Tag: Miles Franklin Award

The Yield by Tara June Winch

Posted October 9, 2020 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 6 Comments

The Yield by Tara June WinchTitle: The Yield (Goodreads)
Author: Tara June Winch
Published: Penguin Random House, 2019
Pages: 343
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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While my interest in reading sides more with translated literature, I still read books from local authors. This is mainly as a result of my in-real-life book club that I attend, although I this year has seen more American crime novels sneak into my reading life than the norm. This is the reason I recently read Tara June Winch’s latest novel The Yield. The novel tells a story from three different perspectives and  how choices made multiple generations ago still effect people now.

I am unsure if I am out of practice, or just not sure what to say, but I having a hard time trying to put all my thoughts on this book down on paper. Basically, The Yield tells the story of August Gondiwindi who has returned home for her grandfather’s funeral. Knowing he was about to die, he had written down the experiences he had living near the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains and a dictionary he was constructing of Wiradjuri words. The third narrative is letters from a German Lutheran missionary, Reverend Greenleaf talking about the early years of the settlers.

These three narratives tell the story of the lasting effects of colonialism, the intergenerational trauma and how it effects the people and the land. I find it had to talk about this novel, but I think this is an important novel to read, especially for white Australia. The narrative from Reverend Greenleaf stood out, due to the way he tried to help the true owners of the land and protect them from greedy white settlers but not every choice he made felt right. He came across as a white saviour, because he was imposing his own values on these people. When World War I hit, he was met with his own hostility from white settlers as a German.

August’s story is the primary plot, and it is interesting that she plays the role of an outsider, someone that has moved away. Tara June Winch is based in France, so the narrative of August feels like it might be autobiographical in the way she might feel, I do not know her story, but I get the sense based on this novel, she might be treated as an outsider for being an Aboriginal to the white people, but treated as an outsider to her country for leaving. This is how I feel August’s narrative works, she still sees herself as part of her community and tries to help but there are people that do not trust her and treat her like an outsider.

Within the August narrative, the area of Massacre Plains is under threat from a mining company that wants to dig up their land for tin. A very relevant topic for Australia, since Rio Tinto has recently demolished a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site, and they are not the sole culprits. It is said mining giants BHP Billiton have destroyed at least 40 significant Aboriginal sites in the past year. The mining industry in Australia is big business but the cultural damage they are doing to the different Aboriginal lands is beyond reproach.

Essentially The Yield is a novel about the psychological and cultural damage facing the different Aboriginal communities around Australia. You get to see the effects of colonialism, and the damage that is done to these people, plus the current degradation being done by the Australian government and the mining companies that pay those politicians. However, in the midst of all that, Tara June Winch has crafted a stunning novel that is funnier than I expected based on the subject matter. The Yield has been a big success in the Australian literary scene, it even won the 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Award, which is Australia’s highest literary award. The novel is showing up around the world and I hope it has just as much a success there; this really is a great book.

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright

Posted September 9, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare WrightTitle: The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (Goodreads)
Author: Clare Wright
Published: Text, 2013
Pages: 539
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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In December 1854 Australia saw one of its most significant uprisings in its history known as the Eureka Rebellion. This act of civilian disobedience in Ballarat, Victoria was a protest to the expensive miner’s licence been imposed on them. The miner’s licence fee was a way around the taxation problem in the mine fields, allowing the Victorian government to provide infrastructure to the stockade. The miners didn’t see the fee this way and found it to be extortion; everyone had to pay the same amount no matter if they found gold or not, in fact you paid even if you weren’t a miner.

The Eureka Rebellion (or protest) led to the Battle of the Eureka Stockade, where police and British soldiers stepped in to break up the protest. This battle didn’t last long (around 15 minutes) but the effects were lasting. This piece of history has been taught in good high schools (not mine obviously) but it has always been focused on the men involved, even though about 40% of the mine fields consisted of woman and children.

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright is an attempt to remind people what happened and tell the untold story of the forgotten rebels. The term ‘herstory’ can be thrown around when talking about this book. My problems with this book was personal, I grew up in a small mining town that often talked about the gold rush in the 1870’s. I’ve heard enough about mining to last me a lifetime and I’m just not interested in the topic.

However I had to read this book for book club, so I made an effort and while I did find some interesting stories it felt too much like a chore. It didn’t help that the book started off as narrative non-fiction and turned into a text book half way through. In hindsight, the introduction was all I really needed to know about this piece of history, the rest just offered extra information.

I have to give the book credit to the huge section of endnotes found at the back. I respect a book more if they reference their work but I don’t seem to share the same concern with fiction. My concern however is the fact that the majority of references are second hand accounts of the Eureka Rebellion. It is true that most firsthand accounts of the rebellion were destroyed but I can’t help but take the information with a big grain of salt; it is like Chinese whispers.

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka won the 2014 Stella Award, a literary award for Australian women writers similar to the Baileys Women’s Prize which is possibly the reason we read this one for our book club. In fact, since the next book is All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyle which one the Miles Franklin Award (Australia’s biggest literary award), I have no doubt. If you are interested in Australian gold rush history or the forgotten tales of women in a key historical events then try The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka.

Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser

Posted August 22, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Questions of Travel by Michelle de KretserTitle: Questions of Travel (Goodreads)
Author: Michelle de Kretser
Published: Allen & Unwin, 2012
Pages: 528
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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Laura Fraser is an artistic Australian, who lost her mother at a very early age and her father was cold and distinct towards her, as was her brother. On the other side of the world Ravi Mendes’ life was almost the complete opposite to Laura, but still struggles in life at times; currently he is determined to break into the computer science industry. Alternating from one character to the other, Michelle de Kretser’s Questions of Travel explores why we are all influenced by travel.

Questions of Travel won the Miles Franklin award this year but if it wasn’t for my book club I would never have read it and I think that might have been a mistake. This novel is almost a post-modernist novel in the experimental way the author approached it. I read this book as if the two characters are sitting me down and going through their photo album and telling the story related to each picture. Slowly we get the full story but there are a lot of pieces we have to fill in for ourselves. The reason I thought this was just the way it was written and you have these really short chapters but every now and then you get a long one. Also the dates on each chapter become more specific as we got closer to the present day, almost like the character remembers the year rather than the decade now.

While reading this novel I got the impression that Michelle de Kretser was trying to explore the whole philosophy behind travel; why we do it? What we love about it? That feeling you get being in a strange country. This was a really interesting approach she took and really worked well with the experimental writing style. The author used to write for the Lonely Planet and throughout this novel you can see her small digs at these books and the bureaucracy behind them. Little things like this really helped lighten the mood for the novel.

Questions of Travel has some beautiful language throughout the book and you find yourself really taking the time to enjoy the book (even though I didn’t have much of that before my next book club meeting). This novel demanded more time than I gave it and I might have missed so much but due to time restrictions I had to power through it. There were times I found some great quotes and I wanted to write them down but I was in too much of a hurry (also I never seem to do that but am trying to make more of an effort).

The novel is both thought provoking and emotional; you’ll experience the highs and lows of the two main characters and even if you have found a favourite, both characters offer interesting insights to life and travel. Also on a positive note, this novel also offers one of the best opening chapters I’ve read in recent times, it comes out of nowhere and smacks you in the face. I spent days trying to decide if I liked this book and what I liked about it and that right there is why I enjoyed it; like Slaughterhouse-Five the time spent afterwards thinking about it is what I will remember more than the book itself. I’m not sure if I would recommend this novel to many people, you’d have to be willing to read experimental or post-modernist novels to really enjoy what Michelle de Kretser is doing.

Breath by Tim Winton

Posted June 12, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Breath by Tim WintonTitle: Breath (Goodreads)
Author: Tim Winton
Published: Picador, 2008
Pages: 224
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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In a small logging town near the fictional town of Angelus, on the wild coasts of Western Australia, two teenage boys find themselves taking up surfing with a former professional. Bruce “Pikelet” Pike and Ivan “Loonie” Loon find themselves being challenged into risky surfs in reef and shark-infested waters by Bill “Sando” Sanderson. Breath is the coming of age story that pushes these boys beyond their limits in a regimen of risk and reward.

Narrated by Bruce, now a divorced middle aged paramedic, the novel starts off with him on the scene to save teenagers life. This leads Pikelet to recount his teenager years in the 1970’s with his boyhood friend Loonie and their reckless lifestyle. The two teens pushed the limits of their courage, endurance and even sanity all for the approval from Sando. As they venture beyond the known in the relationships, in physical challenges, and in sexual behaviour.

While this is a typical Australian coming of age story, the influences of Bill Sando and his wife Eva who are both American really play a big role in the novel as well. The Australian and American culture clashing is either an excuse for the peculiar behaviour or just a look at the Americanisation of our country. While this is a novel about surfing, this also looks at how dangerous picking the wrong role model can be while venturing into exploring teenage life and the sexual awakening of a fifteen year old boy.

Now while I won’t go into the sexual relationship of Bill and Eva too much I’m a little surprised at how many books I’ve read recently that seem to look at the dangers of sexual relationships between an adult and a minor. In my ignorance I thought Lolita was the only one but recently What was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal], Tampa and, in Australian literature, Me and Mr Booker and The Yearning all look at this same issue. Now I never intended to read so many books on this disturbing topic but it is funny how you sometimes pick up novel and find similar themes throughout your book choices.

I have no interest in sports; unless you count WWE as a sport, I have been known to watch basketball and American football but as a general rule I would rather be doing something else. So when I read a book about surfing I don’t really care about surfing and how dangerous it is, I just think to myself, why not stay home and read instead. So half this book really felt like it dragged out, I get that they were buying for the approval of Sando by trying to pull off the risky waves but I just wasn’t interested.

I did however like what Tim Winton did with using Sando as a role model/idol for the boys and then proceeded to show just how dangerous that can be. The risks they take without thinking, all for the nod from Sando, was insane and it affected their friendship and sanity. You have the whole sexual desire idolisation happening with Bruce towards Eva as well but as I said before, I didn’t want to go into that. This book primarily looks at the recklessness of the risks we take and how we need to find a balance between being extraordinary and ordinary. Push the limits too many times and sooner or later your luck will run out.

This is my first Tim Winton book and while there were parts I was impressed with I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend this book. This is probably one of his lesser known works and maybe I should try something like Cloudstreet before making my mind up about this author. I do enjoy the lyrical prose for this book and the way he packed a lot of emotions into a book about extreme sports. I’ll be interested to see what he does in some of his other novels as he is known as one of the greatest Australian writers alive today.

For me, I didn’t connect with this book; I see and like what he did with this novel but I just don’t care enough about sports to care what risks the characters take. It felt a little too American for what should be a primarily Australian coming of age story but that is probably the point. I’m sure this is a book that people mainly love or hate but I just didn’t care enough to invest any emotion into this book. So for me it just felt like an average read with nothing worth getting excited about, but on the other end of the scale I can’t really criticise it either.

Truth by Peter Temple

Posted February 19, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime / 0 Comments

Truth by Peter TempleTitle: Truth (Goodreads)
Author: Peter Temple
Published: Text, 2009
Pages: 287
Genres: Crime, Literary Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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Inspector Stephen Villani stands in a luxury apartment, a young woman dead in the bath. He finds certainties of his life crumbling after the discovery of this murder. His four months as the acting head of the Victoria Police homicide squad have not gone well; first, two Aboriginal teenagers are shot dead and there is also no progress on the killing of a man in front of his daughter. A novel about murder, corruption, treachery and ultimately the Truth.

I didn’t realise this was the sequel to The Broken Shore when I started this novel but seeing Inspector Stephen Villani was only a minor character in the first book I thought it was ok to continue. But I wonder if I should have read them in order, because Truth never really clicked with me.

The novel was very difficult to read and hold my attention; the flashbacks, the sheer amount of characters and attempts at complexity made it really difficult to know what is what in this novel. It tried to be a gritty police procedural with some political aspects but never really seemed to click. While the main plot could have worked well, the flashbacks and cast size turned this book into a difficult book.

I’m surprised this book won the Miles Franklin award; I know a lot of people that loved The Broken Shore and hated this book so I can’t help but wonder if this book won based on the love of its predecessor. It was interesting to see Peter Temple’s character Jack Irish making an appearance in the book.

I just don’t see the appeal to this book but it wasn’t the writing style that made this book so hard to read. While this is the first Peter Temple book I’ve read, I can see why he is one of Australia’s better crime writers. I will try The Broken Shore sometime just to see why one was so loved and this one was so hated.

All That I Am by Anna Funder

Posted June 20, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

All That I Am by Anna FunderTitle: All That I Am (Goodreads)
Author: Anna Funder
Published: Harper Collins, 2011
Pages: 384
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

I wanted to read this book before the Mile’s Franklin award for 2012 is announced as I’m predicting this book will win. All That I Am by Anna Funder is told from the perspective of Ruth Becker and Ernst Toller in alternate chapters. Both Ruth and Toller are remembering life in 1930’s Germany as political activists. Both characters, along with Ruth’s husband Hans and Toller’s lover Dora, publically speak out against Hitler and everything he stands for, advocating independence and freedom of speech for Germany.

This book starts out very heavy; trying to cover all the relevant back story of Germany in the 1930’s while still trying to drive the story along. This is a delicate balance to manage but I think Anna Funder did a good job at managing this. I know people may disagree with me  but I think with the subject matter and the back story that needs to be covered, the author still manages to keep the reader turning the page, and for me, that never felt boring. I love the fact that this story is more about the politics and the effect Hitler’s rise to power will have on the German people rather than dealing with the holocaust.

The simple fact that this book tries to deal with the social impacts of the changing Germany has been the biggest contributing factor to my enjoyment of the book. I couldn’t care less about Toller who is writing his autobiography or Ruth, who after reading Toller’s writing, is remembering her side of the story. I know they risk a lot to speak out and I knew Hitler’s regime were actively trying to stop political opposition so I probably should care more for the characters, but the fictionalised German history was more interesting for me.

All That I Am would be a tough book to write and while at times it was heavy and at other time I might not have cared too much of the story; Anna Funder did do an excellent job at writing this novel. The book reminded me of the 2002 movie Max for some weird reason; mainly because it also was a fictionalised account of Hitler rising to power and how he dealt with the political opposition. For those who don’t know the movie Max starred John Cusack as a fictional Jewish art dealer and a young Austrian painter, Adolf Hitler (Noah Taylor). The interesting thing about the movie was it explores Hitler and the view’s that shaped Nazi ideology, while also taking a look at the artistic designs of the Third Reich.

Anna Funder must have done a lot of research in preparing to write this book. I know she has a non-fiction book called Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall but I think that was more about East Germany, but in the course of researching that book she might have gotten all the information needed for All That I Am. I’m glad to have read this novel; I think it offers an interesting insight into a world I was never a part of. It is an interesting piece of history and sociology. Anna Funder has won the Australian Independent Booksellers Indie Book Award for Literary Fiction and has been shortlisted for Miles Franklin Award for this book. I’d be interested to see if this book will stand the test of time.

The Hanging Garden and Unfinished Novels

Posted May 28, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

The Hanging Garden and Unfinished NovelsTitle: The Hanging Garden (Goodreads)
Author: Patrick White
Published: Knopf Doubleday, Random House, 2012
Pages: 224
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

During my last book club gathering, we were talking about Patrick White’s unfinished novel; The Hanging Garden and this lead into a discussion of books being published after the author dies which the author never wanted to see the light of day. Patrick White never wanted this novel released; I believe he did tell someone to burn it because it wasn’t finished or anywhere near ready for readers. There are heaps of authors that have had books released that were never meant to be released including; Kurt Vonnegut, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy and the most famous of them all was Franz Kafka’s The Trial. This does lead to some interesting topics; do you think books that the author never intended to be released should be published? Are publishers just using them as a money making gimmick? And lastly, if those manuscripts were submitted to a publisher by an unknown author, would they still be published?

Patrick White is a two time Miles Franklin award winner and has also won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His unfinished novel The Hanging Garden was only just recently published; it feels like an old novel in the sense that, while it’s nicely written; nothing ever happens in the book. This is very much a character driven book, focusing on the two characters and a wild garden. I think I’d be alright with reading a book like this if I didn’t have the feeling that the author hated every single one of his characters; he was mean and cruel to them all, not just the key characters. As a general rule I love dark and flawed characters but this just felt mean and even the attempts of being erotic felt awkward. I spent the whole book waiting for something to happen and I was left disappointed. Also, as this is an unfinished novel, I don’t know what the overall goal was with this book and I get the feeling that maybe Patrick White doesn’t either. There are parts of this book that are beautifully written and then there are parts that felt like the author’s ramblings. This is supposed to be an unedited book but while I think there was some editing done there are also parts of the book that clearly feel unedited. Including a few paragraphs that didn’t make sense and had no punctuation and then some notes to himself reminding him to explore or research some parts later. While I’m not a fan of this book, I think a lot of people might get a kick out of it. Either for the memories of the time and the place; the memorable characters, or just to see the thought process of once of Australian top authors of all time.

On this day 100 years ago, Patrick White was born