Writers of books such as Le Mis, Gone with the Wind and The Thorn Birds seemed to have all the time in the world, nothing to do but tell you a story, from the moral of the tale, the fate of the characters to details such as the color of one’s hair when the morning light strikes.

  “Sit down, child. Let me tell you a story of a lifetime. Listen to me, not just for a day, a month, but a year. Keep me company and I will tell you all the wisdom I know, just listen to my story.” The book seems to say.

  Some say The Thorn Birds is the Gone with the Wind of Australia. It does remind you of it, the small print, the length of the book, the expanse of the story and the fineness of the details. But I don’t see the resemblance in the souls of the two books. Meggie lived for another man while Scarlett lived for herself. One so soft you pity her, the other so headstrong you can’t bother feeling sorry for her. One can’t hold on to the man she loves, the other threw aside her one true love.

  In spirit, it’s more like The Scarlet Letter. Forbidden love is always more tantalizing than romance of plain nature, always more intense with a lifetime of bittersweet aftertaste. Let’s not envision what would have happened if the fallen priest does marry the woman he loves. Reality never fails to rub the shine off any great passion. It’s the best cure to love-sickness.

  Ralph, the handsome priest, so charming and perfect that from an old woman of seventy to a child of ten, no woman can escape from his pull, whether or not he does any intentional pulling. He was made for trouble, tall and attractive, but cloaked in the soutane of a priest. And above all his faith, his love for the church and for God, is there anything more frustrating than a perfectly sculptured man, trained with the elegance of a gentleman and the pureness of a saint, but thrown into the lay crowd, to be loved and adored, but not touched.

  Our little Meggie steals the readers’ hearts right from the start. With its nearly 600 pages of flowing words and unrolling scenes, I remember the first scene the best. It’s the one that touches me the most. It tells you right away who is the gentle victim of the whole epic.

  Little Meggie, dressed in her Sunday best, was squatting down behind the gorse bush, holding her very first gift on her fourth birthday. It was a little doll, bought from a store in town with money, with money! Meggie saw the doll in the store on her only trip to town and fell in love with it. Their lives on the raw land in rural New Zealand in the early twentieth century didn’t involve much buying, not to mention wasting money on buying a gift for a little girl, even a very good little girl.

  She held Agnes, the name she gave the doll the moment she saw it. She marveled at the doll’s golden hair, her cream lace dress and her eyes that close when you lie her down and then open when you stand her up. Agnes was all the desire that Meggie knew and she sat there taking it all in.

  It’s a sweet picture until the boys came into the scene. Meggie’s elder brothers saw their baby sister so engrossed that they had to poke their noses in. I knew it smelt of trouble and I wish I had the power to push the stop button and erase the boys or turn their crude minds elsewhere. But that’s not to be. Little Meggie will be hurt by little boys, just like the older Meggie will be hurt by grown men. No one can push the stop button and rewrite the scene.

  The boys took the doll that was barely warm in Meggie’s hands, with their rough and dirty paws pulled the doll apart, like dissecting anything that they didn’t understand. It’s all just some plastic to them, no feelings.

  My heart aches for little Meggie, so helpless, so young and so weak. She cried and begged but she couldn’t get her doll back. Tears washed down her face, blurring her entire world. On her fourth birthday, she learned what it meant to have her heart broken. And she was to know more.

  Do you believe in fate? Do you believe in destiny? You know how in some movies you just know two people will fall in love even before they have a chance to speak. Like Meryl Streep and Client Eastwood in Bridge of Madison County; like Matthew and Mary in Downton Abbey. There is no other way. Ralph was bound to love Meggie. Meggie was made for the sacrifice.

  But of course such a huge piece of work is not just a love story, as forbidden as it is. Maybe people will close the book with different answers to the question of “What’s the book about?” I won’t be surprised if many say that it’s about the love story between a handsome Catholic priest and a gentle woman who is used to suffering. It is the most prominent theme of the book. But it’s much more than that. It’s also about the harsh conditions of making a living in the new land of Australia in the early 20th century. It was a constant battle with droughts and sand storms and endless flies, with loneliness and helplessness in face with the severity of nature at its raw state.

  I will also remember it as a book about the suffering of women, especially in the hands of men, all kinds of men. Meggie’s brothers deprived her of her first gift in life, but this grief will be forgotten in face of the many more to come. The man who thought of her as the love of his life traded her for 13 million pounds, which bought him his future career. He has loved her ever since he saw her as a timid ten year old, but it’s not enough to lead him astray from his path in serving God. For her whole life, she would feel abandoned by her Ralph. She lost, even if it’s to God.

  Then there was her husband Luke, who married her for her money and took every penny, and then sent her to work as a housemaid in exchange for more money. I wonder if Meggie hadn’t felt so abandoned by Ralph and given up on love, would she have accepted this? Even then, Luke left her to make more money. She was a beautiful woman, yet somehow, not wonderful enough to hold any man. But the truth is, the men were not good enough to deserve her.

  Meggie’s mother also had her scar in life. She was the daughter of a prominent family. An affair with a married man left her with a child and rejection from her family. The married man had too much to loose to marry her, or even to reveal who he was. Her own father married her and the child to one of their farm hands in exchange for taking them away. From then on, it was endless house chores and farm labor, then child bearing and raising the children.

  Is there a happy woman in the story?

  Even the rich old widow, Mary Carson, the most powerful figure in the region who owned all the property and money, wasn’t happy. She was also in love with the perfect priest, who was decades younger and detested her. Her only satisfaction was in knowing that the one whom she loved would be tortured. She made him choose between an inheritance of 13 million pounds and fulfilling his love with Meggie.

  The only happy woman, or a woman who had a chance of being happy, was Justine, daughter of Meggie and Luke. She was rebellious and dared to go after what she desired. She always knew what she wanted and always went after what she wanted. She despised men but was lucky enough to have met one that treasured her and waited for her awakening.

  But above all these, I think the author wants to write about the power of fate, the force of nature, the tendency for us to be whom we are meant to be even if it leads to suffering. I think she wants to say that all the struggle and going against the current are just people being what they are meant to be. Meggie was meant to be in love, forever, even if it meant she would be unhappy all her life, except the few times that his love for her was confirmed and their relationship fulfilled. She knew he would leave her, to seek his own destiny of being married to the church. She couldn’t change her own destiny and she couldn’t change that of another man. But she had him. She only needed it once to know that she was In love. She didn’t just love.

  For that one confirmation she would suffer for the rest of her days. But just like the thorn birds, she lived for that one song to sing.