Autumn, history, life writing and Anzac Day: they are all about reflection and remembrance. Autumn is a reflective season. It is time to settle down for the coming winter and to look back and what has been. The process of reading and writing histories, biographies and memoirs requires us to not only note past actions but to consider them in the light of what was known then and what we understand now.
Today is Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand – a day of reflection and remembrance about war. War history is often seen to be a male interest, but our list of war histories on the Challenge’s Good Reads bookshelves demonstrates that women are not only interested in this but are moved to write books about war.
I reviewed a significant new book about Australians in World War I. Joan Beaumont’s history, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War has been received well. I noted that this book is “a comprehensive history of World War I… Written for the general reader, Broken Nation is a reference that family historians, students and anyone who is interested in war history would find a useful addition to their bookshelves.”
Broken Nation is a traditional interpretation of the beginnings of the Anzac legend. Janine Rizzetti reviewed a book that questions the way the Anzac legend operates in contemporary Australian society. Janine notes that the lecture by Marilyn Lake in 2009 which led to the book, What’s Wrong with Anzac?, caused a furore. Janine comments,
Reading this book four years on, and on the cusp of Gallipoli-fever, the observations of the book seem even more pertinent, most particularly regarding the funding of commemoration that strongly relies on emotion and personal identification. This is most striking in the commemoration activities planned involving schoolchildren.
In her review Janine raises another issue which directly relates to the Australian Women Writers Challenge. This book is co-edited with a male historian and has three chapters written by men. Janine argued that it should be included in the Challenge as so much of the writing was by women and Marilyn Lake was the lead editor. “Moreover, in this book in particular I suspect that some of the viciousness that Marilyn Lake attracted through her lecture and newspaper article were because she is a female and an academic,” Rizzetti argued.
Non-fiction books often have more than one author. The work of women as part of a team with men is just as important as the work of women alone. The Challenge is happy to receive reviews of books written by women with men where the women have made a substantial contribution to the work. We certainly want to receive reviews of books such as What’s Wrong with Anzac?.
Janine Rizzetti reviewed another book about war, the imaginative memoir, The Ghost at the Wedding by Shirley Walker. The author uses the letters, diaries and other records of the men in her mother-in-law’s family to share the family’s war stories. The inner lives of these people are an imaginative recreation by the author based on insights from these documents. Janine comments, “It is a beautifully written, lyrical book. The men of the Walker family were alive to the sights and sounds around them, and it comes through in Shirley Walker’s retelling.”
While not a book about war per se, Trudi-Ann Tierney’s account of her life in Afghanistan is set in a society feeling the effects of years of violence. Tierney lived in the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul working as a producer for a very popular soap opera. Her book, Making Soapies Kabul, was reviewed by two Challenge participants this month. Lauren found that while she enjoyed the account of Afghan culture she didn’t feel much connection with the author. “There were times when I wasn’t quite sure where the story was heading and what the point of it was”, she said. “… I wanted to see the protagonist, who in this book is a real-life character, to show some growth and change, but I didn’t get that sense.” Shelleyrae was more enthusiastic about the book:
Written in a conversational tone with honesty, humour and heart, Making Soapies in Kabul is a compelling read offering personal insight into Afghanistan and its people, the thriving ex-pat community and Trudi-Ann’s experiences producing television drama in the midst of real conflict.
If you are interested in reading books about war, have a look at the list of histories of war in the Challenge’s GoodReads group. Recently I also started a list for histories of medicine. This was in response to a conversation I had with historians who write about the history of nurses. They commented that publishers don’t like these books because nursing histories don’t sell well. I started the list in the hope that some reviewers for the Challenge read more books about medicine.
It was therefore with pleasure that I read Helen McKenna’s review this month of Nurses of the Outback by Annabelle Brayley. She says that this book is inspirational and “a fitting tribute to those who do a job that most of us would baulk at”.
Serious health issues were the focus of three books reviewed this month. Shelleyrae reviewed Tanya Saad’s memoir From the Feet Up. Saad is a Lebanese-Australian woman from Taree in northern New South Wales. In this memoir Saad shares her childhood experiences, career and then the devastating news that she has inherited the faulty gene which is behind many cases of terminal breast cancer. “From The Feet Up is a poignant, articulate and ultimately uplifting memoir” says Shelleyrae.
Jennifer Cameron-Smith was moved by Mary Coustas’ memoir. Behind the public persona of this popular comedian was a life made difficult by deaths of close family members and the punishing rounds of IVF that she needed to become pregnant. “Mary’s journey is at times heartbreaking, but it is also filled with observation, gentle humour and is ultimately uplifting”, remarks Jennifer. “This book made me laugh, and cry…”
Many readers would be familiar with Sarah Turnbull’s account of her life in Paris in Almost French. Last year she released a book about a later episode of her life. Turnbull and her partner, Frederic, move to French Polynesia, but their life is not idyllic. Sarah is told that she will be unlikely to fall pregnant so they turn to IVF. “All Good Things is not a continuation”, says Challenge reviewer, Maureen Helen. “It is a stand-alone story, different in many ways from the first, and just as good.”
Each week I read reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs as they are added to the Challenge. I note which reviews I would like to include in the monthly roundup. This month every review submitted had something that I wanted to mention in the roundup. Sadly I could not fit them in this over view. I encourage you to look up the list of reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs we have received this year.
I’m Yvonne Perkins. 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 sharing history on my blog, Stumbling Through the Past. I can also be found @perkinsy on twitter.