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Posts Tagged ‘Australian Women Writers’

Black silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat on a green background (with some faint writing in the top and bottom thirds), with the words in white: 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads blurb

In this collection of award-winning stories, Melbourne writer Maxine Beneba Clarke has given a voice to the disenfranchised, the lost, the downtrodden and the mistreated. It will challenge you, it will have you by the heartstrings. This is contemporary fiction at its finest.

Winner of the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award 2013.

In Melbourne’s Western Suburbs, in a dilapidated block of flats overhanging the rattling Footscray train-lines, a young black mother is working on a collection of stories.

The book is called FOREIGN SOIL. Inside its covers, a desperate asylum seeker is pacing the hallways of Sydney’s notorious Villawood detention centre, a seven-year-old Sudanese boy has found solace in a patchwork bike, an enraged black militant is on the war-path through the rebel squats of 1960s’ Brixton, a Mississippi housewife decides to make the ultimate sacrifice to save her son from small-town ignorance, a young woman leaves rural Jamaica in search of her destiny, and a Sydney schoolgirl loses her way.

The young mother keeps writing, the rejection letters keep arriving…

My review
I am a big short story fan – and Clarke’s stories did not disappoint.

Clarke is a spoken word performer as well as a writer, and it shows in her writing. Many stories read as as if the characters are speaking to you, a style which always seems incredibly fluent to me.

In addition, Clarke’s empathic range is quite astonishing. She is able to write from the perspectives of a remarkable variety of characters in large number of situations, and all of them seem real.

There is no clear theme, but many characters either have a desire to be go and explore the wider world or else some feeling of being an expatriate.

Clarke is not afraid of exploring the issues that these feelings bring up: clashes of culture, racism, classism, the problems that poverty and other lack of privilege give rise to. Her characters are affected by war and violence; they fall in (and out of) love; they express their anger with their social situation; they have chance encounters with strangers that give them a new perspective. Each story is a window into a larger world, leaving you to imagine what the characters do next – which is precisely what I love about short stories.

This book is highly recommended.

This is a review for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can see my full list of books here. You can find a full list of my reviews, and other posts relevant to the challenge, here.

Cross-posted.

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Black silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat on a green background (with some faint writing in the top and bottom thirds), with the words in white: 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Maralinga: The Anangu Story by Yalata and Oak Valley Communities
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb from Goodreads

Maralinga: The Anangu Story is our story. We have told it for our children, our grandchildren and their children. We have told it for you.

In words and pictures Yalata and Oak Valley community members, with author Christobel Mattingley, describe what happened in the Maralinga Tjarutja lands of South Australia before the bombs and after.

My review

This book sets out in considerable detail what was lost by the Anangu people – and, as a consequence, what we have all lost – as a result, first, of the Europeans’ overuse of water and timber at the Ooldea Soak (which caused devastation of the local environment) and, secondly, the testing of nuclear weapons by the British at Maralinga.

It is often astonishing to me how much survives, despite the atrocities performed. Maralinga contains anecdotes and memories from members of the communities at Yalata and Oak Valley, such as stories about Wanampi (water snake) and how people found water and food, as well as traditional stories, such as the story of Aru and Makuru. Some community members have also provided accounts of being separated from their families.

The book then moves on to describe how the nuclear tests were managed – or, in many respects, mismanaged, particularly in relation to the Anangu community. The mission was closed suddenly and people were dispersed. Many were moved to Yalata, close to the coast. And the weapons were tested when there were still Anangu people living on their traditional lands – within the “Prohibited Zone”, an area enormously affected by the tests. Of course, the effect of the tests extended beyond the Prohibited Zone, and many people became sick. Later, many more became sick when employed to assist with the clean-up.

Despite all of that, the book ends with hope. The Oak Valley community was established on traditional lands in 1985. Oak Valley has grown and prospered. The people there retain their strong links with those who have remained at Yalata. The final substantive page includes quotes from several children stating what they hope to be doing in ten years’ time.

This is a book which all Australians should read. What happened at Maralinga is among the worst wrongs the government and White Australia committed against the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and it is a story too easily overlooked. It also serves as a reminder of the other wrongs committed. And the hope voiced at the end of the book is hope for us all.

This is a review for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can see my full list of books here. You can find a full list of my reviews, and other posts relevant to the challenge, here.

Cross-posted.

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Black silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat on a green background (with some faint writing in the top and bottom thirds), with the words in white: 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

As per my last post, I will be participating in the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge this year.

Anita Heiss’s Black Book Challenge has been of great assistance in finding books by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander authors (via Mindy at Hoyden About Town).

Here are the 10 books I’m planning to read. Except for Eileen Chong’s Peony, they are all at my local library, and now on reserve, although if any don’t come through in time I might have to substitute alternatives: (more…)

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Black silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat on a green background (with some faint writing in the top and bottom thirds), with the words in white: 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Way back in 2012 I participated in the inaugural Australian Women Writers Challenge.

After a couple of years off, I have decided to get back into it.

In summary, person can sign up to read a specified number of books within the year, and to write a (smaller) specified number of reviews. There are different levels of the challenge, and you can add other aspects to your own challenge to make it more personally challenging.

The levels have changed a little – I am going for the Franklin again, which is still 10 books, but now 6 reviews (rather than the 4 in 2012).

And here are my additional challenges: (more…)

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Black-on-white silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat, with the words in white: 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge (and the url australianwomenwriters.com at the bottom)
The Sisters Antipodes by Jane Alison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb from Goodreads

A gorgeous and deeply intimate memoir about families breaking apart When Jane Alison was a child, her family met another that seemed like its mirror: a father in the Foreign Service, a beautiful mother, and two little girls, the younger two (one of them Jane) sharing a birthday. The families became inseparable almost instantly. Within months, however, affairs ignited between the adults, and before long the parents exchanged partners, then divorced, remarried, and moved on. Two pairs of girls were left in shock, a “silent, numb shock, like a crack inside stone, not enough to split it but inside, silently fissuring” that would prove tragic.

My review

I loved this book.

To put this in context, neither non-fiction generally, nor memoir specifically, are among my favourite genres. But this book is so well-crafted, so compelling, I was drawn in from the start.

Alison describes the trauma of her childhood, caused by her parents switching marriages with another couple, combined with both families travelling for diplomatic purposes, with incredible clarity and emotional truth. She goes on to discuss the fall-out for herself and one of her step-sisters – both developed substance abuse problems – and the later relationships with her parents and step-parents.

At several points in the book, she questions whether her parents should have dealt with the situation differently, and what it might have meant to her life had they done so. Every time the question arises, she asserts that she is, ultimately, glad it was done the way it was done. I’m not sure I believe her.

And yet, the honesty – both the emotional honesty, and her attempt to tell the true story (and her acknowledgement that she does not know the whole story, and can only tell the truth from her own perspective) – is, again, compelling. That this was combined with the excellent writing meant I was drawn in, utterly reluctant to put the book down.

In addition, I had clear pictures of most scenes. Alison is also an artist and illustrator, and I suspect this is behind her ability to create such vivid images in her writing.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

This is an extra review for the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can see my full list of books here. You can find a full list of my reviews, and other posts relevant to the challenge, here.

Cross-posted.

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Black-on-white silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat, with the words in white: 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge (and the url australianwomenwriters.com at the bottom)
Monkey Grip by Helen Garner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb from Goodreads

In “Monkey Grip”, Helen Garner charts the lives of a generation. Her characters are exploring new ways of loving and living – and nothing is harder than learning to love lightly. Nora and Javo are trapped in a desperate relationship. Nora’s addiction is romantic love; Javo’s is hard drugs. The harder they pull away, the tighter the monkey grip. A lyrical, gritty, rough-edged novel that deserves its place as a classic of Australian fiction.

My review

I got a lot out of this book – and there’s a lot to get, for a patient reader. It’s a book about Melbourne in the mid-1970s, about community, about love, about addiction, about love as addiction, and about how you can only live your own life.

This is not a gentle or easy book. It is narrated in first person by the main character, Nora, and the reader is thrown in the deep end, only ever given as much about Nora’s external life and circumstances as is absolutely necessary (and this is usually divulged with great subtlety). Nora is (in no particular order) an actor, a woman in love, a mother, a some-time drug taker, a part of a hippie community/commune, a feminist, a writer for a feminist magazine. We are taken through the year or so of Nora’s relationship with Javo, a junkie, during 1975 (and a bit on either side).

What one learns from this book is up to the reader. If you trust to Ms Garner, you will be lifted by the current and brought safely to the end of the book.

This is an extra review for the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can see my full list of books here. You can find a full list of my reviews, and other posts relevant to the challenge, here.

Cross-posted.

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Black-on-white silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat, with the words in white: 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge (and the url australianwomenwriters.com at the bottom)

I have completed the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge!

This post is to record how I went compared to my challenge criteria, and to give a very short overview of each book.

First, the books. They were:

(more…)

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Black-on-white silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat, with the words in white: 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge (and the url australianwomenwriters.com at the bottom)
Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurb from Goodreads

This is an original take on a classic story – how a child of immigrants moves between two cultures. In place of piety and predictability, however, Unpolished Gem offers a vivid and ironic sense of both worlds. It combines the story of Pung’s life growing up in suburban Footscray with the inherited stories of the women in her family – stories of madness, survival and heartbreak. Original and brave, this is a girl’s own story that introduces an unforgettable voice and captures the experience of Asian immigrants to Australia.

My review

First, a bit of background to my reading of this book. I grew up in a part of Sydney where there were many people of Asian descent. Those who were my age had often either been born in Australia to parents who were recent immigrants, or had come to Australia as children. Many of my friends were of Asian descent, from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. I tended to see the similarities between my friends and me – they were, after all, my friends – and I often did not understand why they reacted to certain things so differently, especially in relation to their interactions and relationships with their families.

In the years since high school, I have grown to understand much more. Unpolished Gem allowed me to take another leap in my understanding of some of my friends. At the very least, this means that if Ms Pung is writing for the wider Australian audience, to give them an insight into the life of a certain section of the Australian community, she has nailed it. (I am quite curious to know if she has nailed the audience within the section of the Australian community she is writing about.)

Ms Pung’s writing is impeccable. (more…)

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