Last year I reviewed the incredible free online graphic novel “Priya’s Shakti“. An empowering story about an Indian woman who, after being raped, becomes a hero, its creators have just released the second installment of Priya’s story: “Priya’s Mirror“.
With the blessing of goddess Parvarti and a tiger sidekick to boot, rape survivor Priya has been travelling India inspiring other women. While resting on her journey, Priya is approached by a man who asks for her help. The man is in love with a woman who has a beautiful voice but who is also the victim of an acid attack. She is trapped in a castle with other women scarred from acid attacks, and it is going to take Priya’s gumption with Parvarti’s help to break these women and their demonic captor free from their self-made prisons.
This graphic novel is so necessary. Drawing on elements of faith and fantasy, Priya tackles a social issue that is as much about reducing stigma as it is prevention. Acid attacks are a horrific example of gender violence and Priya’s story shows that part of the solution lies in empowering the women who are victims of these attacks and tacking back the self esteem the perpetrators tried to steal. In this beautiful illustrated and digital format where modern meets traditional, Priya’s stories are very appealing to a wide audience. The comic is free to download as well which makes it available to everyone, regardless of their socio-economic background.
If you have a spare 10 minutes, I would definitely recommend you read this comic. Stigma and shame are still rife when in comes to gender-based violence and fuel beliefs that women are somehow to blame. Stories like this one are essential to continuing the fight to empower women and to make our world a safer, better place.
This book caught my eye at the winter Canberra Lifeline Bookfair this year glinting like a bright blue treasure. One of the great things about Scarlett Thomas’ earlier books like “The End of Mr Y” and “Our Tragic Universe” is that they were published in these beautiful editions with metallic detail and tinted edges. This one is adorned with silver digits and the most incredible navy blue page edges. I’d been keeping an eye out for this edition for ages and finally it was mine.
“PopCo” by Scarlett Thomas is about Alice Butler, a woman in her late twenties who works for one of the world’s biggest toy companies. While she’s working on a new project to go with her kids’ code cracking kits, Alice is invited to a company conference that ends up being a lot more involved than she was expected. Even more unexpected are the mysterious coded messages that she starts to receive. Among all the new colleagues she’s been meeting, and all the seminars she’s been attending. Alice isn’t sure who the messages could be from. What she does know is that they’re dredging up memories of what it was like growing up with a cryptoanalyst as a grandfather and the significance of the necklace she wears around her neck.
The beauty of Thomas’ writing is that she’s incredibly clever, and writes about incredibly clever concepts, but does so in such a way that she never makes her audience feel stupid and never makes herself seem snobbish. Every book of hers I read, I learn something completely new and, having always enjoyed puzzles and maths as a kid, in this book I got to learn about the fascinating arts of cryptography and cryptoanalysis: making and breaking codes. Then there is all the fascinating stuff on marketing. Thomas is a considered and evocative writer and I always enjoy her slightly off-kilter, very brilliant and quite subversive protagonists. The first two thirds of this story are absolutely engrossing and almost unputdownable (I’m making this a word). While still incredibly interesting, the story does morph into something a little more moralistic in the last third which takes a little of the steam out of the mystery.
I’d been anticipating this book for a long time and I wasn’t disappointed. As captivating on the inside as it is on the outside, if you’re looking to read something a bit different and a bit enlightening, see if you can find a copy of this one.
This was the set book for an October book club, and I had picked up a copy in anticipation from the most recent Canberra Lifeline Bookfair. This book must’ve caught my eye previously because while tidying up some of my books over the weekend I discovered I had a second copy bought from an earlier book fair. It has quite an inviting title, so I was pretty eager to see what all the fuss was about.
“The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery was originally published in French and is set in a very well-to-do apartment building in Paris. Madame Renée Michel is the concierge and to all the wealthy residents appears just as a concierge should: uneducated and without ambition. However cracks start to appear in her facade when a new resident moves in and discovers her rather cultivated tastes. Meanwhile, 12 year old Palome is struggling to find meaning in her privileged life as the second daughter of a Parisian parliamentarian and has decided to commit suicide on her next birthday.
I’m going to cut straight to the chase: I didn’t like this book. I think I would have liked it if it had been published 100 years ago and was a ground-breaking story set during the Aesthetic movement between an impoverished widow and a Japanese man importing objet d’art Japonisme to upper-class French collectors – now, that would have been something. Instead, this novel is supposed to be a modern critique of classism yet really all it does is substitute that a historical form of snobbery for intellectual snobbery. The character of Renée is extolled as being the pinnacle of refinement because she loves Anna Karenina and can recognise Mozart. However, this kind of Eurocentric idea of being cultured really grated against me. Personally, I don’t think that liking one of the world’s most famous books or being familiar with one off the world’s most well-known composers is either special or noteworthy – even of a concierge. The book was published in 2006 not 1906; regardless of your occupation or educational background, anyone can access anything they’re interested in via this incredible new invention called the internet.
Barbery also has some pretty questionable attitudes towards the non-European characters in the book. Japanese people are all painted with the same brush with many definitive sweeping generalisations starting often with “Japanese women are…” or “Japanese people are…”. Kakuro is a generous but one-dimensional character who is wealthy, shares exactly the same interests as Renée and seems also to be lumped together with this reclusive woman with his implied “otherness”. Barbery comments on how a Eurasian character has both masculine good looks and Asian “gentleness”, suggesting that masculinity and being Asian are mutually exclusive. In fact, at one point Barbery says of Kakuro that he almost looks Eurasian, as though the more European he appears the better. A character with African heritage is described completely unoriginally as having hair like the mane of a lion of the savannah. Although not overt, you can’t really ignore the undercurrent of ethnic superiority in this book.
In summary, I thought that this book was overwritten, far less profound than it purported to be and extremely heavy-handed in the messages it was trying to convey. The two narrators were almost indistinguishable in tone, and the relationships between the characters were underdeveloped and overblown.
This book has been on my radar since it was released in August, but when I found out that local Canberra journal Feminartsy would be using it to kick off their Read Like a Feminist book club this month, well I knew I had to get myself a copy ASAP. I picked it up from the National Library of Australia bookshop and I’ve been waiting to read it.
“The Hate Race” by Maxine Beneba Clarke, is a memoir about Clarke’s experiences growing up black in 80s and 90s Australia. Born in Australia to British parents, a mathematician and an actor, Clarke’s childhood was largely the quintessential suburban 90s Aussie kid experience. However throughout preschool, primary school and high school her skin colour again and again makes her the recipient of assumptions, stereotypes, microaggressions and even outright racism from teachers and children alike. As she grows older, Clarke learns about the significance of her West Indies and Guyana heritage and about Australia’s own dark past – one that from her perspective doesn’t seem so very distant after all.
I just recently reviewed a famous childhood memoir by Maya Angelou about growing up black in America’s south. This is better. This is a book that Australian kids should be reading. In fact, the high school curriculum should be reviewed, another book scrapped and this put on the list instead. There is no doubt that Angelou could write, but Clarke can do that and more: she can tell a story. Each paragraph, each chapter has a purpose and each memory echoes after you turn the page. For any kid who grew up in the 90s, this book will resonate. Clarke’s experiences – new bikes, concrete toilet blocks, spitballs, cabbage patch kids, 50c bags of red frogs, Trish on Playschool – they’re all of our experiences. Except when white is Australia’s default colour, it’s not white kids who get constantly reminded what colour they are.
This book is one of the best that I have read all year and it should be mandatory reading for all Australians.
If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you’re probably well aware that I’m probably Juliet Marillier’s biggest fan. Her book “Den of Wolves”, the finale to the Blackthorn & Grim trilogy following “Dreamer’s Pool” and “Tower of Thorns”, was released only days ago so of course I had to get myself a copy – stat. Bumping all of the other books on my to-read list, I’ve spent the last couple of days positively glued to this book.
“Den of Wolves” by Juliet Marillier continues the story of unlikely due healer Blackthorn and big man Grim who are slowly rebuilding their lives in a place called Winterfalls. Bound by the fey Lord Conmael to help all who ask for it and to stay within the bounds of Winterfalls for seven years, Blackthorn’s desire for vengeance against the brutal Mathuin of Laois have started to simmer down. However, when she meets a strange young girl is sent away from her home in nearby Wolf Glen to stay in Winterfalls, Grim is hired to help build a mysterious house by the girl’s father and tattooed soldiers arrive in Winterfalls on a secret mission, Blackthorn’s loyalties are put to the ultimate test.
A story rich in folklore and emotion, “Den of Wolves” is a strong ending to the Blackthorn & Grim series. Marillier dances through genres and this book is part historical fiction, part fantasy, part romance and all heart. It’s a story about redemption, trust and love and the importance of truth. Marillier is a brilliant storyteller, and while I think my favourite in this series was the second book “Tower of Thorns”, it is a nevertheless great finish to the stories of two wonderful characters. One of my favourite things about Mariller’s books are her characters and I adore her strong, brave women and her gentle, capable men.
If you haven’t read Juliet Marillier’s books yet, this series would be a great place to start.
This is the year for reading more diversely. A new friend of mine kindly lent me a copy of a book she highly recommended. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a while now, patiently waiting its turn, and finally I decided the time was right.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou is a memoir of the author’s life from when she was little more than a toddler to when she was 17 years old. Set through the 1930s and 40s in the USA, Maya and her older brother Bailey are sent to live with their Southern grandmother in the state of Arkansas after their parents’ divorce. An awkward and sensitive child, Maya slowly grows accustomed to her grandmother’s strict ways and begins to fall in love with literature. Her grandmother is the owner of a general store and Maya’s family is shielded from the worst effects of the Depression. However, despite living in the black side of town, Maya is not totally shielded from the effects of the South’s persisting racism. When her father arrives out of the blue one day to take her and her brother back to California, Maya is forced to trade the security of living with her grandmother with the looming threat of racism for the relative freedom of life with her mother with far less protection from other kinds of danger.
It’s pretty easy to see why this is such an acclaimed book. Angelou is a beautiful writer and it’s hardly surprising that she’s also a renowned poet as well. I had to really re-examine my own stereotypes reading this book. A lot of African-American fiction and non-fiction that I have read previously is about poor, uneducated and marginalised black women and Maya is none of those things. In fact, for the most part, she’s just an ordinary girl with a relatively well-off family and a good education who has a couple of extraordinary things happen to her. There were some very interesting vignettes speckled throughout this book, however I have to admit I didn’t like it quite as much as I wanted to. Despite being a beautiful writer, and even taking into account the autobiographical format, this book felt like it was lacking a cohesive narrative. The handful of incredibly vivid events seemed as though they were linked together with a lot of mundane beige.
A historically and socially important work, Angelou’s memoir is richly and earnestly told. Some parts shine brighter than others but a worthy piece of African-American literature nonetheless.
This is the perfect spring book. I hadn’t heard of Dr Anita Heiss or her books before I saw she was coming to speak at Muse. I’ve been really enjoying their author discussions that I’ve been going along to this year and I’m always looking to try new, local writers. However, although I’ve been making a concerted effort to read more diversely this year, I’m very ashamed to admit that I don’t think I’ve ever read any books by Aboriginal authors. Heiss was a very engaging speaker, and talked a lot about the research that went into her latest book and the importance of getting diverse books, authors and stories into the mainstream. She also very kindly signed a copy of her book for me at the end, which has a classic Aussie landscape on the front decorated with shiny gold lettering and beautiful blossoms.
“Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms” by Anita Heiss is a historical novel set in Cowra, NSW during World War II. A large number of Japanese soldiers are being kept prisoner at a POW camp, and one night they all manage to break out. With some soldiers killed, some recaptured and some who committed suicide, Heiss’ novel explores the idea of what could have happened if one soldier, Hiroshi, managed to seek refuge at the nearby Aboriginal mission called Erambie Station. Banjo Williams discovers Hiroshi under his family’s hut and decides to help him, enlisting his eldest daughter Mary to sneak Hiroshi food. Part romance, part spotlight on the discrimination experienced by Aboriginal people subject to the oppressive Aborigines Protection Act 1909 (NSW), this book uncovers a piece of Australia’s history that is not often discussed.
This is an important book. As my lamentable reading record shows, Aboriginal stories are not told nearly as often as they should be in Australia. While Aboriginal film and television has been slowly gaining traction over the years, Aboriginal writing is still very much behind where it should be. Heiss’ story cleverly uses the perspective of an outsider, Japanese man Hiroshi, as a critical lens through which the reader can look at the past (and present) treatment of Australia’s indigenous peoples. By drawing comparisons between the Aboriginal mission, the Japanese POW camp and the Italian POW camp it swiftly becomes clear how much of a factor race was in how well people were treated in 1940s Australia. This book is set in a time before Aboriginal people were allowed to vote and when Aboriginal identity was mutually exclusive to civil rights. Heiss’ novel is very well-researched and draws on academic, community and family resources to paint a vivid picture of 1940s country Australia and how different kinds of people lived there. Heiss has an open, honest style which makes this book accessible to all readers.
Whether you’re a history buff, a romance fan, a lover of Australiana or interested in books about war, I think most people will get something out of this book.
I received an advance reading copy of this book courtesy of Allen & Unwin a little while ago ahead of its publication date later this month, and I was pretty intrigued. People missing, small Aussie town, written by a singer-songwriter turned novelist? Let’s do this.
“Goodwood” by Holly Throsby is a novel set in 1992 about 17 year old Jean Brown who lives in the small country town of Goodwood. Jean and best friend George like to hang out at the local takeaway store where a pretty older girl Rosie White works, coolly turning down dates. One day, Rosie disappears, and the town is in shock. Then when local big man Bart McDonald disappears the following week, the town becomes catatonic. As information slowly unravels and the town speculates about the connection between the two missing people, Jean’s uncle and local policeman Mack investigates the case, and Jean makes some discoveries as well.
This book was just what the doctor ordered. It’s been pouring with rain here for ages, and I was really in the market for a pondering mystery. Throsby has a great story here. The pacing is absolutely spot on, and although there is a big cast, the characters are familiar enough to resonate with the reader but individual enough to stand out. I think my favourite thing about this book is how understated the tone is. There are so many things going on in this book, but Throsby approaches a myriad of social issues effectively and cleverly without any kind of fanfare.
I’m reluctant to say much more about this book because with any mystery novel there’s a much greater risk of spoilers, but I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in crime, small town fiction, coming of age books and Australian novels.