Accessibility Tools

  • Content scaling 100%
  • Font size 100%
  • Line height 100%
  • Letter spacing 100%

Bloomsbury

Robyn Davidson is still best known as the ‘camel lady’, the young writer whose account of her desert trek from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with four camels and a dog made her internationally famous. Tracks, published in 1980, has never been out of print. Since then Davidson has led a nomadic life – sometimes living in London, sometimes New York, and often exploring the world’s remote places and writing about them and her encounters with desert dwellers. Now, in her early seventies she has returned to her roots, spurred – like many writers at the same stage of their lives – by the need to examine her own past.

... (read more)

When pushed to vote on the bleakest poem among Philip Larkin’s death-obsessed body of work, most would likely stump for his late masterpiece ‘Aubade’, that arid interrogation of human finitude. Yet his ‘The Building’, from 1972, is in many ways a more savage appraisal of individual extinction and the structures we build in an attempt to deny it: ‘Higher than the handsomest hotel / The lucent comb shows up for miles …’ Larkin was referring here to the Hull Royal Infirmary, a modernist pile which loomed over the poet’s hometown after it opened in 1967. Yet the poem could just as easily be translocated to Rochester, Minnesota, where the substantial modern tower of the Mayo Clinic stands: a building around which, too, surrounding streets stand like ‘a great sigh out of the last century’.

... (read more)

'A fifteen-year-old African genius poet altar boy who loves blondes is not a criminal, not a racist, not a sell-out.’ Perhaps not unlike other fifteen-year-old males, he is prone to bouts of solipsism and radical empathy, as absorbed by superhero fantasies of escape (and retribution) as he is by the semiotics of text messaging and sneakers. He is as unique as the next genius-poet altar boy – but also as generic, an utterly predictable mix of reticence and masturbatory self-aggrandisement. This is the wager of Stephen Buoro’s engaging début, and what renders its narrator-protagonist, Andy Aziza (a genius-poet altar boy who is also, it turns out, a genius mathematician), so memorable. 

... (read more)

Freedom, Only Freedom by Behrouz Boochani, edited and translated by Omid Tofighian and Moones Mansoubi

by
January-February 2023, no. 450

In 2018, No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison became a literary sensation. It was written by Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian journalist and refugee who was incarcerated by the Australian government on Manus Island. Like thousands of others, Boochani had travelled by boat to seek asylum in Australia. From Manus, he texted passages to collaborators in Sydney. There, Omid Tofighian and Moones Mansoubi developed the work further. Through reportage, storytelling and poetry, it bore witness to the horrors of immigration detention. By 2019, No Friend had won some of Australia’s major literary awards and Boochani had become internationally renowned. In November 2019, he was invited to attend a festival in Christchurch, New Zealand. After six years in detention, he was free. The system that had imprisoned him remained intact.

... (read more)

This is an optimistic book about the future of democracy in diverse societies. Yet optimism about democracy is a scarce commodity in 2022. Engaging with the prevailing pessimism forms the basis of Yascha Mounk’s prognosis for democracy in diverse societies. This makes it a worthwhile book, despite some absences in the analysis.

... (read more)

What a performance this novel is! And not just in the virtuoso sense. What an exhausting mishmash of contradictions: snobbery, self-abasement, campery, stock masculinity. The whole pastiche is laced with vivid images of what it means to be finally old and ugly.

... (read more)

In late March 1941, more than six months into the relentless German aerial campaign that was then destroying great swaths of London’s fabric and spirit, Virginia Woolf filled the pockets of her heavy overcoat with stones and waded into the River Ouse. Her suicide occurs halfway through Will Loxley’s scattergun study of English writers and writing during the war, though its inevitability haunts the first half of the book, as claustrophobic as the pea-soupers that had defined London’s self-image in the centuries before the Blitz took on that singular responsibility.

... (read more)

In These Precious Days, her second essay collection (after This is the Story of a Happy Marriage in 2013), celebrated American writer Ann Patchett sets out to explore ‘what matter[s] most in this precarious and precious life’. Patchett is the author of seven novels, including Bel Canto (2001), which won the 2002 Orange Prize for Fiction, and her most recent, the internationally acclaimed The Dutch House (2019). When the pandemic struck in early 2020, Patchett did not have a novel in progress and decided that 2020 was not the time to start one. Instead, she wrote essays, something she has always done when she doesn’t have a novel on the go.

... (read more)

In You Must Set Forth at Dawn (2006), Wole Soyinka’s final volume of memoirs, the writer cites a piece of Yoruba wisdom: T’ágbà bá ńdé, à á yé ogun jà – as one approaches an elder’s status, one ceases to indulge in battles’. This was once the hope of a man who describes himself as a ‘closet glutton for tranquillity’. At one point, Soyinka even dared to think that he would assume the position of a serene elder at forty-nine: seven times seven, the sacred number of Ogun, his companion deity. But Ogun is wilful as protector and muse. The life the god carved for Soyinka took the image of his own restlessness. A poet, playwright, novelist, and Nobel Laureate, Soyinka remains an activist for democracy, his bona fides hard won as a political prisoner during the Nigerian Civil War (1967–70) and in exile during the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha (1993–98).

... (read more)

In winter 2019, Victoria’s Labor government tabled legislation that would make it easier for trans people to correct the sex marker on their birth certificate. Previously, trans people were required to have surgery on their reproductive organs before they could amend this foundational legal document. This requirement caused significant problems for the many trans people who don’t want or cannot afford surgery. Unable to correct their birth certificate, trans people often lived with a mismatch between their gender presentation and legal identity, a situation which forced them to disclose their transgender status and expose themselves to harassment and discrimination – or worse.

... (read more)