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Inez Baranay

Sasha Soldatow was a writer, gay activist, member of the Sydney Push, party animal, and bon vivant with legions of friends. In Drink Against Drunkenness, Inez Baranay maps the life like an archaeologist’s dig, though we are looking into the recent past (Soldatow died in 2006, not yet sixty). A fall in the icy streets of Moscow, in which his hip was broken and subsequently badly reset, heralded a steep decline; his alcoholism grew apace, and many of his friends tired of him. It was a sad end, yet he had a life full of daring: avant-garde writing and living freely as a gay man in a still repressive age.

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Fox by Bruce Pascoe

August 1988, no. 103

It opens with an enigmatic statement – ‘It might take two hundred years’ – (what might?) – and then presents an enigmatic situation. Amidst Australian bush images and scraps of Aboriginal sounding stories, there is someone called Fox wandering around.

Fox, we soon learn, is a young chap called Jim Fox who is making a mysterious trip to Sydney from a farm he once lived on somewhere up the Murray.

He’d expected to be able to just go to places and remain anonymous, for people to just accept his presence as easily as he did theirs, with only the questions which could be answered by your own observations.

He was wrong, of course. People do ask him where he’s from and where he’s headed for and why he’s going there. Fox never says much, but no one minds; people only say affectionately ‘you’re a strange bugger, Fox’ and buy him beers, and give him rides, jobs, money, places to stay, and all the best advice they know.

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As I became more and more engrossed in this wonderful novel, I asked people I came across ‘Thea Astley?’ And they’d answer vaguely ‘I keep meaning to read her’ or ‘she’s meant to be good’ or ‘I don’t know why I haven’t, she’s written quite a few, hasn’t she?’ Who does read Thea Astley? Me, now; and people I come across will. I’ll make sure of it.

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