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Jesse Blackadder

You think you know what Jackie French’s Refuge (Angus & Robertson, $15.99 pb, 261 pp, 9780732296179) is going to be about, with its front cover photograph of a young boy, his dark eyes full of apprehension and sorrow. You still think you know when the refugee boat carrying the boy, Faris, and his grandmother, Jedda, to Australia is swamped by a huge wave and sinks. So you are almost as puzzled as Faris when he awakes to find himself in a sunlit bedroom with palm trees and a blue sky outside, and his beloved Jedda making breakfast for him. She encourages him to play on the beach, where a strange assortment of children is playing ball, and a naked, dark-skinned youth is spearing fish in the shallows. Faris is invited to join the game, with one proviso: on the beach he must never speak of the past. Faris agrees; there is too much pain in his past to talk about it.

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The 2012 centenary of the dramatic Scott–Amundsen race to reach the South Pole prompted several new non-fiction books on Antarctica. No fewer than five of them were reviewed in the December–January edition of London’s Literary Review, a welcome reminder of the superb Ferocious Summer (Profile Books, 2007) by Australian author Meredith Hooper, which won the Victorian Premier’s Award for Non-Fiction in 2008 (disclosure: I was convenor of that panel).

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Mary Queen of Scots, widow of the youthful French king, returns from her long exile in France to a country bereft of pageantry... ... (read more)