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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Staying by Jessie Cole

Know that for a very distressing subject, you’re in extremely safe hands with Jessie Cole. Staying describes Jessie’s childhood and her family’s devastating experience of suicide. 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

The 2018 Stella Prize – my prediction

Today’s the day of the 2018 Stella Prize announcement. I’m excited (especially because I’m going!).

I haven’t managed to read all of the shortlisted books this year (I haven’t started on the 694 page Tracker and I’m cross at myself for not having read it. I also haven’t written a review for The Life to Come – yet). Nevertheless, I’m putting myself in the judges’ shoes. Continue reading

The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe

The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe is a short, grim story about an Indonesian girl, Mina, whose life changes when her father sends her to work for a Dutch merchant.

And what will she wear? What is the town like? Who will she work with? She asks herself these questions, a tremor of excitement finally mingling with the dread in her stomach, making her feel pleasantly sick like when she eats too much sirsak, the sweetness of the custard apple curdling in her stomach. Continue reading

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar is set in Iran in the period immediately after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Using magic realism and classical Persian tales, Azar tells the story of a family deeply affected by the post-revolutionary chaos and brutality.

Things I understand and appreciate about The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree:

01. That it is a stunning example of using folklore to tell a modern story. Continue reading