VIC contributor

Tali Lavi reviews 'The Happiest Man on Earth' by Eddie Jaku

Tali Lavi
Thursday, 24 September 2020

Eddie Jaku looks out benevolently from his memoir’s cover, signs of living etched across his face. The dapper centenarian displays another mark, one distinctly at odds with his beatific expression and the title’s claim: the tattoo on his forearm from Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Less discernible is the badge affixed to his lapel bearing the Hebrew word zachor; ‘remember’. The Happiest Man on Earth blazes with the pursuit of memory, of bearing witness, but it is also determinedly oriented towards the future, its dedication inscribed to ‘future generations’.

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Three wildly different Young Adult novels

Thuy On
Thursday, 24 September 2020

These three Young Adult novels differ wildly in tone, execution – even their grasp on reality. Georgina Young’s début novel, Loner (Text Publishing, $24.99 pb, 256 pp), won the Text Prize for an unpublished Young Adult manuscript in 2019, and was a deserving winner. Text has decided to market it as adult fiction, but it works well as a crossover novel. Her protagonist, twenty-year-old Lona (does not sound like loner!).

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In perhaps the most tender story in this textured, interconnected collection, an adolescent son spends the summer sunbathing in the backyard and sneaking glances at the paperboy while his working-class, stay-at-home father, who reads detective fiction and likes to ‘figure things out before the endings’, gently attempts to make it known to his son that he can tell him anything.

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From the moment one reads that this book is dedicated ‘To the worm that first gnawed at the cold flesh of my cadaver’, it is clear that The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, first published in Rio de Janeiro in 1881, is a novel like few others.

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Michael Shmith reviews 'Trio' by William Boyd

Michael Shmith
Thursday, 24 September 2020

The first three chapters of William Boyd’s beguiling new novel, Trio, are devoted to the waking habits of three people: a novelist called Elfrida Wing, stirred from slumber by the brightening morning sun; a film producer called Talbot Kydd, jolted into a new day by an erotic dream taking place on a beach; and an American actress called Anny Viklund, who, it seems, hasn’t had the time to consider sunrays or reverie. Anny, the only one of the trio not to wake up alone, has spent a vigorous night with a younger man called Troy Blaze.

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Our stories are not working. Whether they be the kind we tell in fiction, or the larger canvas of culture twittering away across the global village, our present reality – the seismic planetary shifts, the pandemical turmoil – evades our collective narrative comprehension. We are clearly at a critical moment in history, the consequences of which will ripple through time in unimaginable ways. In preparation for what is to come, we urgently need to view the frightening present with clarity. Only then, by extrapolating the likely future of our planet, might we begin to imagine a better world. There may not be a more qualified living writer to do this than Kim Stanley Robinson.

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James Antoniou reviews 'The Tolstoy Estate' by Steven Conte

James Antoniou
Thursday, 24 September 2020

During Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the Germans occupied Yasnaya Polyana – the former estate of Leo Tolstoy – for just forty-five days and converted it into a field hospital. The episode features in the war reportage of Ève Curie (daughter of Marie), and sounds like tantalising, if challenging, source material for a novelist. There’s the brutal irony inherent in the home of a world-famous prophet of non-violence being occupied by, of all people, the Nazis. There’s the human loss and horror of the deadliest military operation in the deadliest war in history. And there’s audacity in invoking and responding to Tolstoy’s great epic of another – Napoleon’s – doomed invasion of Russia: War and Peace (1869).

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In early August, deep in the winter of Melbourne’s stage-four discontent, journalist Rachel Baxendale became the story. The Victorian political reporter for The Australian newspaper was attacked online for questioning Premier Daniel Andrews on his government’s hotel quarantine program, as an explosion of new coronavirus infections caused unprecedented economic shutdown and the curtailment of civil liberties. As thousands of people watched the premier’s live press briefings from their living rooms, Baxendale assiduously probed Andrews about the use of security guards instead of Australian Defence Force personnel to guard returned travellers.

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Many have come to Australia in strange circumstances, but the two thousand or so who arrived on the Dunera and Queen Mary in 1940 have one of the most unusual stories. With the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Germans and Austrians living in the United Kingdom became enemy aliens. In May 1940, with the British Army on the Continent facing destruction and with invasion a very real threat, Winston Churchill ordered every enemy alien in the country arrested and detained. It was, he later realised, a mistake, as most Germans living in the United Kingdom were Hitler’s enemies rather than his supporters, and many were actually refugees from Nazism. But some had already been sent out of the country on ships bound for Australia and Canada. Not since the last convicts had been dropped at Fremantle in 1868 had the British government banished people judged as undesirable to Australia.

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The paradox of Donald Trump in three new books

Timothy J. Lynch
Thursday, 24 September 2020

In year four of their respective terms, George W. Bush and Barack Obama enjoyed a mixed press. Some accounts lauded them, others were sceptical. The assessments were uniformly partisan. The titles of contemporary books reflected how Republicans backed Bush (he was ‘The Right Man’), Democrats Obama (for successfully ‘Bending History’). Donald Trump, on the other hand, stands as one of the most vilified presidents in American history, from all points of the spectrum. Indeed, these books together make the case that the forty-fifth president is a man so psychologically flawed he poses a clear and present danger to American democracy.

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