Saturday, August 10, 2013

Non-fiction provides punctuation for some amazing stories

I love reading and it has to be one of life's great pleasures and here are some that I have recently been reading.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work was a beautifully written book about work and daily life. Alain Du Botton beings looks at what people do for a living and why they do it. He  goes on to look at logistics/shipping and what goes on in making sure with have “stuff” on our supermarket shelves and goes on to look at biscuit making, career counselling, accountancy, etc. 

Du Button reminded me that humans are just a tiny cog in this massive wheel and that work is just one way that we feel connected and useful to society, even though in reality it has no lasting impact. He is the only writer that makes accounting cargo ship spotting and commuting to London sound remotely romantic.

This book does seem like a poetic report of various random jobs and I would have liked a stronger and overarching narrative. Du Button does interview very well on TV. 

I was really excited to begin about Gillian Slovo’s Black Orchids as the colonial era I find a little exotic but this book shows its dark underbelly. 

The book Black Orchids is set in 1950s Ceylon and Britain about a girl of English heritage who had lived in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) for most of her life and subsequently marries a local boy from a “good family” then proceed to move to England. Unfortunately, it was at a time that England wasn’t really impressed by those married people from the colonies. 

So the main character Evelyn doesn’t really feel like she belongs anywhere, not really British but not really from Ceylon either. When I first brought it as stories of outsiders, cross cultural upbringings and marriages really interest me but I soon became disappointed with the story and by the end I was glad it was all over.

The story did show what England was like at the time and how far it’s come, although that is up for debate.  I felt that Evelyn began as a formidable woman but who ended up being a bit of a cop out.

There was so much that I loved about Hugh MacKay’s Advance Australia Where? It seemed to take the pulse of Australian society and shows how the country has changed. Mackay’s general argument is that, to cope with the plethora of big issues that affect us such as terrorism/national security, the global economy and climate change (just to name a few)Australia has become increasingly insular and inward looking. 

He cites our inability to deal with issues on a personal level which makes us focus on things we can change for example home renovations and spirituality. MacKay feels that our keen interest in shows such as Better Homes and Gardians, Backyard Blitz and shows like CSI and Law & Order are an attempt to escape from having to engage with the big issues facing our society. It is easier to renovate your house than to “stop the boats” or reduce Aboriginal disadvantage, for example.      

I found myself wanting to throw the book at the wall when I was reading the chapter on the Gender Revolution, not that I disagreed with it but because it was so spot on, especially how modern Australian females have little appreciation of the work done by generations of feminist women. His discussion about the changing nature of gender roles was also really interesting.

This is a great book about Australia and is well worth the read if you are interested about modern Australian cultural history.  

Ohhhh how I loved Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks and gets 5 stars straight away. It is about the first American Indian to attend Harvard University but more importantly it was about the relationship between Caleb and the highly intelligent Bethea (I think that is how you spell it) who is often relegated to domestic duties solely based on her gender. 

It was so well written and the characters were so clearly defined. The protagonists moved throughout the book with much clarity that I felt that understood them even if I didn't identify with them directly on a personal level or even agree with their politics. 

As a modern girl who has gained a university education, the era when even a basic primary education was denied to 50% of the population just because of their gender was a bit of a shock to me but Brooks wrote in such a way that I didn't hate the culture. This book is amazing!!!!    

Far To Go by Alison Pick is a book that I had mixed feelings about. Partly because the central theme (why many of the German/Polish/Czech Jews didn’t flee their homelands sooner) of the story seemed to fascinate me so much and the characters seem shallow in the circumstances and partly because the romantic subplots didn’t seem to add value to the story.

But I really loved how Pick managed to show the two sides of the Non-Jewish people that the story’s family had contact with and how in their company they were pleasant and friendly but out of their company they were sucked into the Nazi propaganda. As it turns out it was one of these individuals that informed the authorities of their Jewish heritage, despite their secular lifestyle.

But despite the depressing story, it is easy to read and, while Far To Go is fiction, it gives you some idea of why so many didn’t see the horrors of the holocaust coming.  

I kept going with the Jewish, World Wars and exile theme with Anna Funder’s All That I Am. It is written from the prospective of two of Political Activists (plus close knit group/family) that escape Nazi Germany and live in London.

The narrative is written from when these two Characters are in old age and trying to make peace with their troubled past.

While it centres around a close group of refugees in London who are trying to make a difference in a world in turmoil but not everyone can stand the pressure of fleeing persecution and surviving in a new hostile environment. Towards the end we realise that not all is well and one of them becomes betrays the political work of the group and this leads to a sad and tragic end.

In the final quarter of the book, we slowly learn the details of the betrayal and ultimate fall out.  

I loved how the present and past intertwined and found the characters to be interesting and thoughtful.

I didn’t really know much about the German political activists and while I know it is fiction, I wonder if I could risk everything do the same thing if in a similar situation   

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