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Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Blurb: May 8th 2010

THE BLURB withh Robyn, Sarah, Bernard, Lizzy & John.

BOOK NEWS: with Steph.

· Woodend Winter Arts Festival
Coming up this Queen’s birthday long weekend will be the sixth Woodend Winter Arts Festival. The festival will host 39 events over weekend. This year the festival will feature both international and Australian artists in various fields. It will celebrate the significant anniversaries of great composers as well as the works of contemporary artists. Literary events will include a poetry slam (a poetry slam is a competition at which poets read or recite their original work) Emilie Zoe will host the poetry slam with ten poets taking part. On Sunday, Nicolas Rothwell author of The Red Highway and Journeys to the Interior will share his thoughts on being a writer. And freelance film maker KimTraill will talk about her insightful experiences into Russian culture during its recent turbulent years.

· Big Red Book Fair
Sat 19 and Sun 20 June - 11am to 5pm - Trades Hall, Melbourne.
This month, a great book fair returns to Melbourne for another year with back-to-the-future bargains at prehistoric prices. There is something for everyone at the big red book fair, including an amazing collection of books on history and politics.

· Rebecca James – Author of Young Adult Fiction
Rebecca James is a 39 year old mum of four sons who lives in NSW. The publishing world is in a complete frenzy over her debut novel, Beautiful Malice, an intense thriller intended for teens and up. Beautiful Malice, with its page-turning plot and characters that leap off the page, is the story of an obsessive friendship and dark secrets that can no longer be hidden. Beautiful Malice has already scored more than $1 million in publishing deals. The Wall Street Journal recently dubbed Rebecca James as "the next J.K. Rowling". Beautiful Malice will soon be translated into 30 languages and is set to have a staggering international print run of 500,000, the largest from publishers Allen & Unwin since Harry Potter. Rebecca was literally facing bankruptcy after her kitchen sales business went bust. Her novel was picked out of a pile of unsolicited manuscripts. Overnight she has become a millionaire and a globally known author. What an amazing fairy tale for this 39 year old Aussie mum!

BERNARD’S REVIEW: Patrick Allington: FIGUREHEAD [ 2009]
Think “ Year of Living Dangerously” or “ Highways to a War”, C J Koch’s classics dealing with Australians’ incursions into Asia. Today we look at the first novel of a young South Australian – Patrick Allington – who has achieved a rare feat. Not content with a boys’-own adventure romp into a machismo SE Asia, Allington had thought deeply, researched exhaustively and [ I am sure] DRAFTED exhaustINGly to bring us the world of Kampuchea/Cambodia of the 1960s and later such that the book’s political and social insights are as shrewd as his dramatist’s lively enactments […indeed some of the set pieces are as vivid as the best of today’s news reporting. ]
I really like and admire this book. Early in the novel, Ted Whittlemore [ loosely based on the late loved-or-loathed Wilfrid Burchett ] saves the life of a man who goes on to play a leading role in the tragedy of Cambodia’s Killing Fields. The consequences of saving Nhem Kiry haunt him for the rest of his days. As the Khmer Rouge take power, Whittlemore watches as the ideals he holds dear are translated into unfathomable violence. As the decades unfold, it seems Kiry’s life has become intertwined with his own. Over the 293 pages, we travel SE Asia [ mainly Cambodia] and ultimately “home” to Australia withTed, charting the awful track of Cambodian history. We become immersed in the world of world power politics as Khmer Rouge, Vietnam, America, Russia and China play with the minds and hearts of the innocent millions of ordinary Cambodians. The recent film “ Balibo” has reminded us of the paper-thin stage reporters tred in such [places [ not to mention the Fairfax people in the ME last week.]
As with the Koch novels [ cf above] Allington is dealing with the timeless themes of guilt and memory here: were the Khmer Rouge butchers REALLY idealists at the outset? How do the West’s “ ideals” stack up anyway? Can I ever be a ‘ I hate talking politics” disinterested observer ? There are some superb chameo appearances, not least by the buffoon Prince Sihanouk, playing badminton as the sun goes down on his kingdom….And there is the obligatory “ Ugly American”, relentlessly exploiting Stateside politics – while running a “ Think tank”/NGO on Cambodia back home.
A **** rating. A Black Inc p/b, rrp $ 29.95.
Further references:
Film and [ Graham Greene] novel “ The Quiet American’.
Film: “ The Killing Fields”
Kenneth Cook: “ The Wine of God’s Anger”.
Paul Ham: “ Vietnam: Australia’s War”.

LIZZY’S REVIEW: ‘Secret Daughter’ by Shilpi Somaya Gowda,William Morrow 2010. Fiction.
This is a debut novel centred on two inter-generational families, one from India and one from the US 1984-2009. The author, Canadian born to parents who migrated from Mumbai India, graduated from Stanford and lives in California. The book has had good reviews for reading clubs and the Women’s Weekly; it hit number two on the Globe and Mail Bestseller list, (Canada), and is still currently a best seller.

There are several strong themes throughout, entrenched mainly in a landscape of Mother India. These include grief and loss, achieving cultural awareness, global interconnectedness and family cohesion. The major theme, though, reinforces what we imagine to be a mother’s love–never-ending, unconditional, and what Helen Steiner Rice might describe as “sacrifice and pain”. It takes us on a journey of understanding a mother’s love as against misunderstanding it, which can happen readily through ill-informed judgement of a mother’s motives or cultural patterning. Kavita, the mother from rural India surrenders her daughter to an orphanage, yet her emotional bond with this child is never severed.

Shilipi’s starting point for Kavita’s story is the illegal Indian practice of female infanticide. This is a good hook, very current, slaughtering of female babies is still rampant in rural India—fifty million girls and women are considered “missing” in India. And Shilipi clearly lands reasons for this in the patriarchal and economic corner pointing out that this practice, in the Indian cultural context, would be seen as a “wise course of action.” One reason being might be the enormous sums extracted from a bride’s family for dowry and wedding costs.

Her descriptions of life in India do bring an authenticity to the text, such as Kavita and her sister Rupa sharing coconut in Bombay, the insertion of common Indian terms in italics, vignettes of the street life and religious ritual. But I wouldn’t describe it as a sensual text, for it lacks a richness, which might have enhanced the texture of the scenes and heightened the emotion of Kavita’s plight. This, on the other hand might have been deliberate if the author simply was after motives and action written as matter-of-fact, without a shred of sentimentality; karmic justice for the masses just is. Like the movie Slumdog Millionaire, chances for redemption in Secret Daughter are slim.

An interesting feature of Secret Daughter is its structure on various shifting omniscient points of view. The most engaging for me was Kavita with quite a good picture of her early marriage and her pitiful means of rebellion against patriarchal determinism. She does this by stealth— adding extra hot chilli in her husband Jasu’s food and tricking him out of his conjugal rights. And more dramatically, she runs off to an orphanage in Bombay with her new baby girl, to avoid the impending murder this child. Kavita’s grief and pain is shown by her cut feet from the long journey to the orphanage, naming the baby and her shrieking at the orphanage after handing the baby over. A year later, she undergoes an ultrasound to determine the sex of her new baby – a boy. The clinic may have represented one of the sex-selection abortion clinics that started up in 1974 and still exist.

On the other hand, there is Somer, a US medical doctor with miscarriage problems, who adopts Asha with her Indian neurosurgeon husband, Krishnan. The young adult Asha explores her Indian roots, taking journalistic forays into poverty there. She connects with an Indian friend Sanjay and is able to make a culturally informed realisation about her birth mother’s motives for her abandonment. That is, there were good intentions after all; it was a wise move on the part of Kavita to offer Asha better opportunities.

What was particularly pleasing was that there was not a stereotypical view of male characters. For instance, Jasu features alongside Kavita, eventually becoming a caring father and husband. This might have been due to his improved social status following the birth of a son, but the author does not go into this. However, it is clear that over time, he grows to value the skills of his wife and is a decent, hard-working, family man. Kavita shows she is very practical and a more equitable relationship develops between the pair. Later on in the book, we learn that Jasu was haunted by his first daughter’s infanticide, even in the face of profound family pressure to tow the cultural line.

There were some disappointments however, which marred the drama of the storyline. One is the woodenness of the characters. Kavita delivers a second girl who is destined to follow her female sibling’s fate of being murdered. Fearful of what is about to happen, Kavita is teary, simply eyeballs Jasu, and threatens him with the prospect of having another child. She is not screaming and running as we might envisage. It was indefinite as to why there was a kind of resignation in Kavita’s attitude, or if she felt she had some sense of control. In general, though, the sheer ordinariness of the characters, except Kavita’s drug dealing son, does not create any tension.

Another is the dodging of infanticide reality. Modes of these murders are horrific such as babies fed unhulled rice, which punctures their windpipes, feeding poisonous fertilizer or oleander sap and even just starving the child. Not entering into details such as these may have been so as not to digress from the themes.

The tension was whittled down in other ways. The enormous amount of tell is not saved by the immediacy of the present tense. Then there is the optimistic almost romantic storyline where hardly anyone is flawed, events are almost tidied up at the end of the book. Everyone is understanding and well intentioned. As time goes by there is understanding and growth: Somer and Krishan reconnect, Somer beomes a devotee of yoga, and Jasu initiates the collection of Asha’s details to comfort Kavita. Also, the three points of separation go a little too far. After twenty-five years, the orphanage director is still in situ when Asha arrives and after possibly many thousands of visitors to the orphanage, can still remember Kavita’s eyes. Sarla, the paternal grandmother, is a benefactor of the orphanage; Asha just happens to be a journalist with Indian parentage, able to follow through on her family history.

All in all, though, Secret Daughter is a gentle conversation about these themes against a colourful, well-defined cultural backdrop. It is an easy, non-confronting read, perhaps a little too goodie-two-shoes for my taste . . . However, it is a refreshing change from current media representations of violence, mayhem, and sexual explicitness. It is well positioned for the gift market, certainly a good book for mums and daughters, reinforcing what we knew about mothers all along and exploring feelings that mothers everywhere can identify with.

Interestingly, a new inter-generational movie about women, featuring Jane Fonda, is in pre-production, to be directed by our Bruce Beresford. It’s called Peace, Love and Understanding; it could have easily been the title for this book.

RRP is $29.20 AU and is available through most outlets.

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