The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

There’s no shortage of Holocaust literature, and yet every so often one story rises to the top of the best-seller lists – why is one story more ‘appealing’ than another? I don’t know. Why does one story capture attention over others? I don’t know. The current critics’ favourite is The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

Morris has recorded the true story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who was transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in April 1942. When the guards at the camp discovered that Lale spoke several languages, he was put to work as a Tätowierer (tattooist), tasked with ‘numbering’ his fellow prisoners.

Day has become night, and still men line up to be numbered for life, be it short or long. Continue reading

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The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton

Sorry in advance – The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton is one of those books that I can’t say much about, for fear of spoilers.

It’s the story of teenager, Jaxie Clackton. Jaxie’s mum died and his relationship with his dad is violent. 

…when everyone went home after the funeral and I finished putting all them casseroles in the freezer I stood in the lounge in my good duds and the Captain sat out on the back patio drinking homebrew and rum. Arm over arm. Neither one of us said nothing. We both knew there was never gunna be anything good again.

Jaxie decides to leave, taking off across the vast saltlands of Western Australia. There he meets Fintan MacGillis, an old Irishman, on his own for very different reasons than Jaxie. What happens next changes both their lives. Continue reading

Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee

17% of Australian women aged 15 years and over will experience sexual assault.

1 in 6 assaults reported to police result in a conviction (so this says nothing about all the cases that are not reported).

In a legal system where the accused perpetrator may choose to say nothing and the victim must relive their trauma over and over and over again in the witness-box; be cross-examined; and have their ‘story’ judged by a jury, you can only think, “Why would you go through it?”.

Bri Lee did. Eggshell Skull is her harrowing story. Continue reading

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright

To be perfectly frank, the Australian gold rush history I learnt at school was dull. We suffered through it for the excursion to Sovereign Hill, of which the highlights were having personalised ‘Wanted’ posters printed and spending a vast amount of money on boiled lollies. I’m sure we covered stuff about living conditions, the growth of Ballarat, and the far-reaching effects of the miners’ protests about compulsory licences… I probably filed it under ‘Oh yeah, that was the Eureka Stockade‘, and moved on to Sovereign Hill’s chief attraction – panning for gold.

Imagine if I’d been taught from Clare Wright’s The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka? It’s a spectacular, riveting book that gives an account of the events leading up to the Eureka Stockade from the perspective of individual women on the gold fields. Until Wright’s book, women had been left out of the Gold Rush and Eureka story, despite the fact that they played a significant role and in turn shaped Victorian history. Continue reading

Woman of Substances by Jenny Valentish

I saw author Jenny Valentish speak at last year’s Melbourne Writers Festival. At the time, I hadn’t read her memoir, Woman of Substances – I often wonder how much my thoughts about a book are influenced by hearing the author speak before I’ve read it. Invariably their passion and post-publication reflections rub-off, and I go into the reading experience ‘looking out’ for certain things, which is why I left Woman of Substances almost a year before picking it up.

Woman of Substances is a memoir-research hybrid. Valentish uses her own experience of drugs and alcohol to explore how women deal with addiction and treatment. There are two main threads in the book – firstly, Valentish examines how trauma and self-destructive behaviours – such as eating disorders and high-risk sex – complicate substance use for women.

There’s an illusion of power in being as sexually aggressive as men are allowed to be, but it can sometimes take a stupefying blood-alcohol level to override the misgivings. Continue reading

Written on the Skin by Liz Porter

I’ve never been particularly interested in crime novels, mysteries, or courtroom dramas, and until I listened to the Serial podcast, true crime was also on the ‘not particularly interested’ list. But there was something about the meticulously produced Serial that sucked me in (and it wasn’t just Sarah Koenig’s dulcet tones). Since that time, I’ve listened to other true crime podcasts and read a few books.

Liz Porter’s book, Written on the Skin – An Australian Forensic Casebook grabbed my attention because of the chapters on the use of DNA testing in forensic science – genes are always interesting! Continue reading

The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser

I finished Michelle de Kretser’s latest novel, The Life to Come, on my way to last week’s Stella Prize announcement. It was appropriate to be reading de Kretser’s beautifully crafted words as I flew to Sydney, and even more fitting that I was there for the announcement of a literary prize – the book is set in Sydney (with snatches in Paris and Sri Lanka) and orbits around Pippa, a writer who longs for success.

The Life to Come is structured around various people at different stages in Pippa’s life, creating loosely linked stories from their individual perspectives. Some of these people are peripheral and others know Pippa well – from her university flatmate and a Parisian friend, to her elderly neighbour and a woman ‘adopted’ by her charismatic mother-in-law, Eva – it’s through their eyes that we see Pippa’s life progress. Structurally it’s interesting, and de Kretser provides lots of detail along the way to link the stories.

Continue reading