Weekend Round-Up #23

The major Australian fiction review in "The Age" this weekend is of Eva Sallis's The March Birds by Lisa Gorton. The novel concerns the story of a young Iraqi refugee living in an Australian migration detention centre. John Marsden recently called on novelists to write more challenging works, to grab people by the shoulders and shake them into some sense of recognition. Sallis follows Keneally's The Tyrant's Novel in dealing with the problematic treatment of refugees in this country and can be said to be following Marsden's advice. But there are problems: "All the qualities that make The Marsh Birds particularly compelling as a work of testimony limit its range as a work of fiction." Gorton then goes on to conclude that the overwhelming machinery of the immigration system in this country acts as a lead weight on the novel's plot, dragging it under, throwing it down paths it might not normally have taken. But is this such a bad thing? I don't think so. The plot is the young protagonist's life-story: if that is chaotic and fragmented then so follows the novel. Sallis has a record of writing confronting novels (her first, Hiam, won the 1998 Vogel award) so I believe she is worthy of being allowed to lead the book where it needs to go. As Gorton puts it: "...[the novel] is insistently and convincingly topical; committed to setting out how politics affects individual lives in inescapable ways. And surely, if it can help to dismantle Australia's practices of detention, it will have value."

Bronislaw Malinowski was "a founder of modern anthropology based on intensive fieldwork and the revolutionary paradigm of structural functionalist theory." The first volume of his biography, Malinowski: Odyssey of an Anthropologist 1884-1920 by Michael Young, is reviewed by Michael Young. Malinowski was an aristocratic, well-educated young Pole who travelled to Australia before commencing his field work in the Trobriand Islands in 1910.

Short notices are given to: Mad Arm of the Y by David McRobbie: "...an addictive melodrama that will make a fine movie or miniseries"; Runner by Robert Newton: the "evocation of Richmond slums and his mastery of the colloquial language are done extremely well"; Decolonising the Mind by Ulli Beier: "Beier writes with an appealing voice, and this plain and straightforward account of his time in PNG is a very likeable book.."; Great Pioneer Women of the Outback by Susanna de Vries: [she] "controls her material beautifully: her narrative never stalls but thrives on the research. She also gives the reader fresh insights into the importance as well as the drama of these women's lives."

Graeme Blundell is very impressed with Mandy Sayer's new memoir, Velocity, in "The Weekend Australian". He is very aware of the problems associated with writing a good memoir and sets them out in order to see whether Sayer's work measures up. "Anyone who has tried to write personal testimony knows that consciousness is sprawling, fragmented and contradictory. And simply telling what happened rarely makes for compelling narrative...The writer's job is to find the shape in unruly life and serve their story; not their family or even the truth, but only their story...Argentinian
writer Jorge Luis Borges called writing 'a guided dream,' a phrase that echoes my experience of reading this glorious piece of narrative nonfiction. No reader's imagination can fail to be touched by some part of it."

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on June 6, 2005 10:35 AM.

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