Title: The Pacifist
Author: Mehreen Ahmed
Malcolm Baxter is what some claim to be a benefactor who draws people into giving charity to support the Badgerys Creek Orphanage. But, if these walls could speak and the victims that have been placed there could explain the screams, wails and fear that was instilled in them and if the authorities did not look the other way things might have been better for the poor children placed in this abusive setting. Money was at the root of those running the orphanage and no one bothered to look into the care of the innocent children or where the money was going. Malcolm Baxter was hosting a fundraiser for the orphanage but in the back of his mind he was remembering his own past, jealousies and fears. Malcolm is self-absorbed, lacks self-esteem and needs to be revered and honored. Malcolm with the help of Henna and one other would preside over the fundraiser but not everything goes as planned. Before retiring he has his driver takes him to his yacht where his sister, her husband and children have dinner and spend the evening. The discussion is quite enlightening yet one wonders why the children take to him, why his family seems so formal and distant as the author flashes back to his childhood and we learn more about Malcolm. His mother was his favorite person and he adored her more than anyone else. But, when his sister Tiara was born he became angry, jealous and wanted to find ways to rid the family of her, find reasons to make his mother recognize that he was the only one and he was first and had the power over his sister and for a time that worked. His father was never home and left for months at a time to make money. The name of the game was power and money and his father had little time for his family. When Malcolm went out one night to hunt snakes and hide one, what causes him to get deathly ill with a fever and have to remain in bed? Only wanting his mother’s attention and really rude and belligerent to his nurse, demanding that she adhere to his every word and wish, his not anyone that you would like and the character is one that makes the reader angry as no one stands up to him in the past or in the present. Moving back to the present where he is at the fundraiser and hands a red folder to Henna and requests that she place it in a special locked place. How will the past relate to the new present? The Red Folder is the link as we meet Peter Baxter.
We find ourselves in the year 1866 as if the novel is restarting and we are going to meet Peter Baxter.
In 1866, Peter Baxter has been the victim of abuse many times by a big man whose face he never sees but takes pleasure in raping and abusing him and many others. At the age of 16 he leaves the orphanage with nothing but the clothes on his back. The people running it could care less about Peter. Peter walks and finds himself at farm belonging to a man named Mr. Brown. Brown takes him in, gives him a room, wants to teach him how to run the farm but while cooking and preparing dinner while Peter is tending to the animals, Mr. Brown hits his head and Peter quickly moves into action and he is taken to the hospital. Knowing that this is his only hope for freedom he tends the Mr. Brown, keeps up the farm, sees him daily and then when released takes him home. In exchange for working there he is running the farm for a man who cannot handle it anymore. But, Peter will learn the harsh truth about the same orphanage where he came from, the deal with the devil you might say that Brown made in order to get this farm and the fact that he can never sell it, must leave it in trust for a family member and the orphanage cannot sell it either and there is a trust that supersedes it all. Mr. Brown takes us back to when his wife Emma was alive, his daughter Rose was there and the sad facts about what happens to her after her mother loses a child. Rose becomes strange, hears voices and eventually gets placed in a mental institution. Peter learns this and more when Mr. Brown hands him the RED FOLDER TO READ! What Mr. Brown did when he worked at the orphanage, which is why he got the farm, half the profits and no salary will bring chills to the reader all over, angry screams equal to those of a hollowing hurricane or wind, as Peter reads the secrets of Mr. Brown’s past and why he kept them from Emma. Sometimes some does something that hurts others in order to survive. Some wanted gold and would mine for it as Brown did and lost the one golden nugget that caused him the pain for the rest of his life. Brown tells Peter about Rose and when he meets her in the present he is taken by her but will she fall for someone so poor? What happens when he becomes rich? This is a story about survival, love, faith, fear, abuse, greed and the power of a RED FOLDER and what’s hidden in the pages that are within it.
But, first the author weaves back to when Rose became ill and appeared to be schizophrenic hearing voices that directed her actions. When her parents saw the strange carvings on the walls of her room, called the police what happens is like something out of a science fiction movie when the sketches and carvings disappeared and the walls looked white and pristine. Rose seemed troubled and when alone in her room hearing voices she is then placed in a mental institution but escapes into the woods and next we find her in the same orphanage as Peter was in but they have yet to meet and learn their connection.
Emma could not handle the disconnects in her life, finding the gold did not make her happy and misplacing it on the way to the hospital changed her drastically as she returns angry, despondent, depressed and leaves home never to return. Claiming to want to visit her mother Mr. Brown loses Rose and Emma but in the present he has Peter.
Rose Carpenter is smart, cunning, and beautiful and gets bored easily with her suitors until somehow she meets Peter who is presenting a deal to her adoptive father. Something churns within her and her feelings puzzle her so when her father asks her to accompany him to the farm to make the deal she accepts. Taken with Rose and Rose seems taken with Peter they begin to talk, learn something about each other but what will happen when they realize they both came from the same orphanage and what will Rose do when she realizes the truth about Mr. Brown and the fact that her parents were never told the truth about her stay in the orphanage.
The author reflects back on Rose’s past when coming to live with the Carpenters and relates her mood swings, her fears and the fact that she gets angry and overreacts a lot to many situations. But, in the present she seems taken by Peter at least at first and yet Mr. Brown seems to think about his lost daughter Rose when he sees this Rose for the first time. Sometimes staying quiet and not fighting for your beliefs can lead to more strive and conflict as Mr. Brown learns the harsh reality behind his daughter Rose’s disappearance, hopes to reunite her with her mother but yet is strongly and actively opposed to conflict or argument. Peace, solitude and calmness and not fighting for his beliefs as Mr. Brown’s guilt comes through for believing Philip at the orphanage when he said that Rose was not there and for not fighting harder and depending on the police. But, what about Peter as we read his journal and realize that he has found a single gold nugget making him the wealthiest man in town and the most sought after but will Rose accept him and his proposal? She has several setbacks when she learns the harsh truth about her past but will she recover, how will she deal with the truth and will she finally marry Peter? Moral values, legal issues, truths, lies, betrayals and deceits are all just part of this novel but looking deep inside the reader will realize that Mr. Brown stayed quiet about the irrevocable trust that tied him to the farm, the lack of energy he has to release himself from the farm and the ties he unfortunately has to the orphanage and his trust in Peter. Sometimes being passive seems like the only solution at first even when it’s not.
Peter decided to make it his goal to pan and search for more gold, open numerous businesses and leave his family for months at a time. He became hungry for power yet he felt an obligation to Farmer Brown to relieve him of his ties to the orphanage and help set him free. When all of the truths and secrets come to light and one more is revealed what the author creates as an ending will let the reader know that Peter would not accept failure, disloyalties, betrayals and anyone going against what he believed. Never allowing anything or anyone to deter from his goals and wishes he loses sight of the main realities in life, the caring of Rose, her wants and needs and most of all the love of a son, Malcolm he would never have. Jealousies arise and the ending is powerful, compelling and will remind you, the reader to know that sometimes in life the final resolution of the intricacies of life, this plot and the outcome or resolution of a series of events as presented so vividly and strong in this novel creates a doubtful series of occurrences and an ending that you won’t ever expect or forget.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine