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Thursday, November 11, 2010

November 9th

Book & Publishing News

Here are the nominees and winners from the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards:
CHILDREN’S FICTION- ‘Star Jumps’ by Lorraine Marwood
FICTION- ‘Dog Boy’ by Eva Homung
NON-FICTION- ‘The Colony: A History of Early Sydney’ by Grace Karskens
YOUNG ADULT FICTION-‘Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God’ by Bill Condon

This Weeks Reviews:

John Reviewed- ‘Resistance’ by Owen Shears

RESISTANCE by Owen Shears was published 2007 by Faber & Faber and has been translated into ten languages and was short listed for the Writer's Guild of Great Britain Best Book Award 2008. Currently under preproduction as a film.

I first discovered the writer Owen Shears on ‘A Poet’s Guide to Britain’, ABC 2, Sunday at 8.55pm and was an instant fan. Owen Sheers was born in Fiji in 1974 and brought up in Abergavenny, South Wales and has published 2 books of poetry and a novella and his work has been nominated for a number of awards.

The plot is based on a very creative premise, presupposing that the Germans defeated the Normandy landings of 1944, and counter-attacked so powerfully that they soon occupied almost the whole of Britain. The premise is actually based on historical facts that Shears discovered when working as a builder’s laborer one summer in a Welsh valley. During the war evidently men had been recruited into a Special Forces division dedicated to resisting German occupying forces, should Britain be occupied which was a distinct possibility. This particular genre is described as ‘alternative history’ or ‘counterfactual’ and in the spirit of Philip Roth’s ‘The Plot Against America.’
Sheers takes readers to a small Welsh village during a speculative WWII – featuring a German invasion of Britain . It’s 1944 and Sarah Lewis and the women in Ochlon valley are left alone after all the local men disappear one night without warning. The women’s worlds suddenly shrink to the day-to-day struggles to keep their sheep farms going until the war comes to their doorsteps in the form of Captain Albrecht Wolfram and his men, who have a murky mission to carry out in the valley. Wolfram, despite being a Nazi Captain emerges as atypical, having studied history at Oxford before the war and more interested in classical music and history than the business of war.
Promising to leave the women alone, the Germans occupy an abandoned house and the two camps keep mostly to themselves until a harsh winter takes hold, and it becomes clear that the locals and the Germans will have to depend on one another to survive. When the weather breaks and the valley reopens to the world – and hence the war – the peculiar idyll threatens to shatter. This is pretty much the plot outline, relying on the tension between these 2 groups of sworn enemies living together in this winter-bound valley.
There are mysteries and revelations: why have the soldiers been ordered to come to this particular valley? Will the men return? What will be the nature of the relationship between Sarah & Wolfram? How will the story end? It would be unfair to to reveal any of these details.
Shears is a poet at heart and he expresses this poetry in his prose too. He gives readers a wonderful sense of place in this valley with its day to day rhythms of farming and sheepherding and the connection to the land and its animals. Particularly poignant is Sarah’s dedication to keeping a diary for her absent husband detailing the small changes in nature and the farm as the seasons roll by.
The valley is cut off from the rest of the world and the only information about the outside world comes through a crackling radio broadcast which gradually reveals a picture of the gradual take-over of the country by the invading German army. The destruction of London and the major landmarks we take for granted today is particularly touching depicting the possible outcomes had that war been quite different. We learn of the almost total destruction of London buildings and Nelson’s column at Trafalgar square being dismantled and taken to Berlin as a war trophy while in small English villages groups of citizens are being executed for resisting the occupying forces.

The story has a lot to say about the futility of war and its effect on individuals. Its strength lies in the fact that it goes beyond the sorts of stereotypes of individuals that now, more than 50 years on we have come to see as normal. It is also a stark reminder of the effects an occupying force can have on a population, something Western colonialism perhaps hasn’t yet quite understood. Dare I saw the occupation of Australia is one case in point. This is a poetic and impressive story with much to tell contemporary readers.

This Weeks Poem:

“Small Man With Tree (After Domenico Tiepolo)”- by Peter Steele SJ
This poem comes from a published collection of his works ‘A Local Habitation: Poems and Homilies’, it is based on a passage from Luke 19: 1-10 in the bible.


This week’s music featured Australian artists:
-‘Rock It’ by Little Red
-‘Day Too Soon’ by Sia from her album ‘Some People Have Real Problems’
-‘Poorhouse’ by The Audrey’s from their album ‘Sometimes The Stars’

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