Friday, November 10, 2017

The Dionnes by Ellie Tesher ~ Book Review

If you are Canadian, you no doubt know about the Dionne quintuplets.  If not, you will still find their story fascinating.  They took their place in Canadian history when they were born in the 1930's to typical French Canadian farmers.    The world's only surviving quintuplets at that time.   Because of the uniqueness and miracle of their birth the unthinkable started to happen.  In order for the to survive, the doctor had the other siblings removed from the house to keep all germs down so the babies would have every chance of survival.  The government stepped in and because of news of their miracle birth and survival spreading across the province, then Canada, then worldwide they built a "hospital" for them across the road from their parents home.  They staffed it with the doctor and numbers of nurses.  Then it got bizarre, as the parents were kept away from them.  The nurses (and nuns who eventually schooled them in the compound) were not allowed to show any affection or interfere with the doctor, they were poked and prodded and tested for research for years by doctors.  They formed a unique bond beyond the normal twins or triplets bond because they only had each other for love.  The government of Ontario saw a chance for a great money making opportunity in them as they saw the world's fascination with them.  The hospital turned into a compound where the sisters were put on display daily for tourists to gawk at.   In the act of supposedly protecting them, they were turned into exhibits that the government sanctioned.  Wrenching control from the parents they were made guardians of  various agencies.  Many from the government to their father to advertisers benefitted from these children.  At first their parents tried to fight what was happening, their babies taken from them, a doctor rigidly controlling their visits,  but soon it became apparent that they were losing the fight for the quintuplets and meanwhile their other children were suffering.   But then the father also saw an opportunity to provide for his other children things like quality education in expensive schools that they would not have been able to have otherwise. 

When they were 9 and no longer bringing in the cash flow, the government turned their world upside down yet again and built a huge furnished house for their family, shut down the compound and forced them to go live with the family who were virtually strangers.  Living in the fortress-like mansion, the sisters were kept isolated and separated from the world due to the father's fear of kidnapping while their other siblings lived normal lives.  Trying to fit in was virtually impossible for everybody.

When they became young women their whole lives had been so abnormal, that they all came away as adults with many issues.  Added to that was that the trust fund that was supposed to take care of them for life was found to be depleted by the very people that were supposed to manage it for them; their father and the trust fund board.  From their fund everything the government was saying they were providing, the sisters were actually paying for.  It was a strange upbringing brought about by a greedy government that interfered in the lives of a family when they saw potential for big dollars.  By taking over, it allowed the exploitation of 5 little children, power struggles between government, the family and appointed care givers.  Media manipulated a public who was in the throes of a depression and fed on their need to have something hopeful and happy to grasp onto.  After two of the siblings passed away they disappeared from the public eye. This particular book looks at the sister's 1990's step back into the spotlight after years avoiding it to fight with the Ontario government to get what should have been rightfully theirs to begin with.

This book is older, published in 1999, but I was curious about their story.  It is heartbreaking, totally unbelievable in today's thinking.  It's a story of greed gone wrong, prejudices and views of the time, a public looking for something good in life to the point they were willing to overlook what was really happening, and a quest for justice. The author not only gave their childhood background, but also through conversations with the 3 surviving sisters looked at the how their adult lives were anything but a fairy tale as all were living in poverty with many issues.  The author of the book, as a journalist, covered their story of pursuing justice and it helped cause a public outcry to force Ontario's government at the time to pay them what was due them.   Very readable, super interesting and because of it's unbelievable happenings, it was hard to put down.  I finished it in a couple of days.

I gave it a 8.5/10


Barbara H. said...

Oh my word. What a life- it's hard to imagine! It's sad people would do such things. I hope they find peace in the Lord.

Susanne said...

Barbara: Yes it is hard to imagine. I wrote unbelievable in today's thinking, and yet shows like Jon and Kate plus 8 happened and is continuing to happen with other families. I don't know if we have learnt the lesson. We are really a voyeuristic society.

Karen said...

I remember hearing the story of the Dionne's and their sad childhood. But, had no idea that their lives were still so heartbreaking even into adulthood. You're so right about how voyeuristic we are. The John and Kate story is just tragic, and unbelievable that it is happening in a so-called enlightened society. I guess we still have a long way to go.

Ann said...

I remember reading a biography of the Dionne quintuplets when I was a child. Seems like the title was WE WERE FIVE. It was a breathtaking story even then, and I could not put the book down. The story of the Dionne quintuplets is a tragedy on many fronts. Thanks for the review.

Jean | said...

Susanne, how very sad. I didn't know anything about this story. The book sounds fascinating. But I must not be part of the "voyeuristic society," as I have no idea who Jon and Kate are!

A Joyful Chaos said...

It sounds like an interesting book, but how horrifying that this actually happened! Yes, I had heard of them before, but I never realized just what all they went through. My heart breaks for them.