These balmy (at least in Brisbane!) autumn evenings kept our readers out of doors over April, as numbers were down in the diversity department. Yours truly is also to blame, as I’ve been chained to my desk with writing deadlines. However soon I’ll unshackle myself and start reviewing the books that I’ve been reading.
Some of our reviewing stalwarts penned great pieces this month. Marilyn of Me, You and Books reviewed Indigenous author Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby. Through the protagonist Jo Breen, Marilyn writes, Lucashenko ‘challenges the assumed normality of whiteness … Her views and Lukashenko’s do not romanticize Indigenous life or view it as uniformly tragic. They simply do not take European institutions and world views as the norm.’ Lucashensko’s use of language contributes to the creation of this world view, as the work is peppered with Bunjalung words. Marilyn sometimes found herself stumbling over these phrases, but she didn’t mind that, for it helped her ‘move away from the English I assume is universal and into a world where I am the outsider.’
A few of AWW’s regular bloggers reviewed Anita Heiss’ Tiddas, about five Indigenous women in Brisbane who get together once a month for book club. Michael, in the Newtown Review of Books describes it as a strong and meaningful ‘fictional account of the strong Koori connections to ancestors and land’ to which she gave voice in Am I Black Enough for You? Lauren of The Australian Bookshelf admired the Indigenous women’s ‘strength, their connection with their Aboriginal heritage and their determination to be good role models and advocate for those who are underprivileged.’ WriteNoteReviews writes that ‘Readers will relate to the issues and challenges the five women experience, such as fertility, career, family and relationships, and sex – each of us can relate to one or all of them,’ and adds that Heiss takes these ‘issues further, using her strong ensemble cast to add social commentary on Aboriginal culture, identity and politics.’
It was also good to see a review of Alexis Wright’s complex and multi-layered The Swan Book from Stephanie at Goodreads, who warns that ‘if you want your story told in a straightforward manner, then you should look elsewhere.’ The prose, she notes, ‘is often poetic, slipping into colloquialisms and stream-of-consciousness and back again, often within the span of one sentence.’ It isn’t a straightforward book, but that makes it refreshing, and the reader is rewarded with something new each time they return to it.
In her Classics and Literary roundup for April, Sue commented on works with Indigenous content or characters by white writers, a theme on which she sometimes meditates in her blog Whispering Gums. To Sue’s worthy mentions I’ll add Kat of Book Thingo’s review of Helene Young’s new work, Safe Harbour, which features an Indigenous character who is important to the protagonist’s back story. Kat writes that ‘I’ve long felt that Aboriginal characters are severely underrepresented in this genre—at least, where rural fiction intersects with romance—so I hope this is something that we’ll see more of.’
There were also reviews from writers of diverse backgrounds. Nalini of DarkMatterZine wrote on Vietnamese-born Chi Vu’s Anguli Ma: A Gothic Tale, set in Melbourne in the 1980s, when the flight of refugees from Vietname to Australia was at its height. ‘Neither supernatural nor excessively bloody,’ she writes, ‘this tale has the potential to shock while illuminating the very real ramifications of disclocation suffered by refugees fleeing devastation.’ It sounds like a fascinating novella, and I’ve ordered a copy to my local library.
Angie, of Projected Happiness, reviewed Malla Nunn’s popular crime novel A Beautiful Place to Die, set in 1950s South Africa. Nunn’s work, she writes ‘is an education in race relations and culture mores, wrapped around an engaging whodunit. Her language is to the point, while addressing the “jigsaw of people” who make up the nation.’
Sean from Adventures of a Bookonaut reviewed Maxine Beneba Clark’s short stories, Foreign Soil, in which the majority of characters ‘are people of colour and the settings range from the West Indies, to England and Australia.’ Sean was hugely impressed with the collection, and commented that Clarke ‘has that knack of taking characters who you share nothing in common with (at least on the surface) and making you care desperately about them.’ That’s the sign of a good writer! I’m looking forward to uncovering more of them next month.
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). I’m currently writing a book of creative non-fiction on Queensland novelist Rosa Praed and her deaf daughter Maud. You can find more information about me at my website. I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.