I'd forgotten how melodramatic this book is, and doubly so when experienced as an audio book. I'm glad I read it when I was younger, because it's harde...moreI'd forgotten how melodramatic this book is, and doubly so when experienced as an audio book. I'm glad I read it when I was younger, because it's harder to see its merits now. (less)
I haven't really read this book, I've only read Babette's Feast (because like everyone else, I loved the film). It's a great story, but this is a rare...moreI haven't really read this book, I've only read Babette's Feast (because like everyone else, I loved the film). It's a great story, but this is a rare example of the film being better than the book, IMO. (less)
One can’t help feeling terribly sorry for the characters. Their lives are so blighted by World War II that it seems impossible for them ever again to...moreOne can’t help feeling terribly sorry for the characters. Their lives are so blighted by World War II that it seems impossible for them ever again to find any kind of contentment. And they represent real people. There must have been real victims of war exactly like this, ordinary people experiencing the same terrors and hardships.
This is Faber, a starving German soldier at Stalingrad, lured across the ice by the promise of food:
He realised that there men on either side of him, shuffling, heads down, staring at the ice, refusing to look at each other, to observe each other’s surrender. A shot cut through the air. The man on Faber’s right fell forward, blood gushing from the back of his head. Faber stopped, registered the direction of the bullet, and ran, forcing the stiffness from his limbs as he fled east, tears streaming down his face. He wanted soup. That was all. And to see his son. To hold his wife. He ran faster, away from them, towards the laughing Russians banging spoons against metal bowls, cheering him on. He laughed too and reached his arms higher into the air, smiling in response to their smiles as he approached a large, black cooking pot. They beckoned him forward. He looked in. Chunks of meat and vegetables were simmering at the surface. He dropped his arms and cupped his hands, begging for their food. They laughed even harder, gold teeth flashing in the afternoon sun, and took his belts and wristwatch. He let them, and begged again. They put a gun to his back and steered him away from the pot, away from the smell of simmering beef. Away from the soup. (pp. 221-2)
And this is his wife, Katharina, when the Russians arrive in Berlin:
They heard them on the stairs, hard to tell how many, charging from one apartment to the next, smashing down doors, shouting at each other, running along hallways until they crashed through the cellar door, unperturbed by the barricade, torchlight swinging from one side of the room to the other. The soldiers staggered, laughing, looking first at Mrs Sachs, then at Katharina; their beams focussed on her as she pressed into her mother. Mrs Spinell moved away from her daughter. Katharina leaned towards her father. He moved away too. The soldiers shouted at her and gestured with their torches towards the door. She was still. One of them hit her across the head with his torch, the beam careering across the room. She looked at her mother, at her father. They looked at their feet. She held onto her father’s sleeve but he jutted his chin towards the door. (p. 272)
And yet, one can’t help but withhold just a little pity from these victims of a brutal war. For Katharina and Peter are perpetrators too, in the good days, in the days of German hubris, before Berlin fell.
Well, actually I've only read two of the stories because *a-hem* I'm one of those readers who prefers the longer form of a novel. (See the review by K...moreWell, actually I've only read two of the stories because *a-hem* I'm one of those readers who prefers the longer form of a novel. (See the review by Kirsten Krauth below.) But because I've visited Cambodia, I was attracted by the title, and brought it home from the library not realising it was a collection of short stories. So I'm just here to say that the first two stories were interesting to read and the writing was very good indeed, and so if you like short stories, you'll probably enjoy this collection! (less)
I really enjoyed this book! Yami Lester (b. c1949) is a Yankunytjatjara man from northern South Australia. According to Wikipedia, his most significan...moreI really enjoyed this book! Yami Lester (b. c1949) is a Yankunytjatjara man from northern South Australia. According to Wikipedia, his most significant contribution to indigenous rights was helping gain recognition for the atomic tests at Maralinga and an acknowledgement for the Aboriginal people who had been affected. An important achievement that led to the McLelland Royal Commission in 1985 - but this most modest of men grants it a mere ten pages or so in his autobiography. The rest of his book is a vivid picture of his extraordinary life which reminded me of Albert Facey’s A Fortunate Life.
As a boy Yami lived a bush life in camps in the area around Coober Pedy. His family travelled around from station to station getting itinerant work, living on bush tucker when the rations ran out. At Mt Willoughby Station, the kids were warned off the rubbish dump by the Aboriginal women:
‘Awai! Your father’s going to hunt you away from there’. That was my white father, Dick Lander, the manager of Mt Willoughby Station. ‘You gotta come this way,’ the women said, ‘and we’ll give you some food.’ So we left the rubbish dump, but we didn’t go to the house, we walked to the creek close by and waited until they brought out some food that my father gave to them: eggs and cake and different food.
That was as close as I got to my white father. I would like to have known him. But we couldn’t have talked because I didn’t have any English. I just had my own language Yankunytjatjara. It would have been something, that, to have talked with him. Anyway, we did share something: he didn’t want me to go to the rubbish dump! (p. 3)
That short excerpt is an indication of the character of this most entertaining storyteller: not an ounce of self-pity and always ready to look for the best in any situation. He was soon to need both those traits to overcome the challenge that defined his life (less)
The Town Grew Up Dancing, the life and art of Wenten Rubuntja is a fascinating book, not least because it is a trilingual text. Wenten Rubuntja (c. 19...moreThe Town Grew Up Dancing, the life and art of Wenten Rubuntja is a fascinating book, not least because it is a trilingual text. Wenten Rubuntja (c. 1923 – 2005) was a well known artist and a key figure in the Central Australian Land Rights Movement in the 1970s. This book is his story, told in his mother tongue, Arrernte, and also in Aboriginal English, with accompanying translations. Including the texts in Arrernte and Aboriginal English rather than just the English translation is an important signal about this book: it respects the original texts as equal in status to English. It also affirms strongly that the genesis of this book is in oral narratives, reminding the reader that for more than 40,000 years, it was the oral tradition that was used to pass on stories. But that’s not all that’s special about this book…
Indeed, the book’s provenance is a story in itself: it reveals a different way of thinking about authorship and autobiography. The book began in 1998 when Rubuntja asked for help to record his life story, and received a grant from the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to help with the research. The text came together from taped interviews with Rubuntja between 1975 and 2001, mostly recorded by linguist and artist Dr Jenny Green, but also by teams of other interviewers. Jenny Green also contributes additional commentary and so does historian Tim Rowse. (Dr Green won the 2011 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in a PhD Thesis for her work on telling Australian sand stories, there’s a lovely photo at this link).
The stories of Wenton’s sister Ruby Rubuntja were recorded too, and so were those of other people who knew and worked with him. These interviews were circumscribed by traditional Aboriginal practice: permission had to be granted to use Ruby’s contribution after her death, and Arrernte cultural practices have been respected by limiting questions only to matters considered public. So the book does not include anything to do with traditional Aboriginal law, or men’s and women’s restricted ‘business or ceremonies. (p. viii)
Though all authorised biographers respect the wishes of their living subjects and may have to negotiate ‘no-go’ areas, this community-based autobiography combined with cultural prohibitions is, I suspect, quite a different approach to the usual practice of autobiography … It gives the book an authority that derives from thousands of years of a living culture even though it is using all the modern accoutrements of publishing. There are also occasions when the commentary acknowledges that accounts of the same event are not necessarily the same. IMO this actually reinforces the authenticity of the book, because everybody knows that people often remember the same event differently! I found this distinctive approach very refreshing, but it also made me wonder how different the book might have been had it not been published while Rubuntja was still alive.
I haven’t finished reading the book, but I wanted to share my thoughts about it now because NAIDOC Week kicks off tomorrow but I will be spending most of the day in transit to Queensland. (It’s my usual term holidays trip up to see that all is well with my elderly parents.) The Town Grew Up Dancing is a book that’s ideal to kick off my reviews for Indigenous Literature Week 2014, so I’ve scheduled this review to coincide with that. It is a biography of a very significant indigenous man but it’s also a beautiful book of beautiful art!
Germaine Greer has always made me think about things in a different way. I like her iconoclastic style, and I like her dry, witty humour.
I like Shakes...moreGermaine Greer has always made me think about things in a different way. I like her iconoclastic style, and I like her dry, witty humour.
I like Shakespeare too. I love the Sonnets. My favourite plays are all the well-known ones, the ones I’ve seen performed: Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, The Tempest, Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar, Henry IV Part 2, and The Taming of the Shrew (I’ve only seen that one on screen). But I’ve never been much interested in all the speculation about authorship and whatnot, so I wasn’t too sure that I would enjoy Greer’s analysis of the representation of Ann Hathaway in Shakespeare’s Wife.
I needn’t have worried. Greer systematically unpacks what purports to be scholarly argument in favour of Ann-as-Shrew and tears the claims to shreds. Not a shred of evidence for that, she says, demolishing some hapless scholar’s magnum opus. Nonsense, no way in the world that could have happened at that time and in that society, she says. Foolhardy in his certainty, she announces. Greer doesn’t shilly-shally – she is refreshingly decisive and provocative. She even suggests that Shakespeare would have had it out with one Anthony Burgess, if he’d known how Burgess (writing in 1970) stigmatised Ann as promiscuous and Shakespeare as being bullied into the marriage with bitter resignation:
The Marriage Game is an entertaining light choice for a travel day. Based on the life of the Virgin Queen Elizabeth, it’s the story of the endless she...moreThe Marriage Game is an entertaining light choice for a travel day. Based on the life of the Virgin Queen Elizabeth, it’s the story of the endless shenanigans concerning her marriage, and of her love for Robert Dudley. For many of us it’s a well-worn story because the endless fascination with all the Tudors has led to so many fictionalisations and films, so it is all the more surprising that The Marriage Game is as entertaining as it is. After all, everyone already knows the plot!
Weir’s previous publications – 14 works of non-fiction – establish her expertise as an historian of this period, and the novel rarely departs from the historical record. What makes it an entertaining book is that Elizabeth’s love for Dudley is the cornerstone of her reign, but – like all the other marriage negotiations with assorted princes of Europe – it is characterised as a ‘game’. A game played by her rules which were constantly changing.
So over the course of 400-odd pages, Elizabeth promises to marry him, but won’t say when. She favours him, and withdraws her regard. She makes him believe she will marry her, but there always reasons of state which force delay. And while she won’t have him, she sabotages any chance of him taking any other woman as his wife, to have the children he so dearly wants to have. It seems a cruel way to treat a loved one, but Weir provides convincing reasons for this wayward behaviour, weaving certainty out of what has always been conjecture about Elizabeth’s reluctance to marry. It would spoil the novel to say much more about those personal reasons.