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On David Malouf: Writers on Writers by Nam Le

May 2019, no. 411

On David Malouf: Writers on Writers by Nam Le

Black Inc., $17.99 hb, 108 pp, 9781760640392

On David Malouf: Writers on Writers by Nam Le

May 2019, no. 411

For more than a decade the world has waited, patiently or disbelievingly, for a second book from Nam Le, author of The Boat (2008), a collection of seven tales that won the young Australian author acclaim throughout the world. Finally, it has arrived. A book-length essay running to about 15,000 words, it may not be what the ravenous world had in mind, but it is seriously interesting – interestingly interesting one might almost say. The volume appears in Black Inc.’s neat little Writers on Writers series, with its owlish photographs of authors and subjects: author on top, subject below. Until now there were four in the series, including Christos Tsiolkas on Patrick White, and Ceridwen Dovey on J.M. Coetzee. (Michelle de Kretser on Shirley Hazzard, due later this year, promises to be a notable pairing.)

The authors, it’s apparent, are encouraged (perhaps even contractually required) to be intensely ‘personal’. Here, Nam Le – in his meditation on the subtleties and self-presentation of David Malouf – does not disappoint. His response, deeply autobiographical, feels swiftly written and passionately conceived; the responsive reader will consume it in a trice and then go back to savour its anxious nuances and discriminations. Truly essayistic, it is ‘a thinking out loud, a setting down of thinking’. Like his short stories – which generate considerable tension, marking them out in an often bloodless genre – Nam Le’s essay bristles with paradoxes and contradictions.

Peter Rose reviews 'On David Malouf: Writers on Writers' by Nam Le

On David Malouf: Writers on Writers

by Nam Le

Black Inc., $17.99 hb, 108 pp, 9781760640392

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Comments (2)

  • This "rather fierce little book" (and I couldn't agree more with this comment of your reviewer) hit me really hard, when I read the essay over the last few days. And for old white Australians like myself, I think it is meant to. And although I once foolishly volunteered and wore the uniform of the Australian Army and served in Vietnam (Nam Le's country of birth) for a year in 1967/68, I feel more and more alienated from the country in which I was born and which I somewhat reluctantly now have to call home. Because I always fondly believed, incorrectly as it has turned out, that Australia was a welcoming country for those from other lands seeking its help and refuge, and that after a few years living here, such people would feel, as presumably David Malouf does, but Nam Le does not, that they had become truly Australian; that they no longer felt "other".
    Nam Le's essay is challenging, instructive and deeply thought provoking. Some have suggested that it is more about Nam Le than it is about David Malouf, and that he has not done his subject justice. I profoundly disagree. His work in this essay has sent me back to rereading David Malouf's writing, much of which I had half forgotten. That to me is proof enough that the essay is a success. And it has not only made me reread 'The Boat', but long for more writing from Nam Le's pen. I hope he won't disappoint us by another long interval before he publishes again.
    Posted by David Bradford
    27 November 2019
  • I was very surprised by the statement here that J.M. Coetzee would never be described as ‘South African-Australian’. Like most readers, I am guessing, I associate him primarily with South Africa, where most of his finest work is set. Also, given that he only moved to Australia in his early 60s, I would have thought that describing him in that way would simply be an act of courtesy.
    A quick look on google also brought up - in a short space of time - - "Irish- Australian crime author", "Irish-Australian cellist", "a German-Australian author" etc. etc.
    Posted by Andrew Shields
    12 May 2019

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