Book reviewers Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen and Steven Carroll take a look at the latest fiction and non-fiction releases. Here are their reviews.
Fiction selection of the week
I will keep you close
Jeska Verstegen, Allen & Unwin, $16.99
The thorny subjects of multigenerational trauma and war are treated with tenderness in this slim middle-level novel, based on the author’s family history.
When her dying grandmother calls her by an unknown name, 11-year-old Jeska puts on her investigative journalist cap to uncover the painful secrets of her family’s past. With the help of a friendly black cat, annotated photo albums, a copy of Anne Frank’s diary and careful conversations with loved ones, Jeska comes face to face with the rippling reality of life after the war.
Translated from the Dutch, it is a harrowing but beautiful read, delivered in short chapters and sparing but poetic prose. It’s a wonderful springboard for young readers into the world of literary and historical fiction, as well as raising talking points about World War II and racial injustice.
Nikki May, Double Day, $32.99
Wahala translates to “problem” in Nigerian Pidgin English. It sums up this chaotic first novel, following three best friends – Boo, Simi and Ronke – who bond at college through their shared mixed backgrounds. The arrival of the glamorous Isobel, an old friend of Simi’s, shakes the foundations of the group.
All of the women are in their 30s, but the constant drama in this novel feels more like a little high school or early 20s fights. There are also splashes of racism, both internalized and otherwise, sprinkled throughout the pedestrian writing, and the shock ending is hasty.
Nikki May gives great insight into the culture and the descriptions of the food are simple and heartwarming, with traditional recipes included at the end. Corn Wahala is a mostly tasteless domestic thriller, missing the chance to transition into a nuanced exploration of racism and colorism in the modern age.
The gallery owner
Michael Levitt, Fremantle Press, $29.99
Surgeon and health bureaucrat Michael Levitt’s first work of fiction follows Mark Lewis, a Perth surgeon who found the joy of running a small art gallery after the death of his wife.
When a stranger brings a painting into the gallery for appraisal, Mark is struck by its resemblance to the work of famed artist James Devlin – but the painting is allegedly of a 17-year-old boy. Taking the reader from Perth to Melbourne, The gallery owner raises interesting questions about artistic fraud, elitism and media complicity.
Some language and thinking are outdated, with moments of ableism and stilted courtship between Mark and co-conspirator Linda, including uncomfortable conversations about sex. Indeed, the romantic plot is the weakest element of the novel. But Levitt’s deep knowledge and love of the world of visual arts keeps the novel afloat, until its surprisingly touching ending.
Ed., Marissa Meyer, Text, $29.99
Common tropes in rom-coms — haters of lovers, fake dates, sharing a bed, stranded together, to name a few — are on full display in this playful and inclusive anthology for young adults.
The 10 short stories each tackle a trope, and while the writing often veers into corny cliché, that’s largely what the collection is all about. Regular readers of young adult fiction will find solace in these pages, telling stories of young people falling in love despite the odds. There is also a lot of LGBT representation, showing the progress that has been made in this space over the past few years.
Highlights include lovely editor Marissa Meyer Shooting Starsabout two teenagers forced to share a bed at a school camp, and Caleb Roehrig old acquaintancea New Year’s Eve story that sees two boys go from longtime best friends to more at the stroke of midnight.
Non-fiction pick of the week
On the account
Amy Remeikis, Hatchet, $16.99
Every man should read this scathing and confronting account of the damage men cause. Written after Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations, it revolves around, among other things, the legitimacy of anger and how women are taught from a young age to bury their rage and be quiet. A lesson reinforced by myth. But it’s also a deeply personal statement, with Amy Remeikis having been raped in her youth and later sexually assaulted.
With heartbreaking and highly articulate honesty, she lays bare the numbing trauma of rape, of having something utterly essential to your sense of self and personal dignity ripped from you. Added to this is the futile inadequacy of the Prime Minister’s responses (reflecting a broader male inadequacy) to Higgins. His prose is sharp, his anger and passion volcanic, but at the heart of this volcano lies a cold and detached judgement.
The lone hunter
Aimee Lutkin, Scribe, $32.99
According to Aristophanes, everyone has another half, but what if they don’t? Born in New York, Aimee Lutkin was 32 years old and over dinner with friends when asked “how’s your love life?” to which she replied that she wasn’t sure if she was dating anyone. The effect of this question – the feeling of being pressured to be matched and feeling like a failure – flows through this clever and poignant meditation on single life, as well as dating, sex and connection.
After that dinner, she immerses herself in online dating, befriending men and women, the lonely hunter of the heart who seeks and tests herself, but ultimately unsatisfactorily.
Along the way, she examines the false equation of “single” being “lonely” and questions the nature of love, which emerges almost like the elusive green light at the end of Daisy’s dock in Gatsby the magnificent always shines in a Tinder world.
How the world really works
Vaclav Smil, Viking, $35
Vaclav Smil somehow tells many readers what they already know – that for a long time we lived in a specialized and atomized world. Most people work in service industries, aren’t producers, and would have no idea, say, how long it takes a piglet to become a pork chop. Does it matter? Yes.
Faced with imperatives such as climate change, dialogue is too often controlled by extremes of opinion – catastrophists and negationists. In other words, those who often don’t know how the world works. Among other things, it is a guide that follows the middle path – on climate, energy, food production and the environment.
As he warns, it’s a lot of numbers and it can be demanding, but in a way it reaches out optimistically to the general reader – the more people know, the more informed and, presumably, more realistic their opinions are. .
Alex Blackwell (with Megan Maurice), Hachette, $32.99
When former Australian women’s cricket captain Alex Blackwell was on tour in England, older men asked her “how many girls are gay?” It wasn’t his first experience of homophobia in sports, but it was lasting.
And that’s an important way to approach her biography, because it’s not just about her exploits at the elite level of international cricket, but about her statement of sexuality, her life with the former cricketer English Lynsey Askew and her hopes for a bias-free environment in the future.
The book has a strong militant/political undertone, whilst being in a kind and conversational style, recounting his childhood in New South Wales, playing country cricket with his sister, Kate (who also played for Australia) , and cutting a good degree of luge from the boys’ teams. and their parents. An unpretentious and engaging read.
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