Heimat – A German Family Album by Nora Krug

In the mid-eighties, I was an exchange student in Germany. I was hosted in a small town in the south, and Heidelberg was the closest large town. My days at school were routinely interrupted by US airforce planes flying overhead and breaking the sound barrier – teachers and students were so used to this happening that conversation paused and resumed automatically. Likewise, no one seemed to notice US tanks rolling through the streets. It was 1987 and there were daily reminders of the Holocaust; what this nation had done wrong; and who was ‘in charge’ now. That’s what it felt like to me, anyway, and I was fascinated by how the past was felt in the present.

My trip in 1987 remains one of the most significant experiences I have had. Seeing the imbedded sense of guilt and shame carried by people born long after the war had an enormous impact. At the time, I couldn’t name what I was seeing, but we now know it as intergenerational trauma (and in no way do I mean to minimise, or compare it to, the trauma experienced by those persecuted during the Holocaust).

In her graphic memoir, Heimat, Nora Krug traces her family history, in an effort to uncover their wartime past in Nazi Germany, and to understand how her German history has shaped her life.

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Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

Prior to reading Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe, my knowledge of the Troubles was limited, and was essentially informed by three things:

    • Across the Barricades by Joan Lingard (I read this multiple times as a teen)
    • a brief visit to Belfast in 2001
    • Lost Lives by David McKittrick et al. – a book that I bought second hand after my Belfast visit. It lists the story of every life lost during the Troubles (3,630 people were killed between the late 1960s and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement ). Continue reading

Monkey Grip by Helen Garner

We’ve all known a couple that breaks up and gets back together over and over again. As teenagers, that sort of relationship drama seems to be part of the adolescent experience, but once you’re in your twenties and thirties the debriefings and speculation over what has been said and done wears thin.

Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip unpicks the relationship between Nora and Javo. It’s predominantly a story of addiction – Javo has a drug habit and Nora has a ‘Javo-habit’. As frequently as Javo says he is giving up drugs, Nora says she’s done with Javo. Neither stop and that is essentially the beginning and end of the story. Continue reading

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

Why, why, why have I left my review of Rhidian Brook’s historical novel, The Aftermath, so long? I had so much to say about it when I finished it in July (although, perhaps too much and that’s why my thoughts were a jumble). Anyway, it’s worth a brief review because it’s a book that I think will be among my favourites for the year. Continue reading

The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith

In 2014, I completed a year-long 1-second-a-day project. My kids still ask to watch the seven minute result, enjoying the flashes of the everyday and odd sound-grabs. I was reminded of it when I read Dominic Smith’s latest novel, The Electric Hotel.

The novel focuses on Claude Ballard, a pioneer of silent films.

Strangers have always interested me, Claude said. The way they illuminate their own sorrows or joys when you least expect it. It might be half a second of staring into space, then it vanishes. Continue reading