BOOK REVIEW: Nicholas Clements’ Black War (Review by Justin Cahill)

the-black-warIn 1976, Manning Clark famously asked “are we a nation of bastards ?” He was writing about Whitlam’s dismissal. But Clark’s real targets were the “heart dimmers”, the reactionary conservatives who he believed had brought down a man of vision.

Similar elements continue to deny that European settlement here led to war with the Aborigines. Generally, historians have tip-toed around this aspect of our past. Reading their accounts you would think the local people had, after thousands of years living here, simply melted away. But they resisted and it’s time we acknowledged the wars that followed.

Other nations do not share this collective amnesia. In New Zealand, the European settlers’ breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, made with the Māori in 1840, led to over twenty years of civil wars. Those wars have a firm place in New Zealand national history. There are monuments to the dead. Battlefields, such as Rangiriri pā, are protected historic sites. There are movies about the conflict, including Utu, released in 1983.

The frontier wars between the Indians and settlers in America’s west spawned a culture of their own, culminating in 1970 with the publication of Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

But, to paraphrase the historian James Belich, while kids play cowboys and Indians, who plays convicts and Aborigines ? There is has been acknowledgement of such a conflict, the ‘Black War’, in Tasmania. It provided the background for a movie, Manganinnie, released in 1980.

Yet recent accounts of our frontier wars have been marred by sloppy extrapolations of casualty figures from primary sources or by simply ignoring Aboriginal evidence. But how much evidence do we need ? The Tasmanians endured for about 30,000 years then, co-incidentally, were reduced to several hundred within 30 years of European settlement. Are we just too gutless to confront past wrongs ?

Clements

Nicholas Clements

If not, we had better steel ourselves. Clements is open about his political leanings and the limitations of his sources. But the contemporary reports he has found show the Tasmanian government, despite humanitarian protestations, planned to rid the colony of the local people, either by transporting them to island ghettoes or simple extermination. His accounts of their fight for survival are harrowing. Apart from detailing the massacres of poorly armed warriors, he provides vivid accounts of how the women and children were captured, used as sex slaves then often murdered.

Clements’ approach is unique that he gives equal space to the experiences of the settlers, soldiers, emancipists and convicts. He acknowledges they were “…victims of their circumstances …hatreds, frustrations, fears and sadnesses.” For example, most of the convicts transported to Tasmania were not professional criminals, but just working class men who fell on hard times. Shipped to the other side of the world and brutalised by the penal regime, they were left with the bare shreds of humanity. Fear of attack from the local people stripped them of even that – reducing them to the level of broken, snarling dogs.

We pride ourselves that we live in a more civilised age. But Clark’s question remains unanswered. Are we to be a stagnant, introverted society living in denial ? Are we still a nation of bastards ? Clements shows we don’t have to be.

Grab a copy of Nicholas Clements’ Black War here


Justin Cahill is a Sydney-based naturalist and historian. His publications include a biography of the ornithologist Alfred North and A New Life in our History, a history of the European settlement of Australia and New Zealand told from the perspective of ordinary people. He has also written on Chinese history, including the negotiations surrounding Britain’s acquisition of Hong Kong and its decolonisation in 1997.

Justin’s most recent publication is the first part of Epitome for Eleanor: A Short History of the Known Universe, written for children. His current projects include a natural history of Sydney’s Wolli Creek Valley.

He regularly contributes reviews to Booktopia.


the-black-warThe Black War

Fear, Sex and Resistance in Tasmania

by Nicholas Clements

‘At its core, The Black War is a story about two peoples who just wanted to be free of each other . . . sooner or later Europeans and Aborigines were bound to clash, but it was Tasmania’s unique circumstances that turned this encounter into a ‘war of extermination’.’

Between 1825 and 1831 close to 200 Britons and 1000 Aborigines died violently in Tasmania’s Black War. It was by far the most intense frontier conflict in Australia’s history, yet many Australians know little about it. The Black War takes a unique approach to this historic event, looking chiefly at the experiences and attitudes of those who took part in the conflict. By contrasting the perspectives of colonists and Aborigines, Nicholas Clements takes a deeply human look at the events that led to the shocking violence and tragedy of the war, detailing raw personal accounts that shed light on the tribes, families and individuals involved as they struggled to survive in their turbulent world.

The Black War presents a compelling and challenging view of our early contact history, the legacy of which reverberates strongly to the present day.

About the Author

Dr Nicholas Clements is an honorary research associate in the School of Humanities at the University of Tasmania. Born in rural Tasmania in 1982, he now lives in Launceston. Nick is an avid rock climber and bushwalker, whose passion for Tasmania’s landscape and history inspired him to write The Black War.

Grab a copy of Nicholas Clements’ Black War here

REVIEW: The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion (Review by Benison O’Reilly)

the-rosie-effectEarly in 2013, I wrote a Booktopia review of The Rosie Project, the home-grown literary phenomenon that has gone on to be published in thirty-eight languages and sell over a million copies worldwide. I had originally approached Graeme Simsion’s debut novel with trepidation, being the mother of a boy on the autism spectrum and thus a little thin-skinned on the subject. Could Simsion create a portrait of Professor Don Tillman, our unlikely Aspergian hero, which was both sympathetic, but at the same time believable? The answer turned out to be a resounding yes.

Not, for that matter, that Don thinks he has Asperger’s syndrome. When the Asperger’s label raises its head in an early scene in The Rosie Effect — hitherto referred to as the BlueFin Tuna Incident — he is bemused. Don regards Asperger’s syndrome with academic detachment: yes, he’s admittedly ‘somewhat socially incompetent’, yes, he once delivered a lecture on the topic back in Melbourne so best friend Gene could pursue ‘a sexual opportunity’, but apart from that, what’s its relevance to him?

This is entirely believable. Simsion has revealed in interviews that he based Don not on textbook descriptions of Asperger’s , but on real people he met in his former life in academia. People who’ve gone through life without any label except for ‘eccentric’ or ‘odd’. We can find lots of Dons in society if we care to look hard enough.

It’s during this same Bluefin Tuna Incident that Don is told by Lydia, an off-duty social worker: ‘Don’t ever have children.’ Unfortunately, Rosie has other ideas.

Benison-OReilly

Author: Benison O’Reilly

In The Rosie Effect, Don and Rosie have moved to live, work and study in New York, allowing Simsion to introduce a raft of new characters, including, George, a beer-collecting former rock drummer, Lydia, and a lesbian mothers collective. The novel follows the trajectory of Rosie’s unplanned pregnancy and, as you’d expect, it’s anything but smooth sailing. In marrying Rosie, Don has taken a huge step into what John Elder Robison called the ‘anxiety-filled, bright and disorderly world of people’, where his autistic traits — his honesty, his literal worldview, his capacity to absorb greats tracts of information (and perhaps less helpfully to reveal this knowledge to others) and his ability to pursue scientific enquiry without emotion or agenda — prove both a blessing and a curse.

When Gene suggests to the expectant dad that he ‘watch some kids’ to prepare himself for parenthood, Don takes himself off, alone, to video children at a playground, earning himself a visit from the NYPD. The policeman, who has a nephew like Don, quickly surmises that our hero poses no threat to the city’s children, but refers him for a psychiatric assessment:

‘I don’t think you’re a danger to kids, but I can’t just let you walk away. If next week you go and shoot up a school, and I’ve done nothing —‘

‘It seems statistically unlikely—‘

‘Don’t say anything. You’ll talk yourself into trouble.’

the-rosie-projectDon regards this as good advice, but unfortunately doesn’t follow it. But if he did we wouldn’t have a book, would we?

While there are plenty of laughs in The Rosie Effect, there is less humour to be had in Don’s floundering marriage. Rosie, he knows, is his only shot of happiness, and as an autism mum I could not help but take it personally. For much of the book we’re kept in the dark about what Rosie is up to, and Don, being Don, isn’t great at intuiting what she’s thinking.

But Simsion knows his readership: we’re expecting a happy ending and he’s not about to disappoint us. The climactic scene at JFK airport is classic screwball comedy, in typically unorthodox fashion.

How will Don adjust to fatherhood? We’ll have to wait for the next instalment to find out.

Grab a copy of The Rosie Effect here


Benison O’Reilly is the co-author of The Australian Autism Handbook. A new edition of the bestselling Handbook was released recently. You can follow her on twitter here.

the-australian-autism-handbookThe Australian Autism Handbook

by Benison O’Reilly & Kathryn Wicks

When first published in 2008, the Australian Autism Handbook quickly became the go-to guide for parents whose children have been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. In this new edition, the book has been updated with all the latest research, the ratings guide for early interventions, new chapters on teens; Asperger’s syndrome; DSM5 diagnostic criteria; and advice for dads by dads.

Its new resources section ensures you make the most of your funding and lists every website and phone number you could ever need. Australian Autism Handbook is a practical and comprehensive guide to every aspect of raising an ASD child.

Grab a copy of The Australian Autism Handbook here

BOOK REVIEW: Holy Cow by David Duchovny (Review by Ben Hunter)

David Duchovny wrote a book. Yes, that David Duchovny.

Sure, he’s known for being an actor, but did you know he has a Masters in English Literature from Yale? Booktopia’s Ben Hunter takes a closer look at his debut novel Holy Cow.


holy-cowWhen the X Files were on in the 90s, few of us thought that the man behind Agent Fox Mulder would publish a book twenty years later written entirely from the perspective of a dairy cow. We’ve come a long way, my friends.

Holy Cow isn’t your classic boy-meets-girl kind of quick read. What you’re essentially reading is cow becomes aware of own cruel fate, pig changes name to Shalom, meets Turkey that somehow has an iPhone and travels with them to the Middle East and India. None of this is believable in the slightest and the whole thing is a riot until the cow comes home.

cn_image.size.david-duchovnyDuchovny concocts his allegory/fable-type-thing with a self-referential tongue-in-cheek and there’s cow puns and bad Yiddish to boot.

His voice explodes through on every page. He even tries to solve the conflict in Palestine and Israel somewhere towards the end.

This book is postmodern humour for young readers and adults alike. Read it with no expectation and you’ll have yourself a blast.

Grab a copy of David Duchovny’s Holy Cow here

BOOK REVIEW: Here Come the Dogs by Omar Musa (Review by Caroline Baum)

The energy of this debut novel just leaps off the page. Musa, a charismatic rapper, has successfully translated the idiom and pulse of performance to the page with its syncopated rhythms and hard-edged beats. Inevitably, he is being compared with his mate Christos Tsiolkas for his full-frontal engagement with contemporary Australian society: in this case, multicultural masculinity with its surges of often misdirected testosterone. In small town suburbia during a tinder-dry summer, anything could happen. Booze, drugs, violence and a racing dog all help pass the time.

At the centre of this compelling mash up of poetry and prose are three iconic young men: Solomon, a charming Samoan, who has broken up with his girlfriend and is fascinated by Scarlett, a free spirited tattooist; his half-brother Jimmy, who has got himself into trouble, and their Macedonian childhood friend, Aleks.

Musa manipulates language with raw, bracing vitality, offering up a picture of Australia that is not pretty but feels authentic.

Grab a copy of Here Come the Dogs here

——————————————————-

Caroline Baum has worked as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National. She is currently Booktopia’s Editorial Director.


here-come-the-dogsHere Come The Dogs

by Omar Musa

In small town suburbia, three young men are ready to make their mark.

Solomon is all charisma, authority and charm, down for the moment but surely not out. His half-brother, Jimmy, bounces along in his wake, underestimated, waiting for his chance to announce himself. Aleks, their childhood friend, loves his mates, his family and his homeland, and would do anything for them. The question is, does he know where to draw the line?

Solomon, Jimmy and Aleks: way out on the fringe of Australia, looking for a way in. Hip hop and graffiti give them a voice. Booze, women and violence pass the time while they wait for their chance. Under the oppressive summer sun, their town has turned tinder-dry. All it’ll take is a spark.

As the surrounding hills roar with flames, the change storms in. But it’s not what they were waiting for. It never is.

About the Author

Omar Musa is a Malaysian-Australian rapper and poet from Queanbeyan, Australia. He is the former winner of the Australian Poetry Slam and the Indian Ocean Poetry Slam. He has released three hip hop albums, two poetry books (including Parang), appeared on ABC’s Q&A and received a standing ovation at TEDx Sydney at the Sydney Opera House.

Grab a copy of Here Come the Dogs here

BOOK REVIEW: Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Review by Hayley Shephard)

heroes-are-my-weaknessSusan Elizabeth Phillips couldn’t have more accurately pin-pointed why I can’t stop reading romances than in her new book aptly named Heroes Are My Weakness.

You have Annie Hewitt, a down-on-her-luck actress, who finds herself living on an island with a man who tried to kill her in her youth. Or so she thinks.

Yes, you might find it odd that Theo, the man in the story, is basically described as a psycho, but I find it awesome. Why, you ask? Because I actually believed that he was this malevolent force and in no way could he be the hero; I was really scared for Annie. But is Theo really the man Annie thinks he is?

That’s just one of the reasons I think that makes this book so successful, and why the title is spot-on; the best heroes are the ones you don’t see coming and when they are all badass you can’t help but swoon when things take a turn. Which I guess is why you see Annie finding it difficult to understand why her feelings and reactions are changing.

Why didn’t I see the ending coming? Susan Elizabeth Phillips, the incredible author that she is, had set up everything so I couldn’t think of any other possible reason or conclusion as to why he did those things. I tried and I tried. Even with more dangerous forces at play trying to hurt Annie, I thought I knew the answer but I was wrong, Susan had set me up.

Heroes Are My Weakness might be a romance but she has done an incredible job of intertwining a bit of mystery and thriller; I never thought I would be interested in the genre. If you love romantic suspense this would be a great read.

All in all, I think I have a new mantra, Heroes Are My Weakness.

Grab a copy of Heroes Are My Weakness here


Heroes Are My Weakness

Susan Elizabeth Phillips

The dead of winter. An isolated island off the coast of Maine. A man. A woman. A sinister house looming over the sea . . . He’s a reclusive writer whose macabre imagination creates chilling horror novels. She’s a down-on-her-luck actress reduced to staging kids’ puppet shows. He knows a dozen ways to kill with his bare hands.

She knows a dozen ways to kill with laughs. But she’s not laughing now. When she was a teenager, he terrified her.

Now they’re trapped together on a snowy island off the coast of Maine. Is he the villain she remembers or has he changed? Her head says no. Her heart says yes. It’s going to be a long, hot winter.

About the Author

Susan Elizabeth Phillips soared onto the New York Times bestseller list with Dream a Little Dream. She’s the only four-time recipient of the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Favorite Book of the Year Award. A resident of the Chicago suburbs, she is also a hiker, gardener, reader, wife, and mother of two grown sons.

BOOK REVIEW: The Golden Age by Joan London (Review by Caroline Baum)

Do you remember polio? Perhaps you don’t, but when I was growing up there were children who wore callipers (metal contraptions bolted to their leg below the knee) at my school or limped along wearing an awful tall shoe.

Joan London has chosen child polio victims as her subject for this beautiful, tender and gently moving novel set in The Golden Age, a home for polio sufferers called in nineteen fifties Perth. There, thirteen year old Frank meets fellow patient Elsa and the two fall quietly and gradually in love. Prompted by his encounter with a poet in an iron lung, Frank is also discovering his love of poetry and making his first tentative attempts to write.

London, who has always been a writer of great subtlety and sensitivity, particularly when it comes to parent child relationships, deploys a real delicacy and empathy towards her subject, most especially in dealing with the parents attitudes to their children’s illness: shame, bitterness, acceptance. She captures the attitudes towards disability of the era in a way that is a valuable reminder of how much things have changed for the better. Avoiding sentiment, she taps into genuine feeling achieving a quietly profound effect.

——————————————————-

Grab a copy of The Golden Age here

Caroline Baum has worked as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National. She is currently Booktopia’s Editorial Director.


The Golden Agethe-golden-age

by Joan London

This is a story of resilience, the irrepressible, enduring nature of love, and the fragility of life. From one of Australia’s most loved novelists.

He felt like a pirate landing on an island of little maimed animals. A great wave had swept them up and dumped them here. All of them, like him, stranded, wanting to go home.

It is 1954 and thirteen-year-old Frank Gold, refugee from wartime Hungary, is learning to walk again after contracting polio in Australia. At The Golden Age Children’s Polio Convalescent Hospital in Perth, he sees Elsa, a fellow-patient, and they form a forbidden, passionate bond.

The Golden Age becomes the little world that reflects the larger one, where everything occurs, love and desire, music, death, and poetry. Where children must learn that they are alone, even within their families.

Written in Joan London’s customary clear-eyed prose, The Golden Age evokes a time past and a yearning for deep connection. It is a rare and precious gem of a book from one of Australia’s finest novelists.

About the Author

Joan London is the author of two prize-winning collections of stories, Sister Ships, which won the Age Book of the Year in 1986, and Letter to Constantine, which won the Steele Rudd Award in 1994 and the West Australian Premier’s Award for Fiction. These stories have been published in one volume as The New Dark Age. Her first novel, Gilgamesh, was published in 2001, won the Age Book of the Year for Fiction in 2002 and was longlisted for the Orange Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her second novel, The Good Parents, was published in April 2008 and won the 2009 Christina Stead Prize for fiction in the NSW Premier’s Literary awards. Joan London’s books have all been published internationally to critical acclaim. The Golden Age (2014) is her third novel.

Grab a copy of The Golden Age here

BOOK REVIEW: Lost & Found by Brooke Davis (Review by Caroline Baum)

This anticipated debut has already been sold into twenty one countries and seems destined to be one of this year’s big favourites. It’s a truly original and charming story originating in the author’s own tragic loss at the early death of her mother. She’s translated her own grief into a fantasy fable that asks big existential questions with a very light touch.

When seven and a half year old Millie’s father dies, her mother leaves her in the underwear section of a department store. Precocious in her thoughts and actions, Millie decides to go and look for her. At which point she collides with a very shouty woman called Agatha Pantha who has not left her house since her husband died fifteen years ago. And then there’s Karl, an eighty-seven year old touch typist who has escaped his nursing home with a plastic mannequin as a companion.

They are an unlikely trio, causing confusion wherever they stumble but Davis protects them from ridicule with finely judged sensitivity, even while she pushes the narrative into unconventional and quirky territory.

Grab a copy of Lost & Found here

——————————————————-

Caroline Baum has worked as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National. She is currently Booktopia’s Editorial Director.


lost-foundLost & Found

by Brooke Davis

A heart-warming debut about finding out what love and life is all about.

Millie Bird (aka Captain Funeral), seven-years old and ever hopeful, always wears red gumboots to match her red, curly hair. Her struggling mother leaves Millie in a local department store and never returns.

Agatha Pantha, eighty-two, has not left her house or spoken to another human being since she was widowed seven years ago. She fills the silences by yelling at passers by, watching loud static on the TV and maintaining a strict daily schedule.

Karl the Touch Typist, eighty-seven, once used his fingers to type out love notes on his wife’s skin. Now he types his words out into the air as he speaks. Karl is moved into a nursing home but in a moment of clarity and joy, he escapes.

A series of events binds the three together on a road trip that takes them from the south coast of WA to Kalgoorlie and along the Nullarbor to the edge of the continent. Millie wants to find her mum. Karl wants to find out how to be a man. And Agatha just wants everything to go back to how it was.

They will discover that old age is not the same as death, that the young can be wise, and that letting yourself experience sadness just might be the key to life.

About the Author

Brooke Davis grew up in Bellbrae, Victoria, and attempted to write her first novel when she was ten years old. It was genre-busting foray into the inner-workings of a young teenage girl’s mind Anne of Green Gables meets The Baby-Sitters Club meets Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret titled Summer Sadness. Fortunately it remains unfinished, as she quickly realised she didn’t know the first thing about sadness, or being a teenager.

Lost & Found is her first proper novel, and she was lucky to write it as part of a PhD at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia. She still lives there (in Perth, not at university), and is sometimes allowed to work at a very nice bookshop nearby. Much to Brooke’s surpise, Lost & Found proved to be the buzz book of the 2014 London Book Fair. The translation rights have since been sold into sixteen countries and major deals have been confirmed in the United States and Great Britain.

Grab a copy of Lost & Found here

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 14,734 other followers

%d bloggers like this: