Resilience by Anne Deveson

A review by Nalini Haynes

★★★★ 4/5 stars

Aimed at the layperson, Resilience is narrative non-fiction combining a brief overview of academic studies into resilience, current definitions, the author’s views and some of the author’s history including the suicide of her son at age 24 and a romance-inspired biographical story arc.

Essential attributes contributing to resilience are discussed including the necessity of networks – friendships – in creating identity while providing support and the vitality inspired by hope.

Deveson discusses Martin Seligmann’s learned helplessness versus learned optimism as they relate to resilience.

Grief and life’s hard knocks are raised as realities with respect for those suffering setbacks. This isn’t one of those self-indulgent feel-good saccharine-sweet novels posing as non-fiction! The author discussing resilience in the face of her child’s illness and subsequent suicide, his response to worsening schizophrenia, gives this book a gritty realism, a credibility, other similar works on the subject may lack.

I’m not entirely enamoured of the romantic story arc although it supports and illustrates the theme. I think, perhaps, my response is due to the brevity and apparent convenient timing of the romance. I’m not averse to romance in fiction and non-fiction alike but I suspect the more I review the more I’m becoming hard to please in this area. It’s best to take my reservations regarding romance with a large pinch of salt. In a romantic salad, perhaps?

(Have I mentioned that I have no aspirations to be a chef? I can, however, make oblique references to Drop Dead Fred, disparaging romance even when trying to redeem myself.)

Resilience is part biography, part academic exploration of resilience in an attempt to develop understanding of this phenomena with a view to strengthening individuals and communities outside of the ‘self-help’ framework. There are no instructions, merely one person sharing what she did to survive, to cope, to ensure her own resilience. This is a strength of this narrative non-fiction story; I highly recommend Resilience.

★★★★ 4/5 stars

Allen & Unwin describe Resilience:

Some people find the resilience to overcome adversity and suffering while others are overwhelmed and despair. Anne Deveson wanted to understand better why, and how, individuals and communities develop resilience.

Anne’s long career as journalist, documentary-maker and social-justice activist offered rich insights into the stories of the many spirited people and groups she has encountered in spheres such as disaster aid, war, mental illness, family breakdown and human rights. From her own life experience, she draws on vivid personal memoir (often refreshingly candid, such as the surprise of falling in love at nearly seventy, only to lose her soul-mate to cancer, which happened during the course of writing the book). In addition, Anne marshals information and recent research that has shed new light on her own understanding of resilience.

Her exploration is an engaging intellectual and personal journey, bringing together factual research, memoir and reflection, with wisdom and gritty humour. It will be an inspiration to all victims of life’s ‘slings and arrows’, as well as to those hoping to nurture in the young, or in their community, the resilience demanded by times of relentless change and growing insecurity.


Anne Deveson is a writer, broadcaster and documentary film-maker whose work in mental health and other social justice issues has won wide recognition, and who has a proven ability to engage a wide general audience with serious issues. The Foundation for Young Australians has provided some support for the writing of this book.