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 Green Vanilla Tea was awarded the 2013 Finch Memoir Award for an unpublished manuscript and was launched at last month’s Sydney Writers Festival.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.