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War Memoir

This book is a double-barrelled memoir, its two authors providing, at heart, a first- and second-generation account of the Burma Railway and its resonances down their line. It’s arc is wider though, and it’s preoccupations more universal, than a simple family history, if there is such a thing. Arch Flanagan, the patriarch and veteran, contributes five pieces, two of memoir, two short stories and an obituary. Martin, son and searcher, intersects these texts with a narrative of his own, alternately probing the spaces and interrogating the players of this history.

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The facing island in Jan Bassett’s memoir is Phillip Island, where her maternal grandparents had a dairy farm and where it seems she was most emotionally at home. Summer holidays there as a child in the 1960s, in the midst of her grandmother’s extended family and surrounded by familiar tokens of past decades reaching as far back as the early 1900s, undoubtedly sparked her lifelong commitment to Australian history. The title, taken from Peter Rose’s poem ‘Balnarring Beach’ (‘The facing island, a mortal blue, / beckons, intensifies, vanishes’), could hardly be more appropriate, compressing in a few words much of the emotional intensity of Bassett’s autobiographical last journey.

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