Civil War

The participation of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, from 1936 to 1939, was a great but overwhelmingly tragic adventure. According to Geoffrey Cox, an enthusiastic young journalist from New Zealand in Madrid at the time, it was ‘the most truly international army the world has seen since the Crusades’. Romance, bravery, and sacrifice were combined with bastardry, suffering, and humiliation, marred by often lazy and amateurish tactics, including the fatal notion that military discipline was a form of ‘class oppression’. Giles Tremlett’s richly documented new account overflows with exhilaration and alcohol, along with sabotage, treachery, and utter disorganisation. Perhaps it was the very failure of this romantic intervention that has encouraged, over the decades, a rose-tinted vision: a history, in effect, written by the losers.

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André Gide, when asked who was the greatest French poet, is said to have replied ‘Victor Hugo, alas’, and many readers have responded in similar fashion to William Faulkner’s place in the history of the American novel. Werner Sollors, the eminent Harvard scholar of American Literature, unambiguously described Faulkner in 2003 as ‘ultimately the most significant American novelist of the [twentieth] century’, a judgement echoed in this book by Michael Gorra, who calls him ‘the most important American novelist of the twentieth century’. But Faulkner’s marked proclivity for both stylistic excess and thematic incoherence has always made him a difficult author to appreciate and study. Hence Gorra’s The Saddest Words, a judicious and measured blend of biography, contextual history, and travelogue, performs a signal service in making this complicated author more accessible to a wider reading public.

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When we talk about the importance of Australia's remembered wartime past, we mostly think of home-front experiences or Australians who went away ...

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In May 2009, Sri Lanka’s three-decade-long civil war came to an end with the government’s defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (known as the Tamil Tigers). The long conflict had brought a range of horrific abuses: deliberate shelling of civilian areas; suicide bombing of civilian targets; enforced disappearances; rape; forced conscription, including child soldiers; and the use of civilians as human buffers. In 2011 a UN panel of experts made preliminary findings that these abuses were violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law and that some could even amount to crimes against humanity. This prompted the current international investigation into the allegations by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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The trial of Lindy Chamberlain drew the fascinated attention of most Australians when it was reported day and night in every media outlet. It moved into a different but equally popular mode with the publication of John Bryson’s documentary novel Evil Angels and the screening of Fred Schepisi’s film of the same name. The novel not only won a clutch of awards but was translated into nine languages, a sufficient achievement to earn its author an enduring international reputation and to globalise what might otherwise have been a short-lived local curiosity. Bryson’s account picked up the dramatic intensity of the Central Australian setting and the human agonies of the players, as well as the universal issues, such as justice and prejudice, that towered over the Rock and the courtroom.

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