Saturday, December 20, 2008

Book Review: Heaven Can Wait, Conversations with Bonnie Hicks (reviewed by WH Loo)

I have been a Bonny Hicks fan ever since I read her books “Excuse me, are you a model?” and “Discuss Disgust.” She is everything that I hope to be and still trying to be…a free thinker, a free spirit.

After her untimely death in the SilkAir MI 185 crash in 1997, Tal ben-Shahar, a Harvard scholar and a humanist practitioner, shares the intimate exchange of letters between him and Bonny Hicks, his “dearest lover of wisdom” in this book he wrote in memory of Bonny.

Tal describes three reasons this book was written:

(1) it is an attempt to show the world the side of Bonny which many of us did not get to see – in part obscured by her modeling background and not being educated beyond junior college – a brilliant and passionate intellectual. Through the publication of the letters, Tal gives the world a glimpse into Bonny’s very private mind and soul and the intellectual relationship he shares with Bonnie.
(2) It is to put together many of the ideas that Bonny and him exchanged over the years and to share it with everyone – collegiality – as he believes it has important philosophical and social value.
(3) As a form of catharsis – Bonny’s untimely departure has created a permanent void in him.

Johan Berman, a friend, describes in the foreword that meeting Bonny was like opening your first bottle of champagne – both daring and incandescent, living a life filled with passion and courage – and always reflecting, always on the go. He calls her an intoxicating nectar and I truly agree, having read both Bonny’s books and one of Bonny’s favourite philosopher, Ayn Rand, whose work Bonny quotes frequently in her letters.

In the opening chapter Tal makes it very clear that both Bonny and him shares one simple purpose – that is to spread goodness in the world using the written word as the tool and philosophy as the medium.

True enough, once you start reading the book (Bonny’s letters), you will not put it down until the end. And like me, you will constantly go back to Bonny’s written words in your moments of madness and frustration. The phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword” is indeed very true when reading Bonny’s letters – succinct and impactful.

The first half of the book is arranged such that it revolves around the relationship between Bonny and Tal – and their interest in philosophy that binds them close. The second half shows the emphasis on their philosophical thoughts.

Some excerpts from the book (Bonny’s letters):

I read Emerson today. His writings are truly beautiful. Another philosopher of common sense. The greatest “lesson” I got from today’s reading is: “Be sincere or be silent. Speak the whole truth, as you see it, or do not speak at all.” I shall be a woman of few words, for a while. (p.20)

That a lack of university degree is a major disadvantage to me in my country is not the driving force for my wanting to further my education. The pursuit of knowledge in a setting conducive to exchange, discussion and contemplation, is. I hunger to learn for learning’s sake. I yearn for an environment that will challenge me, broaden my world view, and afford me with a myriad of new possibilities. (application to Cambridge, p.30)

I experienced great happiness and great sorrow in my life. While the great happiness was uplifting and renewing, the sorrow ate at me slowly, like a worm in the core of an apple. I realized then that stable happiness was not mine until I could eliminate the sorrow too. The sorrow which I experienced was often due to the fact that my own happiness came at a price. That price was someone else’s happiness. (on morality and happiness, p.92).

In closing, this is a great book – very sensitive, very inspiring and above all, very human. To me, it is justice for Bonny, a person determined to do well in spite of everything. It is not her background as an illegitimate child that pains her, but the rejection of her by her British father via a fax through the British High Comm that eats at her but it is also what propels her in her search for happiness and an appetite for Ayn Rand’s objectivism.

In Tal’s words, “In this book I have tried to capture some of Bonny’s uniqueness and goodness. The medium I used was the written word. Words were – are – the pillars of our relationship.”

….She was - is – a bright, free spirit who was not afraid to speak and, more importantly, use her mind on social issues…To anyone who argues that our youth do not want to stand up, speak out and be counted in society, I commend to them the memory of Bonny Susan Hicks – model, writer, thinker…..

(by Raoul Le Blond, Obituary, Straits Times Singapore, Dec 1997).

Do read it – the letters are published as they are. Rest in peace, Bonny.

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