Penguin

Ben Bland, a Financial Times correspondent in Indonesia in 2012–15 and currently director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Lowy Institute, had a ringside seat to watch the rise of Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (also known as Jokowi). By his own account, Bland has met him more than a dozen times. Jokowi was a furniture-maker and -exporter, mayor of Solo, and governor of Jakarta before being elected president in 2014. Bland has written a good introduction to the Jokowi era that will appeal to the general reader but may leave the serious student of Indonesia unsatisfied.

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The decisive influence on Australian politics and culture has been the fact that our society has always included a large minority who, even if they considered themselves British, were definitely Irish and not English. The fact that this minority has been Catholic and, as a result, has felt itself discriminated against, has shaped the church into an Irish rather than a European mode, so that, as Campion points out, not only was to be Irish to be Catholic, but to be Catholic was to be Irish.

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While many journals and anthologies are moving away from themed editions, the theme of this anthology is urgent and worthy. The royalties from Thanks for the Mammaries will go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF). Editor and NBCF ambassador Sarah Darmody writes eloquently in both the introduction and her autobiographical piece, ‘Frankenboob’, about her decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy after discovering that she carried the gene that gave her an eighty-five per cent chance of developing breast cancer.

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This fine first novel by a thirty-six-year-old Tasmanian woman was first published in 1984, but to the best of my knowledge has received only one review. Certainly, ABR missed it, and I would not have read it had it not been entered in the Vance and Nettie Palmer Victorian State Government awards for fiction. Had I been able to persuade my fellow judges of its merit, it would certainly have made the shortlist. Lohrey’s talent as a writer has finally been acknowledged in the latest issue of Scripsi, which prints an extract from the novel she is currently working on, as well as a substantial and thoughtful review by Anne Diamond.

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Felicity Plunkett reviews 'Summer' by Ali Smith

Felicity Plunkett
Monday, 14 September 2020

I could begin with a lark stitched into a letter. It’s 2020 and ‘all manner of virulent things’ are simmering. Sixteen-year-old Sacha writes to Hero, a detained refugee. She wants to send ‘an open horizon’. Unsure what to say to someone suffering injustice, she writes about swifts: how far they travel, how they feed – and even sleep – on the wing. The way their presence announces the beginning and ending of summer ‘makes swifts a bit like a flying message in a bottle’. Maybe they even make summer happen.

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It is rare that two books of such quality should appear at the same time, especially on a subject as tragic but absorbing as the fall of Singapore. The reader is reminded immediately of films about the maiden voyage of the Titanic. You know that at the end of the film the ship has to sink: you also know that Singapore must fall with equally dramatic suddenness. Worse, in the case of Singapore, the systematic massacre (sook ching) of much of its overseas Chinese population by the Japanese kempetai (secret police) adds a huge dimension of tragedy to what is already a disaster; as does the fact that the Japanese, unlike most Western armies of the period, had no plans to deal effectively with more than 130,000 Allied prisoners, who were then dispersed and incarcerated in prisoner-of-war camps across South-East Asia and Japan itself. Every so often, these scenes are revisited by sympathetic writing, and also by new evidence and analysis, which is the case here.

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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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Brendan Sargeant reviews 'In A Critical Condition' by John Docker

Brendan Sargeant
Wednesday, 19 August 2020

John Docker has written an entertaining if uneven book on the history and politics of literary criticism in Australia. The subtitle of the book, ‘Struggles for control of Australian literature-then and now!’ along with the Pop Art cover, gives an indication of his combative and slightly melodramatic approach. The book is, however, extremely important and something of a landmark. It presents a broad overview of the institution of literary criticism and its teaching in Australia, especially during the 1950s and 1960s. It discusses the political implications of various critical methods, and draws attention to some of the wider social and political ramifications of what occurs in the English departments of tertiary institutions. There is also discussion of the work of individual writers such as Katharine Susannah Prichard and James McAuley. As Humphrey McQueen writes in the foreword to the book, ‘His work also deserves the attention of people whose first area of interest is not literary criticism, for example, anthropologists, historians and political scientists.’

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People tell you one week that they liked Gallipoli, but the next they’re not so sure. Gone are the days of intuitive gut felt reaction – everyone wants to make sure their judgements are intellectually sound. They read every ‘expert’ on the subject and come back with another opinion. Reading the script gives you another variation. The skeleton is there, warts and all.

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Towards the end of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Overstory (2018), Richard Powers attempts to articulate why literature, or more precisely the novel, has struggled to encompass climate change: ‘To be human is to confuse a satisfying story with a meaningful one, and to mistake life for something huge with two legs. No: life is mobilized on a vastly larger scale, and the world is failing precisely because no novel can make the contest for the world seem as compelling as the struggles between a few lost people.’

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