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Monday, May 2, 2011

April 26th

Book & Publishing News:

* THREE finalists have been named for 2011 Miles Franklin Award:
KIM SCOTT for “Dead Man Dancing”, ROGER McDONALD, “When Colts Ran Free” and CHRIS WOMERSLEY, “Bereft”. Scott’s is my pick, but I suspect Womersley’s will win.

* The Australian/Vogel Award [for best new novel] will be decoded from BOMY ASH, JADE MAITRE and ROHAN WILSON. See Saturday’s WEEKEND REVIEW for lots of detail plus a sample of their work.

* Book-to-film No 29: I watched “War And Peace” for the first time [on DVD] recently: a very long film with great battle scenes, but very melodramatic. Audrey Hepburn steals the show utterly. I’m ashamed to say I’ve not read the book…yet.

* NEXT WEEK I hope to speak with LESLIE CANNOLD about her novel.”The Book Of Rachael” which I reviewed last week.

* I think it was good to see “The Age” continuing the discussion of what Anzac Day means “Commemorate” not “celebrate” was a theme as well as questioning whether we want it to be our “national day”. I wonder what the day means to those who do not attend services or go to the MCG on the day.

* And to continue: should we remember Indigenous warriors who fought and died to defend their land…on Anzac day?

‘THE BLURB’ welcomes comment: email me c/e Pulse or phone us during the program.

This Week’s Interview: Gerard Windsor author of “All Day Long The Noise Of Battle

I was privileged today to speak for 20 minutes with GERARD WINDSOR – historian, novelist and memoirist – about his well-reviewed new book, “All Day Long The Noise Of Battle” which looks in exhaustive detail at the three-day battle fought by “C” Company of the 7th Battalion RAR in Phuoc Tuy in February 1968
[as part of the Allies’ preparation for the “Tet Offensive”.]

Gerard spoke of the gestation of the book, an unlikely project for the novelist. He had come across after many years the fact the a schoolmate had not only served in Vietnam, but had earned the respect of his comrades to the extent that one had said the man [ Mark Moloney] should have been decorated for his role in the “Bunkers action”.
We spoke of the anomaly of historians’ reliance on eye witness accounts where possible – when, in Gerard’s experience, even witnesses will vary in their memory of events, given the split-second dramas taking place. This becomes an issue, of course, when one looks at the official reports of battlefield action…and the awarding of decorations, for instance.

Gerard ended up being able to talk to nearly 60 of the officers and ranks in preparing this marvellous story of events that had largely been lost in the ‘fog of war’. He spoke of being continually impressed by the raw courage the men showed, with little thought or rationalisation, really, about what they were involved in…And might not the enemy have retaken their positions within days of the Australians’ cleaning them out anyway!

GERARD WINDSOR: All Day Long The Noise Of Battle. Pier 9 pb, pp 255, rrp $35.
SCORE: ****

This Week’s Reviews:

I will mention [only] the books on AUSTRALIANS AND WAR that I have received this past year and will review a couple in more detail.

-TONY WRIGHT: Walking the Gallipoli Peninsula. Much more than a mere guide.

-PATRICK LINDSAY: The Coast Watchers. Behind enemy lines with the men who “saved the Pacific”.

-ROLAND PERRY: The Changi Brownlow. How these amazing POWs found Aussie Rules as a way to help them survive.

-ROB MAYLOR/ROBERT MACKLIN: SAS Sniper. Maylor was in the Royal Marines and later served with Australian troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

-CRAIG STOCKINGS[ed]: Zombie Myths Of Australian Military History.
Demythologizing such myths as the one that says there was no Aboriginal resistance to the European invasion; and that “Breaker” Morant was a hero…

-PAUL DALEY: Beersheba. The journalists travels far and wide to find out what happened with the ‘last great cavalry charge’.

-ANDERSON?TREMBATH: Witnesses To War-the history of Australian conflict reporting.

-SCOTT BENETT: Pozieres. An extraordinary story not told before in such detail.

-ROBER MACKLIN: Bravest – Australia’s greatest war heroes and how they won their medals. Fifteen winners of Victoria and George Crosses.

-LEON DAVIDSON: Zero Hour. An introduction to the Anzac action on the Western Front.

-WILLIAM CULL/Pegram [ed]: Both Sides Of The Wire. The memoir of an Australian Officer captured during World War One.

-DAISLEY: Traitor. A novel about a friendship between an Anzac and a Turk during the Gallipoli campaign.

-PETER HART: Gallipoli. This may be THE book about the events of 1915. Written by an Oral Historian from the Imperial War Museum. I am still working through its 533 pages and will review it later.

“The Men Who Came Out Of The Ground” by Paul Cleary

PAUL HAM has written the best book I have read yet on Australians in Vietnam. In reviewing Cleary’s book, he wrote: “[He] tells this story in an arresting narrative, unblemished by the lapse into histrionics that so often debases the history of war. Nor will he indulge in careless triumphalism. The men of the 2/2 demonstrated HUMAN [emphasis mine] not peculiarly Aussie qualities of courage and resilience”. This is a point GERARD WINDSOR made about the Australian Viet vets he interviewed in preparing his book and would be welcome in the talk that surfaces annually around this time of the year [though I suspect the jingoistic hysteria has faded significantly now that Howardism is fading…one hopes!] Many of the recent books about war – and they are legion – that I have seen of late seem to be re-evaluating what we mean by soldiering and its place in our particular national story. Cleary gives us the facts and largely refrains from judging, much less eulogising. Decisions about the situation in Timor early 1940s that were naïve, ill-informed and catastrophic and often poorly-planned.

Obviously,…in retrospect. Civilians, for example, WERE executed. Soldiers deserted. As HAM said, this was human endeavour, undertaken amid extraordinary stress we in our comfort can hardly imagine.

The setting is mostly “East Timor” [today’s Timor Leste], 1942. Immediately, it is amazing to remember that casualties were quite low amongst the 200 Australians as they tied up a Japanese force totalling 20,000, over two years or more... Sadly, many thousands of Timorese were killed during World War to, having no real say in the politics of it all, often spending years with the Aussies behind the lines, away from family and safety though some joined Japanese=sponsored militia.

“Sparrow Force” were trained quickly [at Wilsons Prom – a lively early section of this absorbing book], but selected for their athleticism. They were ferried in and virtually left until Macarthur [surprisingly?] heard of their valuable work in stalling the Japanese eastward march and ordered a better means, of supply and support. Cleary seems to imply that overall the Portuguese remnants were more active in helping the Allied effort than were the Dutch colonist, but I may be
mistaken; I’d have to look up the post-WWII history of Indonesia again.
Throughout their relentless ordeal, the Aussies were not just outnumbered, they were poorly led FROM AUSTRALIA, never being totally clear about he project’s overall objectives. Were they really meant to DEFEAT the Japanese? Surely not, but by endlessly ambushing, retreating, skirmishing and hiding out, they kept an enormous army occupied and actually inflicted considerable damage.

The role of the locals, as I said, was significant – which makes our abandonment of the East Timorese during the militia campaigns of recent times even more shameful. [ Surely, Gough’s most shameful act!]

SCORE ***+
PAUL CLEARY: The Men Who Came Out Of The Ground, hatchette pb, pp 382, rrp $35,2010

“My Dear I Wanted To Tell You” by Louisa Young

I’m sure I reminded listeners before of the opening phrase of Vergil’s epic, “The Aeneid” [“Arma virumque cano”= I sing of arms and the Man/men.] And isn’t it sad that WAR is the inspiration for so much great art – in literature, music, film, painting…And still novelists find new lodes of story from the “Great War”. The recent benchmark for me is PAT BARKER’s “Regeneration” trilogy where she imagines the war as it was affecting the poets Sassoon, Owen and Co. in their personal circumstances. Our ROGER McDONALD [“1915”] and DAVID MALOUF “Fly Away Peter” hold their own, of course, and so does this novel – beginning with its startling cover, just by the way.

The novel begins slowly. After all, the war was supposed to be over by Christmas 1914. It seemed “safe” for all those men to enlist. The enemy were boorish Teutons, surely no match for the stiff upper lip and public-school masterly leadership of the sons of an Empire on which the sun never set.
British grit would prevail and quickly….which made the drawn out abominations of the Western Front all the more horrific.

And that is the story our book tells. Our main character, Roger Purefoy, is poorly-educated and working-class though from the start he seems to be blessed by opportunity, initially in being placed as the gofer for a low-ranked but rather toffy painter. This opens doors for him such that he is almost going up in the world. Young is very good on the drawing-room society of Roger’s all-but-adoptive new family – as she is in reminding us, via the person of Roger’s mother, of his humble origins,. This is Waugh without the satire because we empathise [in their later tragedy] with both “Upstairs” and “Downstairs”. This war was cruelly democratic in Young’s world.

At home, Roger will probably never have the only girl he aspires to. In a fit of disappointment, he rushes to enlist. Meanwhile, out in the country, the aristocratic peter Locke accepts a commission and the pair are off to France, soon ending up together on the killing fields of 1915. Amid the needless slaughter, Roger shows exceptional leadership and is rapidly promoted from the ranks while Peter barely hangs on. The devastating casualties affect Roger physically and personally while Peter becomes a psychological wreck.

There are interesting minor characters in this deceptively epic story. The women at home struggle to find appropriate roles and to accept the awful realities of what is going on Over There.

I thought this was a terrific novel. Some of the battle scenes are reminiscent in their compression and naturalistic imagery of Owen and Rosenberg. We are reminded once again of the chilling FUTILITY [cf Owen’s poem] of it all.

SCORE: ****
LOUISA YOUNG: My Dear I Wanted To Tell You, Harper Collins pb, pp 330, rrp $35, 2011

This Week’s Poem: “The Company Of Lovers” by Judith Wright

She was in her early 20s, attending Sydney Uni, fresh from country Armidale, and Sydney was full of soldiers – Aussies and Americans… From her first published anthology, “The Moving Image”. I am currently reading “Nine Lives” [Susan Sheridan], a beut little book about nine “Postwar women writers making their mark”. You must read it if you are at all interested in Australian literature. A sound introduction to Wright, Astley, Hewett, etc.


Holtz “The Planets” – MARS.

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