Category: book review

Book review — One Punch, by Barry Dickins

Title: One Punch: The tragic toll of random acts of violence

Author: Barry Dickins

Publisher: Hardie Grant, 2020

The author

Barry Dickins is a well-known Australian author, journalist, playwright, actor, artist and educator. He is the author of numerous books – fiction, memoirs, non-fiction, collections of essays – and plays.

In 1995 he was awarded the Louis Esson Prize for Drama for his stage play Remember Ronald Ryan, and the Amnesty Prize for Peace through Art.

The book

Barry Dickins writes of the random acts of violence perpetrated upon individuals, and looks at the gratuitous violence witnessed daily within our society. He researches ‘one punch’ deaths – whereby one punch to a victim results in their death. He describes the history of the events, the perpetrators, the court cases and the verdicts, and interviews the families of the victims.

In Barry’s search for information and understanding, he speaks with witnesses, medical staff who attend the victims of violence, school teachers, a former judge and a priest.  

Unable to interview the offenders, he wonders at their remorse.

Research update: 127 Australians killed by coward punches since 2000

JENNIFER SCHUMANN, VIFM/MONASH UNIVERSITY,2019

The author describes, in down-to-earth prose, the many acts of violence seen within society, including unprovoked attacks perpetrated on vulnerable people and property, and aggressive acts by motorists.

Throughout the book, Barry looks back on a safe and loving childhood and ponders the differences between those earlier years and now.

Violence touches Barry’s life when a family member, out walking with friends, is brutally attacked by a group of young men.  This leaves Barry with a ‘revolving disbelief’ that anyone would want to do harm to an innocent person.

Stop the Coward Punch

DANNY GREEN’S FIGHT AGAINST ONE-PUNCH ATTACKS

Reading this book was like sitting down with a long-time friend and listening as he tells his story in a gentle and caring way.  Barry writes of the violence and trauma in such a manner the reader is not traumatised by the reading. Instead we come to an understanding of the complexity of this subject.

Barry does not offer a solution, nor does he try to solve the question of why these things are happening – for who can?  But he has opened our eyes to it.

One Punch is a book that needs to be read.

Reviewed by: Linda Young

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Book review – The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, by Garth Nix

Title: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

Author: Garth Nix

Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2020

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As Garth Nix prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of his popular Old Kingdom series next year, his latest book also offers some nostalgic touchstones.

The 1983 UK depicted in The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is a slight variant of the one in the history books, as flagged by subtle touches such as the all-female leads of the TV show The Professionals. And then there’s the magic, of course, firmly grounded in the tradition of the likes of Alan Garner and Susan Cooper.

By centring his action in a secret cabal of magicians operating from London bookstores, Nix – at one time himself a bookseller – gives himself room to dip the hat to writers seminal and popular. He also gets to have a lot of fun.

The booksellers, whose magical inclinations are indicated by their handedness, operate as a kind of CI5 for the magical realm, keeping a lid on the folkloric, mythical and magical creatures and societies who interrupt the mundane workings of the human world.

Watch an interview with Garth Nix about The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

WITH DODD AND SUMNER AT FORBIDDEN PLANET TV

The story starts with a bang, when Susan is exposed to left-handed bookseller Merlin, whose personal quest intersects with her attempt to find her mysterious father.

Nix keeps the action coming as the pair are joined by Merlin’s (right-handed) sister Vivien in an ever-deepening plot that draws in the conventional authorities as well as the resources of the booksellers. Spells and swords, machineguns and helicopters are deployed as the stakes – and the body count – continue to rise.

Nix manages the action well, manoeuvring his engaging characters without contrivance and allowing enough downtime for breaths to be drawn and romance to stir. Their world makes sense, too, with a consistent and understandable magic system, and the relationship between the booksellers’ Old World and the mundane authorities of the New World in logical balance.

With the re-release of Sabriel and its follow-ups to court a new generation of fans, the booksellers’ tale is a reminder of why Nix is one of Australia’s most successful writers, and a fine addition to his bibliography. One can only hope this is but the first chapter in the booksellers’ adventures.

Reviewed by: Jason Nahrung, November 2020
Jason Nahrung is Ballarat Writers’ publicity officer

Book review — Max by Alex Miller

Title: Max

Author: Alex Miller

Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2020

Castlemaine-based Alex Miller is the winner of multiple national and international awards and a recipient of the Manning Clark Medal for outstanding contribution to Australian cultural life. His latest work, Max, his first non-fiction book, is a tribute to a man he loved and who loved him, a man who was his mentor and inspiration.

Imagine you are a writer. A friend shares with you mysterious fragments of his past. This friend shuns the limelight yet you have always suspected that “beneath his modesty, lurked a secret wish to have the story told”. Then your friend dies.

Max is a Jewish/German socialist intellectual who opposes the rise of the Third Reich. He is deported to Poland in 1933 and emigrates to Australia in 1945. His torture at the hands of the Gestapo, the demise of the German Labour Movement and the destruction of ideals to which he has devoted his life, have broken Max and brought him to the end of hope.

When Max dies, Miller feels he has betrayed his friend by not writing his story. He goes to Berlin in search of Max’s mysterious past as a resistance fighter. Miller believes that the torture Max suffered is the reason his memories are so fragmented. His quest leads him to a darker suspicion. He begins to fear that his friend was not a hero, after all. He gets to know Max better by meeting people who suffered similar experiences. The fragile Jewish community of Breslau, for instance where latent anti-Semitism still hovers.

An interview with Alex Miller about his book, Max

with david speers at abc radio’s the drawing room

Miller compares the rise of the Third Reich with the extreme right in the Western world today. A constant theme is that many Jews couldn’t believe what was happening until it was too late – they didn’t believe it was possible, they just didn’t see it coming. Miller suggests history seems fated to repeat itself and offers the chilling warning: “By the time we are aware of it, it will be too late to bring it down.”

After the war, Max was denied compensation because he was unable to provide documentary evidence. Miller points to this inhumane situation repeating worldwide today: failure to produce paperwork is often an excuse for governments to avoid helping refugees.

Honouring Max’s telling, the writing is divided not into chapters, but “fragments”. It is rich with sensitively portrayed images of place and human interaction …Miller’s reluctant visit to Auschwitz … his walk through the Thuringia forest … the post-war decay still evident in parts of Europe and the loving restoration of buildings that were burned to the ground because they were Jewish.

For me this book was a gift, emphasising as it does the importance of listening to traumatised people, and the value of every life. The story of futile resistance against an evil power will resonate with today’s refugee advocates.

Reviewed by: Maureen Riches, October 2020

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book review group

Book review – The Patterning Instinct by Jeremy Lent

Title: The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning

Author: Jeremy Lent

Publisher: Prometheus Books, 2017

The author

Jeremy Lent is a Cambridge University literature graduate, a Dot Com entrepreneur with an interesting and colourful past, and now a sustainability guru calling himself an integrator.

The book

The basic premise of the book is that human history can be studied through the lens of human cognitive development, a new approach to history.  The metaphors and world view held by society are instrumental to its future.

Lent has integrated/synthesised the research and thinking from literally hundreds of sources. In a work of five hundred plus pages there are over a hundred pages of notes, further reading and references. He has drawn upon disciplines as diverse as archaeology, neuroscience, and systems theory – the study of complexity and chaos.

The book opens by contrasting the voyages of Chinese Admiral Zheng with an armada of three hundred vessels and the voyage of Christopher Columbus in three leaky boats. Columbus changed the course of history and Zheng’s armada left almost no imprint on the world.

So why aren’t we all speaking Chinese?  Lent contrasts the deeply seated metaphors underpinning Chinese and European thinking and values: how each society views their position in the world.

Dualistic thinking and monotheistic religions figure heavily in Lent’s discussion. And he also explores the question “why the Industrial Revolution occurred in Europe and not the Islamic world or the Chinese world”, which were both more technically advanced at the time.

The Patterning Instinct is professionally written and easy to read, even if the subject matter is difficult to comprehend.  The book contains challenging and frightening conjectures, for example, that the “will of the people”, even in Western societies, is manipulated by a small elite group of society, and the species humans exploit the most is – humans!

In the final chapter Lent turns to systems theory and the study of complexity to suggest humanity is about to go through a period of significant transition. He couples this with his cognitive history to explain some of the human forces at play, speculating about, but not predicting, potential directions. We have a choice, he suggests.

It would be easy to dismiss Lent as just another new-age guru trying to make a living from humanity’s need to find meaning to our lives, but this work deserves more than a casual “oh, I read an interesting book the other day…” while sipping a chardonnay.

Reviewed by: Frank Thompson, June 2020

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book review group

Book review: Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe

Author: Mirandi Riwoe

Publisher: University of Queensland Press

Year: 2020

Mirandi Riwoe wrote a prize-winning novella The Fish Girl before writing Stone Sky Gold Mountain. She lives in Brisbane and has a PhD in creative writing.

This historical novel tells a poignant story of two young Chinese siblings and is set in Australia in the late 1800s. Ying, disguised as a male, and Lai Yue, her older brother, arrive in the North Queensland goldfields after fleeing their home in China. Their aim is to accumulate wealth before returning to China to find their younger siblings. They exist in meagre and sometimes dangerous conditions with long working hours panning for gold.

Driven from the goldfields, Ying takes refuge with and works for a Chinese storekeeper. It’s during this time she meets Meriem, a young woman who has experienced her own troubled times and works as a housekeeper for a brothel worker. The intriguing friendship between Ying and Meriem slowly develops over time. Lai Yue, after squandering his gold to buy opium, joins a droving crew as a cook in an attempt to redeem his losses.

Find out more about Mirandi Riwoe at The Garrett

Mirandi Riwoe tells a compelling story, it’s both gentle and harsh.  The author demonstrates an acute understanding of human frailty and resilience, highlighted by the injustice and discrimination dished out to minority groups on the goldfields. The issues of racism and sexism are explored through acute story telling and beautiful writing.

The three main characters are memorable, the pace, structure and the ending developed to perfection.  The plight of early Chinese miners in Australia is rarely explored in its own right but this book brings the lived experience to the page, which, in my view, makes this story unique.

Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche, June 2020

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book review group

Book review: Beloved: a Word Banquet by Amy Tsilemanis

Author: Poems by Amy Tsilemanis with images by the late Susie Surtees

Publisher: Amy Tsilemanis

Book Design: Tiffany Titshall

Year: 2020

Genre: Poetry

ISBN:  978-0-646-82011-8

Cover of Beloved: a Word Banquet

The Author

At the time Ballarat’s Word Banquet was running, Amy was a PhD student at Federation University working across the Collaborative Research Centre in Australian History (CRCAH) and the Arts Academy. This research was based on her practice as curator at the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute (2016-2019).

In 2019 she was nominated for the Ballarat Heritage Awards‘ inaugural Mayoral Award for emerging heritage and design practitioners

Amy has always loved storytelling and creating unique, beautiful and thought-provoking things. She loves making ideas happen through innovative projects and events.

Amy is based in Ballarat and is involved with curation and research on various local projects around arts, culture and heritage.

Word Banquet

Word Banquet was a monthly literary discussion group run by the late Susie Surtees with assistance from Amy Tsilemanis at the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute in 2018: “a participatory experience with other lovers of the words and ideas that move, inspire, and change us”. 

The Book

They say good things come in small packages. This book is more than a simple book of prose, it is a commemorative item, desirable and collectable. Beautifully presented, from the hard cover with the symbolic image of ginkgo leaves to the luxurious, thick pages, it is a tactile delight. Beloved: a Word Banquet is an apt title for a book in memory of friendship and kindred spirits.

I must admit to a slight bias, having attended three Word Banquet sessions and thoroughly enjoying each of them.  They opened the door to a richer world.  This book perfectly captures the mood and sentiment of those relaxed, civilised conversational events.

Beloved: a Word Banquet is to be launched online on 1 August, 2020; see the Facebook event for details

The images in the book are a mixture of symbolism, memory, and natural beauty. The cover image of ginkgo leaves with their soft rain-laden colours and association with peace and duality is a testament to how Susie viewed the world.

The images and writing are informed by deep philosophical understanding, years of reading, learning and research.  Amy’s poem for May I found particularly resonant for its observations of the social impact of advancing technological communications.

To me this book speaks of a richer life, where ambition is not about possession and power but for learning and love. Communication, through words and images, transcending place and time, but always with respect and consideration for others.

I am glad to have this book – a beautiful memory.

Reviewed by: Frank Thompson, July 2020

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book review group

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