I urge myself to write
after days in a daze
due to a head cold
the aftermath to
sitting in a tent for hours
at the Majors Creek Festival
(a tiny historic gold mining town,
301 km south of Sydney and 16 km south of Braidwood in New South Wales, Australia), listening to Emily Rose and the Wild Things (high energy) followed by Great Aunt, a folk duo on guitar and bass (quiet competency).
I have lost the plot. What did I want to say about Kei Miller’s two novels?
See my blog https://bettehutchisonsilver.wordpress.com/2019/11/01/you-never-know/ about meeting Kei Miller, the poet.
Inspired, after meeting Kei Miller at the Poetry on the Move festival in Canberra, I found two of his novels at the local public library:
The Last Warner Woman
The title of The Last Warner Woman confused me. When I see the word “Warner”, I immediately think of two brand names: Warners bras and Warner Brothers, a film production company.These are brands I grew up with in the USA. I have never consciously thought of either one - perhaps in my entire life (although I have seen the WB logo of Warner Brothers in movie credits). I have never bought a Warners bra.
So I wondered why a writer from Jamaica would write about Warners bras or Warner Brothers? The cover of the book did not relate to the Warner brands. Think about it. Shocking that a word “warner” became embedded in my mind with two brands. The power of advertising that changes the lens through which we understand words.
Warner… means a person who warns… that is, a seer or prophetess.
A warner is someone who can “see” what is going to happen and then warn people.
This book is as beautiful as the cover. The writing is so evocative that I had to read it carefully - word by word - the way I usually read poetry.
I often speed read novels. Satisfied with understanding the main story line, following the principal characters and immersing myself in the story without carefully reading each word. Not possible to speed read The Last Warner Woman.
And then Augustown
Augustown started slower for me. Something ominous surrounded the people in the novel. Something was going to happen. I read the novel with anxiety. At one point I put it aside. I didn’t want to know what was going to happen next.
Both books are based on Jamaican history and folk lore.
After reading Augustown, I looked up “Bedward“ and found the following:
“Between 1891 and 1921, Alexander Bedward, an African-Jamaican healer, led the Jamaica Baptist Free Church in August Town, Jamaica, on the Hope River. . .
In the 1930s, Bedwardites and Garveyites transformed Bedward's millenarianism into the more antiestablishment and durable Rastafarian movement…”
QandA is a weekly current affairs program on ABC TV in Australia The 29 October 2019 broadcast focused on responses to the current ongoing, multi-year, devastating drought
Sitting at one end a middle-aged water woman, assertive in a quiet, fact-based approach explaining the mismanagement of scarce water resources
Next to her a government minister, nothing to be proud of, prattling on, talking much, saying little
The government minister sandwiched between the water woman and an eloquent, emotional young farmer, her face bent to listen to other panelists, her responses always from her heart, faithful to the land
In the middle of the panel
The moderator, looking rather young, a half smile on his face, eyes open wide, trying to hold things together without losing his composure
Next to him
A blonde, curly-headed woman wearing an all green shirt (but she’s not a member of the Greens), the head of the Farmers Federation, talking, even interrupting the water woman, but with nothing much to say except pity the farmers, defending the status quo, offering no analysis, no vision, no future
And last but somewhat least the shadow minister for labor, talking about the poor farmers doing it tough, saying Australia needs a national drought plan without offering one
QandA Studio Audience
The QandA panel floating on a sea of climate change and drought, with the audience and farmers (in the studio and on video links) critical of the dismal performance of current governments
The audience and farmers acknowledging human-made climate change and the mismanagement of very scarce water resources
The audience applauding the eloquence, the heartfelt sentiments of two indigenous leaders – one on video, one in the audience – denouncing corporate greed and capitalism that has taken their water
In the audience – connections to the land, to reality, to caring in stark contrast to the empty words of three members of the panel
Well I do know you, don’t I? Otherwise, why did you jump off the shelf in the Kingston public library in Canberra, Australia, into my hands? I took a quick look at the end flap on the front cover of the book All the Lives We Ever Lived. Then I put it on the automatic checkout machine and out the door the book went with me.
The tagline to the title of the book “Seeking solace in Virginia Woolf” did not speak to me. I read Virginia Woolf when I was young and determined to be an intellectual who had read all of the “important” books. I vaguely remember reading A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf which resonated with me because of its assertion of women’s equality. However, I don’t remember becoming attached to either the work or life of Virginia Woolf.
But this book, All the Lives We Ever Lived, sought me out. I knew nothing about it or about the writer. I saw it by chance sitting on the library shelf and brought it home. I started reading. And I kept on reading every day until I finished it. I felt a bit dissatisfied with the ending. I was hoping that the book never ended so I could continue our one-sided conversation with me listening while the author, Katharine Smyth kept talking. As a reader/listener I was never bored, nor did I skip paragraphs or pages. I read/listened diligently.
Throughout the book, Virginia Woolf was present but not dominant. She added an extra dimension to the memoir Katharine Smyth wrote about her life, her father, her family and her attraction to Woolf’s book, To The Lighthouse.
Her relationship to her father was very unlike mine to my father. She was close to her father and shared many activities, including sailing, with him. My father was distant and controlling. I never really knew him, although I should have.
I am researching and writing a novel Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time based on events in his life. All the Lives We Ever Lived offers no guidance to the work I am trying to write. Nor should it. For my family, the title might be All the Lives We Never Lived.
Katharine Smyth glories in the written word and the production of art. “Art may not give us the unequivocal truths that we desire from our world, but it can provide a stay against its chaos and confusion.” p. 186.
She speaks to me in my ongoing need to read, read, read, to find myself and to be myself, whoever that may be. “And is not the sight of ourselves laid bare on the page – endlessly complex, and yet not singular at all – one of reading’s humblest, most delightful rewards?” p. 243.
Thank you, Katharine. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation.
Thoughts about The Memory Artist by Katherine Brabon
A glorious book about writing and memory and the Soviet Union and glasnost and Russia…
A period that I almost didn’t want to think about because of my own activist background… as if somehow I had personally been betrayed by Stalin and the Soviet Union.
The Memory Artist is a gentle, beautifully written novel that carries the reader along, not allowing the reader to fall into the depths of despair despite murders, disappearances and suicides.
“There’s a moment, I’m not sure how long, one of those never-ending seconds, and whichever hour it is or whatever station I’m in, the words and numbers have no meaning. Then I think of somewhere I’m supposed to be or the next thing I have to do. I cling to those things, and I find myself again. ” p. 213
“I can attest that I’m here, as a man, with a body right now sitting on this seat, but I cannot say I am sure what I’m made up of – what is going on inside. ” p. 222
“Our inner life, consciousness or whatever, made the apartment a place where that manipulated and censored world couldn’t get in.” p. 223
“Looking at those malformed statues, I told myself that if I could make some kind of shape out of the memories of the men and women of my life – then somehow, impossibly, the broken past could be given form. Not put back together so much as refashioned into a kind of warped, fragmented sculpture. But nonetheless it would be something that I could hold, at least in my mind.” p. 243
So if and when you become a naturalized citizen of Australia you are supposed to pledge allegiance to the Queen (of England). This is irksome, if you don’t believe in royalty and you do believe in social equality. Very irksome.
Australians have been trying to do something about this anomaly for some time now.
According to the book This Time by Benjamin T. Jones, “Republican voices have been heard since the early colonial days (in Australia) but they were never mainstream.” Jones documents the first Republican Campaign in Australia in 1850.
As an Australian citizen born in the USA, the fact that Australia still is NOT a republic and that the head of state is the Queen of England is almost unbelievable. In terms of everyday life, it would seem that the Queen does not play that significant a role.
Look again at the symbols that surround us in our everyday life in Australia.
The flag: the Union Jack is in the upper corner of the Australian flag. So what is Australian about this flag? We need a new flag. Ausflag is a non-profit organization working towards a new flag. Many beautiful and appropriate designs have been submitted to their website. Check it out at www.ausflag.com.au
Jones noted, “For many Australians, the relics of empire and monarchy are so ubiquitous that they become invisible. ” For those of us NOT born in Australia of British background, it is quite noticeable. I already mentioned the flag, which is British rather than Australian. The coins all have the Queen of England on them, as does the five-dollar bill.
Three of the five states have British names: New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. As noted by Jones, “Every major city, and indeed most regional towns, have a central business district marked with George, Edward, Victoria and Elizabeth streets, in honour of royals past and present”. Jones asks, “What constitutional model and national symbols best represent modern Australia?”
All Australians and people interested in Australia are encouraged to read this book and think about “What does it mean to be an Australian?”
A shell is something beautiful, signifying containment, the protective hard outer layer, yet now empty.
Thus is the novel Shell by Kristina Olsson… beautiful, containing history, events, the 1960s in Australia (1960-1966), the building of the Sydney Opera House, conscription of young men sent to Vietnam, protest, sabotage and families torn apart.
Shell has flashing moments of insight, of great beauty that resonates, and brings the reader closer to the main character, Pearl Keogh. Her pain at separation from her brothers, who ran away from an orphanage where they were sent after the death of their mother, goes on and on. She’s lost track of her brothers and searches for them, fearful they’ll be conscripted and sent to Vietnam.
When she eventually finds her two younger brothers, her pain somehow dissipates. They’ve changed. Their values are far apart and irreconcilable from her own. How does Pearl keep going having achieved the goal of finding her brothers, yet realizing that they are farther apart from her than ever? Her calm acceptance of the profound chasm that has opened up between them seems implausible.
Pearl has an on and off relationship with Axel Lindquist, a Swedish artist working on glass sculpture for the Sydney Opera House. Their time together, their lovemaking, seems random and unfulfilled. Some of the most powerful writing in Shell is of soliloquys when each of them is delving into the loss, pain, guilt and shame of their individual lives.
Each character seems to live inside her or his own shell. They don’t quite make contact with others, including family members. Letters between Axel and his mother, who is in Sweden, does portray some warmth in their relationship, but it is at a distance.
Considerable time is taken up in the book regarding the process of glassmaking, which could be a metaphor for their lives and the interrupted process of the construction of the Sydney Opera House.
Shell is a book to admire, to turn over in your mind as you would a beautiful shell in your hand and yet wonder what is missing.
A beautifully written book that somehow disappoints.
Have you ever been to Lagos, Nigeria? Would you like to go?
If so, then get a copy of Welcome to Lagos. Reading this book rewards you with an engaging and complex experience, just like the city itself.
I visited Lagos many many years ago. I found the city to be fascinating, frustrating and overwhelming.
Chibundu Onuzo, the author of Welcome to Lagos is a Lagosian currently resident in the UK. In a recent interview Chibundu noted, There are so many stories in Lagos. Leaving Nigeria made me appreciate what I left behind.
Lagos has an incredible pull on Nigerians throughout the country. It sends a powerful signal of a range of possibilities that draws people into its vortex of human energy, swirling round and round.
Welcome to Lagos starts in the Delta when two soldiers desert. They pick up other people, including a guerrilla fighter, a young girl, and a battered wife, forming their own informal family, brought together by misfortune and the magnetic pull of Lagos.
The five manage to make it to Lagos and stick together, despite internal and external challenges. They survive a series of adventures that brings the reader into the heart of the contradictions within Nigeria.
Enjoy your visit to Lagos!
* The Economist Intelligence Unit report recently ranked Nigeria’s megacity of Lagos, with its 20 million population, as the second-worst city in the world to live in.