Maria Tumarkin

The third chapter of Axiomatic, ‘History Repeats Itself’, displays Maria Tumarkin’s gifts for threading the subjects of her interviews through personal questions and existential interrogations. Seen through Tumarkin’s eyes, Vanda, an indefatigable community lawyer, fights for her ...

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Let no one say that all travel memoirs fall into the same predictable box. Otherland and Mother Land, two such works from Melbourne writers, may enjoy rhyming titles and pluck similar strings, but their styles could hardly be more dissimilar. The first, a new book from Maria Tumarkin, describes a journey to her Ukrainian/ Russian country of birth with her twelve-year-old daughter in tow; the second, a 2008 evocation by Dmetri Kakmi, follows a revisiting of his childhood on a Turkish-Greek island. Of it I wrote in The Age: ‘Always a beautiful, evocative and carefully crafted reconstruction of a past life generically familiar to many migrants, Mother Land outshines the plethora of similar memoirs because it consciously operates at two levels: the narrow focus, limited characters and humdrum events are transcended and elevated to a universal myth of loss’ (16 August 2008).

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From the horror of ‘traumascapes’ – the eponymous subject of Tumarkin’s first book (2005) – to the noble quality we call courage is one of those small steps that equate to giant leaps. Having spent a long time thinking and writing about the devastation caused to particular sites during the harsher episodes of recent history, Tumarkin has moved on to the human sentiments associated with those acts. Courage is not the only one, but because it appears so positive and universal it is a prime subject for interrogation, even deconstruction. (Yes, Maria, I know this is the theory-speak you disdain, but like the language of science, its vocabulary can lead to clarification as well as obfuscation.)

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If it is the case that we can no longer avoid the effects of living under conditions of globalisation, then increasingly that spatial dimension governs our lives. Look not, therefore, deep into the history of our individual nations or localities to explain what is going on, but lift your eyes to the horizon, and beyond, where a devastated city may be smouldering. Within minutes, a local politician will be warning us that we may be next.

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