Some of the recent history of the Malayasia-Myanmar-India-Bangladesh region sits clear through the window of this book. What I read in the news from that region now has more depth. The detail in the book is amazing. No wonder it took Ghosh 5 years to research it. Historical fiction, in my opinion, should attempt to reveal something of the past clearly and sincerely. I want to know things like: What happened? Why? What was it like for the people involved? How is the past visible in the present? etc. The Glass Palace is most satisfactory. (That sounds condescending!)
There are some things that will stick with me for a long while: the scathing critique of imperialism delivered politely, two of the wartime deaths, the change in Burma’s circumstance over the twentieth century. read more …
The subject is stark – brutalised humanity in the plight of Syrian refugees living in appalling conditions. What stands out is the humanity.
I am reminded of the poetry of Wilfred Owen – exquisite poems from the horrors of the trenches in WW1. He too stressed the humanity of his subjects despite their shocking situation.
It takes a special writer to achieve this.
Flanagan offers, in this short essay, a masterclass in human portraiture.
No wonder this book was shortlisted for two Premiers’ Literary Awards in 2014 and won two in 2016. Dark Emu caused a slip in my consciousness. It is a pivotal work.
The book turns our Australian ‘history’ on its head. I grew up believing that the Aboriginal way of life was pretty fragile, apt to be shattered by the next drought or flood or outbreak of disease. As ‘hunter-gatherers’ they basically moved from one kangaroo to another. Admittedly, they were pretty clever, I later learned, in their use of fire to manage the wildlife – they had to have something going for them to have lasted this long – but basically they were opportunists, lacking the technology to create or store food reserves. And this left them at the mercy of the vagaries of the elements and meant they were inferior to us white folks. read more …
Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett (2013)
Not as gripping as The Truth (the birth of news-papers) or The Colour of Magic (the birth of Film) and perhaps it is a fact that I have read an inordinate number of Discworld novels. HOWEVER, Pratchett is clever. His toying with words and their meanings delights me. For instance, it took me some time to realise that the ‘loggysticks’ that the engineer was going to depend on to finish building a bridge in time were actually … (cue drumroll) … ‘logistics.’ read more …
Review: How it Began: a Time-traveler’s Guide to the Universe by Chris Impey, 2012.
Not the sort of book I can read in an extended sitting. Too much information and too many mind-bending ideas. The style is colloquial which is most helpful for an amateur in the field.
Impey’s strength is that he does a fine job of explaining difficult concepts in reasonably simple terms with numerous analogies to the ordinary and everyday. So, to illustrate the chanciness of any one thing occurring, he tells the story of how he met his wife, that the reason his son – this son – is listening to him is because of the peculiarities of a monkey in South America. He describes the size of the solar system in terms of apricots and peas and football fields, etc etc etc. read more …
Epic and engrossing, despite the fact that I only picked it up to study Mitchener’s style and approach to his subject.
It is old-school, heavy going in many places. This is the opening line of the second paragraph:
Over its brooding surface immense winds swept back and forth, whipping the waters into towering waves that crashed down upon the world’s seacoasts, tearing away rocks and eroding the land.
Shades of Genesis.
In the first chapter, 17 pages, there is no direct speech, there are no characters apart from the unidentified narrator, and the plot events are geologic or climatic. The time spans ‘millions and millions of years’ but, despite that, it is intense. read more …
The Dragon Keeper
My daughter thinks little of this book and was giving away her copy to charity. I had enjoyed the Farseer Trilogy but I trust my daughter’s acumen. There was nothing else pressing to read, but there is little enough time to read. However, I read it as a writer: if it is not such a flash book, why? I read it to try to work out what didn’t work well.
Maybe the quality picked up; maybe I just hate leaving things unfinished; I am now reading the fourth in the sequence. read more …
The Thin Red Line by James Jones
There are many excellent reviews on Goodreads, from which much background to the author and the battles on Guadalcanal can be gleaned.
This is an ant’s-eye view of Armageddon. Jones was a veteran of WWII and his experiences show. The pervading mood is despair; where there isn’t, there is insanity. It is an anti-war book in the way that All Quiet on the Western Front is anti-war: the authors tell it like it was for the participants, and it was horrific.
There is nothing to suggest in today’s news that anything has changed for those caught up in war.
PS The book was first published in 1963, only eighteen years after WWII ended. I was five. I grew up in the shadows of that war without realising it: I thought it was ancient history. Now, I see the shadows.
Mountain Men by Simon Cubit & Nic Haygarth
A friend loaned me his copy of this book when he heard I was reading histories of this part of the world. Having read it, I’ll now be going out to buy my own copy, then chasing up the authors to sit and have a chat with them. The book was researched effectively, well written and the subject matter fascinating. read more …
REVIEW of The Friendly Mission: the Tasmanian Journals and Papers of George Augustus Robinson, 1829-1834
This is a massive work. Reading about Plomley’s process of editing GAR’s notes and papers, it is clear it was a complex, lengthy and sometimes frustrating task. The result is what appears to be a definitive work. GAR’s legacy is worthy of the highest scholarly endeavour.
Robinson was tasked by the governor of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) with employing conciliation to resolve the white-black conflict. It was an unpopular approach among the settlers who saw only two solutions: extermination or removal. With tragic irony, the outcome of Robinson’s friendly mission very nearly achieved both. read more …