Brow Books, $34.95 pb, 216 pp, 9781925704051
The third chapter of Axiomatic, ‘History Repeats Itself’, displays Maria Tumarkin’s gifts for threading the subjects of her interviews through personal questions and existential interrogations. Seen through Tumarkin’s eyes, Vanda, an indefatigable community lawyer, fights for her clients inside court and out – those trapped in addiction, the mentally ill, streetworkers. Vanda’s compassion for them not only shows what is needed to make a difference, but also reflects Tumarkin’s scepticism towards language. Tumarkin sketches characters with quirky details, embracing their contradictions, ones that also apply to her themes. While we see the lioness in Vanda, a glimpse of helplessness is also visible, a helplessness before tragedy (and language’s inadequacy to deal with it) that forms a subtext to Axiomatic’s confident tone.
As with her first book, Traumascapes (2005), Tumarkin explores the lingering effects of trauma. However, whereas her début examined the ways in which psychic wounds can mark and shape our conceptions of geography and place, here her focus is on temporality and consciousness. Axiomatic examines pressures that squeeze and infiltrate memory: teen suicide, drug addiction, the violence of war. Many of the subjects interviewed understand that the memories of their traumas demand resistance as well as grace. There is no easy path to this, much less to explaining how past traumas condition present perceptions. In the second chapter, a woman hidden and thus saved during World War II is jailed after hiding her grandson to save him from his parents’ violence. Did she project onto her present Australian reality the lens she acquired as a child, or did she simply do what was required?