It’s September already! Soon there’ll be baubles in the shops and Christmas wish lists crammed with books … apologies to all those out there who are as horrified by the closeness of the ‘C’ word and/or the pace of this year as I am. Though I meant the bit about the Christmas lists, & here are some ideas …
A search for ‘diversity’ in our Books Reviewed database reveals some 51 books reviewed over the last two months. Of these, the most popular was Pamela Hart’s The Desert Nurse and D.M. Cameron’s Beneath the Mother Tree, each with 5 reviews.
Hart’s novel book features a character with polio who, according to the blurb, believes his disability makes him unfit to marry. When I started reading the reviews I was a bit wary, because this self-pity is a pretty stereotypical and unnecessarily negative association with disability, so I was really pleased to see Ashleigh’s comment that:
‘having a main character with a disability, who didn’t let it stop him doing what he set his mind to, was excellent to see as well. William didn’t let his polio stop him, nor did Evelyn let his disability colour her perspective of him – rather, she respected him and looked out for him when necessary, just as he did for her.’
Other readers were also enthused by this book. Jess at The Neverending Bookshelf called this novel her ‘favourite Hart book to date’ and Theresa loved the strong sense of time and place, and the insight into being a desert nurse in World War One.
Beneath the Mother Tree is set on Moondarrawah, a fictitious island off the coast of Queensland. It draws on Irish and Indigenous mythology, and is written by non-Indigenous author DM Cameron. Cameron clarifies that ‘this story takes place within the landscape of Quandamooka country. Moondarrawah is a Ngugi word granted to me by revered Ngugi Elder, Uncle Bob Anderson. All Indigenous content was written under the guidance and encouragement of Uncle Bob who decided upon the spelling of the Ngugi words phonetically because he learnt through an oral tradition.’
Readers such as Carolyn commented on the novel’s sensuality and nature writing: ‘The descriptions of the island’s plant and animal life and the smells of the forest and the sea all feels very earthy and elemental. Ayla is forever rescuing animals and has grown up to love the island and become a part of it. She has been infused with her grandad’s stories all her life but also with the stories of the lands first people told to her by her Aboriginal friend Mandy and her relatives’.
The novel throws up questions about belonging, as Cass writes, ‘The connection between people and place is strong throughout this story; each character and every subplot seem to pose the questions: What is belonging? To what does our history entitle us? How does our story connect with the land?
Felicity Castagna’s No More Boats was reviewed by three readers. Kim of Reading Matters describes it as exploring issues of our times, including ‘immigration, including how we deal with refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants’. Set in Sydney’s Parramatta, it follows migrant Antonio Martone, who begins to unravel after the loss of his best friend and a workplace accident. Meanwhile, John Howard’s paranoia (whether manufactured or not) about boat people blares in the background. Although, Kim adds, this novel ‘feels like a “light” read … it has a surprising resonance and plangency.’ Jennifer of GoodReads read the book twice, even though ‘It’s not a novel to enjoy: it’s a novel that makes me think and some of that thinking makes me uncomfortable. How do we decide who belongs and why? Why is difference so frightening? Are we so fragile in our own sense of self that we fear any difference? I wish I could say that things have improved since August 2001, but I can’t.’
Melanie Cheng’s short stories in Australia Day also explore themes of migration and belonging in Australia. As Anne points out, almost half of our population were either born overseas or have a parent born overseas. She describes the stories as depicting ‘the challenges of cultural integration which confront both white Australians and those who come here from other countries. They demonstrate that even with the best of intentions, gulfs must inevitably be negotiated. Cheng conveys this in deceptively simple prose and with a finely honed sensitivity that makes the stories compelling reading.’
Meanwhile Sanch reviewed Sushi Das’s memoir Deranged Marriage. A British-Australian journalist of Indian origin, Das did all she could to get out of an arranged marriage. Sanch describes this a a memoir about ‘tolerance and change, about culture – the good, the bad and the different, and about the importance of sticking to your guns regardless of the outcome’. As someone who had steadfastly refused to have an arranged marriage, and who had similar views about some Indian traditions as Das, Sanch found this memoir resonated with her. It sounds like a good read, ‘with laughs and some poignant questions raised’.
It was good to see a few collections of poetry exploring diversity. Jon Shaw posted on Eunice Andrada’s Flood Damages, which explores ‘the pain of migration and living in diaspora, of miscarriage and sickness, of domestic violence, racism and internalised racism, and – shockingly topical just now – of family separation at the hands of officaldom. There are also poems that celebrate the body and family relationships, especially of a young woman with her grandmother.’ Alicia Gilmore found that Maryam Azam’s The Hijab Files ‘provide an awareness into Azam’s experience of wearing a headscarf and the reactions this visible symbol of her faith garners from others, from the angered and racist comment of a “hobbling bogan”, to the exclamation of “ninja” from a child, to the poet’s sense of empowerment wearing her hijab’. And Maddie Godfrey’s How to Be Held is ‘about being embraced, by people, by cities, by yourself’, writes Jemimah of Oddfeather Creative. The collection ‘explores profound, intense feelings, moments, and modes of being’ often around gender, body positivity and being young in the 21st century.
All three volumes, dare I say it, sound like great stocking fillers!
I’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis. I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012). My memoir, Hearing Maud: A Journey for a Voice will be published by UWA Press in 2019, and I am currently writing an ecobiography of 19th century botanist Georgiana Molloy. You can find more information about me at my website. I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.