Tali Lavi

On the July afternoon when I first read Intimations, novelist and prolific essayist Zadie Smith’s new book of essays, Melbourne registered its highest number of Covid-19 cases – 484 positives, with two deaths. Since then the daily tolls have risen alarmingly. Midway through the city’s second week of Lockdown 2.0, there is a nebulous feeling of dispiritedness. We mark time as belonging to a pre-Covid era or the present reality. Within the present there exist further subdivisions of pasts and presents marked by social distancing, mandatory mask-wearing, hopefulness.

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My first encounter with Daniel Deronda (1876) was during a university undergraduate course in Victorian literature. The novel was almost shocking for its romanticised Jewish eponymous hero and its deep evocation of Judaism and modern Zionism’s stirrings. This was a singular experience when it came to reading Jewish characters by writers who were not themselves Jewish. Fictional Jews of this period were more likely to be permutations of vile stereotypes, Shylock or Fagin-like. They induced a feeling of shame, even when arguments could be made for the work’s nuance and literary brilliance. In Genius and Anxiety: How Jews changed the world, 1847–1947, we meet Daniel Deronda’s unlikely muse along with a profusion of other personalities, some famous, others whose legacies have been unnoticed or suppressed.

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‘“I must remember accurately,” I told myself, “remember everything accurately so that when he is gone I can re-create the father who created me.”’ This is Philip Roth exhorting himself while witnessing his declining father bathe in Patrimony: A true story (1991), a memoir that opens when Herman Roth is diagnosed with a brain tumour. The book, tender but also brutal, slips between the present and the past. Philip Roth, after all, is the writer. The matter of accuracy feels particularly perilous when the subject is the writer’s parent, if the intention is not to write a hagiography. It takes a particular kind of courage to countenance a parent’s failings when not motivated by revenge.

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Cock, Cock … Who’s There?

Tali Lavi
Wednesday, 04 March 2020

In 2000, Mary Beard, the English scholar and classicist, published an autobiographical essay entitled ‘On Rape’ in the London Review of Books. It blazes, not in intensity of tone, but as writing that refuses to tame itself to one palatable or containable narrative. The essay allows for a space wherein questions are asked and there aren’t always answers, at least not ones that make us complacent. Beard professes to not being ‘particularly traumatised by what happened’ to her younger self, admitting that this might be a result of the experience itself having morphed into different iterations as she retold it to both herself and others. These tellings subsequently become ‘interpretations of what went on, which coexist  ̶  and compete  ̶  with the account’ that she writes in the opening of the piece.

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2019 Arts Highlights of the Year

Robyn Archer et al.
Thursday, 24 October 2019

To celebrate the year’s memorable plays, films, television, music, operas, dance, and exhibitions, we invited a number of arts professionals and critics to nominate their favourites. 

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Anne Frank: Parallel Stories 

Tali Lavi
Friday, 11 October 2019

Earlier this year, not being able to find my childhood copy of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl for my eldest daughter, I bought another one. It seemed bigger than I had remembered, but the cover had the same recognisable photo of the demurely smiling Anne gazing somewhere into the distance – a wisp of a girl with distinctive dark features that would have made it highly unlikely for her to ‘pass’ as anything other than Jewish. The book bore a label that seemed to be making a dubious claim: ‘The Definitive Edition’. Was it more definitive than the journal I had read when I was a similar age to the girl who wrote it, as my daughter is now?

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In the beginning there is the sound of deep breathing and heartbeat. Woman, the electric Jennifer Vuletic, lies writhing on a rock, splayed as if for sacrifice. Is she in a state of anguish or ecstasy? My Dearworthy Darling ushers us into a space fraught with uncertainty, the kind where questions beget more questions ...

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A marble statue of a crouching Venus disfigured by age and circumstance appears on the cover of Lee Kofman’s Imperfect. The goddess of love and beauty is a ruin, although one capable of radiating an uncertain allure. Through a deft trick of typography, the emblazoned title can be read as either ‘Imperfect’ or ‘I’m Perfect’ ...

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Tali Lavi reviews 'Insomnia' by Marina Benjamin

Tali Lavi
Tuesday, 18 December 2018

The morning I begin to read Insomnia, a darkly thrilling beauty of a book, the sky turns a duckblue albumen. Domestic hush and personal restlessness coexist. This tension of dualities recurs within Marina Benjamin’s philosophical and poetic reckoning with the state of insomnia ...

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In my childhood home, Yiddish prompted a frisson of the suppressed. This was a direct consequence of adults speaking it whenever they did not want us children to understand. Yiddish was the language in which jokes, clever and sometimes ribald, worked. When attempting to translate, inevitably my grandmother would shrug ...

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