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Sunday, May 22, 2011

May 17th

Book & Publishing News

* My apology for this print version of my review of the excellent “The Tiger Wife” being so brief…I lost some of it somewhere.

* LIAO YIWU continues to be harassed by the culture police of the People’s Republic: his “The Corpse Walker” is about as harmless a piece of social documentary as one could imagine…in a true democracy.

* JOSEPH HELLER’s unforgettable “Catch-22” is 50 years old. [I read pp 54-5 where Doc Daneeka defines Catch 22.]

* There was an article on 2011 Booker winner HOWARD JACOBSON [“The Finkler Question”] in Sunday’s “Age” which tells his story well. Scroll back to my review last year.

* I spoke at the recent meeting of the Bellarine Historical Society, Wednesday last on “What makes history?”, drawing on 20 or so history books we have discussed on this program over the last year. The excellent Drysdale museum is open the first Sunday of the month. Lots of local histories for sale.

* The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced this week: MALCOLM FRASER and MARGARET SIMONS for his memoirs and ALEX MILLER for “Love Song” were the main winners.

* VICTOR FRANKL’s classic “Man’s Search For Meaning” has been re-published: a thorough review in last Saturday’s “Review” in “The Oz”.

* The latest ABR has their winning 2011 essay by DEAN BIRON. Excellent. Another interview with GERALDINE BROOKS…I still haven’t read “Caleb’s Crossing”.

* Local poet JUDE McCUDDEN will be Poet-In-Residence at Portarlington’s friendly “Blue Dolphin Café” whose hosts Kamil and Helen are generous supporters of the arts on the Peninsula…and make great coffee!

* “THE MONTHLY” for May includes a long analysis of CHRIS LILLEY’s work…Novelist Nicholas Shakespeare on Tasmania… “the Oz”’s PETER van OLENSEN on the future of the Liberal P…And a review of MARK McKENNA on manning Clark; I have just begun this lengthy work. There was also another review of LINDSAY TANNER’s “Sideshow” [which I will review in a fortnight. An interview later, I hope.]...A review of MARK McKENNA’S large tome on Manning Clark which I am wrestling with at present…HELEN GARNER on “Mad Bastards” and “Snowtown”, two notable new films.
The best edition of this magazine for a while.
PATON BOOKS stocks all these magazines.

* I felt for the forlorn workers in “Borders” as they packed lonely books into crates in That Shopping Centre this morning…No sympathy at all for the company though – who spruiked books at “bargain” prices which were effectively the same as the ‘rrp’. LONG LIVE Kathryn, Marylou, Jane and all the ‘little’ booksellers!!

This Weeks Review: “The Sparrows of Edward Street” by Elizabeth Stead

In 1948, Sydneysiders were shocked when Ruth Park’s “The Harp In The South” portrayed the ‘underbelly’ of their city in all its squalor, disease, crime and poverty. Not in our backyard, surely! Sly grog, illegal abortions, domestic violence…and SLUMS. Investigation by the press revealed that, yes, Surry Hills WAS that seedy and low-lived.
[The book, of course, deservedly won all sorts of awards, was made into a successful play, and later became one of our first memorable TV mini-series. Park’s trilogy is still popular, never having been out of print, I believe – as has her trilogy of memoirs.]

I was reminded of “The harp..” as I read this novel from the great Christina Stead’s niece. The eponymous family – delicate apostate-Jewish mother, Hanora; our narrator, the feisty Aria; the vulnerable younger sister, Rosy – are consigned in the late 40s to a “public housing” camp in outer Sydney, having been evicted from a miserly city unit by a landlord who couldn’t find favour with Hanora. They are much put upon. It is a remote cluster of sheds really, full of the dispossessed, with some better-off migrants up the road – and Aborigines in a separate compound. The Sparrows quickly assert themselves, thanks to Aria pride and Hanora’s ingenuity. The place is peopled with some memorable characters – the rabbitoh, Mr. Sparkle; the local priest; a tragic war veteran – and the various women who gather at the laundry for mutual support and gossip. It is rather an anachronistic tale: why publish it now, I wondered? Park had done the job very well half a century ago. Perhaps we need to reminded that “working families” really had it tough not long ago? That there were strong women slogging away for recognition and dignity before the “women’s movement?” I would like to see some documentary work done in the area Stead had re-created.

It is definitely an entertaining book, sometimes amusing, rarely dull. We suffer alongside the Sparrows and the denizens of the camp as they long for escape into the outer world. We marvel at Aria’s endurance, but it was all a bit déjà vu, I thought.

SCORE: **+
ELIZABETH STEAD: The Sparrows Of Edward Street, UQP pb, pp 288, rrp $29-95.

I also gave a brief review of
RON RASH: One Foot In Eden, text pb, pp 197, rrp $30.


You heard Sandy Denny singing “3.10 to Yuma”. The original film with Glenn Ford is on TV at 4pm today! As well as Robert Plant and Alison Krauss singing, “Killing the Blues” from RAISING SAND.


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