Allen & Unwin

Hundred Small Lessons holds powerful truths, simply told. It is a story of parenthood and place, where small domestic moments, rather than dramatic public displays, are the links between people, the present and the past. Each moment occurs in and around a familiar, ordinary Brisbane house ...

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Letters to the Editor in the May issue of Australian Book Review

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Christos Tsiolkas has established himself as a fiction writer to be reckoned with, especially since the publication of the explosive Dead Europe (2005) and the bestselling The Slap (2008). His latest novel, Barracuda (2013), marked a return to the adolescent anger and simpler naturalism of his early work. So his new volume of stories, Merciless Gods, may offer some help in understanding the trajectory of his career and his changing interests.

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Anyone who has lived in Sydney’s inner west will recognise the terrain of Springtime: gardens redolent of mystery and decay, shabbiness, unexpected vistas, and streets that Michelle de Kretser describes as running ‘everywhere like something spilled’.

Frances has moved to Sydney with Charlie, who has left his wife and son Luke behind in Melbourne. Luke’s occasional visits fuel Frances’s uncertainty with intimations of a shared family history from which she feels excluded. She walks Rod, the timid dog she rescued from the pound, and muses on the vagaries of her situation, her fears and failings.

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In the interests of national security, my luggage was recently searched at Los Angeles airport. The culprit: Spy Catchers. The uncorrected proof copy was so bulky that it triggered an alert. I declined to tell the Customs and Border Protection officer (in no mood for irony) that one chapter in the offending item was entitled ‘Keeping out Undesirables’. David Horner’s first volume in the history of ASIO is a big book – big on detail, broad in scope, and, overall, impressive in achievement.

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A relatively unusual occurrence until recently, the publication of a plethora of new Australian Aboriginal-authored and/or Aboriginal-themed children’s books has begun transforming the Australian publishing landscape. A number of these books, like Rhoda Lalara and Alfred Lalara’s charmingly evocative Yirruwa Yirrilikenuma-langwa (When We Go Walkabout: Allen & Unwin, $24.99 hb, 32 pp, 9781743314562), are rendered bilingually, in the latter case in Anindilyakwa, the mother tongue of the majority of Groote Eylandt residents, as well as in English.

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Rohan Wilson’s To Name Those Lost is a ferocious and brilliant sequel to his The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award-winning début, The Roving Party (2011), which charted the murderous exploits of John Batman and his crew of cutthroats sent out on a punitive expedition to bring Tasmania’s northern Aborigines to heel, by way of terror and genocidal slaughter. The novel divided opinion: was it a realistic exploration of the dark past and birthing rites of the modern nation of Australia, or a gratuitous exercise in reproducing the trauma visited upon Tasmania’s indigenous population? Some Tasmanians may have tired of the representation of their bonny isle as a crucible of gothic violence and misery. Regardless, there is no denying the raw power and purity of intent of Wilson’s To Name Those Lost.

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Australia’s history is chequered at best. For every story of military heroism, there is one of discomfiting prejudice. So it is with Christine Piper’s After Darkness, which explores Australian history from the point of view of a Japanese doctor, Tomakazu Ibaraki, arrested as a national threat while in Broome, and sent to the Loveday internment camps in regional South Australia.

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Anybody who knows a little about the role played by Australian horses in World War I will know that the story did not end well for the horses: 136,000 left these shores, and one returned. Readers of Morris Gleitzman’s Loyal Creatures (Viking, $19.99 pb, 160 pp) who are unaware of this statistic might be in for a shock.

At the outbreak of war, Frank Ballantyne, not quite sixteen, is working with his father, sinking bores and locating water for farmers in the outback. It is a skill that will serve Frank and the army well in the deserts of Egypt and Palestine, which, after lying about his age, he finally reaches – with his horse Daisy, and his father, who has also enlisted – in 1915.

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Pandora Jones by Barry Jonsberg & Crooked leg road by Jennifer Walsh

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June–July 2014, no. 362

Where is the pleasure in reading a book as part of a series? A long acquaintance with known and trusted characters rewards the reader with the chance to share their growth and development through multiple challenges and adversities. For teenage readers, following protagonists their own age on this journey has particular rewards. All this, and cliffhangers, too.

Barry Jonsberg’s latest novel, Pandora Jones: Admission, is the first in a series. Jonsberg is a versatile and assured writer. His gift with character is the portrayal of young people who narrate their lives with humour and self-assurance. Dreamrider (2006) was a departure for him, depicting a character who was in psychological torment from dreams, which may or may not have been real.

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