed a champion and now they have one with this book. Why people became 'inconvenient' is in every respects just as horrific as what happened to them afterwards. Saddest of all are the unwanted children. Those who were less than perfect and therefore didn't quite fit in. Malcom, the main character, has a weak eye, weak arm and a foot ne It is easy to forget the unpleasant history of how we, as a race, tended to sideline those who were 'inconvenient' in some way or another. The forgotten people needed a champion and now they have one with this book. Why people became 'inconvenient' is in every respects just as horrific as what happened to them afterwards. Saddest of all are the unwanted children. Those who were less than perfect and therefore didn't quite fit in. Malcom, the main character, has a weak eye, weak arm and a foot needing a special shoe. He is not the sort of son his father wants after his mother dies and the father finds a new woman. This is how a child with normal intelligence ends up in a mental hospital. Of course he is not going to maintain a normal stream education as he is trying to learn alongside those who really are severely handicapped, and even so, don't deserve to be in a mad house. His best friend, Jenny, is incarcerated because she is a blind orphan no one wants to raise. This is Malcom's story of how he lives with his allotted place in life. It is also a very accurate record of the sort of barbaric treatments and regimes handed out to the so-called lunatics. I had heard of lobotomy and how useless and destructive this was, however, I hadn't realized electric shock therapy was also so utterly cruel, or what it did to the unlucky victims. While I did know young girls were committed for becoming pregnant, I had no idea they were also subjected to de-sexing. All this is revealed through the gentle, compassionate and sometimes humorous point of view of Malcom. There is an enormous capacity for compassion inside him and so much so that a person wonders what he might have achieved if he had been allowed to grow up normally.

  6. 5 out of 5

    C.L. Heckman

    I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair an honest review. The inner workings of the mind have always been a passion of mine. This book has taken me down a story of an individual who lived through the horrific treatments of mental illness first hand. You will fall in love with Malcolm as his character comes alive from the paper, almost as if standing next to you telling you his story. The pain you feel for him when he loses his very best friend, to the fear of having to go thro I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair an honest review. The inner workings of the mind have always been a passion of mine. This book has taken me down a story of an individual who lived through the horrific treatments of mental illness first hand. You will fall in love with Malcolm as his character comes alive from the paper, almost as if standing next to you telling you his story. The pain you feel for him when he loses his very best friend, to the fear of having to go through “The treatment”, every step he takes is beautifully written in a way that defines his personality beautifully. Each scene is drawn out and painted in your mind, and every section of dialogue illuminates the character’s tiny quirks and faults in a way that you learn to love and hate them at the same time. Upon finishing the book, you will walk away with a sense of pain in your heart for all those forgotten souls. These poor children and adults who are thrown away and kept locked up from society as if they are a batch of disease ridden meat. My heart aches for them, and the fact that this is drawn from facts makes it that much harder to swallow. I want to congratulate the author on the bravery it takes to tell a story like this. Thank you for being the voice for the people like Malcolm who, at times, aren’t able to find their own voices. I will definitely recommend this book to many of my friends, and cannot wait to read more works from this author.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Melinda Ross

    The first thing which comes into my mind regarding Susan Tarr’s book is that I’ve never read something like it. It’s not an average prototype of fiction, with its usual genres and formulas. It’s the unique story – inspired by true people and facts – of a little boy’s terrible experience of growing in a mental hospital. Unlike the other patients there, Malcom had never fit in and struggled to keep his normality in a heart and mind-wrenching environment. The story has a depth that could only come The first thing which comes into my mind regarding Susan Tarr’s book is that I’ve never read something like it. It’s not an average prototype of fiction, with its usual genres and formulas. It’s the unique story – inspired by true people and facts – of a little boy’s terrible experience of growing in a mental hospital. Unlike the other patients there, Malcom had never fit in and struggled to keep his normality in a heart and mind-wrenching environment. The story has a depth that could only come from life experience, from knowledge of the human psychology and behavior. Although the first part is sad and introduces shocking and depressing aspects of the treatments and life imposed to mental hospitals’ patients , the author skillfully manages to sprinkle some humor in the darkest situations. The ending is unexpected, with a twist that makes the reader think it was all worth it and start reading it again. A great book from a great author!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Khalid

    Talk about an author with a fantastic voice! Susan hits the nail on the head with a topic that is very difficult to turn into a strong story. Malcolm, an inmate of a mental asylum, tells his story and how society has perceived him in relation to it. There is so much to this story that will haunt the reader as they understand Malcolm’s struggle with life and in-patient treatment. I found it interesting how the author told the story from his point of view and brought us into his world, almost maki Talk about an author with a fantastic voice! Susan hits the nail on the head with a topic that is very difficult to turn into a strong story. Malcolm, an inmate of a mental asylum, tells his story and how society has perceived him in relation to it. There is so much to this story that will haunt the reader as they understand Malcolm’s struggle with life and in-patient treatment. I found it interesting how the author told the story from his point of view and brought us into his world, almost making the reader wonder if it was really happening, had really happened or was just fiction. That takes great writing to achieve! This is a book that will break your heart and fill it with emotions. From the person to the institution and the treatment, the reader is taken on a haunting, riveting journey that will haunt and touch them well after they have put it down. Highly recommended!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joanna Gibson

    brilliantly thought provoking, moving, heart warming book. historically informative and thoroughly enjoyable

  10. 5 out of 5

    R.L.

    You hear about the washing girl’s stories of mistreatment as they had their illegitimate babies in Ireland, but Malcolm’s plight, and his story, and the stories about the other inmates in New Zealand’s insane asylum were grippingly different. This is indeed a Phenomena that I have never heard of in the world before. The “in and out” quality of Malcolm’s stories reflects the type of treatment he received that would rob him of his memory. He worked and worked each time to reclaim his memories an You hear about the washing girl’s stories of mistreatment as they had their illegitimate babies in Ireland, but Malcolm’s plight, and his story, and the stories about the other inmates in New Zealand’s insane asylum were grippingly different. This is indeed a Phenomena that I have never heard of in the world before. The “in and out” quality of Malcolm’s stories reflects the type of treatment he received that would rob him of his memory. He worked and worked each time to reclaim his memories and recall the stories he heard, reconciling them to stories he heard as he grew older. The past and present intertwined to make a beautiful basket of memories. I’d like to quote Malcolm at this point so that you can get a taste of Susan Tarr’s beautiful writing: “Confusion muddled his thoughts with roiling patterns. And the wild sea at the bottom of the cliffs had never looked so inviting. His mind turned to Julie who existed only in darkness. She told him her parents had disappeared while she was spending a day with her grandmother. Tea was eaten, it was night time, and still they never came for her. Her grandmother continued to care for her. It was years later when blind Julie was found by the neighbors, along with her dead grandmother. Malcolm knew what happened to people like Julie. They were deposited, confused and bewildered, into the care of the mental hospitals for the unloved and unlovable, the uneducated and the unwanted – soon forgotten, feeding the insatiable appetite of the institution, placating the guilt of the knowing masses. Deposited there to be described, measured, weighed and quantified, labelled, segregated and finally, cattle-ised – as had happened to him.” This story is a string of stories about the people at the “hospital” and surrounding buildings, some buildings like prisons for the more severe cases and some buildings were pleasant, half-way houses surrounded by gardens. These were reserved for those getting ready to transfer into a more normal life. The saddest story was how Malcolm came to be at Seacrest Mental Hospital in the first place. Wow. I know it happens but it’s hard to believe a parent would do this. Despite his bitterly sad history, Malcolm became a kind-hearted, upbeat man with a hope-filled future as a “regular” person. Personal favorite. This book was given to me by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Arkgirl

    Based loosely on some real stories this is a book that is at times heartbreaking, sometimes challenging but also has moments of light relief and some chinks of humanity in amongst the tough life the main character, Malcolm, lives. Centred around a New Zealand mental hospital following the treatment and care of those who found themselves placed there, often because they have been abandoned rather because of any specific condition, it doesn't shy away from some really hard stories. The reality of Based loosely on some real stories this is a book that is at times heartbreaking, sometimes challenging but also has moments of light relief and some chinks of humanity in amongst the tough life the main character, Malcolm, lives. Centred around a New Zealand mental hospital following the treatment and care of those who found themselves placed there, often because they have been abandoned rather because of any specific condition, it doesn't shy away from some really hard stories. The reality of their lives can at times be shocking and disturbing but it does feel incredibly honest. The book jumps about from 1954 back to the early 30's but our main focus is always on Malcolm, an endearing, gentle and sensitive soul that you soon discover has coped remarkably with much that life has thrown at him; he is gradually trying to pull together his memories so that his life can achieve some structure and stability. Seen through his eyes there is a real innocence as he explores his past and the abuse he has suffered but he manages to strive forward in a wonderfully positive way. The author is obviously writing with a wealth of knowledge and understanding but although it adds interest it doesn't distract from the heart of the story, Malcolm's story. It is a poignant and moving read, Malcolm as a character will stay with me for a long time. Thank you to Susan Tarr for writing so beautifully and to TBR on Facebook for the chance to read this gem.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Christoph Fischer

    "PHENOMENA: The Lost and Forgotten Children" by Susan Tarr is an amazing piece of fraction (fiction mixed with facts), the story of Malcolm, an inmate of a mental asylum in New Zealand in the 1940s and 1950s. Telling his story is telling the history of mental disease, its perception in society and its medical treatment. The author has not only dived deep into the institution and its history, she has also dared an attempt to look into Malcolm's head and his perception of it. We live with him and h "PHENOMENA: The Lost and Forgotten Children" by Susan Tarr is an amazing piece of fraction (fiction mixed with facts), the story of Malcolm, an inmate of a mental asylum in New Zealand in the 1940s and 1950s. Telling his story is telling the history of mental disease, its perception in society and its medical treatment. The author has not only dived deep into the institution and its history, she has also dared an attempt to look into Malcolm's head and his perception of it. We live with him and hear him describe how life at the various episodes of his disease and its treatment was for him. Much of the world is seen from his perspective which makes the story all the more powerful, esp. knowing that much of this has happened for real. We all have seen a change of terminology, from lunatic asylum to mental health - and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Phenomena is an important work to mark the changing times, to remind us how far we have come and of how an individual's life can and has panned out through those changes. It is heart breaking and heart warming at the same time. An ambitious and accomplished novel that is well worth reading.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jana Petken

    Susan Tarr's writing style is beautiful, graphic, and enthralling. Her story, a mixture of fact and fiction is one that will linger with me for a long time to come. Cruelty and misunderstandings about social behaviour towards our fellow man are all depicted here in a tender way, yet I was saddened by just how low people can stoop when not wanting to take responsibility for others deemed, undesirable. Malcolm and his fellow "inmates" had strong stories to tell and the author's descriptive writing Susan Tarr's writing style is beautiful, graphic, and enthralling. Her story, a mixture of fact and fiction is one that will linger with me for a long time to come. Cruelty and misunderstandings about social behaviour towards our fellow man are all depicted here in a tender way, yet I was saddened by just how low people can stoop when not wanting to take responsibility for others deemed, undesirable. Malcolm and his fellow "inmates" had strong stories to tell and the author's descriptive writing brought them to life immediately. This young boy who was so cruelly abandoned could have had a full and wonderful life but instead he is destroyed before he is even given a chance. This book holds a powerful message but I'm not going to go into the story, as I believe each reader will take something personal, and unique away with them. Apart from the great storytelling, the actual writing was captivating and inspired. Ms Tarr is a brilliant writer who is now on my radar. I will certainly be wanting to read more of her books. I have found a gem of a writer and that doesn't happen every day.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Cristian-zenoviu Drozd

    I enjoyed this book very much, mainly because I personally know how accurate it is regarding many details of the life in a mental hospital. The books is very introspective, but far from depressing, and, as the cover artfully suggests, reveals some of the puzzle pieces of that marvelous labyrinth - the human mind. All the feelings, thoughts, facts are put into words skilfully, finding the perfect balance between simple and complex, fiction and reality. Readers of any level could enjoy it, just th I enjoyed this book very much, mainly because I personally know how accurate it is regarding many details of the life in a mental hospital. The books is very introspective, but far from depressing, and, as the cover artfully suggests, reveals some of the puzzle pieces of that marvelous labyrinth - the human mind. All the feelings, thoughts, facts are put into words skilfully, finding the perfect balance between simple and complex, fiction and reality. Readers of any level could enjoy it, just the simple surface story, or the depth that lies underneath it. I would recommend this book to all those who like reading, no matter what genre, because there's much more to learn from it than from a psychological anthology!

  15. 4 out of 5

    K.D. Bloodworth

    I normally would not have picked this book up as it is far from what I usually read. A friend of mine suggested this amazing story. Susan took me to Seacliff and into the lives of the people that lived and worked there. Malcolm's story tugged at my heart to the point of breaking for him and his mates. Susan's words flowed into my heart until tears leaked from my eyes. I wanted to pick the young Malcolm up, hold him and give him the love he so deserved, wanted and needed. Thank you Susan for brin I normally would not have picked this book up as it is far from what I usually read. A friend of mine suggested this amazing story. Susan took me to Seacliff and into the lives of the people that lived and worked there. Malcolm's story tugged at my heart to the point of breaking for him and his mates. Susan's words flowed into my heart until tears leaked from my eyes. I wanted to pick the young Malcolm up, hold him and give him the love he so deserved, wanted and needed. Thank you Susan for bringing this story to life. I actually hated to see then end but I was not disappointed.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Susan Hampson

    Having had 2 great aunts put into asylums for incidents that had nothing  to do with madness instantly drew me to this book. One aunt for having a baby as an unmarried teenager and another for throwing bricks through the windows of her husband’s mistress’ house. It is hard to believe that the human race were so barbaric not that many years ago, in fact we still are in many respects.  When I was growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s there were very few disabled people about. I can remember people ha Having had 2 great aunts put into asylums for incidents that had nothing  to do with madness instantly drew me to this book. One aunt for having a baby as an unmarried teenager and another for throwing bricks through the windows of her husband’s mistress’ house. It is hard to believe that the human race were so barbaric not that many years ago, in fact we still are in many respects.  When I was growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s there were very few disabled people about. I can remember people having babies and been told the child has been sent away to be looked after because something was wrong with it. It was always miles away too. I lived in Yorkshire and the children were always sent down south. They were never visited. I believe that it was thought the couple would get over it quicker the further away the ‘problem’ was. I only ever knew one disabled child when I was growing up, he was much younger than me. A thalidomide baby and of course the ones that had polio so had a thin leg and caliper. Now for one child’s journey. Meet Malcolm. Malcolm has to be one of the most courageous people you could ever want to meet and his story is just heartbreaking. This story is set in New Zealand where the author knew Malcolm when she was a child and he a young man. When Malcolm was abandoned at the railway station after his widowed father remarried, he was taken to Seacliff Mental Hospital. No one really wanted a child with disabilities and Malcolm came with three physical ones, but was as bright as a button. He wasn’t the only child there. Here were the damaged ones that society wanted to forget about, the most vulnerable incorporated with not only adults that shouldn’t be there either but more frighteningly the ones that did. It seems there was nothing there to protect them from the barbaric treatments and quite often unnecessary medication dealt out to sedate patients not make them well. The author captures  this era perfectly telling the story from the inside. There are some lighter moments as well as a particular quite strange and macabre story of dealing with an abundance of cats at the hospital. I was totally engrossed in this story which introduced me to this gentle man who still had the ability to show others compassion. The real Malcolm was always there locked in his head. It just took someone to help free him.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    Set in New Zealand in the early part of the Twentieth Century this book tells the tale of Malcolm, a young man with disabilities who has ended up in a mental institution. It is told in a very matter of fact way, which makes the things he endures even more appalling. But at heart it is not a depressing book, but deals with the strength of the human spirit and the struggle of Malcolm to just be a 'regular person'. At times it is hard going but I am very glad I read it. Thanks to the TBC Reviewers G Set in New Zealand in the early part of the Twentieth Century this book tells the tale of Malcolm, a young man with disabilities who has ended up in a mental institution. It is told in a very matter of fact way, which makes the things he endures even more appalling. But at heart it is not a depressing book, but deals with the strength of the human spirit and the struggle of Malcolm to just be a 'regular person'. At times it is hard going but I am very glad I read it. Thanks to the TBC Reviewers Group for giving me an insight into Malcolm's world.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Simon Leonard

    I thought this was a really good book and dealt with the subject matter professionally and sensitively at the same time. it is a definite must read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    After a bit of a shaky start I became swept away by Malcolm's story. Drawn from real characters and events, well researched and evocative of the times, the cruelty of the system and the barbaric treatments used to 'normalise' mental health patients was heartbreaking to read. This book, despite it's harrowing content is somehow uplifting, the gentleness of Malcolm's character as he struggles to piece together his memory shines through. I'd definitely recommend this one to anyone who likes human sto After a bit of a shaky start I became swept away by Malcolm's story. Drawn from real characters and events, well researched and evocative of the times, the cruelty of the system and the barbaric treatments used to 'normalise' mental health patients was heartbreaking to read. This book, despite it's harrowing content is somehow uplifting, the gentleness of Malcolm's character as he struggles to piece together his memory shines through. I'd definitely recommend this one to anyone who likes human stories, social history and a touching, uplifting read and defy you not to adore Malcolm!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Margitte

    EDIT: This book has been originally published in the New Zealand under the title: Seacliff - a regular boy within Malcolm lost everything in life when his mom died and his dad abandoned him at the train station. As trauma after trauma manifested in this young boy's life, his brain closed off the section when his memories became too much to handle. As a result he became more quiet and eventually stop speaking altogether. He had to endure terrible odds to survive, but had the presence of mind EDIT: This book has been originally published in the New Zealand under the title: Seacliff - a regular boy within Malcolm lost everything in life when his mom died and his dad abandoned him at the train station. As trauma after trauma manifested in this young boy's life, his brain closed off the section when his memories became too much to handle. As a result he became more quiet and eventually stop speaking altogether. He had to endure terrible odds to survive, but had the presence of mind to know what was actually happening with- and around him. He was admitted to the Seacliff Asylum, which later would be named Seacliff Mental Hospital. It was also known as the Loony Bin or Booby Hatch, where "Malcolm gleaned that mad people shouldn’t speak. It only caused trouble and more work. They should sit and be quiet. Quietly mad. They lived in a world full of silent people in The Building – that’s what the hospital was called. He suffered and witnessed the aftermath of experimental treatments, including the embarrassing concept of Eugenics, on people and at one point decided to take control of his own destiny by hiding his medicines in his pocket seams and not drinking it in the hope of improving his memory, which were constantly destroyed by The Treatment. With all The Treatments they had to endure through the years, and all the medicines fed to them to calm them all down, the 'inmates' lost their mind altogether. A little voice in him encouraged him to fight back his own silent way. Seacliff Lunatic Asylum The book is not only a commemoration of the historical building, Seacliff Lunatic Asylum in New Zealand, but also a detailed description of the lives and characters who graced it with their presence as either the 'rejects' of society, or the staff who worked there for many years. The characters are so endearing, I almost felt like going to them and say "I am so sorry society treated you this way". The story winds through the historical facts with ease and a gripping tale is introduced to the reader. The tale is very well written. This book reminds me of the movie "One flew over the Cuckoo's nest" , which also had me laughing and crying. Eventually Malcolm's spirit would triumph and in his case it became a celebration, after confirmation, of hope which never died: "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." --(Movie quote from: The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - Andy Defresne (Tim Robbins) What an amazing story!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Gale Stanley

    Six-year-old Malcolm is abandoned by his father and mistress at a New Zealand railway station, to watch the train disappear around the corner. His loving mother has recently died. The station master gathers up the confused boy and deposits him at the nearby Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, the refuge for the unloved and unlovable, the uneducated and unwanted, the soon-to-be-forgotten. In spite of beautiful surroundings and well-meant but ignorant care, the history of Seacliff is grim and grey. Susan Tarr Six-year-old Malcolm is abandoned by his father and mistress at a New Zealand railway station, to watch the train disappear around the corner. His loving mother has recently died. The station master gathers up the confused boy and deposits him at the nearby Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, the refuge for the unloved and unlovable, the uneducated and unwanted, the soon-to-be-forgotten. In spite of beautiful surroundings and well-meant but ignorant care, the history of Seacliff is grim and grey. Susan Tarr has told the story from Malcolm’s perspective. This boy spent decades shut away, slowly melding into the dumb, confused existence, a rule of fear and obey enforced by shock treatments he didn’t understand or deserve. Even so, he grew up big and strong, observant and gentle. He befriended everybody, patiently listening to their stories: stories of murder, suicide, poverty, abortions, and abandonment. In order that he might survive, he began to hide his pills inside the lining of his jacket. He learnt how to avoid the treatments, and so threads of his memory began to return. These he put together like a jigsaw puzzle, memorising facts, constantly adding to his knowledge in his quest to find the regular person inside him. This is an inspirational story, based on a real Malcolm. It is also the history of the institution of Seacliff itself and of the way the general population viewed those who were hidden behind the walls. Although it is a shameful story, in the end it is a satisfying one, well-paced and beautifully written.

  22. 4 out of 5

    D.K. Cassidy

    Phenomena is Phenomenal! This is a fictional account of Malcolm, an inmate of a mental asylum. Although based on a real account of this patient, the author chose to write this as fiction. This sad tale is about a six year old boy abandoned, then placed into a New Zealand Mental Institution. There was no reason to institutionalize this child, but at this point in history, there weren’t many other choices. The story jumps to Malcolm as an adult. He is a sweet man, full of doubts. He wonders if he is Phenomena is Phenomenal! This is a fictional account of Malcolm, an inmate of a mental asylum. Although based on a real account of this patient, the author chose to write this as fiction. This sad tale is about a six year old boy abandoned, then placed into a New Zealand Mental Institution. There was no reason to institutionalize this child, but at this point in history, there weren’t many other choices. The story jumps to Malcolm as an adult. He is a sweet man, full of doubts. He wonders if he is insane, stupid, ugly, and incapable of conversing as a ‘normal’ person would. He also questions the definition of ‘normal’. His story is tragic, but there are well-deserved highlights in his life that will make you smile. Author Susan Tarr has a talent for creating wonderful prose, and interesting characters. She also taught me some phrases common in New Zealand. I leave you to discover those. Here’s is a quote from this novel, “Normal? For the men, a pair of sharply-pressed serge trousers, a white shirt with epaulettes, and shiny shoes? Was that the normal they spoke of? Like male attendants? Hah, he scoffed to himself. I’d rather be quietly mad.”

  23. 4 out of 5

    Marisa Oldham

    The very first thing that caught my eye in this book was the beautiful and eloquent writing style of Tarr. Each of her sentences were like a beautifully woven melody. The story is a mixture of fact and fiction, which for me, made the story much more of an emotional journey than a reading experience. It still amazes me how society used to treat those who were different. It broke my heart even more knowing that some of the individual stories in this novel were taken from reality. It adds a special The very first thing that caught my eye in this book was the beautiful and eloquent writing style of Tarr. Each of her sentences were like a beautifully woven melody. The story is a mixture of fact and fiction, which for me, made the story much more of an emotional journey than a reading experience. It still amazes me how society used to treat those who were different. It broke my heart even more knowing that some of the individual stories in this novel were taken from reality. It adds a special touch to this book that makes it a unique tale. There really wasn't anything that I could say to give critique to this author because I think that this is a fantastic book. I'm not one to re-write the synopsis for the book in my reviews. I think what you really want to know is, should you read this book? If you want a deep, emotionally impacting read, then my answer to you is yes. I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for my fair and honest review.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sheryl Seal

    PHENOMENA: THE LOST AND FORGOTTEN CHILDREN by Susan Tarr is an amazing read! I expected PHENOMENA to be depressing and sad, but I was so wrong. Sure this book is about a mental institute in the early part of the 20th century. But it focuses on triumph over inhumane odds. The characters are so real, and most are lovable, especially Malcolm, the young boy who lives in the The Building. It's his story told from his perspective. The author SusanTarr, even writes humor into this historic New Zealand PHENOMENA: THE LOST AND FORGOTTEN CHILDREN by Susan Tarr is an amazing read! I expected PHENOMENA to be depressing and sad, but I was so wrong. Sure this book is about a mental institute in the early part of the 20th century. But it focuses on triumph over inhumane odds. The characters are so real, and most are lovable, especially Malcolm, the young boy who lives in the The Building. It's his story told from his perspective. The author SusanTarr, even writes humor into this historic New Zealand work. And there’s an extensive afterword on the history of SEACLIFF Mental Hospital, NZ. I received this book as a gift and the writing is beautiful and easy to read. I loved it! Highly recommended and 5 stars!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Hulse

    A SHAMEFUL STORY BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN A regular boy is abandoned into a mental asylum. In order that he might survive, he began to hide his pills in his jacket. He had to avoid the shock treatments so his fractured memory might return. Based on a real person this is also the history of the institution of New Zealand's Seacliff Mental Hospital and the way people viewed those who were hidden behind walls. It’s a shameful story, but it is a satisfying one, well-paced and beautifully written.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Angela Bolden Thompson

    Phenomena is a riveting tale of resilience, fortitude and courage! Malcolm is truly unforgettable! Beautifully written!!! Treat yourself to a copy today! You won't regret it!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mark Tilbury

    Part fiction, part fact, this book tells the story of Malcolm and his experiences of life in an asylum/mental institution. The way the book is written takes you deep into Malcolm's life. Even though it's not written in the first person, I found myself connecting with Malcolm and wishing that things could have gone differently for him. He was one of many that were sent to such facilities for no good reason and had to fend for themselves. The author has done a brilliant job with the book. It's a har Part fiction, part fact, this book tells the story of Malcolm and his experiences of life in an asylum/mental institution. The way the book is written takes you deep into Malcolm's life. Even though it's not written in the first person, I found myself connecting with Malcolm and wishing that things could have gone differently for him. He was one of many that were sent to such facilities for no good reason and had to fend for themselves. The author has done a brilliant job with the book. It's a hard read in places, and yet there are some light hearted, even amusing parts to the story too. The other characters - both Malcolm's friends/housemates, and the nursing staff were also really well written. An emotive and absorbing read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Antony Millen

    Phenomena: The Lost and Forgotten Children tells the true story of Malcolm, a patient at Seacliff Mental Hospital in the early-mid 20th century. It is an extraordinarily sad tale, though not without a hopeful ending, set on the rugged but beautiful South Island coast of New Zealand, just outside of Dunedin. Through Malcolm's journey, we meet a plethora of "Cuckoo's Nest" characters who impact Malcolm in his quest to determine his own level of sanity and either prepare him for a return to society Phenomena: The Lost and Forgotten Children tells the true story of Malcolm, a patient at Seacliff Mental Hospital in the early-mid 20th century. It is an extraordinarily sad tale, though not without a hopeful ending, set on the rugged but beautiful South Island coast of New Zealand, just outside of Dunedin. Through Malcolm's journey, we meet a plethora of "Cuckoo's Nest" characters who impact Malcolm in his quest to determine his own level of sanity and either prepare him for a return to society outside the walls of Seacliff or convince him of his need to remain. In her Afterword for the book, Susan Tarr writes, "I always thought the history about the inside of Seacliff Mental Hospital should not be lost, especially as so many from my own era who lived at Seacliff are now gone." This is a good place to start for any writer: to tell the stories of those who cannot tell their own. However, as interested as I was in reading this book, I was also wary of Tarr's intent. To tell these stories, why not produce an historical non-fiction, freely and clearly describing the background and context behind the lives of these figures? I was wary of an agenda which, when woven into a novel, could potentially detract from the all-important objectivity of the fictional narrative voice. I needn't have worried (or warried?). While there were times when I could detect Tarr's perspective over-riding Malcolm's, she maintains an objective narrative. Even better, her use of language is superb: lyrical and idiomatically New Zealand. Tarr's vocabulary, so specific for the region, the people and the unique setting, reads naturally, flowing from the experiences familiar to the author. It is evident that Tarr's intent was to tell many different stories of the people of Seacliff. This was admirably done via Malcolm whose interactions prompt the telling of these stories. Through the middle of the book, I did wonder where it was all going and not always in a good way as I found myself content to set the book aside for stretches of time rather than feeling compelled to find out what would happen next. Perhaps it was meant to feel this way - an attempt to help the reader experience the aimlessness of these characters as they languish in Seacliff. However, in an unusual structure, the pace of the book picks up in the second half as more details of Malcolm's background are revealed until, finally, two of my favourite themes are addressed: that of the institutionalised facing freedom (think "Shawshank Redemption") and that of the beleagured finding his voice - in this case, Malcolm with the assistance of Nurse West. Overall, Phenomena: The Lost and Forgotten Children accomplishes what it sets out to do: enlighten the reader to shameful treatment of the marginalised of the past and give voice to similar in the present. Better still, Tarr has done this in an imaginative, artistic and poetic manner - an impressive book that should be read by more New Zealanders. Antony Millen is a Canadian author living and writing in New Zealand. He is the author of the novels Redeeming Brother Murrihy: The River To Hiruharama and Te Kauhanga: A Tale of Space(s).

  29. 4 out of 5

    Julie Watson

    An amazing and true insight into mental institutions at a time when people in society, who were not quite right or not wanted, were put away. The story is set in New Zealand at the Seacliff Mental Hospital near Dunedin, told through the eyes of Malcolm, a boy abandoned by his father at the age of seven at a railway station. In reading this book, one sees the heartbreak, the abuse that these poor people went through. Some locked away as they were an embarrassment or socially not accepted. Catheri An amazing and true insight into mental institutions at a time when people in society, who were not quite right or not wanted, were put away. The story is set in New Zealand at the Seacliff Mental Hospital near Dunedin, told through the eyes of Malcolm, a boy abandoned by his father at the age of seven at a railway station. In reading this book, one sees the heartbreak, the abuse that these poor people went through. Some locked away as they were an embarrassment or socially not accepted. Catherine who was forced to have an abortion and sterilisation by her parents and then locked away as she was seen as promiscuous. Her father was running for mayor of a town and his daughter would hinder his chances. A death notice was even put in the paper. Such sad, sad stories were littered throughout this book. I did initially find the writing quite cryptic but after a few chapters the book flowed. The research that went into writing this book was huge as historical facts are throughout. A time thankfully that has past and these 'prisons' shut down. I applaud the author for tackling such a sensitive topic and bringing out the truth of the suffering that occurred in these institutions.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Pazuzu

    To be honest, this book confirms my anger at the mental health industry. I know that is probably not the purpose of the book, but I couldn't help thinking throughout the book about how I just don't trust the field. I find them like religious institutions: institutionally damaging, anonymously above accountability, and primarily romanticized by the efforts of a few good examples of professionals who are kind and humane and often going against protocols to help others. But to go back to the book it To be honest, this book confirms my anger at the mental health industry. I know that is probably not the purpose of the book, but I couldn't help thinking throughout the book about how I just don't trust the field. I find them like religious institutions: institutionally damaging, anonymously above accountability, and primarily romanticized by the efforts of a few good examples of professionals who are kind and humane and often going against protocols to help others. But to go back to the book itself, it is not a memoir, it is labeled as fiction and the author is clear that she had to fill gaps by fictionalizing some details. The story however is mostly realistic. This did not strike me as a literary book, in fact the book centered Malcolm, you will mostly feel with him and struggle with him. I don't know if that was what the author wanted, but I liked that. And Malcolm is one of those people that were bullied as a "loony", and combined with really tragic events and his dad being an absolute asshole (yes, we only know the father through Malcolm's memories, but whatever he was a selfish, hurtful jerk), he eventually finds himself admitted as a child into a mental institute. Throughout the book you struggle to ascertain whether or not he has any mental condition or not, just as Malcolm himself is struggling. He is in a constant battle to remember, to just remember, hoping that memories will save him, will help him be himself again In his process of remember he will tag along inmates, staff, or random visitors, just to "learn" from them, he is trying to learn the names of plants, how things work, when buildings were built, what makes a loony, and how he can avoid The Treatment (i.e. electric shocks), Leucotomy, and Eugenics. And throughout, he is fucking lonely and scared, but trying to act as normal as possible in order to survive. In the process of all this listening and memorizing you will learn more about New Zealand, the ignorance of mental health professionals, and some of the most common reasons people were labeled lunatic, mostly relating to violence, class, and gender, particularly the hardships of the colonizing working class in New Zealand in the first half of the 20th century. Also by listening to people, Malcolm was probably the only therapy some of the patients had ever had.

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