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Book and Film Discussions > June 2017 Group Read: The Pacifist #BOM-june-2017

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message 1: by Alex (last edited Jun 05, 2017 12:11AM) (new)

Alex (asato) Our sixth group read of 2017 is historical fiction.

Please join us in reading Mehreen Ahmed's
The Pacifist by Mehreen Ahmed
The Pacifist
In 1866, Peter Baxter’s misfortune ends the day he leaves Badgerys Creek orphanage. Unsure of what to do next, Peter finds himself on a farm run by Mr. Brown. An aging man, Brown needs help and is happy to give Peter a place to live in exchange for his labor. Unbeknownst to Peter, Brown’s past is riddled with dark secrets tied to the same orphanage, which he has documented in a red folder.

During a chance encounter, Peter meets Rose. Peter cannot help but fall in love with her beauty, grace, and wit but fears that his affection will go unrequited as a result of his crippling poverty. But fate changes when Peter joins the search for gold in Hill End, New South Wales. Striking it rich, he returns to Rose a wealthy man. Peter is changed by his new found affluence, heading towards the mire of greed. Will Rose regret her relationship with Peter?

Meanwhile, Rose has her own troubled history. One that is deeply entwined with Brown’s past and Peter’s future.
Reading Schedule
Starting on 11 June we can discuss the specified chapters without having to use spoiler tags. Conversely, you must use spoiler tags for any discussion about future chapters.

5 June = First impressions; please hide any spoilers.
11 June = Beginning - Moldy Batter
18 June = The entire book

Note: I've reserved the last two weeks of the month to a complete discussion of the book. I believe that doing so promotes more discussion. However, we should be flexible with the dates as best fits the participants.


message 2: by Alex (new)

Alex (asato) Would anyone be interested in being the discussion leader?


message 3: by Alex (new)

Alex (asato) Got my copy!


message 4: by Mehreen (new)

Mehreen Ahmed (mehreen2) | 1911 comments Thank you Alex. Look forward to a robust discussion.


message 5: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10755 comments Alex, if you still need a discussion leader I shall volunteer.


message 6: by Leonie (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments Just downloaded my copy.


message 7: by Dylan (new)

Dylan Callens | 31 comments I'm all set for the discussion! :)


message 8: by Alex (new)

Alex (asato) Ian wrote: "Alex, if you still need a discussion leader I shall volunteer."

Excellent! Thanks, Ian.


message 9: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10755 comments OK, to get things going, I am going to ask everyone to eventually (when they have finished) answer two questions:
(a) What category would you put this in? (I think historical drama, but let's have some other thoughts.)
(b) What do you think of the title?

So, in the meantime, enjoy.


message 10: by Dylan (new)

Dylan Callens | 31 comments Ian wrote: "OK, to get things going, I am going to ask everyone to eventually (when they have finished) answer two questions:
(a) What category would you put this in? (I think historical drama, but let's have ..."


I feel the most suitable category is historical literary fiction because there are a number of literary elements. The rich, symbolic language that Mehreen uses suggests a literary edge.

I like the title, though I feel it's ironic. That's a discussion point for later though, as my thoughts on that deal with things that come up later in the book.


message 11: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10755 comments Dylan, what in your opinion is needed to qualify for "literary"? Is symbolic language enough?


message 12: by Dylan (new)

Dylan Callens | 31 comments Ian,

No, the symbolic language in itself is not enough. I think it's difficult to point to what is literary vs popular, especially as we see more pop-fiction type novels with a literary edge. In Mehreen's novel, however, we see complex characters that are not some archetype. They tend to drive the action as a result of individual complex pasts. Also, the language in this book is not plain. She relies heavily on metaphor to bring her point home. Even the structure of the novel lends itself to 'literary'. The novel isn't written chronologically and we have to pay attention to which characters are the focal point of a chapter.

For those reasons, I say it's literary.


message 13: by Graeme (last edited Jun 07, 2017 03:37AM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan I think that Matthew Reilly's works are eminent literature and the concept of a literature/popular distinction is a false one - there is only story and the power to engage and hold the human imagination.

If an author can't inspire a reader's imagination and hold their interest they are a bad story teller - probably lacking either talent or skill, or both.

The only court of opinion that counts are the readers - all else is vanity.


message 14: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan The bottom line with any book is - does it grab your interest, does it engage your imagination. Does it transport you into the story and wow you.


message 15: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10755 comments Excellent news. We have some discussions going on. Thanks, Graeme and Dylan. I hope you both enjoy Mehreen's novel.


message 16: by Dylan (new)

Dylan Callens | 31 comments Graeme Rodaughan wrote: "I think that Matthew Reilly's works are eminent literature and the concept of a literature/popular distinction is a false one - there is only story and the power to engage and hold the human imagin..."

I appreciate what you're saying. I even agree with you, to some extent. But there is a huge difference between some novels. Take Infinite Jest and Robopocalypse, for example. Fans of one will probably not be fans of the other (of course, there will be exceptions). One is praised for being a literary masterpiece while the other is simply entertainment. One requires far more background knowledge to read than the other. I don't think it's fair, to group them together.


message 17: by Alex (new)

Alex (asato) I haven't started reading yet, but When i looked at the categories on GR (which are user-selected, btw) and Amazon (which are author- and Amazon algorithmically selected) and read the blurb, I thought that it fit nicely into historical fiction. So that is what I chose for the genre For this thread announcement.


message 18: by Leonie (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments Ian wrote: "OK, to get things going, I am going to ask everyone to eventually (when they have finished) answer two questions:
(a) What category would you put this in? (I think historical drama, but let's have ..."


I'd think historical drama so far. I'm about 75% through the book.

I am still confused about the title, though, so I'll be interested to hear why Mehreen chose it.


message 19: by Mehreen (new)

Mehreen Ahmed (mehreen2) | 1911 comments Leonie, if I say anything now, it might be kind of spoiler, so I'll join when all has been said and answer your questions. But that is a very good question. I'm really happy that you brought it up. Happy reading!


message 20: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10755 comments Mehreen, essentially the title is my question (b) above. Before you answer, wait and see what everyone else says. For what it is worth, Leonie, I have read the entire book, and I wondered about the title too. To go a little further, in my mind the title should grab the reader's attention, and Mehreen's title does that quite well, I think, but it should also direct your thinking a little as you read the book. In that, Mehreen was right - maybe I should have left that question until later when everyone else has finished.


message 21: by Alex (last edited Jun 10, 2017 11:22AM) (new)

Alex (asato) Just wanted to remind everyone that since the sun will be rising across the Australian continent on 11 June in a few hours, we can now discuss from the beginning up to (and including) "Moldy Batter" without spoiler tags.


message 22: by Alex (new)

Alex (asato) btw, what a title for a "chapter" ^_^


message 23: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10755 comments Ha. Alex steals a day through the time zone. As an aside, at the time of writing this, the sun has yet to rise over NZ, and it probably won't where I live, owing to the dense clouds (again) :-(


message 24: by Alex (new)

Alex (asato) was soy sauce added to BBQ in Austrailia in 1925?

Is the Byron Bay in the story, the same one that's in New South Wales? (if so, Olivia Newton-John lives there and Paul Hogan used to live in Byron Bay. ^_^)

Looks like a great place to live. Temperate, although a bit humid. Lows around 11C in the winter! Lovely beaches too:




message 25: by Alex (new)

Alex (asato) Ian wrote: "Ha. Alex steals a day through the time zone. As an aside, at the time of writing this, the sun has yet to rise over NZ, and it probably won't where I live, owing to the dense clouds (again) :-("

^_^ i thought it the right thing to do, owing to the fact that there are so many things related to Australia in this month's group read, besides the mere fact that the book takes place in Australia.

(perhaps, we should make New Zealand the default time for group reads?)


message 26: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Dylan wrote: "I appreciate what you're saying. I even agree with you, to some extent. But there is a huge difference between some novels. Take Infinite Jest and Robopocalypse, for example. Fans of one will probably not be fans of the other (of course, there will be exceptions). One is praised for being a literary masterpiece while the other is simply entertainment. One requires far more background knowledge to read than the other. I don't think it's fair, to group them together. ..."

We could start another thread - titled "Literature or Mass Entertainment - which is best?"

Don't want to hijack this thread...


message 27: by Mehreen (new)

Mehreen Ahmed (mehreen2) | 1911 comments Ian wrote: "Mehreen, essentially the title is my question (b) above. Before you answer, wait and see what everyone else says. For what it is worth, Leonie, I have read the entire book, and I wondered about the..."

Sorry Ian. I should have mentioned that too. It was an oversight on my part.


message 28: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10755 comments No worries, Mehreen :-)


message 29: by Alex (new)

Alex (asato) Graeme Rodaughan wrote: "We could start another thread - titled "Literature or Mass Entertainment - which is best?"

Don't want to hijack this thread... "


good idea to start another thread w/that title.


message 30: by Alex (new)

Alex (asato) i finished with the "The Benefactor" chapter. The descriptions of the physical surroundings of the Tasman Sea drew me in. It felt languid.

A number of social themes--as is Malcolm's root issue--are touched upon in that first chapter.

What do you guys, think?


message 31: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10755 comments Right, the first chapter. Alex raised the point of description. Mehreen is very rich in description. Gardens are described in detail, dresses, also, as is the sea and the coast. Did you feel this drew you into the story, or did you feel it slowed the pace?

Assuming you have got further into the story, you will see it go back in time. Do you like this technique?

What do you think chapter 1 achieved?

Now for a couple of my points, just to show I have actually read it :-). In chapter 1, Malcolm donated 4,000 dollars to the orphanage. Really? In 1925, Australia was using £, s, d. (I think it was the mid 1960s they decimalised.) Second, Malcolm goes from Byron Bay to Coff's harbour in two hours. OK, he has the latest Mercedes, but there would be a lot of towns/villages to go through, and the roads then would be fairly rough, I expect. This is about 200 km, from memory, and it would be good going to do that now. As an aside, I have driven on some of the lesser NSW roads, and I recall one carved in the sandstone by the convicts. And when I did that, I could still see the convict pick marks! Now I know a top rally driver could do that on dirt roads, leaving aside the problem of town speed restrictions, and of the hilly sections, but driving at speed on those gravel roads really takes skill, or you don't get there. to average 100 k he would have to drive fairly long sections at 150 k, and I doubt Malcolm could do that on gravel.


message 32: by Leonie (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments Ian wrote: "Right, the first chapter. Alex raised the point of description. Mehreen is very rich in description. Gardens are described in detail, dresses, also, as is the sea and the coast. Did you feel this d..."

I actually thought that the story would be about Malcolm after reading this chapter, so I was quite surprised to discover it wasn't really, by the time I'd read to the end of the story.

Stylistically, I find the detail excessive in terms of my reading tastes, so it slowed the pace enormously for me, and I found it quite distracting. This is clearly a personal preference.

And yes, you're right about the currency, Ian. Decimal currency arrived in 1966 in Australia. Up until then we used pounds, shillings and pence. Similarly, the use of the word 'okay' and descriptions of granola, nuggets and other late twentieth century terms had me going back and checking dates just to make sure what era we were in.

The same applies to the travelling. I live in NSW, so I've travelled that road - the Pacific Highway between Byron Bay and Coffs, and it's around 240km. Here's a 1922 Coffs Harbour photo to give you some idea http://www.historicphotographs.com.au...

Certainly in 1925, in my opinion, you'd have been looking at many more hours, given the road conditions.


message 33: by Alex (last edited Jun 11, 2017 04:24PM) (new)

Alex (asato) Do people think that the rich descriptions of the physical environment are generally expected in historical fiction? Isn't that part of the reason to read historical fiction, to get a feel for the times? Mystery or espionage historical fiction might have less than general historical fiction, but still more than contemporary works, no?


message 34: by Dylan (new)

Dylan Callens | 31 comments Ian wrote: In chapter 1, Malcolm donated 4,000 dollars to the orphanage. Really? ."

You must have read the arc version. This was changed by its release date. There may be one reference to cents left later in the novel... but this mistake was pointed out and changed before the final draft went out.


message 35: by Leonie (last edited Jun 11, 2017 05:54PM) (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments Dylan wrote: "Ian wrote: In chapter 1, Malcolm donated 4,000 dollars to the orphanage. Really? ."

You must have read the arc version. This was changed by its release date. There may be one reference to cents le..."


I just checked - as I've just finished, I'd remembered the cents references and translated them to dollars in my mind. In the version I have there are no references to dollars, but Peter is still paying his workers in cents. There are also references to 'checks' which in Australia, are actually 'cheques' if you're referring to money. We also don't 'get the check' at a restaurant, we ask for the 'bill.'

Do people think that the rich descriptions of the physical environment are generally expected in historical fiction? Isn't that part of the reason to read historical fiction, to get a feel for the times? Mystery or espionage historical fiction might have less than general historical fiction, but still more than contemporary works, no?

I think some descriptions of physical environment are generally expected in historical fiction, however there's a line (at least for me) between rich and too much. I think it depends on whether the description enhances the story or not.

Side note: I've just attended two writing workshops in the last two days - one on short fiction and one on long form. Both of them (from the view points of two very different writers) talked about rich language, and using just enough of it so that the story still shines through, but isn't buried in it.


message 36: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10755 comments Leonie, great photos. I spent two years in Armidale, and frequently drove down to Coff's Harbour, and I can assure others it had changed significantly by 1970. I never travelled up the Pacific Highway, preferring to go north and south mainly by the New England Highway, so I don't think I ever went to Byron Bay.

Yes. I was also a little surprised the story wasn't really about Malcolm at all, although the orphanage ranks highly, so it is really sort of giving the end-position at the start, which I found puzzling, but others may well disagree.

I also raised the question of description because I think it depends on what is being described. Alex makes a point of saying you read historical fiction to get a feeling for the times, so the descriptions of the meals are valid (assuming they are realistic - that means Mehreen has to tell us how much research she did) but I thought the gardens were a little overdone, but that is just my taste. Alex raised the point that the Tasman was "languid" - of course it can be on some days, but it can be very much the opposite on other days. In one of my novels (A Face on Cydonia) I describe the other sort.


message 37: by Leonie (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments Ian wrote: "Leonie, great photos. I spent two years in Armidale, and frequently drove down to Coff's Harbour, and I can assure others it had changed significantly by 1970. I never travelled up the Pacific High..."

I'm now living in the Upper Hunter - Muswellbrook, actually, which means you must have driven through there at some point on the New England Highway.


message 38: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10755 comments Yes, Leonie, I used to have a girl friend in Sydney, so I often drove down there, and stopped for a pub lunch in Muswellbrook.


message 39: by Mehreen (last edited Jun 11, 2017 07:29PM) (new)

Mehreen Ahmed (mehreen2) | 1911 comments Hardly dirt road. An arduous trip? Depends on the driver and the car. https://www.google.com.au/search?q=Pa...


message 40: by Mehreen (new)

Mehreen Ahmed (mehreen2) | 1911 comments As for cheque and check? That was a linguistic decision not a historical one. I just thought I would clarify these issues.


message 41: by Leonie (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments I'm interested in why you chose that spelling in that case, Mehreen?

What made you choose vernacular that isn't typical of the country or period?


message 42: by Mehreen (new)

Mehreen Ahmed (mehreen2) | 1911 comments I leave it to you to figure that out. I gave you the clue.


message 43: by Mehreen (last edited Jun 12, 2017 12:45AM) (new)

Mehreen Ahmed (mehreen2) | 1911 comments Leonie wrote: "Dylan wrote: "Ian wrote: In chapter 1, Malcolm donated 4,000 dollars to the orphanage. Really? ."

You must have read the arc version. This was changed by its release date. There may be one referen..."


Is the following in reference to the book, Leonie? I am a bit confused.

"We also don't 'get the check' at a restaurant, we ask for the 'bill.'"

Actually, there is no mention of "check" in relation to any "restaurant" or "bill" in that book at all. But in relation to orphanage donation received at a charity party held within a community church. I thought, this warranted clarification.


message 44: by Leonie (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments I leave it to you to figure that out. I gave you the clue.

So, I'm now working on the assumption that you made a deliberate choice to use 'check' rather than the normal Australian usage of 'cheque' in order to appeal to the US market?

The question I'm asking, therefore, is that given that this is a historical fiction novel, wouldn't the characters use the language of their time to read true to their location and their era?

As an Australian, reading this, the usage really grated on me. As did the other words I mentioned - granola (wasn't a thing in the Australia of my childhood - and even muesli was relatively new in the 1970s), and okay came into common usage in Australia after the Second World War.

I know it's a small thing, but it seriously bugged me. I had to keep reminding myself that this was set in Australia, and set in the late 1800's and early 1900's.

In some ways, I'm better able to understand the use of z's instead of s's, and missing u's, than not using the terminology of the day.

I went to a panel yesterday at the convention I've just finished, and the panel discussed the use of language quite thoroughly - from the point of view of non-whites writers and readers. The consensus was that allowing people to grow, by using culturally appropriate terminology is a good thing.

So, for example, if something is set in the Phillipines, then Filipino terms should be a given, and the Filipino voice should be heard as a Filipino voice.

As far as check/bill goes - sorry, Mehreen, I was just extrapolating 'check' for those who might not be Australian.


message 45: by Mehreen (last edited Jun 12, 2017 06:33AM) (new)

Mehreen Ahmed (mehreen2) | 1911 comments Granola was eaten in Australia in the 19th century, although it was invented in the USA. if interested do some research.

http://plesk.s78744.gridserver.com/hi...

"Australia’s first batch of ready-to-eat breakfast cereal was produced by Edward Halsey in 1898. In a small bakery in Melbourne, he produced Granola (made of wheat, corn, maize and rye) and Granose, a forerunner of today’s wheatflake biscuits. He and his team sold the breakfast cereals door-to-door as a healthier alternative to the popular, less nutritious breakfast foods of the time." (I based mine on this. My characters cooked them).

Regardless of what people discuss in forums and conventions, first and foremost, I consider myself an Australian. I wrote that book as an Australian. I don't see people as coloured: Well and truely, I'm colour blind, and this book is certainly not a bid for cultural assimilation. I am already well assimilated. If the spelling for check/ cheque bothered you or anyone, well, I can't help that. But linguistically, I felt that was an appropriate spelling, consistent with the rest of it in the book. I used American convention which does not necessarily have to be compatible with history. I did use some Australian lingua throughout the book.

Yes, one could argue I guess, then why didn't I choose to write it in Australian English? Well, in that I'm guilty as charged. However, it would not be fair to discredit the book or its historicity on the basis of what linguistic medium I chose to write it in. It could be any, Australian, American, British or Canadian English. That's the writer's prerogative IMO, as I wanted to cater for as wide an audience as possible. A writer should not be limited by imagination or be subjected to literary apartheid.


message 46: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 10755 comments Mehreen wrote: "Hardly dirt road. An arduous trip? Depends on the driver and the car. https://www.google.com.au/search?q=Pa......"
Mehreen, I have driven across a number of other roads in NSW that were gravel, at least then. As for going north from Sydney, in order to avoid the congestion (in 1970) of the Pacific Highway, I went through Central Mangrove (lovely name!) - and that had never been upgraded. By now I rather fancy the roads out of Sydney will be a bit better - remember I am a dinosaur :-) (If anyone knows what the Central Mangrove bypass is like now, please feel free to inform me.)

On the point about American spelling, I think the author can be free on this one, because it is not really known by the protagonists. I am personally more tolerant of "voice" as well, mainly because the writer's voice is important, and it is difficult to change. Also, I wrote two novels set in first century Rome, and I really have no idea how they spoke (the written word was almost certainly more formal than the spoken) and most certainly writing in Latin would have been a waste of time (no readers, and since my latin is essentially non-existent, incomprehensible) so perforce I used my own voice, and I suspect other historical novelists do to. Others might like to comment on this.

However, IMO I also think that if you are going include fairly long and detailed descriptions to generate a feeling of the times, then it is important to get the times right. Unless you know what was available as food at the time, just write that they had breakfast, and skip the descriptions. I would be interested in what others think about this. In the context of the book, it is arguably a small point, but if it misleads, I think it is more than that.

On the other hand, I don't want this discussion to be bogged down with minutia. The more important points are in the story.


message 47: by Leonie (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments I think we're actually talking at cross purposes here, Mehreen, so I'll take a step back. (And seriously, I wasn't implying any racism on your behalf at all - please accept my apologies if that was the impression I gave.)

My comment was about historical voice, if you like.

On roads - I have to say I've never heard of the Central Mangrove Bypass, but a quick google suggests that the F3, or now M1 probably incorporates that road. It's the major link between Sydney and Newcastle. (Given the dates on the google info, I'm now giggling at the dinosaur reference, Ian!)

I'm a bit of a veteran dirt driver myself, having lived in the Pilbara region of WA for a sixteen year period prior to coming to NSW almost fifteen years ago. I don't think I can claim dinosaur status, but middle age is pretty accurate nowadays.


message 48: by Ian (last edited Jun 12, 2017 03:03PM) (new)

Ian Miller | 10755 comments Hi Leonie, No, I think the road I used started off as what is now called Peat's Ridge road, it went through Central Mangrove, thence to Wollombi Rd, Broke Rd, and then came out at Singleton, thus totally missing Newcastle.

The road was all dirt, but it was fast because nobody else used it. My worst moment was when I hit some sort of pothole once and completely shredded the front left tyre (and had an interesting time holding the car as I brought it down to an acceptable speed, and thence to stopping.)

Sorry, everyone else - this is sort of irrelevant if you don't know Australia, BUT it reinforces my point about high speed driving on early Australian roads.


message 49: by Leonie (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments Ha! Yes, I know what you mean about shredding the tyre. We once arrived in Karratha (300km dirt which usually takes four hours) with one - my husband told the guy in Karratha that we had a tyre requiring patching. As he rolled it in with the rags of tyre flapping in the breeze, the guy looked at it, rubbed his chin and said, "Might take a few patches..."


message 50: by Mehreen (last edited Jun 12, 2017 04:21PM) (new)

Mehreen Ahmed (mehreen2) | 1911 comments Leonie wrote: "I think we're actually talking at cross purposes here, Mehreen, so I'll take a step back. (And seriously, I wasn't implying any racism on your behalf at all - please accept my apologies if that was..."

I get your point about 'voice' Leonie, "from the point of view of non-whites writers." as you said and I quote for the record.

British writers may write about Indian history, or fiction if you like, but that's not to say that they must write it in Indian English, which is now an accepted variety. Ultimately, it is the writer's choice.


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