The Olive Picker, published this year, is a memoir written by Kathryn Brettell. The book is an account of Kathryn’s life which is presented in the form of sessions with her therapist. The book starts with Kathryn being taken to the hospital in a semi-conscious state with multiple head wounds. As she drifts into unconsciousness, she recalls her sister and herself playing basketball with their father on a sunny day. So how does Kathy, the ‘good, quite little girl’ end up with multiple head wounds? Kathy tries to find the same answer through the book as she takes us through her life.
Kathy’s life takes a difficult turn when her parents’ divorce. Things only get worse as her mother remarries. Kathy and her sister grow up being continuously abused and beaten by their step father, even their mother fails to stand up for her daughters. Kathy takes it all in her stride and quietly goes through her live without many expectations. Her studies suffer and she becomes forlorn. When she finally moves out of her parents’ house she and her sister are pretty much left on their own. She gets married young, with Brian, who is quite the nomad, with no fixed jobs or money. But like Kathy puts it ‘he made sure I ate every day, didn’t hit or yell at me, and he was nice to dogs’. Kathy eventually decides to take charge of her life, leaves Brian, takes up a job and goes back to college, while bringing up her two children. Just when her life seems to be looking up, she meets Rod, her second husband and her life takes an ugly turn
What is remarkable about Kathy’s story is the resilience and strength that she displays. Her steely will shines through every page in her book, the will that not only helps her tide over every difficulty but also helps her defeat death. That despite all the hardships she faces, she still induces humor into her narrative only makes you admire her more. What I also liked about her writing is the fact that there are no exaggerated emotions that she describes, she writes in a very matter-of-fact way and still manages to convey the emotions to the reader so well. Like this incident, where she paints the fence posts and then is beaten up badly by her step father, because he says she has painted the barn white too.
“You’ll survive, I told myself. He’ll stop when he gets tired.
That’s exactly what happened……When my breathing had quieted and my head stopped swimming…I pulled myself upto the window overlooking the orchard and barn.
The barn was as red as it ever had been.
Quietly, I crept outside to look. It was still red.
I stood right in front of the barn. Still red.
…….I fixed my eyes like I was looking for quail, for something invisible. Sure enough there they were. A few tiny flecks of white paint….”
Or this particular Incident about a horse; Red, which she buys with all her savings, she is then told by her father that she cannot keep him in the ‘Property’. As she describes her ordeal of finding Red a home, you will find it difficult to fight back tears
While I am unsure of the Kathy’s intent behind choosing the title, apart from the fact that as a child she did pick olives and sold them to earn herself some money, but the Olive Picker fits in beautifully given that the Olive tree is suggestive of Tenacious Strength. I would however love to know from the author, her reasons for picking the title.
Do I recommend the book? Of course I do, it’s a book which will give you the courage to believe that whatever be the circumstances of your life, you can always turn it around. It will inspire you to believe that nothing can defeat you till you do not concede defeat. Like Kathy says at the end of the book ‘I sometimes think about Red; my salvation when I was a young girl. And I often think about that other Horse, the one who expected nothing less. I know she would be proud of me’