Alison Broinowski

The three parts of Dominique Wilson’s story are linked together by racial prejudice, of Australians towards Asians, and of Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese towards Westerners. She picks up this well-worn thread in pre-Federation Australia and weaves it in and out of the narrative, tying it off when China is in the throes of the Cultural Revolution. During the twentieth century, her three men – two Chinese and one Australian – are afflicted by racism to different degrees. How strange, then, to call her book The Yellow Papers, without explaining the significance of that loaded adjective. What papers? Wartime telegrams, ancient documents, or something else?

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Dangerous Allies by Malcolm Fraser, with Cain Roberts

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June–July 2014, no. 362

Coinciding with the World War I anniversaries, Malcolm Fraser’s book will polarise Australian opinion on a fundamental issue. It has never been raised in this way, for Australian leaders have not discussed decisions to go to war in public, nor sought popular approval of Australia’s alliances. Yet successive generations of young Australians have fought in British and American wars to support our allies and to ensure that they would defend us. In Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the enemy were people who did not threaten Australia. But, as Fraser is not the first to observe, cowed countries do as great powers demand, while in return great powers do what suits their own interests.

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The Storyteller and his Three Daughters by Lian Hearn & Henry Black by Ian McArthur

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November 2013, no. 356

For centuries, Japan has magnetised the West’s imagination, evoking both fear and fascination. In the late nineteenth century, when most writers and readers in Europe, North America, and Australia had yet to see this ‘young’, newly accessible country for themselves, literary fantasies on the Madam Butterfly theme became a craze. Then, after Japan invaded ...

Few first novelists are as assured and articulate as Felicity Volk. She has designed an elemental structure for her story: wind, fire, earth, and water each have a section. Her time frame goes centuries deep, naming ancestors who, in the style of Genesis, begat and begat seven generations, until they reach Persia, an Australian with Arab, European, and British ...

I once fell out with an intelligent, well-read woman who refused to believe me when I said I had never read a Mills & Boon book. I should perhaps have admitted that the job I had as a student, proofreading stacks of popular novels for an Adelaide publisher, put me off them for life. Now I am grateful to Hsu-Ming Teo for educating me so thoroughly on romantic fic ...

It is ten years since the invasion of Iraq by the United States and the few countries willing to join it. Happening to be in Washington in February, and recalling worldwide protests in 2003, I was struck by what seems to be American amnesia about the war and its consequences. At least in Australia groups are exploring ways to prevent such catastrophic expeditions in the future. Even as Afghanistan follows Iraq towards a similar conclusion, the US government’s war mentality is kept alive by contestation with China, eyeballing of North Korea, countdown over Iran, nervousness about Syria, demands for more military spending, and war hunger in sections of the media. Americans’ nerves are further strained by domestic threats like cyber-infiltration, extreme weather, and mass killings, against which conventional defences seem powerless. Past wars don’t end all wars.

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White Papers are falling on Australia like confetti. We had two on foreign affairs and one on terrorism in the seven years to 2004; the third one on defence in four years will appear this year, and in October 2012 Ken Henry delivered Australia in the Asian Century. Defence White Papers are perennially concerned with Australia’s need for the material and money to protect us against certain countries, which are rarely named. The Asian Century paper, on the other hand, explicitly names China among the five ‘key regional nations’ to be given priority in order to bring ‘a stronger national purpose and cohesion’ to the relationship with Australia. The Defence White Paper will be sober in tone, as Menzies was when announcing his ‘melancholy duty’ in 1939, or resolute, as was Curtin in declaring Australia’s shift of dependence to the United States in 1941. In contrast, The Asian Century adopts cheerful, forward-looking slogans. Australia’s success ‘will be based on choice, not chance’, it says; ‘the tyranny of distance is being replaced by the prospects of proximity’; and Australia is ‘located in the right place at the right time’. Asia is so important, says Dr Henry, that it is going to be ‘the main game not only economically but in almost any sense of national significance’.

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To hear that Pamela Burton was writing about the deaths of Nick Waterlow, the prominent gallery director and exhibition curator, and his daughter Chloe, came as a surprise. Anthony Waterlow, Nick’s son and Chloe’s older brother, killed them both in Chloe’s Clovelly house, where he had been invited for dinner, and then, with the same knife, attacked her two-year-old daughter. Sydney was transfixed by the event for the weeks after 9 November 2009, while police hunted for Anthony. Everyone knew the awful facts from the media coverage: what was there to add? After her well-received book on Mary Gaudron (2010), for Burton to take on another unauthorised biography might seem like masochism. The Waterlows wanted to protect their privacy, and friends murmured about exposing unhealed wounds to prurience and sensationalism. Others worried about the effect the book might have when Anthony is eventually released from the Forensic Hospital at Malabar. Others again expected a dry legal narrative from Burton, a former barrister in Canberra, who could bring neither the expertise of a psychiatrist to Anthony’s case, nor that of an art historian to Nick Waterlow’s colourful career.

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Every migrant has a story. The past two decades have given us accounts of migration to Australia from so many Asian countries, and from so many viewpoints – sad, painful, funny, cynical, mystical – that little more seems left to tell. But now, out of Africa, comes a writer with a new and altogether more terrible tale.

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1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel

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March 2012, no. 339

Admirers of Haruki Murakami who waited for two years while successive parts of his twelfth novel sold millions in Japanese, are now rewarded for their patience with a big nugget of a book in English, which is already an international bestseller. The elegant cover shows an enigmatic night sky with two moons, which reappear on the endpapers and between the three parts. Rather than clutter one single page with publication details and Murakami’s numerous other fiction and non-fiction titles, the book’s designers run these in tiny print across the top and bottom margins of the eight endpapers. In the side margins of the text, ‘1Q84’appears halfway down every page, arranged as a cube, above and below which the page numbers move up and down. On the opposite pages, the page numbers also move, but both they and the title are in mirror reverse. What’s more, this idiosyncratic pattern switches over at various, apparently random intervals, from odd to even pages. Q is ku, nine in Japanese, and the letter is said to look like ‘a world that bears a question’, although the answer escapes me. Nothing in 1Q84 will be as it seems.

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