Alex Miller, Miles Franklin winning author of Coal Creek, talks books for Booktoberfest

BOOKS HAVE… made a writer of me. It doesn’t get more important than that as far as I’m concerned. Reading is the most satisfying experience of my life. I spend as much time doing it as I possibly can. Finding the right book is critical. And finding a new author whose work I can respond to is always pure magic.

I WRITE BECAUSE… I love writing. I think I became a writer in order to explore my ideas and responses to the world around me, which I often found it difficult to share with others. Also I liked my autonomy, and a writer can choose his or her own working hours – midnight to dawn or whenever. The difficulty of becoming a writer never bothered me. I knew it was going to work for me sooner or later. And if you’re a writer you don’t have to retire but can keep on doing the thing you love till you drop off the chair.

No one ever asks; Why do you read? But it’s becoming a question we might well ask these days. It’s not the books people are reading which are being discussed among customers in the local fruit shop as it once was but is now the series they’re watching. The world has changed!

IF I HAD TO OFFER FIVE BOOKS… I might offer five hundred:  And I don’t know whether everyone should read these five books, but I can honestly say they are among the books that have given me great pleasure and satisfaction. Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian; Evelyn Juer’s House of Exile: The Life and Times of Heinrich Mann and Nelly Kroeger-Mann; Daniel Arsand’s Lovers; Aharon Appelfeld’s The Immortal Bartfuss and Ray Mooney’s A Green Light, the most powerful crime fiction book I’ve ever read.

MY FAVOURITE BOOK NOOK IS… on the couch of an evening in front of the wood fire in winter in our house in the country – a kind of heaven.

Alex Miller’s Coal Creek is a Booktoberfest title. Buy this book now to go in the draw to win Booktopia’s weekly giveaway – a $250 Booktopia voucher – AND order by 31st October 2013 to go in the draw to win the fantastic publisher prize. Click here for prize details and to see the full Allen & Unwin Showcase

Coal Creek

by Alex Miller

Me and Ben had been mates since we was boys and if it come to it I knew I would have to be on his side.’

Bobby Blue is caught between loyalty to his only friend, Ben Tobin, and his boss, Daniel Collins, the new Constable at Mount Hay. ‘Ben was not a big man but he was strong and quick as a snake. He had his own breed of pony that was just like him, stocky and reliable on their feet.’ Bobby understands the people and the ways of Mount Hay; Collins studies the country as an archaeologist might, bringing his coastal values to the hinterland. Bobby says, ‘I do not think Daniel would have understood Ben in a million years.’ Increasingly bewildered and goaded to action by his wife, Constable Collins takes up his shotgun and his Webley pistol to deal with Ben. Bobby’s love for Collins’ wilful young daughter Irie is exposed, leading to tragic consequences for them all.

Miller’s exquisite depictions of the country of the Queensland highlands form the background of this simply told but deeply significant novel of friendship, love, loyalty and the tragic consequences of misunderstanding and mistrust. Coal Creek is a wonderfully satisfying novel with a gratifying resolution. It carries all the wisdom and emotional depth we have come to expect from Miller’s richly evocative novels.

Click here to buy Coal Creek from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Alex Miller talks about his new book Coal Creek

Click here to buy Coal Creek from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Coal Creek

by Alex Miller

Me and Ben had been mates since we was boys and if it come to it I knew I would have to be on his side.’

Bobby Blue is caught between loyalty to his only friend, Ben Tobin, and his boss, Daniel Collins, the new Constable at Mount Hay. ‘Ben was not a big man but he was strong and quick as a snake. He had his own breed of pony that was just like him, stocky and reliable on their feet.’ Bobby understands the people and the ways of Mount Hay; Collins studies the country as an archaeologist might, bringing his coastal values to the hinterland. Bobby says, ‘I do not think Daniel would have understood Ben in a million years.’ Increasingly bewildered and goaded to action by his wife, Constable Collins takes up his shotgun and his Webley pistol to deal with Ben. Bobby’s love for Collins’ wilful young daughter Irie is exposed, leading to tragic consequences for them all.

Miller’s exquisite depictions of the country of the Queensland highlands form the background of this simply told but deeply significant novel of friendship, love, loyalty and the tragic consequences of misunderstanding and mistrust. Coal Creek is a wonderfully satisfying novel with a gratifying resolution. It carries all the wisdom and emotional depth we have come to expect from Miller’s richly evocative novels.

Click here to buy Coal Creek from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Three Authors Offer Advice for Writers: Kylie Ladd, Alex Miller and Chris McCourt

I interview writers every week here on the Booktopia Blog. My Ten Terrifying Questions have been answered by over 250 published authors ranging from mega selling global stars like Jackie Collins and Lee Child to brilliant, relatively unknown debut authors such as Favel Parret and  Rebecca James.

In each of these interviews I ask the following question:

Q. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Now, for the edification of aspiring writers everywhere, I will pull together answers to this question from three very different writers and post them here once week. Some will inspire, some will confound but all will be interesting and helpful in their own way…


KYLIE LADD

“Write! It sounds stupid, but it’s the only way. Write and write and write, and then write some more. Think about what you’re writing, and why, and how. Read widely, pay attention, and write. Show your writing to people you trust, submit it places if you like, but just keep writing.

The Man Booker prize-winning novelist Anne Enright recently advised new authors that “The first twelve years are the hardest.”

I’m up to year eleven, and I hope she’s right. Writing can be lonely and horrifically frustrating and disappointing and cruel- it can make you bang your head against your keyboard and question yourself day after day. But if you want to do it, if you have to do it, you just have to persist… and when it works, even if that’s just for a paragraph or even a sentence, it’s the most satisfying thing in the world.”

Read the full interview here…

Click here to buy Last Summer from Booktopia
Australia’s No.1 Online Bookshop


CHRIS MCCOURT

“Speak with your own voice, because it’s the only thing you have to offer a reader that is yours alone. Be true to your characters, don’t manipulate them for the sake of a clever plot twist.

Beautiful prose is not enough…you need a story. Write for a reader…if you’re writing for therapy, then write a diary. Don’t listen to flattery…seek objective opinions on your work because your friends and your mother will always lie.

Don’t write drunk…what looks like a work of genius when it’s swimming in front of your eyes at 3AM will not look so good in the cold light of day. And lastly, don’t give up…practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but it does make better.”

Read the full interview here…

Click here to buy The Cleansing of Mahommed from Booktopia
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop


ALEX MILLER

“I give encouragement.

Advice is useless.”

Read the full interview here…

Click here to buy Autumn Laing from Booktopia
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop


For more advice from published writers go here

The Miles Franklin Literature Award Longlist 2012

From where I sit the 2012 Miles Franklin Literature Award longlist seems right. The names I expected to see are listed, Elliot Perlman, Kate Grenville, Gail Jones, Alex Miller, as are some of the names I hoped to see, Charlotte Wood, Charlotte Wood and Charlotte Wood. There are a few disastrous exclusions,  though. The Life by Malcolm Knox, for one. Kylie Ladd’s Last Summer, is another. And my unpublished and unreadable historical epic, Untitled.

That said, I find it an attractive list. And an encouraging list. For the most part these literary titles are readable and sold quite well. And when literature sells you know you’re living in promising times.

(Pssst… just look at how many of the longlisted authors have answered my Ten Terrifying Questions. Cool.)


Charlotte Wood – Animal People

On a stiflingly hot December day, Stephen has decided it’s time to break up with his girlfriend Fiona. He’s 39, aimless and unfulfilled, he’s without a clue working out how to make his life better. All he has are his instincts – and unfortunately they might just be his downfall . . .

As he makes his way through the pitiless city and the hours of a single day, Stephen must fend off his demanding family, endure another shift of his dead-end job at the zoo (including an excruciating teambuilding event), face up to Fiona’s aggressive ex-husband and the hysteria of a children’s birthday party that goes terribly wrong. As an ordinary day develops into an existential crisis, Stephen begins to understand – perhaps too late – that love is not a trap, and only he can free himself. Click here to read more…

Charlotte answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read her answers here
Click here to order your copy of Animal People

Read my review of Animal People


Tony Birch – Blood

From the moment he saw her, wrapped in a blanket at the hospital, Jesse knew that he’d be the one to look after his little sister, Rachel. Mum was always on the move and always bringing home trouble.

When his mum’s appetite for destruction leads the little family into the arms of Ray Crow, beneath the charm and charisma, Jesse sees the brooding violence and knows that, this time, the trouble is real.

But Jesse’s just a kid and even as he tries to save his sister, he makes a fatal error that exposes them to the kind of danger he has sworn to protect Rachel from. As their little world is torn to pieces, the children learn that, when you are lost and alone, the only thing you can trust is what’s in your blood. Click here to read more…

Click here to order your copy of Blood


Steven Carroll – Spirit of Progress

The thing that makes you, it never goes.

A sleek high-speed train glides silently through the French countryside, bearing Michael, an Australian writer, and his travelling world of memory and speculation.

Melbourne, 1946, calls to him: the pressure cooker of the city during World War II has produced a small creative miracle, and at this pivotal moment the lives of his newly married parents, a group of restless artists, a proud old woman with a tent for a home, a journalist, a gallery owner, a farmer and a factory developer irrevocably intersect. And all the while the Spirit of Progress, the locomotive of the new age, roars through their lives like time′s arrow, pointing to the future and the post-war world only some of them will enter. Click here to read more…

Click here to order your copy of Spirit of Progress


Mark Dapin – Spirit House

Long ago, Jimmy Reubens was a POW on the Thai-Burma Railway. For more than four decades, he has staved off the ghosts of his past by drinking too much, outstaying his welcome at his local RSL, and bickering with his three closest mates. But the past won’t stay buried forever.

When his thirteen-year-old grandson comes to stay after his parents marriage breaks up, Jimmy has a chance to finally begin to lay his ghosts to rest, but first he has to tell their stories. Click here to read more…

Mark answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read his answers here
Click here to order your copy of Spirit House


Virginia Duigan – The Precipice

Thea Farmer, a reclusive and difficult retired school principal, lives in isolation with her dog in the Blue Mountains. Her distinguished career ended under a cloud over a decade earlier, following a scandal involving a much younger male teacher. After losing her savings in the financial crash, she is forced to sell the dream house she had built for her old age and live on in her dilapidated cottage opposite.

Initially resentful and hostile towards Frank and Ellice, the young couple who buy the new house, Thea develops a flirtatious friendship with Frank, and then a grudging affinity with his twelve-year-old niece, Kim, who lives with them. Although she has never much liked children, Thea discovers a gradual and wholly unexpected bond with the half-Vietnamese Kim, a solitary, bookish child from a troubled background.

Her growing sympathy with Kim propels Thea into a psychological minefield. Finding Frank’s behaviour increasingly irresponsible, she becomes convinced that all is not well in the house. Unsettling suspicions, which may or may not be irrational, begin to dominate her life, and build towards a catastrophic climax. Click here to read more…

Click here to order your copy of The Precipice


Anna Funder – All That I Am

Ruth Becker, defiant and cantankerous, is living out her days in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. She has made an uneasy peace with the ghosts of her past – and a part of history that has been all but forgotten.

Another lifetime away, it’s 1939 and the world is going to war. Ernst Toller, self-doubting revolutionary and poet, sits in a New York hotel room settling up the account of his life.

When Toller’s story arrives on Ruth’s doorstep their shared past slips under her defences, and she’s right back among them – those friends who predicted the brutality of the Nazis and gave everything they had to stop them. Those who were tested – and in some cases found wanting – in the face of hatred, of art, of love, and of history. Click here to read more…

Anna answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read her answers here
Click here to order your copy of All That I Am


Kate Grenville – Sarah Thornhill

From the beginning Jack and I was friends. Somehow our way of looking at things fitted together. He never called me Dolly, the way the others did, only my full and proper name.

Sarah Thornhill is the youngest child of William Thornhill, convict-turned-landowner on the Hawkesbury River. She grows up in the fine house her father is so proud of, a strong-willed young woman who’s certain where her future lies.

She’s known Jack Langland since she was a child, and always loved him.

But the past is waiting in ambush with its dark legacy. There’s a secret in Sarah’s family, a piece of the past kept hidden from the world and from her. A secret Jack can’t live with. A secret that changes everything, for both of them. Click here to read more…

Kate answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read her answers here
Click here to order your copy of Sarah Thornhill


Gail Jones – Five Bells

On a radiant day in Sydney, four adults converge on Circular Quay, site of the iconic Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Crowds of tourists mix with the locals, enjoying the glorious surroundings and the play of light on water.

But each of the four carries a complicated history from elsewhere; each is haunted by past intimacies, secrets and guilt: Ellie is preoccupied by her sexual experiences as a girl, James by a tragedy for which he feels responsible, Catherine by the loss of her beloved brother in Dublin and Pei Xing by her imprisonment during China’s Cultural Revolution.

Told over the course of a single Saturday, Five Bells describes four lives which chime and resonate, sharing mysterious patterns and symbols. A fifth figure at the Quay, a barely glimpsed child, reminds us that some patterns are imprecise and do not resolve. By night-time, when Sydney is drenched in a rainstorm, each life has been transformed. Click here to read more…

Click here to order your copy of Five Bells


Gillian Mears – Foal’s Bread

The sound of horses’ hooves turns hollow on the farms west of Wirri. If a man can still ride, if he hasn’t totally lost the use of his legs, if he hasn’t died to the part of his heart that understands such things, then he should go for a gallop. At the very least he should stand at the road by the river imagining that he’s pushing a horse up the steep hill that leads to the house on the farm once known as One Tree.

Set in hardscrabble farming country and around the country show high-jumping circuit that prevailed in rural New South Wales prior to the Second World War, Foal’s Bread tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and their fortunes as dictated by the vicissitudes of the land. Click here to read more…

Gillian answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read her answers here
Click here to order your copy of Foal’s Bread


Alex Miller – Autumn Laing

Autumn Laing has long outlived the legendary circle of artists she cultivated in the 1930s. Now ‘old and skeleton gaunt’, she reflects on her tumultuous relationship with the abundantly talented Pat Donlon and the effect it had on her husband, on Pat’s wife and the body of work which launched Pat’s career. A brilliantly alive and insistently energetic story of love, loyalty and creativity.

Autumn Laing seduces Pat Donlon with her pearly thighs and her lust for life and art. In doing so she not only compromises the trusting love she has with her husband, Arthur, she also steals the future from Pat’s young and beautiful wife, Edith, and their unborn child.

Fifty-three years later, cantankerous, engaging, unrestrainable 85-year-old Autumn is shocked to find within herself a powerful need for redemption. As she begins to tell her story, she writes, ‘They are all dead and I am old and skeleton-gaunt. This is where it began…’ Click here to read more…

Alex answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read his answers here
Click here to order your copy of Autumn Laing


Frank Moorhouse – Cold Light

It is 1950, the League of Nations has collapsed and the newly formed United Nations has rejected all those who worked and fought for the League. Edith Campbell Berry, who joined the League in Geneva before the war, is out of a job, her vision shattered. With her sexually unconventional, husband, Ambrose, she comes back to Australia to live in Canberra.

Edith now has ambitions to become Australia’s first female ambassador, but while she waits for a Call from On High, she finds herself caught up in the planning of the national capital and the dream that it should be ‘a city like no other’.

When her communist brother, Frederick, turns up out of the blue after many years of absence, she becomes concerned that he may jeopardise her chances of becoming a diplomat. It is not a safe time to be a communist in Australia or to be related to one, but she refuses to be cowed by the anti-communist sentiment sweeping the country. Click here to read more…

Frank answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read his answers here
Click here to order your copy of Cold Light


Favel Parrett – Past the Shallows

Harry and Miles live with their father, an abalone fisherman, on the south-east coast of Tasmania. With their mum dead, they are left to look after themselves. When Miles isn’t helping out on the boat they explore the coast and Miles and his older brother, Joe, love to surf. Harry is afraid of the water.

Everyday their dad battles the unpredictable ocean to make a living. He is a hard man, a bitter drinker who harbours a devastating secret that is destroying him. Unlike Joe, Harry and Miles are too young to leave home and so are forced to live under the dark cloud of their father’s mood, trying to stay as invisible as possible whenever he is home. Harry, the youngest, is the most vulnerable and it seems he bears the brunt of his father’s anger. Click here to read more…

Favel answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read her answers here
Click here to order your copy of Past the Shallows


Elliot Perlman – The Street Sweeper

From the scars of the civil rights struggle in the United States to the crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau, there are even more stories than there are people passing each other every day on the crowded streets of any major city. Only some of these stories survive to become history.

Adam Zignelik, an almost 40-year-old untenured academic historian at New York’s Columbia University, is the son of a prominent American civil rights lawyer and an Australian mother. One of his late father’s closest friends had been the African American civil rights activist, William McCray. Since the death of Adam’s parents it is the McCray family – William, his son Charles (Chair of History at Columbia) and Charles’ wife – that has become Adam’s adopted family.

With Adam’s career and his relationship with his long-time girlfriend in crisis, he gets a suggestion for a promising research topic from William McCray, who is a World War II veteran, that just might save him professionally and even personally. Click here to read more…

Elliot answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read his answers here
Click here to order your copy of The Street Sweeper


Autumn Laing by Alex Miller (out in October – available to pre-order now)

A new Alex Miller novel is something to celebrate.

Autumn Laing will be available in October

Autumn Laing has long outlived the legendary circle of artists she cultivated in the 1930s. Now ‘old and skeleton gaunt’, she reflects on her tumultuous relationship with the abundantly talented Pat Donlon and the effect it had on her husband, on Pat’s wife and the body of work which launched Pat’s career. A brilliantly alive and insistently energetic story of love, loyalty and creativity.

Alex Miller on his inspiration for Autumn Laing:

I was sitting on a bench in Holland Park, watching a squirrel and daydreaming about being a boy in London’s park when the voice of Autumn Laing intruded, ‘They are all dead and I am old and skeleton-gaunt.’ It was a realisation and I knew at once this was the right voice for a new book I was hoping to write.

Originally based on my lifelong interest in the Australian artist Sidney Nolan, Autumn shouldered this idea aside and re-set my plans for me. I loved being with her and am deeply grateful she seduced me too. Her confident voice never once faltered during the writing of the book.

Pre-order your copy of Autumn Laing
from Booktopia, Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

Alex Miler’s latest novel is a brilliantly alive, insistently energetic story of love, loyalty and creativity, and Autumn Laing herself one of his most unforgettable creations.

Written with compassion and intelligence, this energetic, funny and wise novel peels back the layers of storytelling and asks what truth has to do with it.

Autumn Laing seduces Pat Donlon with her pearly thighs and her lust for life and art. In doing so she not only compromises the trusting love she has with her husband, Arthur, she also steals the future from Pat’s young and beautiful wife, Edith, and their unborn child.

Fifty-three years later, cantankerous, engaging, unrestrainable 85-year-old Autumn is shocked to find within herself a powerful need for redemption. As she begins to tell her story, she writes, ‘They are all dead and I am old and skeleton-gaunt. This is where it began…’

Written with compassion and intelligence, this energetic, funny and wise novel peels back the layers of storytelling and asks what truth has to do with it. Autumn Laing is an unflinchingly intimate portrait of a woman and her time – she is unforgettable.

Last year Alex Miller answered our Ten Terrifying Questions – click here to read his answers

About the Author:  Alex Miller has twice won the prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award, Australia’s premier literary prize; the first occasion in 1993 for The Ancestor Game, and again in 2003 for Journey to the Stone Country. Conditions of Faith, his fifth novel, was published in 2000 and won the Christina Stead Prize for fiction in the 2001 NSW Premiers Literary Awards. It was also nominated for the Dublin IMPAC International Literature Award, shortlisted for the Colin Roderick Award in 2000, the Age Book of the Year Award and the Miles Franklin Award in 2001. He is also an overall winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, for The Ancestor Game, in 1993. Miller’s eighth novel, Landscape of Farewell, was published in 2007 and shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2008. Lovesong was longlisted for the 2010 Miles Franklin Award.

Last year, Toni Whitmont, Editor in Chief of Booktopia BUZZ, and regular blogger, was lucky enough to meet Alex Miller.

Toni Whitmont review: 2011 NSW Premier’s Literary Award winners announced – Alex Miller and Malcolm Fraser scoop the pool

The winners of the 2011 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced at a gala dinner at the Sydney Opera House last night. Some of the countries leading writers and luminaries were at the event, including ABC TV presenter Jennifer Byrne (as MC), NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and former Prime Minster of Australia, Malcolm Fraser.

One of Australia’s best-loved writers, Alex Miller, was awarded the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction for Lovesong, described by the judges as “a magnificent novel of desire”.

(No surprises there – we are Miller groupies here at Booktopia. Go here to see his answers to our Ten Terrifying Questions and here to see my interview with him on the publication of Lovesong).

Alex has received numerous awards for his writing, including twice winning the prestigious Miles Franklin Award. Miller also won The People’s Choice Award. Introduced three years ago to increase public engagement with the arts, the People’s Choice Award was chosen by Australian residents from the six novels shortlisted for the Christina Stead Prize.

Former Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Fraser, along with Margaret Simons, were awarded the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction for Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs. It also took out Book of The Year. The judges described  it as an engaging work that demonstrates how literary craft can transcend the usual limitations of political autobiography.
The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, established in 1979, were Australia’s first premier’s awards. In their 32 year history, they have honoured many of the nation’s greatest writers, including Continue reading

Reading books in situ – Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore

When I was very young, my favourite book was Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and it wasn’t just for those adorable pink frilly petalled skirts or the thrilling fear of the Banksia Men. No, it was because I knew exactly where the book was set. May Gibbs brought everything to life so clearly that she must, surely, have written it in my own favourite patch of bush, down in the hill from my own backyard. At least, that is what I believed as an eight year old.

Considerably older and wiser now, I still hold a candle for books that I have read while actually being in the place (or as close as possible) in which they are set. Andrew MacGahan’s The White Earth has a special palpability when read on the black soil of the Darling Downs. Alex Miller’s Journey to the Stone Country reads better in central Queensland than it does in Tasmania. I read Tim Winton’s Breath while watching surfers ride breaks from a bleak coastal cliff top – admittedly it wasn’t off the coast of Western Australia but at least it was off the coast somewhere.

I have, on my occasional travels out of the country, tried to apply the same principal. An Angel at My Table (Janet Frame) in New Zealand, Madame Bovary (Flaubert) in northern France and The Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe) in New York. I gave up on reading Arthur Phillips’ Prague in situ when chapter after chapter was irritatingly set in Budapest. I’ll have another shot at it if I ever do make it to Budapest, although I suspect I will be re-reading Sandor Marai’s Embers instead.

Of course, for the few books that I have been lucky enough to read in a suitably appropriate location, there are hundreds that I haven’t. Have any of you read The Master and Margarita in Moscow? What about Washington Square in New York? Half of a Yellow Sun in Lagos? Leave your comments and make the rest of the world jealous – unless of course you are a Muscovite, New Yorker or Lagotian (?) in that order.

All of which leads me to Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore, which is being published next month and is available to pre-order now. This was my constant companion for a fortnight during a recent visit to that most inspiring,  maddening and perplexing of cities. First things first – this is a brick of a book. Don’t be put off. Yes, it is meticulously researched and enormously detailed, but Montefiore could give Bryce Courtney or Ken Follett a run for their money when it comes to historical drama, tales of derring do, rape and pillage, sweeping saga and brilliant characterisation.

This is the perfect platform for Montefiore, who has already won critical acclaim for his Stalin and Catherine the Great among others. However, his pedigree for this assignment is ideal. Having gone backwards and forwards between the UK and Jerusalem all of his life, he is himself descendant from the famous Rothschild and Montefiore families who played key roles in both European finance and the re-population of Jewry to what was then an outpost of the Ottoman empire in the nineteenth century.

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Montefiore’s take on Jerusalem is both a physical and spiritual chronology. And what a subject! Could there be any place on earth that has been so fought over, so prized by so many different people’s across three millenia? I don’t think so.

In many ways, Jerusalem: The Biography is a history of the western world. All the names are there – from the Hebrew Bible, from the Christian Bible, from Islam, from just about every empire that has ever risen and fallen from before the Egyptians to the Crusades, to Napoleon, the Czars, the Ottomans, the competing colonial powers to the present day not to mention the famous and the infamous – Cleopatra to Herod, Sulemein the Magnificent to Rasputin.  But the author’s peculiar skill is to  bring it all so alive with the detail of characters and their particular traits – and let me tell you, if you like to trawl through the depths of human behaviour, you only need read this to get your fill of just about everything. That city has witnessed more varieties of violence and depravity that most of us could ever imagine.

From the preface:

Jerusalem is the house of the one God, the capital of two peoples. The temple of three religions and she is the only city to exist twice – in heaven and on earth. The very face that Jerusalem is both terrestrial and celestial means that the city an exist anywhere: new Jerusalems have been founded all over the world and everyone has their own imaginary Jerusalem. It is the universal city. Prophets and patriarchs, Abraham, David, Jesus and Muhammed are said to have trodden these stones. The Abrahamic religions were born there and the world will also end her on the Day of Judgement. Jerusalem, sacred to the Peoples of the Book, is the city of the Book: The Bible is, in many ways, Jerusalem’s own chronicle and its readers, from the Muslim conquerors to Crusaders and today’s American evangelists, have repeadedly altered her history.

Pre-order Jerusalem: The Biography.

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