Once We Were Sisters: A Memoir by Sheila Kohler

There’s a line in Sheila Kohler’s memoir, Once We Were Sisters, that is representative of much of her story – ‘As is so often the case, truth is crueller than fiction.’

Kohler begins with the terrible moment when she discovered that her sister, Maxine, had been killed. Maxine’s husband drove them off a deserted road in Johannesburg – he survived the crash, she did not. Continue reading

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The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein

This book. Wow.

Harrowing. Courageous. Repulsive. Compelling. Heartbreaking. Uplifting. Fascinating.

The Trauma Cleaner, like its star, Sandra Pankhurst, is genre-defying. Author Sarah Krasnostein shadowed Sandra over a number of years, observing her day-to-day activities and recording the story of her life before she was a cleaner. And that story is remarkable – Sandra was a husband and father, drag queen, sex reassignment patient, sex worker, businesswoman, and trophy wife. As a ‘trauma cleaner’, Sandra cleans places others dare not go – homicide, suicide and death scenes; meth labs; homes of hoarders; and places ravaged by water, mould and filth.

Sandra knows her clients as well as they know themselves; she airs out their smells, throws out their weird porn, their photos, their letters, the last traces of their DNA entombed in soaps and toothbrushes. She does not, however, erase these people. She couldn’t. She has experienced their same sorrows. Continue reading

Book vs. Film: A Long Way Home / Lion

I’m skipping a review of A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley and instead suggesting that if you don’t already know this incredible story, see the film asap (note that the main difference between the book and film is that the book includes detail about Saroo’s time in India once he was reunited with his biological family, whereas the film ends with the reunion).

Film – Continue reading

Two autobiographies by Drew

“I had my first drink at age nine, began smoking marijuana at ten and at twelve took up cocaine.” 

Drew Barrymore’s legal emancipation from her mother at age 14, her self-driven ‘rebranding’ as teen-seductress, and her multiple engagements and three short marriages were still to come. So it should make for some wild reading, right? Actually, not really. Continue reading

Poum and Alexandre: A Paris Memoir by Catherine de Saint Phalle

Poum and Alexandre by Catherine de Saint Phalle is a curious book. It’s a memoir, focused on Saint Phalle’s Parisian childhood with her unconventional parents, Marie-Antoinette (Poum) and Alexandre –

“The patterns of the eccentrics are often rigid. My parents have many idiosyncrasies and any new ones become instant habits. Theirs is a disciplined madness.”

The book reads like a fairy tale. Told through the eyes of eight-year-old Saint Phalle, her stories are studded with references to Greek mythology, The Odyssey, the Magna Carta, visits to Givenchy, the Napoleonic Wars and the French Resistance.

“He talks the whole time about Alexander the Great, Constantine, Caesar, Julian the Apostate. He tells me of palaces and forests, galloping  horses and raped women. His voice gathers momentum and his hands seize javelins and slave girls. He canters up hills where we stare at burning cities.” Continue reading

The Media and the Massacre by Sonya Voumard

Geez… it’s always a bit tricky when something doesn’t do what it says on the label. That’s not necessarily a bad thing… But expectations and what-not…

Which brings me to Sonya Voumard’s The Media and the Massacre. The subtitle is Port Arthur 1996-2016 – most Australians would understand that the title refers to the twentieth anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre. The blurb suggests an exploration of the journalistic intent after the tragedy, with particular reference to the ethics of reporting traumatic events. Voumard poses the question, “Is there a right amount of storytelling surrounding the Port Arthur massacre?” Continue reading