Burning the Vines

Burning the Vines

A Memoir

Non-Fiction - Memoir
140 Pages
Reviewed on 01/06/2017
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Author Biography

Michelle Mazal lived her early years in the suburbs of Perth, Western Australia before moving to acreage in the Swan Valley. Leaving school at 15 years of age meant a return to study in later life. In her mid 30’s with two young children she returned to school and completed mature age TEE. This was followed by an offer in university and ended with Michelle completing back to back degrees. On the completion of these degree's Michelle has worked as a Social Worker for the past 15 years and has also completed another university qualification during this time.

Michelle originally began to write BURNING THE VINES as a way of finding closure on a past that too often coloured her perception of herself and her worth. But while there is only so much one individual can do, Michelle views her story as an opportunity to provide some awareness of family and domestic violence through her own experience as a child witness, in the hope that in this small way she may contribute to ending the violence against women.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite

The movie Crocodile Dundee glamorized a certain side of Australian life to such an extent that suddenly everyone wanted to visit Australia and find a real man like Mick Dundee. What the movie didn’t capture is a less impressive pastime enjoyed by too many Aussie blokes: knocking back schooners of beer every night after work, and especially on Friday nights at the local pub. In Burning the Vines, Michelle Mazal brings us that side of Australian life, and the devastating effects it has on far too many families. Hers was one of those. Raised on a Perth horse farm, young Michelle, her mom and her siblings, all girls, worked hard and long helping their dad with the horses. And almost every night, their loving dad turned into an abusive, foul-mouthed brute who beat his wife and children before passing out. The children were forever trying to find a place to hide while hearing their mother’s cries. And yet, year in and year out, their mom refused to leave this brute of a man, who each morning could barely remember the night before and never really knew how dangerously close he came to killing her.

While the description of the book prepares the reader for what comes inside, it says very little about what won’t be forgotten: not so much the abuse as just how much abuse children can and do take from their parents, and still love them. Michelle loathed what her father did but she always loved him. This is one of the most touching aspects of Burning the Vines. But what will move readers even more perhaps is the love and solace Michelle took in her horses. Over the course of the story, she had three horses she cherished. They, along with one of her grandmothers, were her escape. But she lost all three horses to the insensitive brutality of her father. The author’s depiction of these scenes almost makes one weep.

Burning the Vines is one of the better memoirs I’ve had the pleasure to read and review. Why? For a change we have a writer who doesn’t just narrate ad nauseum. She lets the other characters reveal themselves through their own words and actions. This is the way to write a memoir, as if it were a novel. It’s a skill too few memoir writers seem to have. And what makes this aspect of Michelle Mazal’s writing even more impressive is her humble beginnings: she originally never even finished high school. But after marrying into a family where education was cherished and what you’ve achieved matters more than who you are, she became determined to better herself. She not only got her high school diploma but went on to acquire two university degrees. That’s impressive and probably accounts somewhat for how well this memoir is written.

When it comes to memoirs, especially those which are traumatic, as this was, readers are always hoping the protagonist will come out on top and there will be a happy ending. That’s what Michelle Mazal gives them in Burning the Vines. She also gives you a large slice of Australian colloquialisms and foods. So prepare yourself for those. As someone who has lived in Australia, it was fun for me to hear those and I knew what Michelle was talking about. North American readers might be a little puzzled but Aussies will love it. Highly recommended if you really want to know more about the other side of Australian life, at least what it was like back in the '60s to '70s. Thank heaven for that and thank you, Michelle, for a great read!

Jack Magnus

Burning the Vines: A Memoir is a memoir about a dysfunctional family written by Michelle Mazal. Home was more often than not a terrifying place for young Mazal, her sisters and her mom. Her dad was a drinker; it was a cultural thing that many Australian men, at the time, were drinkers. But dad was different than most of them. He was a mean drunk, a sadistic bully who terrorized his family and trampled on their feelings. In the latter part of the twentieth century, domestic problems were considered as being the purview of the family. Neither the relative that Mazal confided in once, nor the police, who the terrified girls called during one particularly terrifying episode, were willing to get involved in a domestic situation. Mazal could see the anger in their kindly family doctor's face when her battered mom would bring the children in, but, while he could prescribe medication to ease her pain and help her heal, Mazal's mom was in a hell with no visible way out. Even as her three older daughters begged her to leave, her mother confided her fears that he would keep their youngest, Tania, if she left. And she would die before she left her baby at his mercy.

Michelle Mazal's memoir, Burning the Vines, is stark, unsettling and unforgettable. I felt numb as I read her descriptions of the continuing abuse and the cruelty suffered by her, her sisters and her mom at the hands of her father. I could especially feel for Mazal as she describes the losses of her pets, the animals that were the safety, comfort and love she so desperately needed; lifelines snatched away with a wink and a cruel grin by the man who was supposed to care for her. Burning the Vines is a stunning testimony to her mom, who endured so much to protect her family and a brutal indictment of a system that failed this family so utterly. This book cannot have been easy to write, and in many ways it is a difficult, albeit compelling, read. It should definitely help to shed light on a societal ill that is still very much alive in this world. Burning the Vines: A Memoir is most highly recommended.

Mamta Madhavan

Burning the Vines – A Memoir by Michelle Mazal is the author's heartbreaking story which she shares with readers of her growing up in a dysfunctional family with her sisters Debbie, Suzanne, and Tania. Money was scarce, even to buy essential items like toothpaste, soap, and a toothbrush, and her dad loved to drink. Her memories of being belted by her dad, her angst, pain, fear, and sadness are knitted together in this memoir, touching the hearts of readers and showing them what a tough survivor she is! The author also chronicles the times spent with her sisters, her love for horses, and her teeth getting pulled out, which shifts the focus from living with an abusive father many a time as the book progresses.

The memoir is poignant and the author’s pain and sadness is palpable. The writing style is evocative, lucid, and descriptive. The author captures the moments in her life in detail and makes them vivid to readers through her candid expressions. The regret of not being able to understand her mother’s plight and being able to mend the fences before she lost her mother will bring tears to readers' eyes. Michelle Mazal also shares her love for horses and how many a time the love they showed for her was life saving. I found the memoir heart wrenching, yet it shows how they get out of an abusive background and emerge from it as strong individuals. It is a story of pain, abuse, loss, survival, and redemption that will keep readers glued to the book till the very end.

Rosie Malezer

Burning the Vines is a memoir written by Michelle Mazal. At just four years of age, a young girl runs home from the stables in Perth, Australia, to grab her father yet another beer. It is one of the earliest memories which Michelle shares, as she recollects the bad hand which life had dealt her. The year is 1966 and, although her father is drunk more often than not, Michelle loves him unconditionally, as she sees his drunken behavior as being typical of any father. Michelle admits that whilst he is sometimes tolerable, she knows that it is time to hide from his fists when his speech starts slurring. Her sisters had also suffered through his violent outbursts over the years, but it is their mother who’d always worn the brunt of it, with bruises and black eyes being a common sight in the Mazal home. The violence in Michelle’s life overflows into her school life, with children bullying her for fun. With Michelle becoming his unwitting victim, it is not long before her father is pitting his daughters against each other, encouraging them to fight until they draw blood. The love and kindness, however, that Michelle’s mother and maternal grandmother shower her with over a lifetime, however, sees her through the darkest of days.

While reading through Michelle Mazal’s incredible story, my heart sank often. The thought of any father punishing his child so viciously, whilst being in a constant drunken stupor, made me shudder. It shocked me that a child’s life would be at risk so often from her own flesh and blood. Michelle tells her story in such painstaking detail – not only of the surroundings but of the emotions within her – and I wanted to reach through the screen on many occasions and scoop her up into my arms, pulling her from harm’s way. Sadly, most people (including the police) turned a blind eye to violence against women in Australia up until the late 1990s, when it was deemed to be a crime.

There were some parts of Burning the Vines which also brought about a nostalgic pause, followed by a smile, with mention of such things as climbing the thunder box out back or having to take your own trash to the tip back in the 1970s. The earthquakes, bushfires and snakes bites, however, were not so bearable. Whilst quite dark in places, I found Burning the Vines to be an insightful, deep and riveting read, and recommend it to readers over the age of 16, in the hopes that many victims of domestic abuse turn into survivors.

Julie Hodgson

Burning the Vines by Michelle Mazal is a memoir about a family, particularly a little girl, Michelle, (nicknamed Stumps, after a dentist visit and all her teeth were removed) living in Australia, near the airport of Perth back in the '60s and '70s. An alcoholic and physically abusive father didn't help matters either. Hiding from the cattle prod was a must! The fierce determination of Michelle's mum, Leonie, to protect her daughters at any cost, even placing herself in harm's way was very brave indeed. Michelle witnessed her mother suffer a lot of bloody noses and swollen lips at her father's hands more times than she could count.

Moving into her Nana's house with the family, after selling their own place, things became cramped. But the saving grace was the fact that there were stables and horses there, and of course her favorite cousin, Kenny, giving her true friendship but, later, unbelievable heartache too. Another house move, to Herne Hill complete with their own stables, gave them more space, but with still the same problems. Life was hard for Stumps, even with the horses she had, which gave her soul something to care about and love. Her dad still raging and abusive, spending money on booze, and the children going hungry was a common occurrence. The sisters hid and did the best they could to help their mum, often futile in their attempts, though. The only respite was Nana and Pops, their favorite place to be. The maternal grandparents were the epitome of kindness and care, and they always looked forward to visiting them. The presents on their bed were the best thing to look forward to, always new clothes, hand sewn by Nana.

Burning the Vines by Michelle Mazal is a startling story. The sheer horror of what a child has to put up with, the things that go through their tiny minds as they wrestle with their consciences about their parents, working while ill, being underfed, and abused by their alcoholic father! But no matter what, you still have that false sense of duty or love towards the parent that has been abusive, right to the end! I was swept in from the first page, taken to Perth, Australia. You really feel the heat, anger, sadness and love as the author takes you on this perilous childhood memory trip. Get a tissue before you read this. What wonderful people Nana and Pops were. Burning the Vines by Michelle Mazal is a story brilliantly and provocatively described with a fierce determination of survival. Unputdownable!