Biography and Memoirs

Requiem with Yellow Butterflies begins, aptly, with a death. Sitting at his office in Brisbane, the author receives news that Gabriel García Márquez has died at his home in Mexico. Across the world, there is a mushrooming of obituaries. Garlands of yellow butterflies are draped from trees and buildings; outside Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes ...

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Rupert Murdoch certainly attracts a good class of biographer. There was George Munster, who contributed so much to Australian politics and culture by helping to establish and edit Nation, and William Shawcross, one of Britain’s most prominent journalists. There were other biographies, too, before the efforts of Bruce Page ...

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Although you might not guess it from media comment, The Latham Diaries (MUP, $39.95 hb, 429 pp, 0522852157) is the most important book yet published on Labor’s wilderness years. It provides a pungent characterisation of Labor’s post-1996 history; conveys a profound understanding of the challenges facing a social democratic party in contemporary Australia ... 

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Louis Nowra was born in 1950 and is – as he presents himself in this memoir – that very mid­-century thing, an outsider. An outsider in terms of class, mental constitution, and sexuality (for a time), Nowra suffers a worse, and originary, alienation from his mother. Being born on the fifth anniversary of his mother’s shooting of her father ...

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People spent a lot of time looking for the pioneering aviator Charles Kingsford Smith. When he disappeared for the final time in 1935 just south of Myanmar, then known as Burma, he was just thirty-eight but felt ancient. Hopeful rescuers came from far and wide, but their efforts were not rewarded ...

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I wanted to like this memoir very much, not least because the inside of the book jacket promises, with some originality, a ‘not-uncritical love letter to Paris’. People (myself included) have a tendency to wax rhapsodic about France’s capital, but anyone who has ever lived there for any length of time knows ...

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Andrew S. Curran recounts the only meeting between the two great philosophes Denis Diderot and Voltaire early in 1778 when Diderot, aged sixty-five, insulted Voltaire, then eighty-five, by averring that contemporary playwrights (including, by implication, the two of them) would not brush Shakespeare’s testicles if ... 

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The name of Julia Sorell – the granddaughter of an early governor – never quite died in Tasmania. A faint memory survived of a high-spirited young woman who was the belle of Hobart, a woman who broke hearts and engagements, including one with the current governor’s son. (It was also rumoured – with political intent – that she seduced his father, Sir John Eardley-Wilmot.) An element of scandal arose all the more readily because her own mother had deserted her father for a military man, and had run off with him when he returned to his regiment in India.

 

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Memoirs of illness are tricky. The raw material is often compelling: dramatic symptoms, embarrassing public moments, and unavoidable relationship pressures. The challenge is to share that raw material in a new way. Not every memoir needs to turn on the conceit that illness is an obstacle that must be overcome ...

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My favourite image from Stanley Corngold’s Walter Kaufmann: Philosopher, humanist, heretic is set in Berlin as World War II concludes. Young Walter Kaufmann, a German Jew forced to flee the National Socialist regime to the United States, has returned to his native land as part of the occupying forces ...

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