When Helen Bamber was a little girl growing up in 1930s England, her father read her sections of Mein Kampf
to inure her to the evil in the world. In 1945, at the age of 19, she travelled to the former concentration camp at Belsen to help with the physical and psychological recovery of Holocaust survivors. "Above all else", she said, "there was the need to tell you everything, over and over and over again. And this was the most significant thing for me, realising that you had to take it all." Later in life, she became active in Amnesty International and in 1985 she founded the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture--an organisation whose name, in the words of her biographer Neil Belton, "says more than most of us wish to hear." Her remarkable life and her noble cause is now the subject of The Good Listener
Blending history, biography and moral indignation, Belton presents a view of the late 20th century darkened by cruelty. Bamber's lifetime of work--protecting children in hospitals, exposing unscrupulous doctors and international human rights activism--is interwoven with capsule biographies of people who have influenced her, including Maurice Pappworth, whose book Human Guinea Pigs enraged the medical profession and resulted in the gifted physician's blacklisting. Belton also delivers searing indictments of governments still inflicting torture--indictments strengthened by the wrenching stories of some of the people Bamber has helped, including Adriana Borquez, tortured under Pinochet's regime in Chile, and people who have disappeared, such as Bill Beausire, with whom Borquez was imprisoned in 1975. Any book on the subject of torture and human rights is bound to be difficult and disturbing; The Good Listener, however, remains powerfully inspirational. Bamber maintains that the work she and her colleagues do is not heroic. She is clearly wrong. --C.B. Delaney
From the Publisher
Neil Belton wins 1999 Irish Times Literature Prize
Neil Belton's The Good Listener is a study of the life of Helen Bamber, founder of the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture. Helen Bamber went to Belsen in 1945 to work with the survivors of the camp. She was just twenty. Since then her life has been devoted to working with people who have suffered the most appalling physical and psychological damage at the hands of others.
Written with enormous sensitivity and tact, The Good Listener is a deeply moving account of the character of one good and complex human being who battled throughout her life to bring the dark side of history into the light: it is a remarkable meditation on the nature of cruelty.
It was published to great critical acclaim: as Anthony Storr said in the Sunday Times, it is "a horrifying account of the worst that human beings can do to each other. Neil Belton's synthesis of biography and history is masterly... essential reading".
As his publishers, we are delighted that Neil Belton has received the recognition he deserves by winning the 1999 Irish Times Literature Prize for Irish Non-fiction.