Participants in the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge unearth some great books. Amongst the reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs this month were reviews of two books released in the last month, one a memoir about caring for a partner with dementia and the other the story of a nineteenth century criminal investigation.
In Green Vanilla Tea Marie Williams shares her family’s struggles while living with her husband’s dementia. Cruelly, dementia struck Dominic Williams in his early forties. Challenge reviewer, Nicole Sulway, was captivated by the book describing it as “a stunning and moving work of memoir”. She says:
The love, determination and courage of this family shine through every sentence, from the bewildering months before diagnosis, to the determined dignity of Dominick’s death. Few stories demonstrate so clearly how much love and respect matter, or how devastating the impact of disease is, not just on the sufferer, but on their family and friends, and on their community. Marie’s determination to maintain a loving relationship with her husband, to love the man she met and married, and to support her sons in doing so, is incredibly moving.
This book is a testament to the man Marie and her sons loved and respected; to the value of care; and to the importance of respecting the dignity and humanity of dementia sufferers. Pack tissues. It’s unsentimental, but devastatingly moving.
The judges of the Finch Memoir Award also found this book moving stating, “Green Vanilla Tea was the standout entry this year, making us laugh, cry and above all reflect on the value of love and family”. Green Vanilla Tea was awarded the 2013 Finch Memoir Award for an unpublished manuscript and was launched at last month’s Sydney Writers Festival.
The other new release reviewed for the Challenge was The Baby Farmers by Annie Cossins. The future for unmarried women who found themselves pregnant in late nineteenth century Australia was very dim. The disapproving moral climate of the age, together with the limited opportunities open for women generally led to desperate and dark measures to deal with unwanted babies. Some mothers paid people to care for their babies, but what happened to them? The Baby Farmer explores these issues through the trial of two people in Sydney in 1892 who were accused of murdering thirteen babies.
In her review Shelleyrae comments:
While the writing can be dry and dense at times, The Baby Farmers offers intriguing insight into the socioeconomic period at the turn of the last century. I was fascinated and appalled by the chilling tale of the rise and fall the notorious couple, Sarah and John Makin…
Among the other reviews during the month was a review of Anna Goldsworthy’s, Piano Lessons: A Memoir. Louise Allan loved the book. “My copy of the book is completely defaced – I fell in love with so many of Mrs Sevin’s words of wisdom” Louise comments, referring to Anna Goldsworthy’s childhood piano teacher who is an important character in the book. At the end of her review Louise draws attention to a CD released by ABC Classics to accompany the book – what a good idea!
Simone wrote a review of Get Well Soon by Kristy Chambers, another book released this year. There were some aspects of this memoir of a nurse which Simone did not appreciate and she concludes that “[g]oing by other reviews, you’re probably going to either love this book or hate it. Or you might be like me and torn about just how you feel about it”.
The beauty of a book reviewing challenge such as the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge is that there are a large number of readers bringing attention to interesting books that I would never have noticed myself. What new releases have attracted your attention so far this year? Which histories, biographies and memoirs have you recently added to your list of books you want to read?
You can read all the reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs written for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge in 2013 here.
I’m Yvonne Perkins. For the last few years I have been working as a research assistant on a variety of historical projects one of which was an investigation of the history of teaching reading in Australia. Currently I am researching the beliefs, religious or otherwise, of soldiers who served in World War I. In my spare time I enjoy reading history and writing about it on my blog, Stumbling Through the Past. I can also be found @perkinsy on twitter.
Thanks for the round-up, Yvonne. I agree that finding new and interesting titles is one of e great benefits of the AWW challenge.
A title that caught my eye recently is Val Plumwood’s The Eye of the Crocodile, part memoir, part collection of philosophical/eco-feminist essays. It’s one of the free downloadable ebooks put out by ANU’s epress and promoted as part of the AWW challenge by their Twitter account recently. Val died in 2008 before her memoir could be finished, so I’m not sure how the book all hangs together, but it staggers me to realise that an Australian philosopher who was celebrated in the collection 50 Key Thinkers on the Environment (ed. Joy A. Palmer, Routledge 2001, 283-290) has been completely unknown to me till now.
So far what I’ve read in the collection is brilliant. (Incidentally, she also wrote a review of Raymond Gaita’s The Philosopher’s Dog which I found by following a link on her tribute page; it’s is a fine example of critical review writing. I wonder if Gaita ever reviewed her books?) I was also pleased to see that she was featured on Radio National’s Philosopher’s Zone twice, both after her death and also in a replay of her speech at the Melbourne Writers Festival in 2007. She’s definitely someone whose ideas appear to be worth further exploration.
ANU E Press is a great initiative – free, quality, ebooks and print on demand if you decide you want to buy a hard copy. The Eye of the Crocodile looks very interesting. Her name rings a bell but I am not familiar with her work. This is a great chance to catch up.
I checked it out on the ANU E Press website, then left this comment half written while I browsed through the list of some of their other interesting titles. I found Macassan History and Heritage: Journeys, Encounters and Influences which examines the voyaging of Macassans to Australian which date back to the 1700s and possibly earlier and their relationships with Australian indigenous people. The beauty of ANU E Press books is there are some great older books that are still effectively in print because of the ebook/print on demand model this publisher uses.
That one does look interesting, too. I’m almost finished the Plumwood book. It’s a shame she died before she got a chance to finish it.
Thanks for the roundup Yvonne … you are right, the challenge has been great for either introducing me to books I may not have heard of otherwise, or for encouraging me to read books I’d heard of but were uncertain about.
I certainly want to read Kitty’s war, and I have yet to read either of Anna Goldsworthy’s works, so they are in my mind. My next non-fiction read though will probably be Anita Heiss’s Am I black enough for the July NAIDOC promotions.
I was fortunate enough to hear Anna Goldsworthy at the Sydney Writers Festival. Her comments resparked my interest in her memoirs and I also plan to read Am I Black Enough for You, though I’m not sure when I’ll fit that in.
I know the feeling!