October 12, 2016
‘The great Australian silence’. It’s a phrase I’ve heard, referring to our country’s whitewashing of its history with its Indigenous people, but one I’ve never really understood. Having read Stan Grant’s Talking to My Country, I feel like I’ve begun to amend my ignorance.
Grant is a Wiradjuri man and journalist who has worked for numerous Australian news networks, as well as internationally for CNN. He has long been an advocate for Aboriginal issues, but has risen in prominence this year on the back of a powerful speech at the Ethics Centre IQ2 Debate in January 2016.
Talking To My Country is a brave, honest and raw book that communicates how it feels to be Aboriginal. It covers, briefly, the history of European and Aboriginal contact: the occupation of land, the genocidal government policies, the theft of children, the sundering of culture, the racism, both official and societal, that plagues Australia to this day. It talks, too, of how the dominant narrative ignores the many atrocities committed by the British during the frontier wars. Read the rest of this entry »
September 7, 2016
I like Tim Winston’s writing. I like his highly readable prose and earthy, often funny, similes. His characters are well defined and his descriptions of landscape evocative without being overwrought. I even like the Australianess of his voice. Sometimes it feels forced, but maybe that’s due to a bias born of the pervasiveness of American and English fiction. It’s partially for these reasons that Cloudstreet is one of my favourite novels.
All Winton’s strengths are present in his latest novel, Eyrie. Despite this, it (pun intended) fails to soar, largely because it commits the cardinal sin of taking the reader for granted.
Eyrie centres on Tom Keely, a former environmental spokesperson who has shut himself away from the world in his apartment, high atop a notorious high rise for Freemantle’s down-and-out. An undefined public scandal and divorce have left him a wreck of a man, broke, jobless, plagued by mysterious migraines and pain, only able to get through the day with booze and fistfuls of pills. Read the rest of this entry »
June 3, 2016
Escapism. It’s a term used for stories that are entertaining, light, and inconsequential. Nothing more than an escape from reality. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay doesn’t just revel in escapism; it makes a two-fisted defence of it.
The novel tells the story of Joseph Kavalier and Sam Clay, two Jewish cousins growing up in the era when Nazism began to cast its shadow across the world. Joe is a talented artist with a passion for escape artists and stage magic. Aided by his family’s life savings, his magic teacher and an inanimate golem, he escapes Europe just as the fascists are closing the trap. Sam lives in New York with his stereotypical Jewish mother (who doesn’t love a stereotypical Jewish mother?) and grandmother, having been abandoned by his circus strongman (really) father. Despite coming from such burly stock, Sam is short of stature and spindly of leg due to a bout of polio at a young age. He has a big mouth, he is able to conveniently translate into a knack for bombastic writing. Read the rest of this entry »
March 18, 2016
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Of all the writers I’ve read, Tolstoy is best able to capture the totality of human nature. Again and again, I was floored by the depth of his characters’ internal worlds, his ability to sketch out the motivations and contradictions and fantasies of people whose circumstances are so varied and different from his own.
Anna Karenina is, for those that don’t know, the story of an aristocratic woman who has an affair. There’s also a lot about a guy who likes farming. That’s it. As far as plots go, it’s not the greatest hook, but around this unexceptional subject is more insight into the human condition than you’ll find in a hundred best sellers. Read the rest of this entry »
January 25, 2014
Set in Cuba and Key West, against the background of prohibition, the Great Depression and the spread of communism, To Have and Have Not, as the title suggests, is about the difference between the rich and the poor. The first half of the novel focuses in Harry Morgan, a tough, often cruel rum runner who works the Gulf Stream. He’s in the classic Hemingway mold, but is neither as noble nor as colourful as some of the author’s more beloved protagonists.
After a rich passenger stiffs him for a season’s work, Harry is forced to take a job smuggling ‘ Chinamen’, typical of the dangerous assignments he feels he has to take on to feed his family. At this point, the theme is subsumed by the exotic setting of Cuba and the adventure of the smuggling trade. Read the rest of this entry »
December 22, 2013
If I have a daughter, I’ll get her to read The Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen is a great heroine – smart, resourceful, and pretty handy to have around if there’s no meat in the freezer. Sure she’s a little grim, but she provides a nice counterbalance to the passive princesses and attention-seeking twerkers that young girls have to look up to.
She’s also a product of her world. There’s a bit of backstory to The Hunger Games, but it’s all pretty familiar. Dystopian future America. Totalitarian government. Teen death match. In many ways, it’s like a concentrated, exaggerated version of our world, and I was surprised at how political it is. It’s savage in its depiction of wealth disparity, the media, and corruption. Although the central conceit of gladiatorial bouts to keep the populace subdued is a bit ridiculous, it did strike me as echoing our individualistic, cruelly competitive culture. Read the rest of this entry »
October 14, 2013
The Kite Runner is a strong debut novel that distinguishes itself from from other books on the shelf with its insight into a culture that attracted Western interest following 9/11; and with the extremity of violence it depicts.
The narrator, Amir, reflects on his childhood in 1970s Afghanistan, an idealised world of relative peace and tolerance, of colourful markets and Hollywood movies and kite contests. The son of a wealthy philanthropist, he enjoys a privileged upbringing despite his absent mother and disapproving father. His best friend is Hassan, a sweet natured, hair-lipped boy who happily accepts his lot as servant dictated by his Hazara ethnicity. Their happy childhood comes to an end one afternoon by a violent, harrowing event, and all chance of recovery is obliterated by Amir’s treacherous actions in its aftermath.
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