Hah!  Bingo! A month where we had reviews of history, memoir and biography! Once again, Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner attracted more reviews, with two thoughtful contributions from Sue at Whispering Gums and Louise@ A Strong Belief in Wicker. Theresa Smith also reviewed The Wasp and the Orchid, which I featured last month.

Indigenous writing

This month was striking for the number of reviews of books written by indigenous authors, or dealing with racism and reconciliation. There were two reviews of Anita Heiss’ compilation of reminiscences of indigenous childhoods in Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia. Jennifer Cameron-Smith, who found the anthology “both heartbreaking and inspiring”,wrote:

Each contribution, each account of growing up Aboriginal in Australia is unique. The writers are of different ages, have different writing styles and approaches to addressing the question….There are so many different lives, many different identities in this anthology. Contributors include children, parents, musicians, sports stars, teachers and writers (review here.)

Michael Jongen wrote:

This collection of reminiscences of Indigenous childhoods begins with a moving and beautifully written introduction by editor Anita Heiss. In collating and editing these memories, she has again added to our understanding of the diversity of Aboriginal identity and the strong connection to land….Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia gives us important snapshots of Aboriginal life and is an important contribution to the continuing story of Aboriginal identity and its strong connection to the land (review here.)

Alexis Wright, trackerJennifer Cameron-Smith had a busy month in which she also reviewed Alexis Wright’s Tracker. Even though this book won the Stella Prize, there have only been two reviews so far. N@ncy reviewed it in March, but did not enjoy it because

Wright fails to create an interesting situation.

Excessive description:

long winded, no powerful prose to ‘hook’ the reader.

Irrelevant information:  (review here.)

Jennifer’s review was more positive, even though she concluded that it was “not an easy book to read, especially for those of us used to conventional Western biographies”. She observed that:

I found myself reading a contribution, and then (if I didn’t know who the contributor was) looking for more information about that contributor. Sometimes that gave me context, sometimes it didn’t. But the more I read, the less I cared about trying to fit all the components into some logical whole. It didn’t matter, the words seemed to be telling me, just accept. Just listen…. (review here.)

First peoples from a different continent and the interaction of racism and reconciliation are explored in Shelley Davidow’s Shadow Sisters, which was reviewed by Cass Moriarty. Cass wrote:

I knew before I began this book that it was about Shelley’s life growing up as a white South African, and that it featured the tale of her sister, Rosie, who became a cherished part of her family despite her different skin colour. But what I didn’t know – or didn’t expect – was the twists and turns this tale would take, the emotive and disturbing themes it traverses, and the unlikely sympathies it evokes for a rainbow nation of discordant characters….This story is poignant, sad, funny, perceptive and engaging. It is honest, frankly so, even when honesty is not pretty. It examines not only reconciliation but the damaging forces that precede it (review here.)

Celebrity writing

Media celebrities often seem to pop up on our bookshelves as well as our screens. Ashleigh at the Book Muse enjoyed comedian Kitty Flanagan’s book Bridge Burning & Other Hobbies.

It’s very hard not to laugh or smile while reading this book – it is like reading a stand-up comedy routine from the comfort of your home, with Kitty’s voice as clear as it would be live….It is biographical but also, reads like a series of comedy sketches – perfect for when you can’t get to her shows and need a dose of Kitty to brighten your day (review here.)

While still marketed as a “funny” and “big-hearted” memoir, Corinne Grant’s Lessons in Letting Go: Confessions of a Hoarder sounds somewhat darker. Emily at A Keyboard and an Open Mind wrote that Grant:

talks about the psychological barriers that  prevented her from throwing out anything, and how hard it was to ever face the fact that she had too much stuff….I was rooting for Corinne as she faced her demons and changed her life, and I had some feelings of second-hand pride at the end (review here.)

Going Elsewhere

Sometimes the act of ‘going elsewhere’ triggers events that later find themselves in print. Cass Moriarty reviewed One Italian Summer, where a family decides to travel to Italy with their young children to work as WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms). Cass wrote:

There are a lot of memoirs out there about women ‘finding themselves’ through travel and new experiences, and sometimes they all seem to blend into one big ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ combination. So it is very refreshing to read a memoir that is sharply observant, touchingly poignant and self-deprecatingly witty….This is not a self-help book, or a tome that shouts ‘look at us and the great and adventurous thing we did!’ This is a down-to-earth and humble book that recounts all of their doubts and misgivings as well as their dreams and hopes (review here.)

In The Erratics, Canadian-born Australian translator Vicki Laveau-Harvie and her sister found themselves returning to Canada from Sydney when their mother is unexpectedly hospitalized, even though they had been disowned, disinherited and hd no legal rights where their parents were concerned. In her review, Cloggie Downunder noted that:

Laveau-Harvie’s account brims with honesty and sincerity: there are no saints here. Regardless of the sanity or otherwise of their parents, readers with elderly parents may find that certain aspects of this memoir strike a chord, especially when care is unavoidably distributed unevenly between siblings (review here.)

Coming here

Journeys in the opposite direction are explored in Joanna Boileau’s Chinese Market Gardens in Australia and New Zealand, our history book for the month. Janine at the Resident Judge of Port Phillip wrote:

For about 50 years between about 1880 and 1930 the Chinese market gardens fulfilled an important role in providing fresh vegetables to urban markets. Joanna Boileau’s book takes a transnational approach, locating these gardeners not just in sites across Australia and New Zealand, but back in China as well….The subject matter of this book may be rather specialized, but it reads very easily and really fleshes out with individuals a stereotype that has largely disappeared (review here)

About: I’m Janine Rizzetti and I blog at the immodestly-named The Resident Judge of Port Phillip where I indulge my love of reading, history and seeing films and exhibitions just before they close. I am a historian, interested in Australian and colonial history, officially retired but more occupied than I thought I would be with my local historical society and learning Spanish.