Memoir

Not many people create an archive. For almost thirty years, Phillip Maisel led the testimonies project at Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Centre (JHC). Maisel’s memoir is his story of surviving the Holocaust and becoming ‘the keeper of miracles’.

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In 2016, New York Times correspondent Damien Cave moved his young family to Sydney to establish a foreign bureau for the newspaper. As he writes in his new book, Into the Rip, the experience has been transformational, teaching him among other things that ‘None of us is trapped within the nation we come from or the values we picked up along the way’. Despite political and economic alliances, Australia and the United States are not clones of each other, and in many ways Australia proves ‘the healthier model’ for a society. Cave learned these life lessons, he reports, through ‘the combination of fear, nature and community spirit’.

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Our Home in Myanmar: Four years in Yangon is an Australian woman’s account of her four years living and working in Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar. In 2012, Jessica Mudditt arrived there with her Bangladeshi husband; they were looking for adventure and a way to pay for the experience. This is Jessica’s story: how she found work with an English language newspaper, her experiences as a foreigner, her fractious relationships with expat colleagues, the struggle to find suitable accommodation, the shock of her summary dismissal, her money and visa problems, and her subsequent work with the British Embassy, before freelancing and working as foreign editor at the much-derided state-run newspaper, the Global New Light of Myanmar.

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The closest I have ever come to expiring from heat exhaustion was not during one of Melbourne’s oppressive summers. It was not in north-east Victoria as bushfire smoke choked the air and even the kangaroos abandoned the grasslands. The closest I have ever come was not even on the continent of Australia. It was on the number 26 bus as it crawled up the Rue des Pyrénées on a sweltering June day in Paris. 

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Yves Rees’s memoir All About Yves charts their experience of coming out as trans. The book documents the challenges of the transition in a colonial society built for and around the gender binary. Rees invites the reader into their everyday life. The point is to make their ‘gender legible in a world that refuses to see it’, and the author sets out from this premise.

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On 19 November 2020, the Chief of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, released the findings of the Brereton Report, so named for the New South Wales Supreme Court Judge and Reserve Major General Paul Brereton, who led the investigation into war crimes allegations against members of the Australian SAS. The report had been a long time coming – with good reason. Over four years, Brereton and his team scrutinised more than 20,000 documents, examined 25,000 images, and interviewed 423 individuals – Afghan victims and their families, eyewitnesses, whistleblowers, and the alleged perpetrators. The final eight-volume, three-part report came in at 3,251 pages. Everybody knew it would be bad, but few had anticipated quite how confronting its findings would be.

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By any measure, Amartya Sen’s academic career has been a glittering one. A professor of economics at Harvard University for more than three decades, Sen has also held appointments at Cambridge University, Oxford University, the Delhi School of Economics, and Jadavpur University. In 1998, he was awarded a Nobel Prize for his contribution to welfare economics, including work on social choice, welfare measurement, and poverty. The same year, he was appointed as the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge (the first Asian head of an Oxbridge college). He has also written extensively on economics, philosophy, and Indian society and culture.

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Aunty Ronnie is a Kurnai and Gunditjmara woman. She is also a mother of three, a grandmother of two, and one of Australia’s most underrated comedians. Black and Blue, her autobiography, is an enthralling book set primarily in three places: Bung Yarnda, Morwell (Black), and the Queensland Police Service (Blue), where Aunty Ronnie served as a member for ten years. The title is a play on the old saying ‘black and blue’, which commonly refers to someone covered in bruises.

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In late August, it took only a few days for the Taliban to secure control of Kabul in the wake of the final withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan. The breakneck speed of the takeover was accompanied by images of mass terror, alongside a profound sense of betrayal. As in the closing days of the Vietnam War in 1975, the international airport quickly became the epicentre of scenes of chaos and collective panic, as thousands rushed onto the tarmac in desperate attempts to board the last planes out of the country. Queues stretched for kilometres outside the country’s only passport office. It is still too early to tell whether the Taliban’s promises of a more ‘inclusive’ government and amnesty for former collaborators of the Western forces will be met. What is certain is that Western governments owe them safe passage, though, from the announcements coming from Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office in late August, it seems unlikely this will be properly honoured.

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Deborah Levy published the first volume in her ‘living autobiography’ trilogy, Things I Don’t Want to Know, in 2013. Five years later came The Cost of Living. Now we have the finale, Real Estate. Each book is an autobiographical interrogation of women’s middle age in which Levy ambivalently considers the place of the woman writer in the contemporary world.

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