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Shell Shock

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. P1300633 Shell Front

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, P1300635 Shell back .jpgincluding 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.

 

 

 

Compulsion

I never think of

my  city

my country

As if I own it

I think

I’m here, now

When asked

 Where are you from?

I answer

wherever I’m currently living

– Narrabundah (Australia)

– Nairobi (Kenya)

 No, but where are you really from?

As if that will “place” me

confine me

describe me

 Do I detect a U.S. accent?

 Where are you from in the U.S.?

My (unspoken) reply:

 How much time do you have?

 Do you really want to know my life story?

 All the places I’ve lived and worked

 Is this my identity?

Least Liveable City in the World?* **

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.

P1300631 Lagos front

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!P1300638 Lagos back

* 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.

https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2016/08/18/the-worlds-most-liveable-cities

** Chibundo Onuzo, the author of Welcome to Lagos, disagrees, Who says the most liveable city is in the West? Culture doesn’t just live in museums.

 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/19/vienna-lagos-economist-intelligence-unit-liveability-index

How do you define “culture”?

• Where do you find “culture”?

• What do you think makes a city “liveable”?

• If you currently live in a city, is it “liveable”?                                               Is it ranked by The Economist?

 

 

 

The Hate Race

The Hate Race

By Maxine Beneba Clarke

The Hate Race

 

Contrary to the title of the book,

a story full of love

for family

for friends

for acceptance in the face of hate.

 

Does hate exist permanently?

Is it cast in stone for ever more?

Even a stone can be worn down

over time

with the right conditions.

 

Reading The Hate Race

the reader becomes more aware

more in tune

with people around them.

Aware that words do hurt

chip chip chipping away

at a person’s sense of self until

someone is left shattered

bits and pieces in a pile.

We must open up our hearts and minds

accept ourselves and others

and win

The Hate Race.

 

Have you read books that gave you insight into another person’s suffering?

 

Do you think books can help create empathy?

Brutal honesty: One Hundred Years of Dirt

Response after reading: One Hundred Years of Dirt By Rick Morton

I am not born in Australia.

I am not gay.

I am not male.

I am not a journo.

I did not grow up on a property in western Queensland, Australia.

I have mild anxiety attacks but usually keep going.

When depressed, I get into bed and cry.

I am trying to renew my extended family through writing a novel about my father.

I am trying to be a steadfast supportive mother.

 

My reaction to this book?

No words.

This book is so courageous.

How can anyone write about his inner self with such honesty and power?

 

100 Years of DirtI heard something about One Hundred Years of Dirt on ABC Radio National. I don’t remember what. I picked up a copy at my public library. I put it on my stack of to-be-read books on the floor in a corner of my bedroom.

Whoops. An email reminder from the public library. I had only four days to read One Hundred Years of Dirt. I read it in three. The power of this book with all its exposed pain, lifted me out of a depression and back into writing. Thanks Rick.

Spoiler alert:

This book is NOT about living on a property in Western Queensland.

Dear Reader,

What books have had a powerful emotional impact on you?

Have you ever been amazed that someone could write with brutal honesty?

 

 

 

 

 

Unseen people

At the Gallery

Paintings by Kate Stevens: Scenes from an Afternoon

Gorham Art Centre Canberra, Australia

IMG_3410.JPG Landscape

Sweeping landscapes

on small canvases

Heavy oil paint

applied in thick daubs

Foreground mauve

purplish colour

Distance implied by

yellow fields

massed green trees

Big sky

light light blue

 

Just when I’m getting bored

seeing similar landscapes

the same colours

over and over again

I step away

and am captured

 

Australian pastoral landscapes

not my favourite

and yet the

sweep

space

colours of

rippling land

low rising hills

attract

 

Quietly appealing

limited colour palette

mauve

yellow

dark grey green

light blue sky

hint of fencing

daubs of black

cows with white face

Inhabited land

controlled by unseen people

IMG_3405 landscape.JPG

History Through Fiction: The Making of Martin Sparrow (part two)

I am continuing with my response to the novel The Making of Martin Sparrow and learning about history through fiction. Reading the book, I entered into the world of settlers on the Hawkesbury River in southeastern Australia at the time of the flood of 1806.

Colonies are built on dreams, but some dreams threaten ruin Martin Sparrow Cover

This was the single sentence on the first page of The Making of Martin Sparrow after the title page.

Women were only minor characters in The Making of Martin Sparrow. Evil and not so evil men dominated. Many settler men met their end through the harsh environment – wild boars, wild rivers, a prick from a platypus, or disease. Others through retribution by indigenous men, who selectively killed settlers who had massacred their people.

The ending of The Making of Martin Sparrow didn’t quite satisfy. It was a little too neat. Yet the book had to end sometime. I had to leave that time and place and return to the present day.

Here are a few samples of the beauty of the writing in The Making of Martin Sparrow about a harsh violent history of the forcible settling of Australia by convicts and their keepers.

It was almost sunset and the clouds to the north sat flat, as if on a straight edge, and they were lit bright pink on the underside and the sky beneath was the palest petal blue. (p. 297)

I’ve seen those clouds and that sky.

Or they might not find them at all and instead find Dan’s musket wedged in a tree, draped in the deathly grey of flood-borne shrubbery, the floodwaters a master of random arrangement. (p. 404)

I’ve seen shrubs, trees, stranded, washed up along the banks by rising rivers after they’ve subsided.

Just one thing can shape your whole life. (p. 423) Quiet insights in the dialogue, especially from the character Cuff, are sprinkled throughout the book. Somehow they become believable, although the reader may doubt the character’s ability to reflect.

The author, historian Peter Cochrane comments in the Afterword

The Making of Martin Sparrow is a work of fiction in which the documented past provides points of departure into an imagined world. (p. 447)

Can the reader find historical truth through fiction?

Are novels a more powerful and accessible way to learn about history and other cultures?

What do you think?

Your comments are most welcome.  Thank you.

 

Harshly Boring: The Making of Martin Sparrow

My last post was about learning history through novels. Here’s my response to a novel by an Australian historian, Peter Cochrane.

I heard a review of The Making of Martin Sparrow, on ABC Radio National here in Australia. I put in a request online at the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) public library.

That’s how I came to having a copy of The Making of Martin Sparrow. I was already reading several other books so I put it on top of a pile. A few days later, I received a reminder from the library by email. The book was due in three days!

I read The Making of Martin Sparrow as an emotional journey. When the first page had a long list of characters, I was skeptical.  I skipped over that page and started reading. Tentatively. I kept on, although the main character, Martin Sparrow, was not particularly likeable.

At one point I thought the story was harshly boring and was ready to put it aside. The writing, the odd turn of phrase, the originality kept me going, even when the narrative seemed tedious.

My perseverance was rewarded. I entered into the world of settlers on the Hawkesbury River in southeastern Australia at the time of the flood of 1806. A world dominated by male violence, drinking, whoring – not topics that usually hold my interest. There was something more shining through… patches of sunlight in a forbidding, very dark sky.

My emotional journey through The Making of Martin Sparrow continues in the next blog.

Have you read this book

What are your reactions?

The Truth of Fiction

In my previous post, I said that the posts on this blog would be about the process of researching, writing and rewriting a novel that is and is not the story of my father’s life.

Change of plan.

Instead of presenting myself as a writer, for the next few blogs, let me share some thoughts as a reader.

Some years ago, when I knew I was headed to Pakistan, I tried to read everything about Partition* through novels. Novels written by Muslims, Christians, Hindus, non-believers. Novels written from the Pakistan side, from the Indian side, from the time just before, during and after Partition.

* Note on Partition: the division of the Asian Sub-Continent by the British in 1947, which created India and Pakistan. Partition forcibly displaced over 14 million people on religious lines. The violence of Partition created hostility between India and Pakistan that continues today as an ongoing deeply felt trauma.

To find out about history, culture, values, peoples, heroes and villains of the different countries where I’ve lived and worked, I go to novels.

Why fiction? Because a different truth lies in stories where point of view is acknowledged. Readers can draw their own conclusions and think about what happened or might have happened.

Novels bring us into a different reality. That was always true for me. As a girl growing up in a rather boring Midwestern town in the USA, I read novels constantly. Even after bedtime, under the bed covers, with the aid of a flashlight. Was I trying to escape or to learn? Probably both.

Currently my reading is dominated by the place where I live, that is, Australia. I hear about books and authors interviewed on ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio National.

Pamela Collett RN 2

                                 This is me with my Radio National umbrella.                  Kangaroos in the background so you know this is Australia.

The next blogs will be about my reaction to books I heard about on the radio and then requested online at my local public library.

Do you think novels have more profound truth that non-fiction?

Where do you go for information about a country or culture where you may be visiting or living?

How do you find out about books you might want to read?

A Giant Step Back

natl-mus-pamela-mirror-848

Here it is and here I am. Or am I? I thought I knew who I am as much as anyone can. Yet I finally understood that to know myself I must go back, not through ancestry.com to construct a family tree, but just one giant step back – to my father.

I never knew the man. Not really anyway. I didn’t want to know him while he was alive. I wanted to escape. I was already halfway out the door when he rejected me. I wanted a life that was not confined to making money in Kansas City Missouri USA where I grew up. I felt stunted by the environment – the limited ways of thinking of the time and place.

Post World War II, many families like ours were rising up and out of poverty and the working class into the middle class even into upper middle class affluence. At what cost? Who was paying for this? Who benefited and who did not?

This blog is about taking one step back and then jumping in to find my father. I am writing a novel, Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time, based on events in his life.

Come with me as I try to learn about this man to write a fictional story that both is and is not his story.

Share with me your stories of research and writing for family reconciliation.   You can comment here or email me at pamela@tucacas.info.

Thanks!
Continue reading “A Giant Step Back”

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