Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 23, 2023

Doting (1952), by Henry Green

NothingDoting, by British author Henry Green (1905-1973) is another of his comedy of manners novels, but because it’s written almost entirely in dialogue between a tangled cast of characters, it takes reading between the lines to work out what Green was ‘on about’ in this, his last novel.  It was first published in 1952, two decades before he died.  Wikipedia tells me that…

In his later years, until his death in 1973, he became increasingly focused on studies of the Ottoman Empire, and became alcoholic and reclusive.

Despite its sparkling wit, perhaps this last novel is a hint of the depression that may have beset him in the last years of his life.

While it’s not true to say I made heavy weather of Doting, I found myself increasingly puzzled by it. The dialogue often seems inconclusive.  Characters talk past each other, sentences aren’t finished, and there are cultural allusions that are, for an Australian reader in the C21st century, just out of sight. The characters know what the other is thinking, but we don’t.  Or not quite.

So the novel seems lightweight, as the blurb at Goodreads implies:

Written almost completely in dialogue, Henry Green’s final novel is a biting comedy of manners that exposes the deceptive difference between those who love and those who “dote.” Arthur Middleton is a middle-aged member of the upper-middle class living in post-World War II London with his wife. Stuck in a passionless marriage, Arthur becomes infatuated with Annabel, a much younger woman. Their relationship sets into motion a series of intertwining affairs between five close friends less concerned with love than with their attempts to keep the other lovers apart.

The introduction in my edition by literary critic D J Taylor has little to say about it so perhaps he was puzzled too.

It was not until I came to an exchange between the young flirt Annabel and her older admirer, the widower Charles Addinsell, that I joined the dots…

Annabel is flirting with a purpose.  She’s looking for a husband because she comes of the class where it’s expected that she marry, and marry well.  Charles tells her that he’s not up for marriage because he lost his wife Penelope in childbirth:

‘Then why not marry a second time?’ Ann asked in a bewildered voice.  ‘Another mother for your child.’

‘Might die again,’ the man replied, with obvious distaste.

‘Oh no!’ she cried.

‘Not much use for poor little Joe if she did, after all?’

‘I suppose not, Charles.  Yet there’s no reason she should, is there?’

‘Oh none,’he appeared to agree.  ‘Still, that’s all a part of what life has in store for one.’ (p.262)

[Notice the way Green universalises Charles.  It’s ‘the man’ who replies; it’s what life has in store for ‘one’.]

He goes on to say that what he has against ‘living’, is the dirty tricks fate has in store. 

…No good blinking facts.  Do better to realise, they probably will be coming for you.  I couldn’t stand a second kick in the pants of the kind.’

‘But if you’ve already had one really terrible misfortune, aren’t the chances against another, Charles? [LH: see how this sentence drifts off without an ending?]

‘Same as with roulette,’ he answered. ‘When you’re at the tables, identical numbers will keep cropping up!’ (p.263)

In a novel which skewers the generation gap, this exchange reveals the gulf between them.  This is the difference between loving, and doting. As Arthur Middleton explains to Ann:

Love must include adoration of course, but if you just dote on a girl you don’t necessarily go so far as to love her. Loving goes deeper. (p.203)

Arthur Middleton and his wife love each other, enough to withstand their respective infatuations and indiscretions.  But Charles, through loss, has learned that loving can be painful and that doting is perhaps wiser. Ann, with all her life before her in a world that seems full of possibility, remains hopeful and idealistic despite her scatty behaviour.

Having read about Henry Green’s war in his novel Caught (1943) and in Lara Feigel’s The Love-Charms of Bombs, Restless Lives in the Second World War  (2013), I recognised further nuance in this exchange in which Ann protests that he surely isn’t warning women not to love their own children…

…’would you really warn a woman against looking forward to her own children?’

‘They can always die, too.’

‘In a bomb explosion, you mean?’

‘Not necessarily,’ he said.

‘Oh but fifty years ago they died like flies, quite naturally!’ Ann exploded.  ‘Doctors have changed all that! I don’t suppose any number of bombs nowadays could kill the millions of people that used to go just from disease.’ (p.265)

Green’s readers in 1952 would have been alert to the resonances of these words.  They had fresh memories of the Blitz and everyone was suffering the loss of loved ones in the war — fathers and mothers; brothers and sisters; husbands, wives and lovers; sons and daughters; friends, neighbours and colleagues. As Lara Feigel shows, no one escaped bereavement, and though Ann is blissfully unaware of the irony, the prospect of sudden death from ‘any number of bombs’ is certainly not over.  The American use of weapons of mass destruction at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the ensuing nuclear arms race meant that there was the very real possibility of nuclear annihilation.  (And there still is, though the cheerleaders for war seem oblivious to that.)

PS Apropos of the light-hearted way Annabel flirts with assorted men, Green tackles an issue that apparently some men still don’t understand:

…she let him kiss her, freely.

He got quite out of breath in the end.

‘Oh, let’s go next door!’ the man murmured, at last.

‘No, Arthur,’ she said, in a different voice.

‘D’yyou mean that?’

‘I’m afraid so,’ Miss Paynton answered, and slewed her mouth away from his.

‘How can one tell when girls mean no?’ he whispered, kissing the lobe of an ear.

By believing them, dearest, she told the man.  He seemed to credit this, for, after a moment, he drew away and began to fiddle with his tie. (p.283, underlining mine.)

Introduced to Henry Green by Henry Green Week at Winston’s Dad, I’ve read Nothing (1950);  Loving (1945); and Caught (1943). (Links go to my reviews).  The other title in this compilation still to read is Blindness. 

Author: Henry Green
Title: Nothing, Doting, Blindness
Introduction by D J Taylor
Publisher: Vintage Classics 2008, first published 1950
ISBN: 9780099481485
Source: Personal library, purchased from the London Review Bookshop.

As I wrote in a recent #6Degrees, we tend to have a skewed version of WW2 events, often limited to the General Macarthur narrative that prevails in the Pacific War.  If I didn’t subscribe to the Asian Review of Books, I might have never have heard of Thomas McKenna’s Moro Fighter or learned about the Filipino heroes of the Resistance movement.  The US was pivotal to the defeat of the Japanese in WW2, but they did not fight alone in the Philippines (or anywhere else).

About the book (from the AmazonAU website)

Moro Warrior tells the remarkable true story of the Philippine Muslim (Moro) resistance fighters of World War II — the most successful and least-known guerrillas of the Pacific Theatre. It is the story of Mohammad Adil, a sword-wielding warrior chieftain commissioned as a junior officer in Douglas MacArthur’s guerrilla army while still a teenager. Confident in his secret protective powers learned from a Sufi master, Adil roamed the highland rainforests with a price on his head, attacking Japanese outposts, surviving ambushes, and gaining a reputation as a man who could not be killed.

It is also the story of the colonial official Edward Kuder, foster father to Mohammad Adil and a rare American friend to the Moros, who sheltered him during the Japanese occupation. Kuder was the sole chronicler of the early Moro resistance — an armed opposition so vigorous that the soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army found themselves outfought time and again by Moro irregulars.

When the soldiers of the Empire of Japan invaded their homeland, the Moros, sometimes with swords as their only weapons, bravely fought on alone after the rapid American surrender of the Philippines. At the urging of Edward Kuder, they later joined the American-led guerrilla movement that emerged in 1943 and served with distinction, but their exceptional contribution to the defeat of the Japanese occupiers and the liberation of the Philippines has never been properly acknowledged. Here, based on the vivid recollections of Mohammad Adil and the wartime writings of Edward Kuder, the extraordinary achievements and sacrifices of the Moro freedom fighters of Mindanao finally receive their full due.

The AmazonAU website tells us that McKenna is an anthropologist who has worked among Moro communities in the Philippines and spent decades writing and conducting research on their culture and history.  He interrogates the narratives at hand: the recollections of Mohammad Adil, a sword-wielding warrior chieftain commissioned as a junior officer in Douglas MacArthur’s guerrilla army while still a teenager and the writings of the colonial official Edward Kuder, foster father to Mohammad Adil and a rare American friend to the Moros, who sheltered him during the Japanese occupation. McKenna confirms Adil’s stories and Kuder’s writings with records from military archives. These stories amplify the Wikipedia version of Philippine Resistance here and here.

Mohammad Adil is not much more than a boy at the beginning of McKenna’s book, and what gives the story authenticity is the acknowledgement of the mistakes that were made.  In later years as he learned to trust McKenna, Adil confessed to comic blunders and tragic missteps, disappointments and regrets. Well, normal people aren’t born with the strategic skills, expertise and cunning to combat an occupier, and resistance fighters have to learn these skills, and they make mistakes while they’re learning.  Adil has some lucky escapes from a formidable and callous enemy.

Not only from his enemies! Hoping to join the guerillas, he makes his way to their camp with his foster father Kuder…

It was midday, and there were few guerrillas about. Hedges was not in his office, but Adil recognized Datu Lagindab, whom he knew from his time as a student in Lanao, sitting with some other Maranao men on a bamboo bench along the wall. Adil saw that Lagindab carried one of the new M1 Garand semi-automatic rifles recently offloaded from an American submarine, and he asked if he could examine it. Its mechanism was unlike the Springfield rifle he was used to, and as he handled it, the gun went off, its .30 caliber bullet smashing into Hedges’ portable typewriter on the nearby desk and flinging it across the room.

The sound of a gunshot from Hedges’ office woke the camp, and within seconds the room was filled with men, mostly Americans and Filipinos, with guns drawn and pointed at Adil, standing now with the Garand by his side and beginning to tremble. As shouts of “spy!” rang out, Datu Lagindab and a few other Maranaos stepped in front of Adil. With raised guns and hardened faces, they roared back that the gunshot was an accident and that they would defend this lad. Several tense moments passed until Hedges appeared, recognized the culprit as Edward Kuder’s boy, and ordered all the men to stand down. He cursed vigorously at the sight of his punctured typewriter, scowled at Adil, then dismissed him. Burning with shame, the boy went to find Kuder. It was not the sort of first impression he had hoped to make at guerrilla headquarters.  (pp. 77-78).

But in time, 19-year-old Mohammad Adil became one of the youngest officers in General Douglas MacArthur’s guerrilla army, commissioned as a third lieutenant in the 119th regiment, bringing hope to other Moro with gifts such as Marlboro cigarettes that proved the Americans were on their way to help. In the photos, he looks like a schoolboy.

McKenna writes that, though there were some (including the Sultan) who counselled an end to resistance because they feared Japanese reprisals, the formidable Moro resistance tempered the brutality and reprisals of the Japanese occupation to some extent.

Military history is not my thing but McKenna writes well, flavouring the narrative with anecdotes that bring the principal identities and the locale alive for readers not familiar with the Philippines.  There’s a great story, for instance, about Datu Piang and how he rose from being a nobody to overturn a cruel tyrant called Datu Utu, basically through diplomacy and strategic alliances.

But there are also stories of vengeance and infighting that are not for the faint-hearted. Perhaps that goes with the territory for guerilla fighters… As McKenna says, Adil was a multi-sided individual.

By 1986, he was widely known as a fearsome man who personified the fighting spirit of the Moros—a man about whom songs were sung and legends were told. He was described in terms used for forces of nature: dangerous, unstoppable, uncontrollable. He was said to inspire fierce loyalty in his soldiers, who told him they would gladly jump into the mouth of a crocodile if he gave them the order. He was also known as a “man without mercy” because, as a constabulary officer, he could not be bribed and would arrest even his kinsmen. And he was reputed to be both fearless and, when provoked, deadly. He was, without a doubt, the man described by that reputation.

But as I spent more time with him at his home, I gradually gained a fuller perspective on his life. He was also a man who quoted Kipling, Tennyson, and William James and considered himself an environmentalist. He wrote beautifully composed letters in a graceful hand, preferred classical music, and appreciated beauty in all forms, especially in women. He had a robust, unselfconscious sense of humor and enjoyed making people laugh. Married to his first wife for 47 years until her death, he raised three daughters to be courageous and uncompromising and four sons to be thoughtful and wise. Later, he doted on his grandchildren, raised orchids, and had a warm and playful relationship with his second wife, whom he addressed with great tenderness as “friend.” (p. 166).


I felt uneasy about recovery from illness (and even aspects of childbirth) being attributed to superstition and the supermatural.  Spirituality and customary healing and protective verses from the Koran may be comforting, but at the end of the day malaria responds to quinine, or with good nursing and a bit of luck it runs its course, or you die.   Adil’s difficult birth would not have been resolved by Saik a Datu touching his mother’s tormented body where it was most swollen, and speaking a few potent words. A day’s labour is, alas, not unusual, and the arrival of the child would simply have been Mother Nature at work.

Likewise, attributing military success to prayers to Allah ignores the fact that combatants on all sides pray to their assorted gods. (Germany and Britain were praying to the same one.) But the author simply repeats these claims without contesting them.

I must admit to losing steam towards the end of the book.  It does a fine job of showing that Adil was, as many heroes are, a flawed human having great courage.  But he also had an elevated view of his own importance.  TBH his demands for respect because of  maratabat (a sense of personal honour, dignity, self-esteem and reputation) sounds mostly like testosterone to me, and (influenced by this article) I’d be interested to know how enthusiastic the women are about it.

The book includes Acknowledgements; A Brief Note on Sources and Methods; a Select Bibliography; a Glossary and Pronunciation Guide; Illustration Credits;  and an Index.

Author: Thomas McKenna
Title: Moro Warrior: A Philippine Chieftain, an American Schoolmaster, and The Untold Story of the Most Remarkable Resistance Fighters of World War II in the Pacific
Publisher: Armin Lear Press (2022)
ASIN: B09YD9PBFY, Kindle edition, 324 pages, with numerous B&W reproductions of photos
Source: Purchased for the Kindle from AmazonAU

Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 20, 2023

2023 Indie Book Awards winners

The Indie Book Awards have been announced — congratulations to the winners!


Horse by Geraldine Brooks (Hachette Australia), see Jennifer’s review at Tasmanian Bibliophile at Large


The Book Of Roads And Kingdoms by Richard Fidler (ABC Books, HarperCollins Australia)


All That’s Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien (HQ Fiction, HarperCollins), see Theresa’s review at Theresa Smith Writes


First Nations Food Companion by Damien Coulthard and Rebecca Sullivan (Murdoch Books)


Runt by Craig Silvey (Allen & Unwin)


The Brink by Holden Sheppard (Text Publishing)

Indie Book of the Year

Runt by Craig Silvey (Allen & Unwin)

Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 20, 2023

Return to Valetto (2023), by Dominic Smith

Long, long after the German occupation of Italy and the partisan resistance to the Nazis and the local fascists, its shadow remains.  And as with so much of what is unspeakable from World War II, silence reigns over painful and divisive events in Dominic Smith’s latest novel, set in the fictional town of Valetto.

Return to Valetto is a reminder that sunny Italy, with its universally loved cuisine, its beautiful churches and cathedrals, its picturesque villages, its Roman monuments and its must-see art galleries, was once a fascist state.  And just as there were fascists in Britain, the US, Australia and no doubt elsewhere amongst the allies who fought fascism, Hitler’s ally Mussolini had enthusiastic supporters throughout his country.  As elsewhere in Europe, in Italy there was partisan opposition, and though they exacted terrible revenge when they could, after the war some of those fascists melted into obscurity so that life could go on.

Though the exact year in which contemporary events in Smith’s novel take place is fuzzy, 1943 is the year that scarred some inhabitants of Valetto for life.  That year is still within living memory for some very old people and it persists in memory through their families.  (My neighbour Nello, born in the late 1920s, was 15 when he fought with the Italian partisans. At his funeral his proud family displayed a photo of him leading the victory march in Rome.)

Early on in the novel, the narrator Hugh mentions his daughter’s economics research:

‘Remind me what she is studying,’ said Rose.

‘Economics,’ I said.  ‘She’s currently studying how people make decisions when faced with ambiguity.’

‘How marvellous,’ said Violet.  ‘Whatever does it mean?

‘She studies the relationship between reward and risk in economic decision-making, especially as it varies by age and culture and gender.’

They all looked at me, nodding politely but without interest. (p.30)

What an odd snippet to include in the novel, I thought.  And so I noted ‘reward and risk’  and the page number, and my antenna went up again when I saw ‘reward and risk’ again on page 48, in the context of Aunt Iris spending her retirement using data to hunt down serial killers who think they’ve gotten away with something. 

So, yes, this novel is a romcom script in disguise.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, but the plotting isn’t subtle. Any alert reader is going to figure out that the ‘secret’ in the blurb will be a someone right under Aunt Iris’s nose, and that a betrayal will originate in WW2 when Hugh’s grandfather was fighting with the partisans.  Hugh is a widower stuck in his grief after the death of his wife six years ago, and his daughter is chivvying him about moving on, so there’s no surprise when there is a kiss.  (He wasn’t expecting it, but the reader was. You can see the movie closeup in the mind’s eye.) The interloper trying to wrest Hugh’s inheritance from him just happens to be a chef, and a visiting chef is just what’s needed when old Ida’s 100th birthday celebrations swell the population of the dying village (10 people) into hundreds.  Perfect for a tableau denouement!

Yet… for the book groups who will love this novel, there are rewards and risks to discuss.   Hugh isn’t risking much when he considers The Kiss.  The aunts are risking their reputation as hospitable hosts when they give their mother a free hand with the guest list for her birthday party.  But there are three characters who risk a lot: someone who thinks he’s got away with something, who wants a last bitter hurrah; a chef who risks her professional reputation; and much more significantly, a character who risks her mental health when asked to revisit very painful memories.  Should she have been asked to do that by characters wanting vengeance for a betrayal withheld from their knowledge for decades?

BTW The book group menu is easy: antipasto and pizza; pinot grigio for fans of chardonnay and robust Italian reds for drinkers of Shiraz.  But there are lots of tempting descriptions of food for the more ambitious.  This is because there are two loyal retainers who facilitate a leisured lifestyle untroubled by domestic duties: Milo, apprenticed at eleven to be the tuttofare who does ‘everything’, and his long-suffering wife Donata who does the housekeeping and produces fabulous food whenever it’s required. Return to Valetto is a feast for the senses.

Theresa Smith reviewed Return to Valetto too. 

BTW the spelling of ‘brooch’ as ‘broach’ for an item of jewellery on p 26: there are fancy etymological explanations for the historic use of ‘broach’ and the American Mirriam-Webster dictionary chides those of us who wondered if this was an Americanisation of ‘brooch’ (i.e.  the jewellery a woman wears on her bosom):

Since the 13th century, both brooch and broach have been used to refer to the jewelry, so castigating those who write about wearing broaches is quite unfair.

So I will confine myself to pointing out that the spelling is unusual

Author: Dominic Smith
Title: Return to Valetto
Cover design: Sandy Cull
Publisher: Allen and Unwin, 2023
ISBN: 9781761067273, pbk., 358 pages
Review copy courtesy of Allen and Unwin

Alerted to the death of notable Croatian author Dubravka Ugrešić (1949-2023) by a Tweet from Declan O’Driscoll, I remembered that her essay collection Nobody’s Home was part of The First 25 book bundle that I bought from Open Letter Books, ages ago in 2014.

This is the book description:

A series of incisive essays from Dubravka Ugresic explores the full spectrum of human existence. From bottled-water drinking tourists with massive backpacks to the Eurovision song contest, Ugresic’s unfailingly sharp critical eye never fails to reveal what has been hidden in plain sight by routine, or uncover the tragic, and the comic, in the everyday.

Born in Croatia in 1949 but eschewing nationalism, Dubravka Ugrešić was a writer, translator and literary scholar with a keen interest in Russian avant-garde culture. She began her award-winning writing career with screenplays and books for children, and translated forgotten and contemporary Russian writers into Croatian. She was best known in the former Yugoslavia for her fiction, novels and short stories, but in 1996 she went into exile in the Netherlands because she was anti-nationalism and anti-war.  As her profile at Goodreads tells us:

In 1991, when the war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, Ugrešić took a firm anti-nationalistic stand and consequently an anti-war stand. She started to write critically about nationalism (both Croatian and Serbian), the stupidity and criminality of war, and soon became a target of the nationalistically charged media, officials, politicians, fellow writers and anonymous citizens. She was proclaimed a “traitor”, a “public enemy” and a “witch”, ostracized and exposed to harsh and persistent media harassment. She left Croatia in 1993.

In exile Ugrešić continued teaching and writing, including novels and books of essays of which Nobody’s Home (Nikog nema doma) is one. Amongst other awards, she won the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 2016. Her books are widely translated and translation enthusiasts at Book Twitter are devastated by her early death in Amsterdam at the age of 73.

I haven’t read the whole collection, because Nobody’s Home is a book for dipping into, but I’ve enjoyed some of those with the most arresting titles.  I particularly enjoyed ‘What Is European about European Literature?’ with its droll parallels in the Eurovision song contest, and also her self-mockery in ‘The Stendhal Syndrome’ where she has a panic attack on the famous Gaudi staircase in Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia.

What possessed me to go up it in the first place? How many steps are there left to go? Will I ever get down—or will I be stuck in the bell tower—looking through the narrow little window at a scrap of sky—forever? Ah Gaudi! I waited in line from early morning yesterday for the famous Casa Mila, ‘”La Pedrera,” to open.  Gaudi’s roof, with those astonishing chimneys (espantabruixes) as if it anticipated the future invasion of camera-clicking tourists: no one can escape being caught in someone’s picture. (p.199)

(Yes, *blush*, you can see my enthusiastic camera-clicking at these sites in the slide-show at my travel blog.)

I could also relate to her wry lamentation about visits to cities that can be reduced to the things I haven’t seen.  Unlike Ugrešić, I have seen the Sistine Chapel, but my plans have likewise been foiled by renovations, strikes, airline stuffups, inexperience at being a tourist, and just not having enough time to see, for example, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and the Milan cathedral, St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Rodin’s statue of Balzac in Paris, and anything in Greece because they were rioting when we were planning my Big Birthday trip in 2012 and so we went to Russia instead.

I am likewise glad that I did most of my travel not so much in the less democratic times when airfares were expensive and Ugrešić had the Louvre, Hermitage and Metropolitan to herself, but before the advent of the hordes ticking off their bucket lists with selfies to prove it and the monster cruise ships in Venice.

Because since then the cities, and with them the museums, have been occupied by consumers of cheap airfares: people resigned to every physical and mental humiliation; tourists with nerves of steel and astonishing physical endurance; human specimens outfitted for combat, armed with backpacks, cameras and bottled water; people waiting patiently in long lines, latter-day pilgrims who are paying penance for who knows what sins; hunters on the lookout for tourist relics and collectors amassing cheap souvenirs; people who have taken the metaphor of the world as a global village literally.  (p.200-1)

Ugrešić is not afraid to be elitist (and neither am I when it comes to cultural institutions, though ‘concern for the cost’ is not unimportant when I can’t just ‘hop off’ to London from Australia).

It has always been them and me.  They used to spend their weekends shopping in malls while I visited museums; they sweated buckets, ransacking Ikeas for furniture for their lairs, and I, with no concern for the cost, hopped off to London for the latest exhibitions.  What happened? The last ten years or so they have caught onto the fact that there are cheap flights and now they are flooding my (my!) places. (p.210)

It didn’t take Covid to deter Ugrešić’ from travel. (My last trip was in 2019, and that was only to New Zealand.)

Now I live on the Internet.  And after all, if our lives are already virtual, why should our travel, including our visits to museums, have to be real? I can find everything I want on museum websites.  The Met and MOMA are my favourite Internet destinations. (p.202)

No, no, Dubravka, it’s not the same!

‘Let Putin Kiss a Wet Slippery Fish’ is a take-down of Putin’s penchant for self-image management, observing that in that famous photo he has killed several semantic birds with one stone: he was addressing the gay population; alluding to a heterosexual metaphor for women; and ‘sending a kiss’ to the subconscious mind of the Russian people, who know their fairy tales. Ugrešić’s interpretation of this allusion to ‘By the Pike’s Wish’ is that it was intended to show Russians that they should put their trust in a higher order i.e. him.  It’s easy humour but Ugrešić goes further, noting that this kind of subliminal messaging that signals an ancient potent fraternity is done by all kinds of leaders.

If hundreds of tons of paper and millions of dollars were spent some eight years back when the Clinton-Lewinsky national lottery spun, and if all of America was caught up in measuring the diameter of the stain from Clinton’s sperm on Monica’s dress, why shouldn’t Putin publicly kiss a slippery, wet fish? If Mikhail Gorbachov [sic] can advertise Pizza Hut and Louis Vuitton (photographed by Annie Liebowitz, no less), why shouldn’t Putin have a snap taken with an impressive Caspian sturgeon?

But I am not interested in Putin, or the fish, but in hunger, the hunger for the limelight. What has provoked this massive yearning?  Some twenty years ago, expectations called for the opposite behaviour.  It was once considered vulgar and a sign of bad upbringing to speak of yourself, to tell the public about your private life, to cosy up to people you don’t know, and to show undue interest in the private lives of others.  How did it happen that what used to be vulgar has become an essential part of daily life?

Amazon Echo Dot

When I first went to Moscow many years ago, my Russian friends held to an unwritten rule: the less you said about yourself, the thinner the police files would be.  Why is everyone now rushing to fill their files?  Why do we treat the former bogeyman of the totalitarian system, Big Brother, like a household pet? Isn’t there anyone left in the world who suffers from healthy paranoia? (p.210)

Ugrešić goes on to write about the great paradox that the more we eat, the hungrier we are.  People are frightened of disappearing but the more traces they leave, the faster they are erased.  The more books we publish, the quicker they are forgotten; the more movies we watch, the less able we are to remember what they were called. 

Where our ancestors left behind only a few photographs, we record absolutely everything today:

our inception, life in the womb, emergence from the womb, games, growth, every minute, every month, every year, the operations, excursions, sexual acts, pulling of teeth, concerts—absolutely everything. Even when we don’t do the recording ourselves, there are many services at work recording our biographies: somewhere our every purchase of an airplane ticket is on file, our dinners, the shoes we bought, the times we went to the doctor.  (p.212)

Our archives are full, she says, even before we’re born.  (Well, mine isn’t! The first photo of me is the one you see as my avatar.)

I hope that Ugrešić’s books aren’t forgotten.  In her brief essays, she offers so much to think about.  The very next essay, ‘A Little Story about Remembering and Forgetting’, explores cultural oblivion, and how it gets harder and harder to explain important aspects of how things were to ensuing generations.  In the haste to obliterate the history of communism, some things are lost.  She could not readily explain samizdat literature to her young students:

The East European culture that had been created under communism dwells in a similar limbo of oblivion. This was an intriguing culture and the shared ideological landscape gave it a certain consistency—the landscape of communism.  It was a fact that the finest part of that culture was born of its defiance of communism, split into the “official” and the “underground” sides.  Aspects of that cultural landscape are a part of many of us.  Among us there are many who remember the brilliant Polish, Czech, and Hungarian movies; the stirring theatre; the culture of samizdat; art exhibits and plays held in people’s living rooms; critically orientated thinkers, intellectuals, and dissidents; and great experimental books whose subversive approach was built on the tradition of the avant-garde movements of Eastern Europe.  All of this has regrettably, gone by the board, because all of it has been stymied by the same merciless stigma of “communist” culture.  (p.214)

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I feel like a fool for having left my discovery of Dubravka Ugrešić for so long.

The translation by Ellen Elias-Bursać is excellent.  The prose flows, the gentle mockery never jars.

You can find out more at her website.

Author: Dubravka Ugrešić
Title: Nobody’s Home (Nikog nema doma)
Cover design by Milan Bozic
Publisher: Open Letter Books, 2008, first published 2005
ISBN: 9781934824009
Source: Personal library, purchased direct from Open Letter Books via their First 25 book bundle.

Photo credits:

Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 18, 2023

Seasons in Hippoland (2021), by Wanjikũ Wa Ngũgĩ

Seasons in Hippoland was a serendipitous loan from a Bayside Library display.  It has an arresting title, a moody cover image and an author name that I (sort of) recognised…

Wanjikũ Wa Ngũgĩ is the daughter of Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (whose books I have reviewed here).  She was born in Kenya, educated in the US and has lived and worked in Eritrea, Zimbabwe and Finland.  Wikipedia tells me that her CV includes journalism and editorial work as well as founding and directing the Helsinki African Film Festival.  Her writing includes her debut novel The Fall of Saints (2014) and contributing to anthologies such as New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent (2019); and short stories in Akashic Books’ Noir Series: Houston Noir (2019) and Nairobi Noir (2020). If her second novel Seasons in Hippoland (2021) is anything to go by, literary talent runs in families. (Her brother Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ is also a writer.)

#Digression: Whispering Gums... have you ever done a Monday Musings on Literary Offspring in Australia?

This is the blurb for Seasons in Hippoland, along with the Seagull edition cover.  I like the hippos, but I think the undercurrents of the gazebo edition cover fit the story better and since ‘Dark Billabong’ is an Australian image, it adds to the universality of the novel’s concerns:

Victoriana is a country ruled by an Emperor-for-Life who is dying from an illness not officially acknowledged in a land where truth and facts are decided by the Emperor. The elite goes along with the charade. Their children are conditioned to conform. It is a land of truthful lies, where reality has uncertain meaning.

Mumbi, a rebellious child from the capital of Westville, and her brother are sent to live in rural Hippoland. But what was meant to be a punishment turns out to be a glorious discovery of the magic of the land, best captured in the stories their eccentric aunt Sara tells them. Most captivating to the children is the tale of a porcelain bowl supposed to possess healing powers. Returning to Westville as an adult, Mumbi spreads the story throughout the city and to the entire country. Exhausted by years of endless bleak lies, the people are fascinated by the mystery of the porcelain bowl. When word of its healing powers reaches the Emperor himself, he commands Mumbi to find it for him—with dramatic consequences for everyone in Victoriana.

The story begins with Mumbi as a sulky adolescent, sent to stay with her Aunt Sara because her parents are anxious about her rebellious behaviour.  The irony is that both her parents and Aunt Sara were rebels themselves, but they were fighting for a political cause not for the right to party and smoke dope.  Mumbi is furious about being banished to the countryside:

I thought of the friends I was leaving behind and my heart plummeted again.  I wanted to be in their shoes, chasing each other on the streets or fighting over popcorn while they waited in line to watch the American super-stars whose names and life events bounced off our mouths like poetry.  There was also the possibility of meeting Soul Dreamers, a Westville a cappella group we’d only so far seen on TV.  My friends and I had divided up the members among ourselves.  For marriage that is.  We so desperately hoped to bump into them somewhere, and constantly wagered with each other as to who would be the lucky first to do so.  My rural banishment would no doubt give them a huge advantage in this matter. (p.11)

She tries sulking in silence but doesn’t last long because she is captivated by Aunt Sara’s stories (and her wonderful cooking).  Her parents are good people but they are busy lawyers.  Family life is constantly disrupted by the need to help clients deal with the depredations of a government indifferent to the poor and vulnerable.  They haven’t told their children anything about the struggle for independence or the risks they took.  Aunt Sara’s stories are a revelation.

Seasons in Hippoland is a coming-of-age story that portrays the complexity of entering an adult world of where the dreams of postcolonial independence have been corrupted by greed, violence and corruption.  The country isn’t named as a setting, but it isn’t hard to work out that it could be any number of countries in Africa.

Magic realism is used, economically, to assert the importance of oral history, listening to elders, and resistance to dictatorship and oppression. One of the most vivid scenes concerns Mumbi reliving a frightening incident in Aunt Sara’s life.  For a moment, the reader is puzzled by the ‘magic’, and then the realism takes over.  It makes it possible to show how the reality of Aunt Sara’s experiences affect the next generation too.

Perhaps there are autobiographical elements in the portrayal of the next generation’s reluctance to follow in parental footsteps.  (Wikipedia tells us that The Ngũgĩ  family was deeply impacted by the repression of the Mau Mau revolution.) Mumbi does not want to be a lawyer, and by her own account she slacks off at school so it’s a bit surprising that she gets into law school.  But Seasons in Hippoland shows that there’s an imperative to do what you can for your country, even when it’s risky.

Author: Wanjikũ Wa Ngũgĩ
Title: Seasons in Hippoland
Cover and frontispiece image: ‘Dark Billabong’ 2021 by Alexander McKenzie
Publisher: Gazebo Books, Summer Hill NSW 2022, first published by Seagull Books 2021
ISBN: 978064510309
Source: Bayside Library


Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 16, 2023

The Big Smoke (1959), by D’Arcy Niland

I nearly didn’t read this novel. I had a bad feeling about it based on the cover art of my 1978 Penguin edition, and then the first paragraph features a character using some truly awful, awful racist language.  But because I made a hesitant decision to keep reading this author of social novels, I now know that Niland was reproducing what would have been an authentic way of talking about Australia’s First Nations in the era and milieu of the novel, and he had a purpose for doing that. He goes on to show with confronting clarity how endemic racism impacted on some of his characters.

And he also shows that his central character, against all the odds, had agency in his life and made a success of it.  And that’s why we see this character as one of a couple dressed in smart middle-class clothing, with a derelict old white man behind them on a park bench.

The 1959 Angus & Robertson cover is entirely different. I don’t know who did the cover art but it clearly signals the ‘noir’ character of its contents.  The ‘big smoke’ is Sydney in the 20s and 30s, and this Sydney is ‘.. is a character. It talks. It works on its own. It plays fair and it plays foul.’  Niland’s Sydney is peopled by characters living in poverty, and they are not blessed by affectionate communities or loving families as in the fiction of his wife Ruth Park, the author of novels also set in Sydney: The Harp in the South (1948); Poor Man’s Orange (1949) and their prequel Missus (1985). To quote my review of The Harp in the South:

…while they live in one of the roughest parts of Sydney, and there is drunkenness and violence, theirs is a community which will offer friendship and compassion when it’s needed.

That’s in short supply in The Big Smoke.

Niland (1917-1967) was the son of an Irish shearer.  He began his writing career as a copy boy at the Sydney Sun, working at the Redfern railway sheds to augment his earnings.  But he then chose to travel, work and live amongst the people he wanted to write about.  In Australia and the Pacific, he worked as an opal-miner, a circus hand, a stevedore, and a woolshed rouseabout and these experiences amongst ordinary working people and the underclass informed his fiction and gave it powerful authenticity. Characters in The Big Smoke — a steeplejack, a street sweeper, a night watchman, a paperboy, a seamstress and a waitress come from the world of poorly paid dead-end jobs doing manual labour.  (Actually, I’m not sure that Veronica’s aunt and Gemma’s father pay anything at all to the relatives who work for them.) Small business, such as it is, consists of Sleepy Gus’s burger café, Spitz’s rag-and-bone trade, Aunt Bridie’s dressmaking, and Chiddy Hay’s work as a boxing promoter.  There’s also a priest, a prostitute and a couple of housewives.


The Big Smoke begins and ends with a fight promoter called Chiddy Hay, a loser who has grand dreams of making serious money with a star fighter called Frankie Tarcutta.  Frankie doesn’t really want to be a fighter, but boxing was one way for an Aboriginal man to make a bit of money. Chiddy’s ambitions collapse yet again when Frankie’s powerful punch fells another Aboriginal fighter called Jack Johnson in a row over a girl called Milcy, and Frankie disappears out of Chiddy’s clutches (and the novel) for his own safety.

Milcy is an Aboriginal girl adrift in Sydney. From this one sexual encounter, she has Jack Johnson’s baby, and this child becomes known in the streets as ‘Jack Johnson’s boy’ although there was never a paternal relationship.  ‘Jack Johnson’s boy’ links the ten short stories that comprise the novel.

Families in The Big Smoke are patched together with what’s available. Chapter 2 introduces Ruby, an ageing prostitute whose income now comes from renting out rooms.  She takes in Milcy, delivers the baby, and then (willingly) fosters him when Milcy shoots through.  Medical care for the poor is also in short supply in this Sydney, and when Ruby dies from cancer a faded actor called Old Halley takes over the care of the boy.  Fate has to find another ‘family’ for him when he is mixed up in a murder that he didn’t commit, but he also plays a role in finding a family for Young Frosty, a lonely steeplejack searching for a young woman seen only through a third-storey window.

There’s violence and tragedy too.  Ocker White inadvertently kills his wife when ‘glassing’ a man he suspects of flirting with her; Father McGovern is almost killed by Big Lew, the thug who stole his watch; and Spitz beats his wife and children until his boys are big enough to beat him instead.  One of the most harrowing incidents concerns the old derelict who steals sixpence for a meal from a paperboy and can’t return the stolen money until pension day next week.  The paperboy’s revenge is to grind those two pies into the dust.

Are things any better for people on welfare in the 21st century when the pension money runs out too soon?

What is the value of reading a book like this, which to contemporary readers, has problematic elements?  Well, I wouldn’t advise anyone to mount a hunt to find a copy. (It also has a stereotyped Jewish character who plays a sort of Shylock role in the novel, and its portrayal of accepting family violence is out of step with contemporary values.) Yet it was a serious attempt in 1959 to depict some aspects of the world endured by people of colour.

‘They’ll laugh,’ [Gemma} said. ‘They’ll point and make remarks.  They always do.  It’s horrible.’
‘Yes, I know.’
‘It’s always been like that in the jobs I’ve had.  They don’t want to talk to me.  They insult me, the girls even, and the men are worse.  They think I’m… I’m low.  I’m just for poking dirt at because I’m…’
‘Because you’re dark.  Yes.’ (p.188)

Where Niland gets it wrong is that Gemma then tells her mother she’s used to it now and it doesn’t hurt any more.  And her mother says that she didn’t let it get her down. Where he gets it right is when he writes that Gemma lives in expectant fear.  It could break out anywhere, any time.  And it does.  Horribly so.

Would it have been better if it had been written by a First Nations author?  Of course it would.  But it wasn’t.  As the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature shows, First Nations writing began (as far as we know) in 1796 with Bennelong’s letter to Governor Arthur Phillip, but it was not until 1924-5 that the first Aboriginal author David Unaipon was published.  However, Unaipon did not publish fiction and as far as I know, no First Nations novels had ever been published when Niland wrote The Big Smoke. 

Whatever its flaws, The Big Smoke was a brave attempt to confront Australians with some hard truths about the poverty they ignored and the racism they inflicted.

Author: D’Arcy Niland
Title: The Big Smoke
Cover art by Cosmos Julien
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia, 1978, first published 1959
ISBN: 0140049649, pbk., 224 pages
Source: Personal library, purchased from Diversity Books, $6.00

Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 14, 2023

Fools of Fortune (1983), by William Trevor

Chosen as a contribution to Cathy’s Reading Ireland at 746 Books and A Year with William Trevor hosted by Kim at Reading Matters, Fools of Fortune is also a title listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. It’s included — along with two others by Trevor, Felicia’s Journey (1994) and The Story of Lucy Gault (2002) — as a poignant novel [that[ explores the legacy of Ireland’s decolonisation, tracing the aftermath from the time of the Black and Tans through to the 1980s.

Fools of Fortune poses a world of love and devotion against their destructive opposites.  […] Trevor’s view combines both Yeats’ intense vision of tragic cycles with a more benevolent Chekhovian sense of a rural world in which a futile human tragicomedy is played out.  […] Trevor is a writer of wonderful economy and precise observation, whose focus is distinctly on the intimacy of his characters’ relations and the local world they inhabit. (1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, 2006 Edition, ABC Books, p.713)

I’ve read a fair few of Trevor’s books, some reviewed here on the blog but many more from my Blytonesque binge when I discovered his work in 2004. What I’ve come to expect from Trevor is that he writes gently about devastating events, and he does so in his mid-career novel Fools of Fortune too.

His central character is William Quinton, just a boy when the Black and Tans kill his father and torch his ancestral home Kilneagh, killing his sisters in the fire as well. The Quintons are an Anglo-Irish family (what my mother used to call ‘English people living in Ireland’) but they have nationalist sympathies. They support Home Rule, and they host visits from Irish heroes such as Michael Collins.  And though they had nothing to do with the murder of a returned WW1 soldier thought to be a spy for Britain, the Black and Tans’ retaliation blights Willie’s entire life.

In the hands of a lesser storyteller, this could have been a dreary tale.  Instead, the narration by Willie in the first part of the novel brings us his memories of boyhood at Kilneagh where his father is a mill-owner and his future seems assured. There are droll stories of Willie’s time at boarding school with a wonderful cast of characters including eccentric masters and irrepressible boys with mastery of the untruths that they tell to evade punishment for various misdeeds.  One of these misdeeds, however, involves a former master falsely accused of wrongdoing, a drunk, who avenges himself with a pathetic insult, unseen except by the trio of mischief makers, Willie, Ring and de Courcy.  In the aftermath, however, the drunk gets his revenge because his accuser is traumatised by the mockery of schoolboys.  But the drunk never knows it because he’s drifted away.  This incident is emblematic of the bigger theme: that the aftermath of trauma persists long after the event.

Along with his exploration of revenge as part of a cycle of violence, Trevor also illuminates the issue of blame based on accusations that may or may not be false.  ‘Father’ Kilgarriff was defrocked (he says) by a false accusation. Doyle whose terrible death is the catalyst for the Black and Tans’ revenge, dies on the strength of accusation not proof and the atrocity at Kilneagh occurs only because of suspicion.  The master whose career was destroyed says he was innocent of the accusations against him.  In a small world where gossip is a real thing, it can destroy lives.  Marianne whose chronicle of doomed love forms the second part of the story, makes life-changing decisions because she knows her parents cannot withstand gossip. And though Marianne tries to shield Imelda from the destructive past, the child’s curiosity and eavesdropping works its evil anyway.

Violence destroys lives long after the event.  Though she takes to alcohol as a salve, Willie’s mother Ann cannot resolve her grief, adding to his losses.  The extended family, estranged by the depth of a grief they do not understand, suffers too.  And eventually, through Marianne’s narrative, it becomes clear that Willie will have his revenge, at a terrible cost extending into the next generation.

Trevor (who lived in England for most of his life) wrote this novel long after the transitional period of Irish independence but during the decade-long IRA bombing campaign (1971-1983). Fools of Fortune suggests that the cycle of violence has to end somehow but in Ireland it happens sometimes that the insane are taken to be saints of a kind. 

Imelda reads her mother’s diary, where she addresses Willie:

I had never heard of the Battle of the Yellow Ford until Father Kilgarriff told me. And now he wishes he hadn’t. The furious Elizabeth cleverly transformed the defeat of Sir Harry Bagenal into Victory, ensuring that her Irish battlefield might continue for as long as it was profitable … Just another Irish story it had seemed to you …… But the battlefield continuing is part of the pattern I see everywhere around me, as your exile is also. How could we have rebuilt Kilneagh and watched our children playing among the shadows of destruction? The battlefield has never quietened. (p.189)

Back when that IRA bombing campaign was at its height, I remember my mother telling me that ‘every family in Ireland has a Black and Tans story’ but that passing these on to the next generation only perpetuated hatreds.  I am not sure that she was right about that because truth telling does not necessarily do so.  Though there is a risk that it can make things worse, clearing the air and facing up to the wrongs of the past can lead to healing.

William Trevor  (1928 – 2016), was an Irish novelist, playwright, and short story writer. Fools of Fortune won the Whitbread best novel award in 1983.

Author: William Trevor
Title: Fools of Fortune
Publisher: Penguin, 2015, first published 1983
ISBN: 9780241969496, pbk., 215 pages
Source: Personal library


Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 13, 2023

I’ll Leave You With This (2023) by Kylie Ladd

I’m reading some rather heavy-duty NF books at the moment, so I was in the mood to read something less demanding.  As you know from my recent post about a local author event (Kylie Ladd in conversation with Bayside author Sally Hepworth), I had read the Prologue to I’ll Leave You with This almost as soon as I got home.  It’s a compelling introduction to the issue explored in this thoughtful novel: organ donation, and how families handle its complexities.

Sometimes, grief about the loss of a family member is about the only thing families have in common. Of a family of five siblings, four sisters remain to grieve the loss of their brother Daniel who was shot and killed on the streets of Sydney.   At the time they willingly agree to donating his organs, but on the third anniversary of his death, Clare conceives the idea of tracking down the recipients.

(Which, as you probably know, is not encouraged and there are protocols in place to prevent unwanted contact.)

Told from the perspective of each of the four sisters at different times in their lives, I’ll Leave You with This explores multiple issues: childlessness and the pressures of IVF; bullying and its long-term effects including self-harm; the conflict between parenting and work; women held captive by the roles expected of them; the gulf between religious rhetoric and pastoral care; and the loss of parents as the glue that holds a family together.  Plus, there’s the problem of legacy pets.  Who is going to give Daniel’s dachshund a forever home? He’s been shunted around from one sister to another ever since Daniel died…

(Emma is appalled when Bridie turns up to offload him while she takes a holiday, and she learns how Bridie has treated him.

‘And honestly, Emma,’ she goes on, ‘I don’t think John Thomas would cope in a shelter.  He needs to be with me all the time.  Or Tom, or someone.  He’s like a bloody ghost. Every time I turn around he’s there.  Often I don’t even get to turn around — I trip over him, because he’s wrapped himself around my ankles.  So I tried shutting him in the laundry for a bit and then he chewed off all the skirting boards.’

‘You locked him up?’ Emma is horrified.

‘He’d had a walk, a long one, and his breakfast,’ Bridie replies defensively.  ‘I just wanted to get some stuff done without his eyes following me around like one of those portraits in a horror movie.  He’s so needy.’

Emma snorts.  Bridie doesn’t do needy.  Bridie can conjure an entire movie from a script and some actors, but she won’t take responsibility for a house plant.  She has staff for that. (p.147)

No, we are not meant to like Bridie.  Her treatment of this dog reminded me of how Jude the martyr, Jude the boss treated Finn, the old dog in Charlotte Wood’s The Weekend. (I had two lovable dachshunds as a child, (both of them imaginatively called Gretel), so I was always going to dislike any character who was mean to a dachsie!)

Anyway, the plot is a little choppy to start, but as each sister emerges as a distinct character, the narrative coheres.

The emotional terrain is complicated by doubts and insecurities. Clare is reeling from separation.  After years of failed IVF treatments for a baby that Clare craves and her partner Sophie doesn’t, Sophie is tired of their lives being ruled by the IVF regime.  When—in the same year that they had finally been able to marry—she leaves, Clare has to deal with multiple losses: the love of her life; the chance of having a child; and her home.  And she has no money because everything they had was spent on IVF.

The youngest, Emma, is physically small and lacking in confidence after years of bullying at school.  She has never had a relationship and even with a Christian version of Tinder, her devotion to God at the Crossfire church limits the pool of potential male partners.  She has abandoned her emerging career as a cellist because of a #MeToo incident with a visiting conductor, but her sisters have not even noticed. Allison is too busy with her career as a senior obstetrician and the demands of her twin boys (and feeling like a guilty failure at both); Bridie, the ‘bulldozer’ of the family, is too self-absorbed with her fading career as a film-maker.  This is not a close or supportive family and their only regular commitment to each other is to meet at a restaurant on the anniversary of Daniel’s death.  Also sharing this occasion is Joel, who was once Daniel’s partner but Daniel wasn’t interested in monogamy.  Joel is very nice, caring and thoughtful but he’s gay… not to mention still grieving for Daniel, so not available as a love interest.

So yes, this is all very messy, and there are a lot of ‘issues’ percolating through the novel, and the ending is just a little bit too tidy… yet it’s satisfying in a way because this family has had enough grief for an author to leave them stranded in misery.

Theresa Smith reviewed it too. 

Author: Kylie Ladd
Title: I’ll Leave You With This
Publisher: Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2022
Cover design: Christa Moffitt, Christabella Designs
ISBN 9780143778950, pbk., 336 pages
Source: Personal library, purchased from Ulysses Bookstore Hampton.

I wonder if the catalyst for poet John Kinsella’s latest book was the 50th anniversary of the voyage of the sailing ship ‘Fri’…

Though these days nobody seems bothered by the acquisition of nuclear powered submarines for Australia, people my age remember the courage and determination of the crew of the ‘Fri’, the New Zealand yacht which led a ‘David and Goliath’ flotilla of yachts in an international protest against French nuclear bomb tests at Mururoa Atoll in the South Pacific in 1973.  My mother had to be talked out of joining the crew, but my American-born neighbour Gloreea was on board.  She was a young woman in her 20s when she  left her family, her home, her job, and her friends in the US to take part in trying to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. This was Big News back then in 1973.

Wikipedia is dismissive, describing these heroic protestors as a group of hippie consumer escapees, in search of adventure and an alternative lifestyle down-under.  That characterisation is an insult to the courage of the crew.  The ‘Fri’ was in danger not only from radioactivity or worse, but (as the shocked world found out later) also from unscrupulous French agents. In 1985 French terrorists blew up the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour in New Zealand, killing a photographer on the sinking ship.

Those of us who cared about this did what we could in our own ways.  We campaigned with a barrage of letters and protests; we boycotted French products.  We let our politicians know about our fury.  Despite generally cordial relations with France, our Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was opposed to nuclear testing in the Pacific.  The International Court of Justice was on our side too, but still, all efforts failed.  The French ignored the ruling. 

Cellnight reflects our despair, and demands that we remember, amongst other things of crucial importance, the peace campaigns of the 20th century and what they tried to achieve.  From a prison cell, Kinsella asks who will remember?

Who will
the ambient

the destroyers,
the frigates,
nor denying
nuclear weapons,
the reactor
of the aircraft
off Gage Roads?
Who will remember

the walks
from many
to get there.
to converge
to arrive
as one
to protest.
And who will
the white

And who will
the arrested
who belonged
to no group,
had no affiliation?
Why belong
to no group,
have no affiliation?
But that’s
only part
of the picture,

isn’t it?
There were
friends, fellow
anarchists, fellow
And so many
protestors.  NDP
and Marxists,
citizen protestors,
the curious,
and the far right

the foot
of the woman
next to you
with a stomp
of the boot.   (pp. 11-13)

The NDP (Nuclear Disarmament Party) bailed the woman, but not the ‘stirrer, Trot’ which he was not.  And people went about their business, fishermen worrying about their fish, for their sake,/ not for the fishes’ sakeDiplomacy went about its business too, while weapons brooded in reactors amid this attempt/ to change/ what quiet people/ tell you/ is inevitable. And the attempt to speak out in the magistrate’s court is suppressed with a threat of gaol time.

Many people will read this verse novel for its passionate tribute to the natural environment; for the celebration of the spirit of sacred Noongar country in southern Western Australia; and for the truths it tells about colonisation.  But I read it for its denunciation of escalating militarism and taxes/ directed/ towards/ the military/ rather than health/ and learning,/ housing/ and environment. 

 Peace is a universal necessity (p.112)

Cellnight is an elegy for a time when there was passionate activism.

Image credit:

Author: John Kinsella
Title: Cellnight, a Verse Novel
Publisher: Transit Lounge, 2023, due for release 1/4/23
ISBN: 9780648414094, pbk.,  207 pages
Review copy courtesy of Transit Lounge

Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 11, 2023

Typhoon Kingdom (2019), by Matthew Hooton

Matthew Hooton’s Typhoon Kingdom is a terrific book which deserves more attention than it’s had.  I bought it last year in a sale at UWAP, where you can still buy it for a song, and I’m here to tell you that you should get a copy before they’re all gone.  This is the blurb that attracted my interest:

Based on the seventeenth-century journal of a shipwrecked Dutch sailor, and testimonies of surviving Korean ‘Comfort Women,’ Typhoon Kingdom is a story of war, romance and survival that brings to life the devastating history of Korea at crucial moments in its struggle for independence.

In 1653, the Dutch East India Company’s Sparrowhawk is wrecked on a Korean island, and Hae-jo, a local fisherman, guides the ship’s bookkeeper to Seoul in search of his surviving shipmates. The two men, one who has never ventured to the mainland, and the other unable to speak the language, are soon forced to choose between loyalty to each other, and a king determined to maintain his country’s isolation.

Three-hundred years later, in the midst of the Japanese occupation, Yoo-jin is taken from her family and forced into prostitution, and a young soldier must navigate the Japanese surrender and ensuing chaos of the Korean War to find her.

Matthew Hooton is a teacher of creative writing at the University of Adelaide, but has also worked as an editor and teacher in South Korea where as his UWAP author page tells us, he first encountered stories of the Dutch shipwreck and plight of Korean ‘Comfort Women.’ 

His first novel, Deloume Road, which also features scenes set during the Korean War, was published in 2010 by Knopf/Vintage in Canada, and Jonathan Cape/Vintage in the UK. It was awarded the Greene & Heaton Prize for best manuscript from the Bath Spa Creative Writing MA Program in 2008, and the Guardian’s ‘Not the Booker Prize’ in 2010.

(Now I’m on a mission to source a copy of Matthew Hooton’s first novel Deloume Road. None of my libraries have it but I’ll find one somewhere! Amazon has it. Update, later the same day: thanks to Kim’s comment below, here’s her review of it at Reading Matters and one from the late Kevin from Canada.)

Typhoon Kingdom begins in the 17th century, also known as the Age of Exploration.  Though Hooton’s characters land in the hermit kingdom of Corea (Korea) by misadventure, the novel shows that lands being ‘explored’ by the Europeans were already inhabited and had their own government, customs and foreign policy.  Unfortunately for the sailors of the shipwrecked ‘Sparrowhawk’, trading with Nagasaki for the Dutch East India Company, six of them are escorted to the king on the mainland and the other is covertly whisked away to a much worse fate.  While the six are not ill-treated as they expect to be, they are not allowed to return home because they have knowledge of modern military weapons that the king intends to acquire from them.  (Then, as now, there is hostility between Korea and Japan.) Van Persie, however, rescued by the fisherman Hae-Jo, is kidnapped by a pseudo-shaman who first tortures him, ostensibly to appease the spirits, and then exploits him as a caged exhibit because his blond hair and blue eyes makes him an oddity.

This first section of the novel is told from the perspectives of different characters: the fisherman Hae-Jo; the fictionalised Hyojong, the 17th king of Joseon; and the shipwrecked Dutch sailor Van Persie.  Hae-Jo is poor and ignorant, but his life on the island has insulated him from the cruel mores of the mainland.  He has a sense of humanity which guides him to rescue Van Persie and try to reunite him with the others.  Ji-hoon had warned him about what to expect on his perilous journey:

‘Stay clear of the King’s roads, take shelter in the trees at night, and do not speak to anyone if you can help it.  The King has spies in every village, at every crossing.’

Ji-hoon had also told him many useful and worrying things about the mainland—further rumours of famine, and customs that seem beyond belief.

‘In the capital, there are men who own more slaves than we have grains of rice. This is true.  If a woman kills her husband she is buried up to her neck by the roadside with a saw left next to her. So I am told. And no woman, not even the rich, are permitted outside of their homes during daylight.’

And though he cannot help but laugh at the thought of telling the women divers of his own island such a thing, he is troubled by how deeply different the customs of the mainland are, and he fears he knows even less than he once imagined.  He is a poor guide, a stranger leading a stranger through a strange land. (pp.58-9)

Through the terrors of Van Persie’s experience—alone, vulnerable, unable to communicate and having no agency of his own—Hooton deftly portrays an inversion of what so often happened when Europeans captured ‘exhibits’ to take home for exploitation.  But he does find mercy in the woman who cares for his wounds and from Hae-Jo who risks everything in his quest.

Part 2 is set in 1942. It is also told from three perspectives.  Introduced by a fictionalised General Macarthur hidden in an ancient Dutch East India fort as he waits for evacuation to Australia, The General’s story punctuates the narrative with the long journey to liberate countries from Japanese occupation.  But the main story is the harrowing narrative of Yoo-jin, a doctor with remarkable powers of healing, who is taken to be one of Japan’s so-called Comfort Women, an offensive euphemism for years of rape by Japanese servicemen.  Before she is captured, a boy called Won-jae, comes into her care when his hand has been all but ruined by Japanese brutality.  Possibly a descendant of Van Persie, Won-Jae has blue eyes and through the long years of Japanese occupation followed by the Korean War he cherishes his dream of meeting again the woman who did not treat him as Other.

While the narrative tension is maintained by the hope that Yoo-jin and Won-je may be reunited, I don’t think that Typhoon Kingdom is a ‘romance’ as suggested by the blurb.  But I do think it is a story of love.  It’s about love for one’s fellow man in extreme circumstances. Hae-Jo puts himself at risk because he cares for a stranger who he recognises as a man not unlike himself. Yoo-jin never wavers in her devotion to healing even in the most appalling captivity and somehow manages to suppress her rage to help a wounded enemy.

As I write, amid the warmongering about the ‘threat’ from China, there is pressure on South Korea to mend relations with Japan.  It will surprise no one that the Japanese have steadfastly refused to pay compensation to those who suffered under its rule, and the latest ploy is for South Korean business to establish a fund to compensate those used by the Japanese for slave labour.  It should surprise no one that there is considerable opposition to Japan offloading its responsibility for its war crimes in this extraordinary way.

But I expect that, for geopolitical reasons, the victims will be bullied into accepting it and keeping quiet, the way the Japanese treatment of Australian POWs was airbrushed out of our postwar relationship.

See Rohan Wilson’s review here, reprinted at the global literary agency BJZ based in New York City.  BJZ represents Hooton and is apparently responsible for the Korean New Wave in global publishing which won Barbara J Zwiter the 2016 International Literary Agent of the Year Award.  Her website tells us that she also represents other Australian authors such as Madeleine Ryan and Jamie Marina Lau.

Author: Matthew Hooton
Title: Typhoon Kingdom
Cover design by Peter Long
Publisher: UWAP (University of Western Australia Publishing), 2019
ISBN: 9781760800307, pbk., 282 pages
Source: Personal library

This is a cookbook review with a difference, because

  • I need to source the ingredients before I can do some of the recipes that I most want to try; and
  • the author’s story is more than just the usual yada-yada about learning to love cooking with #InsertCherishedRelative.

Nornie Bero is a Momet woman of the Meriam People from the island of Mer in the Torres Strait Islands.  Readers with long memories may remember that back in 2019 I attended a NAIDOC Week event at Beaumaris Library where Nornie presented a cooking demonstration using bush food ingredients.  That, of course, was before the pandemic.

Nevertheless, Mabu-Mabu is thriving.  With 20 years’ experience as a professional chef, Nornie is the head chef and business owner of a bar and kitchen called Big Esso by Mabu Mabu at Federation Square.  (You can see the catering menu here.) Her mission, to put First Nations ingredients in kitchens across Australia, has morphed into an online shop where you can buy an amazing range of Australian native ingredients, just some of which you can see below.

Born in Queensland but raised in the Torres Strait Nornie grew up in a single parent family, part of a working household on Moa:

growing produce, weeding and cooking.  My earliest memories are of Dad teaching me how to make damper when I was barely able to see over the stovetop. (p.18)

She knew what hard work was from a very early age.

Every morning I’d wake up when it was still dark and help dad make pumpkin buns that I would deliver to the locals before school. He paid me in marbles. (p.18)

She learned traditional ways of harvesting from the reef:

Growing up with a spear in my hand seems unreal, but that was my beginning. Dad made me my own spear and if it ever got bent out of shape, I’d have to fix it myself. Before the sun rose, we would head out to the reef holding a kerosene lamp for a torch to catch anything that had been trapped in the lagoons overnight. I remember trying to spear an octopus before it slithered away, or finding a giant clam, ready to cook in coconut milk. (p.18)

They moved to Horn Island, where she took the ferry to school on Thursday Island until her father’s poor health made it necessary for her to be billeted out with her Grandma Aba for high school in Cairns and then in Townsville. She failed cooking at school, and left at sixteen to do farm work, progressing to kitchen work in a pub, learning the skills that meant she could always get work in a pub.  And then she set off for Melbourne…

Moving away from home is still one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  I arrived in Melbourne excited to experience the city, from the vibrant culture to the amazing food, but I had to find a job, fast.  I had no idea how hard it would be for a young woman, let alone a woman of colour, to find work.  This was the late nineties, and the kitchens were ruled by men.  It was a challenge just to get in the door, but once I did, I was in for life.  I made sure I stuck with the hospitality industry no matter how tough it got because I just loved it. (p.27)

From small beginnings with a spice stall at the South Melbourne market and then a cafe in Yarraville, Nornie has gone from strength to strength.  Her mission is to take Indigenous ingredients out of fancy restaurants and into every kitchen.  

Just like organic produce, native ingredients shouldn’t be an expensive treat.  Everyone in Australia should be cooking with native fruit, veg, spices and meats. (p.43)

There’s a whole chapter on the ‘Native Pantry’.  Some of these are readily available, and some less so, but there is a chapter on places where you can source them.  They are grouped by:

  • Succulents: Aragetti, Karkalla, Samphire, Seablite.
  • Plants and herbs: Aniseed myrtle, Cinnamon myrtle, Crystal ice plant, Hibiscus, Lemon myrtle, Native thyme, River mint and Saltbush (both growing in our garden), Seaberry saltbush, Sea parsley and Warrigal Greens.
  • Seeds: Pepperberry and Wattleseed (both in our spice drawer, and we use them a lot).
  • Eucalyptus: Peppermint Gum and Strawberry Gum.
  • Nuts: Bunya nut, Sea almonds and easy to find Coconut, and Macadamia nuts ,
  • Fruits: Bell fruit, Bush tomato, Davidson plum, Desert lime, Finger lime (growing in the garden), Illawarra plum, Kakadu plum, Lemon aspen, Lilli pilli (we have a huge tree), Muntries, Native wild currants, Quandong, Riberries, Sorbee and Wongai.
  • Yams: Cassava, Taro and White sweet potato; and
  • Meats: Crocodile, Emu and Kangaroo.

So then the recipes.

The first collection is grouped by the flour used to make them.  There are variations on domboi (dumplings), dampers, scones and banana bread.

Then there’s Island to Mainland: meat and poultry recipes like you’ve never seen before such as Pulled Wild Boar and Saltbush Pepperberry Crocodile.

Ocean: all kinds of tempting seafood recipes, such as Tamarind Pipis, Samphire Razor Clams and *chuckle* the Smelly-but-yum-using-everything Blatchan.  It’s a prawn paste!

Larder is a collection of butters, pastes and sauces flavoured with seeds and plants and so on.

Sweets includes a Wattleseed Caramel Pannacotta, Lemon Myrtle Cookies, a Hibiscus and Quandong Frangipani Cake, and a Quandong Christmas Cake.  The layout of the recipes is clear and easy to follow, and the font is a good size too.  Most recipes are illustrated with full colour photos, and there’s an index.

This is a beaut cookbook and I’d like to buy it but I see from the website that it’s out of stock.  So keep your eyes peeled for a secondhand copy!

Author: Nornie Bero
Title: Mabu-Mabu: An Australian Kitchen Cookbook
Publisher: Hardie Grant Books, 2022
ISBN: 9781743797280, hbk., 210 pages
Source: Kingston Library


Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 6, 2023

The Bell of the World (2023), by Gregory Day

As I made my morning coffee today in the quiet of my kitchen, a bird was singing outside.  Mindful of the motif of listening in Gregory Day’s new novel The Bell of the World, I paused, and listened, really listened, so that I could identify the bird.

The Bell of the World is a challenging book, not because it’s hard to read and make sense of, but because it challenges our ideas about what art is, what music is, and even what literature is.

Titled ‘Big Cutting Hill’ and set in the early years of the 20th century, Part One introduces Sarah Hutchinson, a troubled young woman under the care of an Indigenous woman called Maisie.  Sarah’s immediate family is absent from the novel, so we know only that her mother drank to excess and that after her parents’ acrimonious divorce Sarah was packed off to boarding school in Devon.  There, bells punctuate her day and she feels claustrophobic after the wide open spaces of Australia.  From there she is offloaded to Uncle Ferny’s bohemian circle in Rome.

In Rome, in artistic circles (that include ‘poetivores’!) Sarah is exposed to (and excited by) modernism.  But sent home to Uncle Ferny’s farm Ngangahook she is confused, lethargic and depressed, and it is Maisie’s wisdom that begins to heal her.  This healing coincides with the return of Uncle Ferny (who is hairy from reading i.e. unshaven!)

In Part Two, (in Sarah’s voice) Ngangahook illustrates the clash between European settler values and the Hutchinsons’ desire to belong in their landscape.  The local wannabe dignitary Selwyn Atchison wants a civic bell to dignify the town (and himself), expressing…

…his own Presbyterian need for a bell to civilise, indeed to drown out the pollinating salt airs of this small inlet into, and out of, the sea.  (p.69)

Sarah and Uncle Ferny reject the entire concept.  Such a bell would impose itself on the bush which has its own ancient soundscape of birds and the rustlings of native fauna and the whistling of the wind in the trees.

No schoolbell, no churchbell, no bell for service nor for storm.  Just the silence that is so filled with sound.  The reach of the pealing bell of the moonlured surf, beseeching no one at the rivermouth.  That, I came to believe, through the pressure of engagement, is the only bell of auditory range that ever an inlet wanted to be heard.

But still: a niceness in the offing, something coming our way other than weather, that’s what caused the bitter unsuccessful petition to so deepen and endure. (p.66)

(The point is that nations do irreversible things without any consideration for how it might impact globally… climate change, nuclear waste, starting endless wars, noise pollution from planes, blighting the night sky with satellites, invading privacy with drones. None of us can escape from it, and on and on and on it goes with global forums powerless to put a stop to it.)

Uncle Ferny’s refusal to contribute to the fund to pay for this intrusive bell arouses not only indignation but ostracism in the town.  The townsfolk were already bemused by Sarah’s concerts on her ‘altered piano’. In her narrative she includes a newspaper clipping:

In a novel procedure Miss Hutchinson had adjusted the workings and thus the sound of the homestead’s grand piano with the following items from the field: a bullock bone, a piece of ironbark, a banksia cob, a scrap of 8 gauge wire, a kangaroo rib, a train ticket, a fray of crinoline, a bandage, a letter, fern fronds, a bridle hasp and fox-fur. (p.61)

What is music?  Sarah’s composition is titled ‘My Autumn’ and it distinguishes the Australian autumn from the European one with its very sound.  We learn later in Part Three that Sarah — alone on an isolated property — is creating experimental music that could take its place amongst the most radical of experimentalists in the 20th century.

Meanwhile, Uncle Ferny’s favourite book, Such Is Life by Joseph Furphy, is in need of repair.  He has read it so constantly — throughout all his travels and giving readings of it to his pals in Rome so they can hear what Australia sounds like — that it is literally falling apart, so he and Sarah make a rare journey to Geelong to the Bookbinder of Moolap.

(BTW Bill at The Australian Legend has discussed the merits of Such is Life in 12 posts.  See here. Update, later the same day: Plus, Brona at This Reading Life has posts from her Readalong here, thanks to Bill (see Comments below) for the tip.)

The Bookbinder of Moolap is a bit of an eccentric, and a frustrated author.  When Uncle Ferny returns to collect his book he finds that it has been radically altered. It’s twice the size because interleaved with its pages are the pages of Moby Dick, a book largely unknown at that time.  Expertly re-filleted and spliced, it’s not the book he loved any more.  Is it a book, as we recognise books to be?  It ruins both of them, after all, but it creates something new and interesting. It’s now a minotaur of a book. But are these two separate great works of literature still a great work of literature when ocean prose converges with the astringent Australian music of Uncle Ferny’s landbook of bullockies and brown rivers? As we saw with Sarah’s altered piano, Uncle Ferny is already accustomed to, indeed disposed towards, the alteration of sacred cultural objects for the purpose of, and in the spirit of, aesthetic creation. Does he accept the altered book?  Hmmm, would I?

You can see why it has taken days and days to read The Bell of the World.  It’s because it triggered all kinds of meandering thoughts.  It is a novel rich in meaning and full of surprises.

Part III, ‘The Natural History of Eternity’ introduces Sarah’s fruitful correspondence, through the pages of the American Natural History magazine with ‘The Correspondent from Stony Point’.  It’s the 1950s by now, and while life goes on at Ngangahook, and Don Atchison views Sarah in a way entirely different to his haughty father, and Joe Busch is intrigued by her… she writes to this American about … mushrooms (of which there are plenty on her property.) He turns out to be an American composer of experimental music, and the stunning climax of this novel is his performance at the Melbourne Town Hall.

‘John’ is a fictionalised John Cage, the pioneer of indeterminacy in music, who supported his commercially unsuccessful music by selling mushrooms to restaurants. He also wrote a book about them. His concert features avant-garde ‘sound artists’ such as Henry Cowell.  The text blurs (as perhaps the Minotaur of the book blurs?) with Joe playing Jelly Roll Morton jazz pieces on Sarh’s grand piano and wondering if he can ever reach the dizzy heights playing footy, and Sarah enthralled by the performance amid an audience that doesn’t know what to make of it.  Melbourne was being taught to listen.

You can hear Gregory Day discuss the book here but be quick; 3CR does not make its broadcasts available for very long.

BTW In a world of banal bookcovers, take a close look at the cover of The Bell of the World.  It represents the theme of connectedness, centred by a pensive Sarah gazing confidently at her world.  There’s a ghostly bell that never was yet it caused so much angst; and also from Part II there are Christmas bells (the seasonal bells) at Ngangahook.  Above and below, there is the network of mushroom spores that feature in Part III. There’s a Willy Wagtail too: I don’t remember its place in the novel, but I bet it’s there in the text somewhere!

Update, later the same day, re the Willy Wagtails, thanks to Carmel Bird’s helpful reply in Comments, and an email from Barry Scott, the publisher, I now know the significance of the willy wagtails.  Firstly, at the beginning of Part II when Sarah arrives at her uncle’s property:

…as I stepped down off the cart upon our arrival through the gate at Ngangahook, that this home in the glen was not a merely productive milieu, that it also thrived as a glen for a glen’s own sake, without superfluous moral ledgers or hectoring audits. I hoped very much that we would live in companionship with that, as the wagtail lives within its three-rung song. (p.56)


So she asked that separate part of herself, the part that saw the future and heard god’s timbre in the eternity of natural sound – she asked for the free restoration of her senses, to hear the wagtail’s three-rung song, the liquid song of the magpie in the background, and the thick bed of ocean sound beyond that. For this was a journey of emotion and loss,

And then, later in the book on p 272, there are Willy Wagtails that have made themselves at home in Sarah’s kitchen.  She is living in companionship with them:

And over in the kitchen, where Sarah had now gone to put the kettle on the stove, two willie wagtails flew about happily, perching here and there on the bench and cupboard-tops, wagging their tails, and occasionally sounding their three-part song. Joe had seen swallows caught up in the inside of houses before, and he’d seen cockatoos in cages of course, but never willie wagtails with the run of a kitchen…

Here’s a little video where you can hear its song:

Update 10/3/23: Jack Callil has written a perceptive review of this novel at The Guardian. 

Author: Gregory Day
Title: The Bell of the World
Cover art by Sian Marlow and Peter Lo
Publisher: Transit Lounge, 2023
ISBN: 9780648414087, hbk., 408 pages
Review copy courtesy of Transit Lounge

Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 6, 2023

Spell the Month in Books March 2023 Linkup

Spell the Month in Books is a linkup hosted on Reviews From the Stacks on the first Saturday of each month, but that’s the day for #6Degrees, so here we are on Monday the 6th of March instead.

Now, since it’s Reading Ireland month at 746 Books, I’ve made a March list using books from Ireland, with a William Trevor thrown in for good measure for A Year with William Trevor at Reading Matters. Links are to my reviews.

Mrs Osmond by John Banville

At Swim — Two Birds by Flann O’Brien

Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane, on the TBR

Cheating at Canasta by William Trevor

History of the Rain by Niall Williams

Thanks to Jennifer for reminding me.  Her March list is here.

Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 5, 2023

Victory City (2023), by Salman Rushdie

The more I read of this scintillating novel, the more I felt that Rushdie would have been really enjoying himself as he wrote it.  Victory City is a purported epic chronicle, in the same company as India’s other great Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. But Rushdie being Rushdie, this novel about a medieval empire is more than that. It’s about the importance of storytelling, about truth in historical texts, and about the long history of silencing women in India.


Vijayanagar empire and city (Wikipedia)

Today, the Vijayanagar Empire is in ruins though its Pampapathi temple is still intact, and its capital city Hampi is a World Heritage site.  The city was sacked by a coalition of Muslim Sultanates in 1565 and its king Aliya Rama Raya was beheaded. The destruction was thorough; its cultural history almost vanquished.  What is known of this vast empire comes only from the memoirs of Portuguese and Persian traders. Rushdie has stepped into the breach with Victory City.

The novel introduces itself with an unnamed narrator who has found Pampa Kampana’s chronicle hidden in a clay pot, thereby regaining a lost history from the ruins. The Jayaparajaya (‘Victory and Defeat’ in Sanskrit) holds the secrets of the lost empire, eclipsing the passage of time, the imperfections of memory, and the falsehoods of those who came after. 

But note: we are not reading the chronicle.  We are told that we are reading a re-telling of the chronicle with occasional quotations from Pampa Kampana’s verses, even though we are told that her verses are the equivalent of the Ramayana itself (and should not need tampering with, eh?).

This is that story, retold in plainer language by the present author, who is neither a scholar nor a poet but merely a spinner of yarns, and who offers this version for the simple entertainment and the possible edification of today’s readers, the old and the young, the educated and the not so educated, those in search of wisdom and those amused by folly, northerners and southerners, followers of gods and of no gods, the broad-minded and the narrow-minded, men and women and members of the genders beyond and in between, scions of the nobility and rank commoners, good people and rogues, charlatans and foreigners, humble sages, and egotistical fools. (p.4)

The narrator inserts him/herself into the story, commenting here and there on this and that, drawing attention to omissions and inconsistencies, occasionally speculating about the purpose or accuracy of the content.  This narrator can’t leave well enough alone.

(Which *chuckle* makes me think our narrator is a man, keen to celebrate the achievements of an amazing woman but not able to stop himself from mansplaining all the same.  As I said, Salman Rushdie is having fun with his story and with us.)


Victory City begins with an horrific scene.

Aged only nine, Pampa Kampana witnesses the aftermath of one of the insignificant battles of that era…

…in the fourteenth century of the Common Era in the south of what we now call India, Bharat, Hindustan.  The old king whose rolling head got everything going wasn’t much of a monarch, just the type of ersatz ruler who crops up between the decline of one great kingdom and the rise of another.

Our narrator is dismissive of this second-rate raya (king) and the commonplace no-name battles of this period. But…

After the insignificant battle, surprisingly, there was an event of the kind that changes history.  The story goes that the women of the tiny, defeated kingdom, most of them recently widowed as a result of the no-name battle, left the fourth-rate fortress, after making final offerings at the fifth-rate temple, crossed the river in small boats, improbably defying the turbulence of the water, walked some distance to the west along the southern bank, and then lit a great bonfire and committed mass suicide in the flames. (p.5)

Silencing themselves forever.

Is this shocking because the death of any woman like this is shocking, or because it was a mass suicide?  Rushdie is reminding us that not so long ago India’s culture expected this type of ritual suicide in the wake of a husband’s death.  Imagine living your life, knowing that this was its expected ending, knowing that your society believed that your life had no worth without attachment to a man.

Now, there is a goddess who steps in and confers wondrous powers on nine-year-old Pampa Kampana, but most importantly, this happens only after Pampa Kampana herself has decided that she will never commit her mother’s last mistake.  She will have agency and it’s not the goddess who gives it to her.

She would laugh at death and turn her face towards life,  She would not sacrifice her body merely to follow dead men into the afterworld. She would refuse to die young and live, instead, to be impossibly, defiantly old. (p.7)

It is at this point that the goddess responds, but Pampa Kampana does not come into her power while she is a vulnerable, bereaved child. In between her mother’s death and her emergence into power, Pampa Kampana lives with a supposedly ascetic scholar called Vidyasagar who is able to conceal his hypocrisy because Pampa Kampana did not speak for nine years.  She learns a lesson that she never forgets from this experience and her self-imposed silence:

This was how men were, Pampa Kampana thought.  A man philosophising about peace but in his treatment of the helpless girl sleeping in his cave his deeds were not in alignment with his philosophy. (p.11)

(You don’t need to know much about Gandhi to recognise the allusion.)

But the time comes when Pampa Kampana becomes the catalyst for the Sangama brothers (cowherds turned soldiers) to sprinkle the seeds that grow the wondrous city of Bisnaga, its defences and its people.  Naturally (hmpf!) Pampa Kampana does not become its ruler.  That honour goes to the older brother though the younger is smarter (as we see when the succession finally takes place), but Pampa Kampana is the power behind the throne, forging the city and its civilised ideals into an empire.  She whispers powerful ideas into ears of the populace, spreading beliefs about equality, and reasonableness and the common good.

Centuries pass but Pampa Kampana does not age.  She remains as young and beautiful as ever, witnessing the ageing and demise of those she loves: lovers, daughters and friends. Meanwhile the city flourishes under kings good, bad and indifferent.  There are wars.  Queens and their rivals come and go.  And — inevitably — comes decline as empires always do, and always from within. The time comes when the people no longer believe in the miraculous birth of their city.  Lies become truth, and Pampa Kampana’s whisperings no longer have the power they once had.

And another thing: the city had grown.  Now there was a multitude to address, and this time she would have to persuade many of them that the cultured, inclusive, sophisticated narrative of Bisnaga that she was offering them was a better one than the narrow, exclusionary, and to her way of thinking, barbarian official narrative of the moment.  It was by no means certain that the people would choose sophistication over barbarianism.  The party line regarding members of other faiths — we are good, they are bad — had a certain infectious clarity.  So did the idea that dissent was unpatriotic.  Offered the choice between thinking for themselves and blindly following their leaders, many people would choose blindness over clear-sightedness, especially when the empire was prospering and there was food on the table and money in their pockets.  Not everybody wanted to think, preferring to eat and spend.  Not everybody wanted to love their neighbour.  Some people preferred hatred. (p.165)

Victory City is a splendid book.  Women speak in this novel; they refuse to be silenced even when (as men sometimes are) they are wrong or unreasonable or stupid.  The novel celebrates the wisdom of women, and older women in particular.  It asks why the communities men build are based on the oppression of the many by the few…and why the many accept this oppression.  And it asserts the power of storytelling as a means of uniting the map of the world in Zerelda’s head with the map of time in Pampa Kampana’s.

Highly recommended.

See also the review at The Conversation.

Image credit: map of the Vijayanagar Empire: by Mlpkr – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Author: Salman Rushdie
Title: Victory City
Illustrations & design: @gray 318
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2023
ISBN: 9781787333451, pbk., 342 pages
Source: Personal library, purchased from Benn’s Books Bentleigh $32.99

Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 4, 2023

Flavour (2020) by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage

The first thing to note is that Yotam’s Ottolenghi’s latest cookbook Flavour is not, despite his name being the only one on the front cover, the sole author.  One of the world’s best-known celebrity chefs, YO needs no introduction, and you can browse his website here. But Ixta Belfrage, OTOH has transitioned from ‘member of the Ottolenghi test kitchen team’ to co-author.  Thanks to her Latin American heritage, a childhood in Italy and her years in Ottolenghi’s kitchen, she has an eclectic approach to cooking, which you can see from some of her recipes at The Guardian. (And, BTW, she lived in Australia for three years, and was no doubt influenced by our eclectic cuisine as well.)

The cookbook, a generous 300+ pages with full colour photography for every recipe, is about technique.  While vegetables take centre stage, it’s not a strict vegetarian or vegan cookbook.  In the Introduction, YO explains his flexitarian approach which is intended to appeal to the widest group of vegetable lovers possible.

My own approach to vegetables has always been pragmatic and inclusive.  If you want to win more people over to the veg camp, there is no worse way to go about it than demand that they go cold turkey (excuse the pun.) If an animal-based aromatic ingredient (we are not talking prime cuts of meat here or a bluefin tuna steak) does an outstanding job at ‘helping’ a vegetable taste particularly delicious, I will definitely use it for the benefit of those who are happy to eat it.  At the same time, I will also offer various alternatives to animal products (and dairy products, whenever I can) so that everyone can join in.

This flexitarian approach to cooking and eating acknowledges the diversity of the people we are and the variety of choices we make.  From the 100 recipes in the book, 45 are strictly vegan and another 17 are easily ‘veganised’. (p.9)

The Introduction is followed by Flavour’s 20 Ingredients.  You don’t have to have them all, and you reproduce many of the recipes without them, but they capture the essence of this book, its particular spirit.  These ingredients include various chillis, exotics such as black garlic and black limes, a type of flour called ‘masa harina‘ (used to make many Latino dishes), hibiscus flowers and Shaoxing (a wine fermented from rice).  He’s very particular about the brand of butter beans to buy, and enthusiasts who don’t care about food miles can get them delivered to Australia from here.

After that, the book is divided into three sections: Process, Pairing and Produce.

PROCESS is about enhancing flavour with charring, browning, infusing and ageing. There’s quite a lot of yada yada about these four processes, which is worth reading but not reproducing here.  It’s covered adequately here anyway.  Enticing do-able recipes include:


  • Calvin’s grilled peaches and runner beans.  It’s made with goat’s cheese, almonds, honey and mint and could be served with any number of proteins as a main. You can see what it looks like here.
  • Iceberg wedges with Smoky Aubergine Cream. After a lacklustre year in 2022, the eggplants are earning their place in the vegie patch, and this Aubergine Cream made with yoghurt, lemon juice and mustard looks amazing.  I fancy it with tuna.
  • Hasselback Beetroot with Lime Leaf Butter: You can find the recipe here, but for me, it’s the Lime Leaf Butter that’s pure genius. We have a Kaffir lime tree, which The Spouse uses to cook a very nice Vietnamese chicken dish, but I reckon the addition of the Lime Leaf Butter would make it sublime. (Yeah, not very Vietnamese, but still…)


  • Curried carrot mash with Brown Butter? yes please.
  • Lime and Coconut Potato Gratin. This is suggested as an alternative Christmas recipe here.


  • Also notable is the Pappa al Pomodoro with Lime and Mustard Seeds. It bothers me that so many people on limited budgets don’t know how to cook cheap meals.  This is basically pasta with over-ripe tomatoes and stale bread.  You can skip the lime and the curry leaves, even the chilli and the mustard seeds if you have to, and it will still be a great meal. Recipe here.

Ageing (using ingredients that have already aged, eg. fermented)

PAIRING is about combining sweetness, fat, acidity and chilli heat. Again there is lots of yada yada, but it’s interesting to read — and it all makes perfect sense.


  • Sweet potato in tomato, lime and cardamom sauce.  It looks divine, and can be paired with chickpeas, tofu. fish or chicken.
  • Butternut, orange and sage galette.  (Recipe here.) Pumpkins have failed to materialise in our garden this year.  We’ve never planted them, they’ve always just seeded themselves from the compost.  So it’s been a bit of a surprise to see that it would cost $9 to buy the pumpkin for this recipe. But it would still be a cheap, filling and nutritious meal.
  • Giant Couscous and Pumpkin with Tomato and Star Anise Sauce. (Here.) I reckon the prep for this could easily be done in the air fryer.
  • One-pan Orecchiette Puttanesca: a super cheap meal.  Yes, there are ingredients like capers and fancy olives, but it’s basically chick peas, pasta and tomatoes, and you can omit the spices or herbs if you have to. Recipe here.


  • Mafalda and Roasted Butternut in Warm Yoghurt Sauce: another super cheap meal. You don’t have to have Mafalda, any pasta will do. Recipe here.
  • Stuffed Aubergine in curry and coconut dal. Recipe here.
  • Tomato salad with lime and cardamom yoghurt. It has goats cheese and mint in it too.


  • Roasted carrot salad with chamoy. Chamoy is made with apricots, maple syrup, lime juice, garlic and chilli.
  • Mashed sweet potatoes with yoghurt and lime.
  • Chaat masala potatoes with yoghurt and tamarind, recipe here.

Chilli Heat

  • Saffron tagliatelle with ricotta and crispy chipotle shallots, recipe here.
  • Portobello steaks (mushrooms) and butter bean mash,  recipe here.

PRODUCE These are foods that have the capacity to carry a dish through their sheer ‘oomph’ and depth of flavour, or the interesting textual contrast they bring. Ottolenghi names these as:


  • Spicy mushroom lasagne (recipe here)

Alliums (onions & garlic):

  • Aubergine with herbs and crispy garlic. (BTW The air fryer is brilliant for roasting eggplants with half the fuss. And did you know that you can roast a head of garlic in 15 minutes by cutting off the tops, drizzling it with olive oil, wrapping it in foil and zapping it in the air fryer?)

Nuts and seeds:

  • Spicy roast potatoes with tahini and soy, recipe here.

Sugar, fruit and booze: I don’t think desserts are Ottolenghi’s strength, but these are standouts.

  • Poached apricots with pistachio and amaretti mascarpone, recipe here.
  • Watermelon and strawberry sorbet, it has lime and lime leaves in it too, recipe here.
  • Coconut ice cream with lychee and passion fruit, it uses aquafaba so this is suitable for vegans, recipe here
  • Max and Flynn’s Lemon Sorbet, I’ll probably reduce the number of hibiscus tea bags because I’m not super keen on their flavour in tea. Recipe here.

A feature that I like in this cookbook is in Meal Suggestions and Feasts at the back.

There’s a list of recipes grouped in practicalities:

  • in one pan, ready in 20 minute or less;
  • ready in an hour;
  • low-effort/high impact meals;
  • low-effort/high impact sides; and
  • make-ahead meals.

Under Feasts, there’s:

  • Brunch spread;
  • Rovi spread;
  • Three-course meals;
  • Korma Feast;
  • Mexican Feast;
  • East Asian Feast;
  • Festive Spreads;
  • Sunday roast;
  • Outdoor Summer Feast;
  • Mezze; and
  • Dips.

There’s a comprehensive index, Acknowledgements; and a code to access an App for your phone or iPad. There are also two ribbons to keep your place, which is such a good idea with a recipe book where you are often making two recipes at once.

The question is, since Ottolenghi is so generous with sharing his recipes at his website and at The Guardian, do you need to buy the book.  My answer, if you are a keen cook, is yes.  Apart from the pleasure of browsing to see what you might cook, it’s much easier to follow a recipe with a clear, easy-to-read layout in a well-designed book.  My only complaint is that the font for the ingredients is a bit small, but that’s because my eyesight isn’t great.

Authors: Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, with Tara Wigley
Title: Flavour
Photography by Jonathan Lovekin
Publisher: Ebury Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2020
ISBN: 9781785038938, hbk., 317 pages
Review copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia

Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 4, 2023

Six Degrees of Separation: from Passages, to ….

This month’s #6Degrees, hosted by Kate from Books are my Favourite and Best starts with a bestseller from the seventies called Passages by Gail Sheehy.  Its subtitle is Predictable Crises of Adult Life. 

Well, as usual I haven’t read it so it was off to My Books at Goodreads to see if there were any with Passage(s) in the title.  There were seven, the most interesting of which was Rites of Passage (1980) by William Golding. We all know Golding as the author of Lord of the Flies but as you can see from the novels I’ve reviewed, this Nobel Prize winner is a much more interesting author than that.  Rites of Passage is Book One of a trilogy that was made into a BBC serial called To The Ends of The Earth, and it won the Booker in 1980. Edmund (Benedict Cumberbatch)It’s a tragi-comic sea journey and a satirical coming-of-age tale about Mr William Talbot, a young aristocrat on his way to Australia to take up a government position procured for him by his wealthy godfather. The BBC series starred a young Benedict Cumberbatch, and I’ve watched him it three times because we have it on DVD.

It is not easy to portray satire on screen without losing its subtlety.  I was reminded of this recently when I was laid up for a while and bought some new DVDs to tide me over the enforced lying about on the sofa.  Among these was a screen adaptation of J G Farrell’s The Singapore Grip, the third in his Empire trilogy.  As you can see, I thought that the book was not great:

The novel drowns under the weight of its own research, and the characterisation is woeful.  It’s about the last days of British power in Singapore before the Japanese invasion in 1941, beginning with a depiction of the lost world of British privilege and exploitation, and taking 596 pages to detail the inexorable progress of the Japanese towards victory.

But the adaptation was atrocious. Even more heavy handed than the novel.  Oh well.

The Fall of Singapore reminded me of another book with Singapore in the (sub)title, war as its theme, and a screen adaptation (called Paradise Road, 1997) — but On Radji Beach: The Story of the Australian Nurses after the Fall of Singapore (2010) is a very different book indeed.  I know only a few non-fiction titles about the role of Australian nurses in war time, the best of which is Kitty’s War by Janet Butler.

Like all the best books, Kitty’s War(2013) is more than what it appears to be i.e. the untold story of a nurse who served in WW1. It’s also a book that teaches its readers how to interrogate history.  Butler is explicit about what she found in Kitty’s letters and diaries, but she also draws attention to what’s not in those sources.  She shows how Kitty self-censored her letters home so that her loved ones wouldn’t know how much danger she was in.  She was also very careful to avoid anything that might damage the reputation of nurses.  Time and again I have applied Butler’s technique to the news I consume.  What am I not being told?

Source: Wikipedia. This map shows the Brandt line, grouping Australia with the Global North.

For example, today’s reports about the failure to achieve consensus on Ukraine at the G20 meeting is not being framed as what it is: a rare example of the US being unable to impose its hegemony in a public forum, and a portent of its declining influence.  As I learned from The Burning Archive, Indian Prime Minister Modi started the recent Voice of the Global South Summit with a claim to replace Britain in the Security Council along with its power of veto because India, he argued, represents the Global South where most of humanity lives, and Britain, he says, is no longer a major power.  Things are changing, but the mainstream media either hasn’t caught on or is in denial. Media representation of the Global South is problematic. We are mostly not told anything about it except in terms of negative stereotyping. I prefer to think that it is ignorance rather than a conspiracy, though I’ve been wrong before.  But try Googling Voice of the Global South Summit and see which media is reporting it, and which media is not. It will be interesting to see if it gets a mention in the next issue of Australian Foreign Affairs to which I subscribe.

I think it’s partly ignorance, partly geo-politics, and partly racism that accounts for the skewed version of WW2 that persists.  This week I’ve been reading Thomas McKenna’s Moro Warrior: A Philippine Chieftain, an American Schoolmaster, and The Untold Story of the Most Remarkable Resistance Fighters of World War II in the Pacific.  I’ve never heard anything about the role of the Philippines in WW2 except as a stepping stone for Macarthur on his way to Japan, and I didn’t hear about this story of Philippine Resistance fighters in the mainstream media.  I read a review of it in the Asian Review of Books.

I really ought to have read more from the Philippines. It’s one of our near neighbours and we all need to be more knowledgeable about our geographical neighbourhood. I have read their famous classic Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) (1891) by José Rizal, translated by Harold Augenbraum which is the book that started their independence movement.  I also have Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco on the TBR but it’s been there much too long, and I would like to read some of the books suggested here as The Best Books in Philippine Literature.  Wish me luck with that: not one of those titles is available in my libraries… I wonder how members of the Filipino community feel when they find that the only books from their home country in libraries are travel and cooking books?

From a Seventies bestseller to a wishlist of Filipino Lit, that’s my #6Degrees for this month!

Image credit:


One of my favourite local bookshops, Ulysses Books in Hampton, is now regularly hosting author talks in the Hampton Life Saving Club.  We don’t have enough bookish events on our side of town, so this is a very welcome innovation.

Tonight’s event featured local Bayside author Sally Hepworth (whose books I’ve reviewed here) in conversation with Kylie Ladd about her new novel I’ll Leave You With This. 

Kylie is the author of six novels, 2 works of non-fiction, essays and articles, and combines her writing career with working two days per week as a neuro-psychologist, specialising in dementia.

It’s interesting to hear about the inspiration for a book. These two authors are great friends with an easy rapport full of wit and laughter, but they have shared some difficult times and Sally was able to draw from Kylie the painful experience of having had a book rejected.  (Later, talking about ‘the path to publication’ they were keen to share the up-and-down reality of being an author.  Anyone who thinks in terms of an upward trajectory from the publication of a debut novel is in for a rude shock.)

Anyway Kylie Ladd was in recovery from a book rejection and in the throes of some other difficulties in her life when she serendipitously came across a newspaper headline about a woman in India who had had a double-forearm transplant. She was intrigued, and followed it up.  It was a while before she revealed to the audience that her own brother had died in tragic circumstances and her own family had had the experience of being approached by the organ transplant team when he died.

So she wanted to write about organ transplants, but the thing is, she said wryly, someone has to die for this life-changing gift to take place.

Sally asked about the Prologue with such intensity that I had to read it myself (and I won’t have been the only one in the audience to do so almost immediately.) It is spectacular, and what is really remarkable is that it was never intended to be included in the novel.  Kylie is a planner, and she writes ‘practice chapters.’ This ‘practice chapter’ to the author’s own surprise, became the one to begin the novel.

This is the blurb:

I’ll Leave You With This is a heartbreaking, funny, thought-provoking and honest novel about a brother’s legacy and the tangled bonds of sisterhood.

The O’Shea sisters couldn’t be more different.
Allison, an obstetrician, has always put others before herself and is torn between her job and young family.
Prizewinning film director Bridie hasn’t had work in over a decade, though her actor husband is on the brink of stardom.
Clare, desperate for a baby, is bereft when her wife leaves her after their latest IVF failure.
And Emma, the youngest, has turned to God to fill the aching loneliness in her life.
When their only brother Daniel is killed the four women drift even further apart…
Then, on the third anniversary of Daniel’s death, Clare proposes an idea: they should trace the many recipients saved by his donated organs. Perhaps their brother’s gift of life can bring them back together again?

So the novel ‘about organ donation’ becomes a novel about sisters, which is why there is a quotation at the very beginning of the book:

Cerney (1993) argues that to understand the response of the donor family to specific aspects of their bereavement, one should understand their previous functioning.

I’ll Leave You With This is published by Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2022, ISBN 9780143778950.  I purchased it on the night from Ulysses Bookstore Hampton, with thanks to Tracey for organising the event!

Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 2, 2023

2023 Stella Prize longlist

Announced tonight, the 2023 Stella Prize longlist is:

  • The Furies by Mandy Beaumont (Hachette Australia)
  • Every Version of You by Grace Chan (Affirm Press)
  • We Come With This Place by Debra Dank (Echo Publishing)
  • big beautiful female theory by Eloise Grills (Affirm Press)
  • The Jaguar by Sarah Holland-Batt (University of Queensland Press)
  • Hydra by Adriane Howell (Transit Lounge), see my review
  • Jack of Hearts: QX11594 by Jackie Huggins & Ngaire Jarro (Magabala Books), see my review
  • All That’s Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien (HQ Fiction/HarperCollins Publishers)
  • Indelible City by Louisa Lim (Text Publishing)
  • Iris by Fiona Kelly McGregor (Pan Macmillan Australia), see my review
  • Decadence by Thuy On (UWA Publishing)
  • Bad Art Mother by Edwina Preston (Wakefield Press), see my review

Congratulations to all the authors, editors and publishers!

Thanks to Terri King from Pitch Projects for sharing the news.

Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 1, 2023

2023 NSW Premier’s Awards Shortlist

The 2023 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards have been announced.

The Christina Stead Prize for fiction nominees are:

  • Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au, see my review
  • Every Version of You by Grace Chan
  • Women I Know by Katerina Gibson
  • Iris by Fiona Kelly McGregor, see my review
  • Bad Art Mother by Edwina Preston, see my review
  • Grimmish by Michael Winkler

I haven’t  come across any of the nominees for the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing:

  • Blaze by Del Kathryn Barton and Huna Amweero
  • The Eulogy by Jackie Bailey
  • We Come with This Place by Debra Dank
  • Women I Know by Katerina Gibson
  • The Rat-Catcher’s Apprentice by Maggie Jankuloska
  • The Upwelling by Lystra Rose
  • Hush by Ciella Williams
  • At the Altar of Touch by Gavin Yuan Gao

The Douglas Stewart award for Non-fiction nominees are:

  • We Come with This Place by Debra Dank
  • Mothertongues by Ceridwen Dovey and Eliza Bell, see my review
  • How to End a Story, Diaries 1995-1998 by Helen Garner
  • Bedtime Story by Chloe Hooper, see my review
  • Crimes Against Nature by Jeff Sparrow
  • Another Day in the Colony by Chelsea Watego

The Multicultural NSW Award nominees are:

  • 11 Words for Love by Randa Abdel Fatta and Maxine Beneba Clarke
  • The Eulogy by Jackie Bailey
  • Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser, see my review
  • The Whitewash by Siang Lu
  • The Bonesetter’s Fee and Other Stories by Rashida Murphy
  • When Granny came to Stay by Alice Pung and Sally Soweal Han

The Translation Prize nominees are:

  • People from Bloomington by Budi Darma, translated from the Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao
  • On the Line by Joseph Ponthus, translated from the French by Stephanie Smee
  • Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from the German by Alison Croggon
  • The Membranes by Chi-Ta Wei, translated from the Chinese by Ari Larissa Heinrich
  • Deadly Quiet Cities, stories from Wuhan Ground Zero by Muron Zwecun, translated by Anonymous
  • L’Assommoir by Emile Zola translated from the French by Brian Nelson, see my review

I haven’t come across most of the nominees for the Indigenous Writer’s Prize are:

  • We Come with This Place by Debra Dank
  • Harvest Lingo by Lionel Fogarty
  • Open Your Heart to Country by Jasmine Seymour
  • The Dungirr Brothers and the Caring Song of the Whale by Aunty Shaa Smith, Neeyan Smith, Uncle Bud Marshall, With Yandarra including Sarah Wright, Lara Daley and Paul Hodge
  • The First Scientists, Deadly Inventions and Innovations from Australia’s First Peoples by Correy Tuttand Blak Douglas
  • Another Day in the Colony by Chelsea Watego

To see the nominees for the other awards and the judges comments, please visit the #NSWPLA website

Congratulation to all the authors, editors, and publishers!

To see my reviews of some other very fine books published in 2022 which have not been nominated, click here.


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