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Monday, May 16, 2011

May 3rd

Welcome Leo, panelling for us today. Also welcome to work experience student, LIAM from Year 10 at St. Joseph’s.

Book & Publishing News

* THE AUSTRALIAN/VOGEL Award this year goes to Rohan Wilson for his tale of “The Roving Party”, comprising a fictionalised John Batman and a Vandiemonian Aborigine, Black Bill, plus assorted convicts, after money and tickets-of-leave for bringing in the remaining ‘Blacks’ of south eastern Van Diemen’s Land
in the 1840s. I will review the novel next week and we will speak with the author early June.

* The BBC has a 100 Books-One-Should-Have-Read list on its website…I was humbled to be able to claim only 59!

* Book-to-film No. 30: Michael Lincoln’s “The Lincoln Lawyer” was pretty good, though the lead is a bit too smooth and handsome for Connelly’s character.

* GRIFFITH REVIEW is always full of good reading: available from PATON’s.
Matthew Condon on post-Floods Brisbane, Veteran women’s rights advocate Wendy McCarthy on “Woman And Power” these days; Bronwyn Adcock: the sad tale of dispossessed Central Tilba Aborigines; Greg Lockart with a new look at how Australia was preparing for WWI.

* Leslie Canold [“The Book Of Rachael”] has had to postpone our interview indefinitely.

* My former colleague BRONWYN HODGE has a beautiful new daughter, Zoe. Congratulations, Rob, Anthony and big sister, Abigail.

* Film from book No.31: we watched the B&W film of Steinbeck’s “East Of Eden” with Raymond Massey and James Dean [as the tortured Caleb – from whence we took Number 2 son’s name 33 years ago.]

This Weeks Reviews:

“The Moment” by Douglas Kennedt

What is it about Berlin? The only pre-War images I can conjure belong to the unforgettable film, “Cabaret”, the stage show of which was drawn from the writings of Christopher Isherwood. We’ve probably all read some of Brecht, again set in the final stages of the Weimar Republic: seedy, unsettled and cynical. Then there were the countless “war” films, in B&W then Technicolour. Then “The Third Man” with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton lurking in the sewer with the zither theme plunking away in the background. Novels by Gunther Grass and Kurt Vonnegut Jr….Topping such memories, of course, are vignettes from John Le Carre* novels [and films and TV series!], not least the lonely figure slowly crossing the bridge at the end of “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” [still his best for me]. *I don’t think we have had too much else set in the DIVIDED Berlin?

* The “real “ Le Carre has at last nominated a biographer. ‘Can’t wait.

A couple of years ago, Australian Ann Funder wrote “Staziland” about the end of East Germany, a book which still sells well – and deservedly. Do you remember all those relics of The Wall that circulated in the aftermath of its destruction? Now we have a novel that somehow updates the LE CARRE existentialist zeitgeist. Douglas Kennedy is new to me, but he joins the ranks of such illustrious journalist/travel writers turned novelists as Paul Theroux and Jonathan Raban.

We spend most of the book in Berlin, immediately before and right after The Wll came down. Finally, this is a love story, but delves far deeper into the human psyche than Mills’n’Boon ever reached. First of all, it is a LONG novel – at 200,000 words, but Kennedy needed this sort of volume to get his story across which he does admirably. As well as the suitably noir setting of Berlin – with its coffee bars and dim-lit streets – he provides some rippling dialogue, full of wit and irony [reminiscent of Arthur Philip’s “Prague” which I enjoyed last year]. Just as some of the characters discuss Graham Greene and other authors, so this novel echoes some of the angst so beloved of that great English novelist.**

** I cannot remember EVER reading an American novel in which a character mentions Greene, much read a novel where the writer pays such tribute to Green’s thematic preoccupations the way I feel Kennedy does. Le Carre, of course, is in eternal debt to GG.

Kennedy is a patient writer who demands patience of his reader. We begin with the protagonist – successful travel writer, Thomas Nesbitt - just emerging from a tired marriage and about to embark on a work-oriented fact-finding trip to Berlin. We are in roughly the present.
“ [His] solitude [is] disrupted by the arrival one wintry morning of a post box marked Berlin. The return address on the box – Dussmann – unsettles him completely for it is the same woman with whom had had an intense love affair with 26 years ago in Berlin – at a time when the city was cleaved in two, and personal and political allegiances were haunted by the deep shadows pf the Cold War…” [Cover blurb] Nesbitt must confront the issue of how and why he ended the greatest love he had ever had. The reader is then taken back to a Berlin BEFORE the end of the Cold War. Thomas is a young writer in search of a breakthrough “travel book”. Getting a job with the American foreign services information NGO, he soon meets Petra Dussmann, to whom he loses his heart. We find that she is more than a refugee from police-state East Berlin; there is a deep sadness in her life which is only slowly revealed. As I said, in a sense this is a slow read – the final third of the book brings us back to the present - but it is totally absorbing. I already mentioned the wit of the dialogue, but it is also the intensity of the scenes between Thomas and Petra that raise this novel to a higher level. Meanwhile there is the Le Carre-like intelligence/ spy/ Cold War overlay with their threats of misinformation and betrayal, and the characters themselves – Thomas, Petra, Thomas’s Berlin housemate, the flamboyant, vulnerable, brilliant Expressionist painter, the Irish Fitzwilliams-Ross. There are other minor characters, so neatly composed, almost in the manner of an Altman film script.
The book operates in two time zones, as it were: the present and the past, the time of Thomas and Petra’s fraught relationship, and it is all under the spell of The Wall. It haunts Thomas from the first moments of his arrival in the early 1980s. Inevitably he “makes” East Berlin the subject of the first column he will write in his day job. A pattern is set, the atmosphere established. Read the book as a love story, or a Cold War mystery thriller. It just works so well on many levels.
I am on the lookout for some more of Douglas Kennedy.

SCORE: ***+
DOUGLAS KENNEDT: The Moment, Hutchinson pb, pp 489, rrp $35.

“The Tiger’s Wife” by Tea Obreht

I thought of Tim Winton as I began this book because I had just been reminded that he won the VOGEL many years ago now with his all-but-forgotten “The Open Swimmer”[ Not his best book by a long shot. I will review this year’s winning novel NEXT week.] Apparently TEA OBREHT is already being touted as the Next Bright Young Thing in the States. At 25, this is her third published work and I think it is a novel remarkable for the maturity of its insight into the extraordinary complexity of values, emotions, politics and humanity that is “the Balkans”[if one can still use the term] which touches all of us as all good art should. It is never didactic, but rather tells an epic story – the grandfather’s - amid the tragic mess of the second half of the twentieth century in that region.

We begin in 1941. “As German bombs are falling, a tiger escapes from his zoo, padding through ruined streets and onwards, to ridge above the village of Gaina. His nocturnal visits hold the villagers in terrified thrall. But for one boy, the tiger is a thing of magic- ‘Shere Khan’ awoken from the pages of ‘The Jungle Book’. Natalia [our narrator] is the granddaughter of that boy. Now she is a doctor. It is the 1980s and she is visiting after another war that has devastated her region. On this journey she receives word that her beloved grandfather has died, far from their latest home, in circumstances shrouded in mystery.” [Cover blurb.] And so our story begins, weaving through history, family reminiscences and local folklore – somewhat in the manner of the Latin magic realists, but Tea is no imitator or parodist. We have here a distinctive and impressive new voice.

Score: ****
TEA OBREHT: The Tiger’s Wife, Weidenfeld & Nicholson pb, pp 336, rrp $30

This Weeks Poem

“The Poor Commissioners” by Cate Kennedy whom we will be speaking with, in a couple of weeks.


This week you heard LINDA RONSTADT singing “A La Orilla…” from a 2010 CD of THE CHIEFTAINS and various Mexican bands/singers plus the ubiquitous RY COODER, “San Padricios”

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