The Book of Secrets: The Ateban Cipher by A.L. Tait

atebanTitle: The Book of Secrets: The Ateban Cipher (Book One)

Author: A.L. Tait

Genre: Children’s, Fantasy,

Publisher: Lothian Children’s Books

Published: 12th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 250

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: What’s the secret of the book, and why is it so valuable? These are the questions Gabe must answer when a dying man hands him a coded manuscript with one instruction: take it to Aidan. Gabe is hurled into a quest that takes him beyond his monastery home and into a world of danger, political intrigue and adventure.

As he seeks to decipher the code and find a mystery man who may not even exist, Gabe learns that survival must be earned and that some of life’s biggest lessons are not found in books.

Gabe finds himself questioning everything he knows about right and wrong and wondering if he’ll ever find a way back home. He also discovers that the biggest secret of all may be his own.

~*~

aww2017-badgeRaised in an abbey with religious brothers, Gabe was a foundling on the steps of the abbey fourteen years ago, with no clue as to who his true family is. Trained in the various areas of the abbey, Gabe’s favourite place is the Librarium, where he finds comfort in reading and words, and where a special book has been hidden by Brother Benedict, and that the Prior and other people in the land are desperate to get their hands on. Forced to flee with the book and the help of Brother Malachy, Gabe finds himself stranded in the forest, not knowing how to survive. Here, he runs into a gang of what he thinks are robbers or highwaymen, but turn out to be girls: two sisters, Merry and Gwyn, searching for a way to save their father, jailed by Lord Sherborne for a crime he didn’t commit, their cousin, Scarlett, running from a forced marriage to someone older than her father, and their friend, little Midge, who has nowhere else to go. Together, they agree to help Gabe, with Merry taking to him faster than Gwyn and Scarlett, but he fascinates all the girls, and they embark on a journey to help him find the Aidan he’s been asked to deliver the book pressed in his hands at the start of the novel to.

Things get complicated when they enter the town on the day the jails are open for visitors and for the upcoming Tournament. From here, they must decide how to proceed, and how they are going to keep the book from falling into the wrong hands either at the Tournament or the Abbey, and it is here that their friendship is cemented. At the heart of the book is the formation of the friendship and bond between Gabe and the girls as they discover that perhaps their individual quests intertwine in some ways, and the lessons learnt about working together are presented in a fun and exciting way for younger readers. A.L. Tait has created a story and characters that are enthralling, exciting and individual, and I adored reading it, and am keen for the next book to find out what happens to Gwyn, Merry, Gabe and the others on their journey to prevent whatever evil Sherborne and the Prior are planning.

I found the characters to be realistic – they all showed weaknesses and strengths, and all bad flaws that they didn’t like to admit to. This makes them relatable characters to child readers and showing the girls as confident and able gives readers role models to look up to and to show them that they can have a go at what they set their mind to, and not to be afraid.

Set in a fantasy town with a medieval feel to it, The Book of Secrets is a fast paced story, where girls are the heroes alongside the boy, who is learning how to live off the land and away from the comforts of the only home he has ever known. Together, they are strong, and individually, each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, making them well rounded characters that will hopefully develop nicely over the rest of the series. The Ateban Cipher is a book that shows that girls can do anything, and is a great adventure for boys and girls aged eight and older from the best-selling author of the Map-Maker Chronicles.

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Every Word Is A Bird We Teach To Sing by Daniel Tammet

every word.jpgTitle: Every Word Is A Bird We Teach To Sing

Author: Daniel Tammet

Genre: Essays. Non-Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 29th August, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages:275

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A mind-expanding, deeply humane tour of language(s) – and those who speak, study, and invent them – by the bestselling author of BORN ON A BLUE DAY and THINKING IN NUMBERS.

Is vocabulary destiny? Why do clocks ‘talk’ to the Nahua people of Mexico? Will A.I. researchers ever produce true human-machine dialogue? In this mesmerizing collection of essays, Daniel Tammet answers these and many other questions about the intricacy and profound power of language.

In EVERY WORD IS A BIRD WE TEACH TO SING, Tammet goes back in time to explore the numeric language of his autistic childhood; in Iceland, he learns why the name Blær became a court case; in Canada, he meets one of the world’s most accomplished lip readers. He chats with chatbots; contrives an ‘e’-less essay on lipograms; studies the grammar of the telephone; contemplates the significance of disappearing dialects; and corresponds with native Esperanto speakers – in their mother tongue.

A joyous romp through the world of words, letters, stories, and meanings, EVERY WORD IS A BIRD WE TEACH TO SING explores the way communication shapes reality. From the art of translation to the lyricism of sign language, these essays display the stunning range of Tammet’s literary and polyglot talents.

~*~

In a series of essays. Daniel Tammet tells a story of language, of what language means to different people, and how his high functioning autistic savant syndrome and early childhood epilepsy shaped his understanding of language. To Daniel, in these early years, words were numbers, that evolved into images, in a way that only he could understand, and from there, he journeyed across the world, experiencing how other languages dealt with names, with sign language and lip reading, and the differing ways the Deaf community viewed themselves and experienced the world and their culture, and how language can define us, define our place in society and the world. Daniel’s essays explore why certain names are banned in Iceland, and the talking clocks of the Nahua. His focus on languages and how they evolved and sit alongside each other is often compared to British English, usually pointing out subtle differences in how they work, and offering explanations for the uninitiated in other forms of language an understanding of these differences. The essays investigate the power of language and how our use of the language or languages we know admit us to certain aspects of the world and our culture, or exclude us, or at least, limit our understanding, and may require us to have some help – through out his journey, Daniel had help from people who spoke and used languages he was unfamiliar with, but his keen interest in how language worked helped him to come to understandings and ultimately, write this book of essays.

The patterns and the music that words make are how we teach words to sing, how each word, as one essay ends, is a bird we teach to sing. The beauty of Daniel’s books lies in his interest in language, not only how it works for him and operates for him, but how it operates, works and makes meaning for others and their language. It is the mysteries of language that appeal to Daniel, and as a reader, they appeal to me to. The way one author writes, for example, is unique from every other author, and every individual experiences language differently. It could be visual, either sign language or seeing the shape of a word – something that as a writer I can relate to as sometimes the image of a word appears before the actual word itself, although in my case, this depends on the word, and not every word has an image, sound, colour or number attached to it as it might with others, who experience language through synaesthesia – which will manifest differently for those with that language experience.

Daniel has some interesting experiences with language and linguistics across the world, including the differentiation between deaf with a small d and Deaf – the former indicates, in Daniel’s work, those who are deaf but do not fully associate with Deaf culture, whereas Deaf is said to be more about the community and the essay this is in discusses sign language, cochlear implants and how children who grow up in mostly hearing families adapt and learn language differently to children who learn to sign early on. Daniel balances these, I felt, in a way that anyone can understand as he does with his other essays, and shows the importance of language to the hearing and non-hearing communities, and how different people identify within subcultures and communities as well as the larger, wider communities they are a part of.

Presented in short essays rather than a lengthy narrative style, I read these essays in order, but they are not interconnected, other than through the theme of language and linguistics, and could possibly be read out of order or consecutively – either will, I think, allow the reader to appreciate the book and experience it in a way that works for them, which connects to the theme of language and the operation of language through the world and its various countries and communities, and the theme of communication in written, spoken and visual forms that differ from person to person as well.

Interweaving his journey of reading and his experiences with the facts gave a human face to the story – Daniel’s written expression is lovely, and easy to understand. It is not complex, but there are levels of complexity. He has written for a broad audience and I hope future readers can gain as much as I have from this collection of essays.

This was a very interesting book; an exploration into language and its mysteries is always interesting and provides a deeper understanding of language for us. It allows a wider world of language to be opened up and explored, and understood, where previously, we may not have understood beyond our own linguistic experiences. This book would be of interest to anyone with an interest in language, and linguistic students, and will hopefully be something useful to students of linguistics to broaden their understanding of how language operates in the world beyond what they know.

2017 Richell Prize for Emerging Writer’s Long List

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Encouraging emerging writers in Australia to contribute to the growing literary landscape of Australian literature is the impetus behind prizes such as the Richell Prize, currently in its third year. The Richell Prize was established in 2014 by Hachette Australia in partnership with The Guardian and The Emerging Writer’s Festival to assist emerging writers take the next step in their career. It is open to unpublished writers or adult fiction and adult non-fiction. Though applicants do not need a full manuscript at the time of entry, they must intend to complete one.

imagesHachette will donate $10,000, which is awarded to the winner, and will offer the winner a 12-month mentorship to develop their novel. Prizes like this are important to the Australian industry, as they encourage new Australian voices to be heard in a world where louder international voices threaten to drown local voices out, and creates a literary culture that we can relate to in our own country.

Whilst Hachette does not offer a publishing deal, the mentoring opportunity will help the winner get their manuscript to a stage where they can begin to discuss publishing opportunities with Hachette.

This year’s long list of twenty from 579 entries:

Michelle Barraclough, As I Am
Meagan Bertram, Trapped
Lucinda Coleman, Windjana
Sam Coley, State Highway One
Miranda Debeljakovic, Waiting for the Sun
Jacquie Garton-Smith, The Taste of Red Dust
Rose Hartley, The Caravan
Diana Jarman, The Philatelist’s Album
Julie Keys, Triptych
Kinch Kinski, Tabula
Carolyn Malkin, The Demon Drink
Fay Patterson, Tinker Tinker
Caitlin Porter, The Pearl Diver
Natasha Rai, Light in Dark Corners
Julie Scanlon, The Other Shade of Black
Stewart Sheargold, Wolf Whistle
Joshua Taylor, The Life and Times of a River
Jacqueline Trott, The Song of River Country
Bronte Winn, Edward
Karen Wyld, Where the Fruit Falls

From this long list, a short list will be chosen, and from there, a winner will be selected in the coming months, and I will try to keep you all updated via my blog.

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The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting

sixteen trees.jpgTitle: The Sixteen Trees of the Somme

Author: Lars Mytting

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia: MacLehose Press

Published: 8th August, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 405

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A 20th-century family saga of epic scale, by the author of NORWEGIAN WOOD.

By Norway’s bestselling novelist and the author of NORWEGIAN WOOD, a family story of epic scale.

Edvard grows up on a remote mountain farmstead in Norway with his taciturn grandfather, Sverre. The death of his parents, when he was three years old, has always been shrouded in mystery – he has never been told how or where it took place and has only a distant memory of his mother.

But he knows that the fate of his grandfather’s brother, Einar, is somehow bound up with this mystery. One day a coffin is delivered for his grandfather long before his death – a meticulous, beautiful piece of craftsmanship. Perhaps Einar is not dead after all.

Edvard’s desperate quest to unlock the family’s tragic secrets takes him on a long journey – from Norway to the Shetlands, and to the battlefields of France – to the discovery of a very unusual inheritance. THE SIXTEEN TREES OF THE SOMME is about the love of wood and finding your own self, a beautifully intricate and moving tale that spans an entire century.

Translated from the Norwegian by Paul Russell Garrett

~*~

The story that Norwegian author, Lars Mytting weaves is unusual, yet lyrical. In 1991, a young man, Edvard Hirjifell, begins an odyssey of discovery about his past, and the family he never knew, following the death of his grandfather, Bestefor. The mystery of his parents death begins the trip, and leads him to search for his grandfather’s brother, Einar, whom he hopes has not died, and will help him link the pieces of his past together. Edvard’s journey spans Norway, France and the Shetlands, discovering an unusual inheritance on the blood-drenched soils of the Somme from 1916, and a family legacy tainted by two world wars, and the horrors some of his ancestors were forced to go through. At times he finds himself questioning his identity, and as he finds people linked to his family, the puzzle pieces of his early life in 1971 begin to fall into place.

Translated into English from Norwegian by Paul Russell Garrett, The Sixteen Trees of the Somme was more character than plot driven, lending itself to literary fiction, and the subtlety within the writing that hinted at what was to come, what had happened and who someone was. As a result, the story was slowly revealed, each detail placed specifically to ensure maximum impact on the reader.

Initially I chose this book based on its title, hinting towards a story about the Somme and those who were there – however, both world wars were only mentioned implicitly in the early sections, and it was about half way into the story before the Battle of the Somme and the events of World War Two started to link up to Edvard’s family history, and what his French and Jewish ancestors had experienced, and how a soldier who had been at the Somme had come to impact his early life, and his link to that family. It became less about the wars themselves and more about the individuals in Edvard’s life who had been marked by war and tragedy. Through the eyes of Edvard, it reveals not only the tragedy and futility of war and sending young men off to fight, or punishing people for resisting a heinous regime, but the futility of being human, and the flaws we all have that an impact on the decisions we make and the way we act.

Translated books allow people who don’t speak the primary language of the author to read stories they may otherwise not get to engage with, and this is a bonus of having these books available. Some translations are exceptionally done, and capture the essence of the book, and as a reader, you can get a sense of the movement of the story. The Sixteen Trees of the Somme achieves this, and through a serious and sombre tone, Mytting communicated the desolation felt by Edvard and those whose stories and lives had shaped his.

Lars Mytting has created a story that crosses a century, and through the eyes of the main character, reveals how different people reacted to the history and to those they knew had been involved. The image at the beginning of a swastika on Bestefor’s car is indicative of wounds that have not healed, but that could also hint at remnants of other attitudes that were around during this time, and is just one example of the slow reveal techniques used in the novel, which did give it a slow pace, but it suited the story and style of the novel, and as such, I found it to be well written and engaging.

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The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club by Sophie Green

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Title: The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

Author: Sophie Green

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 8th August, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 427

Price: Paperback – $29.99, Ebook – $12.99, Audiobook – $44.99

Synopsis: In 1978 the Northern Territory has begun to self-govern. Cyclone Tracy is a recent memory and telephones not yet a fixture on the cattle stations dominating the rugged outback. Life is hard and people are isolated. But they find ways to connect. Sybil is the matriarch of Fairvale Station, run by her husband, Joe. Their eldest son, Lachlan, was Joe’s designated successor but he has left the Territory – for good. It is up to their second son, Ben, to take his brother’s place. But that doesn’t stop Sybil grieving the absence of her child. With her oldest friend, Rita, now living in Alice Springs and working for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and Ben’s English wife, Kate, finding it difficult to adjust to life at Fairvale, Sybil comes up with a way to give them all companionship and purpose: they all love to read, and she forms a book club. Mother-of-three Sallyanne is invited to join them. Sallyanne dreams of a life far removed from the dusty town of Katherine where she lives with her difficult husband, Mick. Completing the group is Della, who left Texas for Australia looking for adventure and work on the land.

If you loved THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, THE LITTLE COFFEE SHOP OF KABUL and THE THORN BIRDS you will devour this story of five different women united by one need: to overcome the vast distances of Australia’s Top End with friendship, tears, laughter, books and love.

~*~

aww2017-badgeThe Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Bookc Club begins in 1978 and ends in 1981, each year beginning with a list of significant national and international events in each year. The novel first introduces the reader to the five women that will make up the book club: Sybil Baxter, her good friend, Rita, daughter-in-law, Kate, Della, who works as a stock hand on a neighbouring property, Ghost River, and who has moved over from Texas for adventure, and mother of three, Sallyanne, looking for a way to connect with people and struggling with her husband at home. Sybil’s idea for the book club springs from a desire to talk and connect, and her desire to find Kate friends in this new and harsh environment the young English woman finds herself in. And so, the idea for the book club is formed, and she goes in search of other members besides her, Kate and Rita. A chance meeting at the local CWA meeting in Katherine with Sallyanne, mother of three, and looking for connections, brings the women together to form the book club, and with the addition of Della from Ghost River, they embark on a journey of friendship, forming relationships and connections that give them the strength to face the challenges that life and living in the Territory throw at them. From the death to love found, love lost and even just finding your own strength, this book is about the bonds of family and friendship, and how these can be tested, and how far someone will go before they find themselves having to make what feels like an impossible choice.

Each character’s sense of self and individuality sings through the pages, especially in the chapters told from their perspective. Sybil, the Fairvale matriarch, challenged by the farm and the son who ran away and wants nothing to do with his family, soldiers on through the wet and dry seasons, pushing onwards through tragedy and always at hand to listen to her friends and family, with a cup of tea and keen ear. Rita, her friend and nurse with the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service is unmarried, without children and dedicated to her career – aspects of her character that suit her, the time but also, are in stark contrast to the way the women in the book club have been brought up in their respective families – the expectation of marriage and family has not been something that Rita has aimed for. In this way, she contrasts with Sybil, who is married with grown children, but who is also a woman of the land, who can hold her own in many ways, but must learn how to run Fairvale following a tragedy.

The trio of younger women couldn’t be more different: Della from Texas, who dreams of adventure, and isn’t expecting an invitation to join a book club, nor does she expect to fall in love with Stan, who works on Fairvale. Kate, Ben’s wife from England, wasn’t prepared for the harsh life of the Northern Territory, but longs for a child, and company, and the book club brings her closer to a few of the women around whose friendship will never die. Finally, mother of three, Sallyanne, stuck in a world of children and a difficult husband, is welcomed into the book club. A romantic at heart, longing for the type of love that they read about, begins to come out of her shell and finds her own strength with the help of Rita and the others.

Each character faces a tragedy of sorts in the book that tests their strength and passion, and the crux of who they are. Whatever these tragedies are, the Fairvale women come out stronger and closer than they were before. Through reading the books, a variety of Australian classics and one or two from America and England, that were readily available at the time, and the discussion of these books is what eventually leads to the bonds the women form that can never be broken. The books Sophie Green’s characters read are:

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

The Far Pavilions by MM Kaye

The Harp in the South by Ruth Parks

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford

Sophie Green’s novel gives these women a voice – each very different, but reading it, I could hear Della’s voice just as clearly as the Australian ones, and Sophie uses dialect and language that each character would use to ensure the strength of these characters. Within Fairvale, there are Aboriginal workers, and their struggles against racism and falling in love with a white girl are shown, and dealt with eloquently – highlighting that just because racial and gender equality laws were brought into being during these years and the years that preceded them and followed, issues of racism, for example, have not completely vanished from our world. Stan and Ruby, who work in the kitchen, are wonderful characters, whom I came to adore and wish I knew. Like the book club women, they had such big hearts that they opened up to Della and Kate, and the other women. I think this was all done well, and written to suit the attitudes of the time that still prevailed, and at times, even today, still do. But these weren’t the focus of the book, and at least gave some context to the setting and characters. It allowed the Territory to become a character through the wet and dry seasons, and the people who lived on the land and shared it, working together for their families. I think the ending was realistic – with each member finding their own path and new life, where some aspects were left open ended, so it was probably more of a hopeful ending than a happy one.

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It is a book I enjoyed reading, and one I would like to revisit. The power in this is the way gender and race expectations are turned on their head, and the few that act superior based on race or gender, or both, are called out, but the hurt is still there, the scars are still there. It gives, I think, a realistic approach to the relationships the characters are in, whether it is family, friends or love, and through reading the books, which is the focus and backbone of the novel, and therefore is something that I think many readers who enjoy this kind of book will be able to relate to.

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Beyond the Wild River by Sarah Maine

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Title: Beyond the Wild River

Author: Sarah Maine

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26/4/17

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A spellbinding and beautiful novel from a major new voice in fiction, perfect for fans of Kate Morton, Santa Montefiore and Rachel Hore.

From the author of THE HOUSE BETWEEN TIDES, comes an atmospheric and stunningly evocative historical novel. Perfect for fans of Eowyn Ivey’s TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD, Stef Penney’s UNDER A POLE STAR, and Sarah Perry’s THE ESSEX SERPENT.

‘Maine skilfully balances a Daphne du Maurier atmosphere with a mystery… compelling’ Kirkus Reviews Scotland, 1893. Nineteen-year-old Evelyn Ballantyre, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, has rarely strayed from her family’s estate in the Scottish Borders. She was once close to her philanthropist father, but his silence over what really happened on the day a poacher was shot on estate land has come between them.

An invitation to accompany her father to Canada is a chance for Evelyn to escape her limited existence. But once there, on the wild and turbulent Nipigon river, she is shocked to discover that their guide is James Douglas, Ballantyre’s former stable hand, and once her friend. He disappeared the night of the murder, charged with the shooting.

Evelyn never believed that James was guilty – and her father’s role in the killing has always been mysterious. What does he have to hide? In the wild landscape of a new world, far from the constraints of polite society, the secrets and lies surrounding that night are finally stripped away, with dramatic consequences.

~*~

Evelyn Ballantyre has rarely left her family estate in the Scottish Borders, but a mystery from five years ago has put a strain on their relationship. In 1888 , there was a murder on the estate, and Evelyn knows the wrong man was accused, and so does her father, but he refuses to reveal the truth. They encounter the wrongly accused young man, James, on their trek in Canada as they travel across the country, taking in the wilderness and encountering the Native Americans living there at the time, faced with emerging memories of the murder, and the cover up that has led them to where they are. Through these scenes, a mystery emerges, and Evelyn is determined to prove to her father that James isn’t the killer and force him to tell the truth and reveal what he knows.

The wilderness of nineteenth century Canada is as much a character in the novel as the Ballantyres, James and their travelling companions. Evelyn and those she is travelling with are as intrigued by the mystery of the murder back in Scotland, yet they seem more fascinated by the Canadian wilderness, and the unknown culture they are faced with – though attitudes of the time and the approach they took in showing their fascination affect the actions and words of the characters. Yet Sarah Maine has managed to show these attitudes sensitively and with care, illustrating the different attitudes, but not resorting to using derogatory terms of the time, but still maintaining the fascination of the Other and the unknown prevalent at a time when contact between cultures wasn’t as instantaneous as it is today.

The character and setting of the Canadian adds another layer: it is the mystery of a new land, a physical place, contrasted against the mystery of the murder – leading to Evelyn wondering if the murderer is actually with them, given that James didn’t do it. In making the setting a character, Sarah Maine has used it to show the flaws in the other characters, as well as showing this through their interactions with each other, eventually bringing the truth out into the open.

I enjoyed the pacing – it was slow at times, but only when it needed to be, and wasn’t too quick. It fitted the genre and plot nicely, and ensured a delightful read with an unexpected ending that I wasn’t sure would happen, but was a pleasant surprise when it happened.

An enjoyable novel for fans of literary fiction, historical fiction, mystery and Kate Morton.

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Under The Same Sky by Mogjan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari with James Knight

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Title: Under the Same Sky
Author: Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari with James Knight
Genre: Non-fiction, biography
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 26th April 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 331
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: The powerful and incredibly moving story of Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari – two young Iranian asylum seekers who are showing that the power of love can conquer all obstacles.
After fleeing their homeland, Australian refugee policies threaten to tear this young couple apart. An unforgettable story of love, hope and a quest for freedom.
At seventeen, all Mojgan Shamsalipoor wanted was to be safe from physical and sexual abuse, go to school, and to eventually marry for love. In Iran, she was denied all of this.
Milad Jafari was a shy teenage boy who found his voice as a musician. But the rap music he loved was illegal in his country. All Milad’s father, a key maker, builder and shopkeeper, wanted was for his family to live free from the fear of arrest, imprisonment or execution. To do that they all had to flee Iran.
Mojgan and Milad met in Australia. But in the months between their separate sea voyages, the Australian government changed the way asylum seekers were treated. Though Milad is recognised as a refugee and will soon become a proud Australian citizen, Mojgan has been told she cannot stay here even though the threat of imprisonment and further abuse, or worse, means she can’t return to Iran.
UNDER THE SAME SKY, is a powerful insight into the human face of asylum seekers and the way history has shaped the lives of these two young people. It also shows the compassion alive in our suburbs. For Mojgan and Milad, their love keeps their hopes alive.

~*~

Under the Same Sky is the story of Mojgan and Milad’s lives in Iran, and their escape as asylum seekers to Australia. In Iran, both led very different lives under a regime that restricted what women could do, and promoted one religion over all others, persecuting anyone who didn’t fall into line with what the government dictated to them. Eventually, both their families saw the need to flee: Milad’s together, and Mojgan with one of her older brothers, Hossein. With the government as it was, each had to pretend they were only headed to Indonesia for holidays, and that they would return to Iran. Doing it this way, they were able to leave, yet still had to find a way to Australia, where they hoped to find safety. In each chapter, Mojgan and Milad tell their story as their journeys progress, and in some ways, they had similar journeys, but in other ways, their experiences as asylum seekers and refugees differed.

After traumatic events that led to Mojgan and Hossein fleeing Iran for Australia – with the uncertainty of their fate and the fate of the family members they had had to leave behind, and months spent in detention, the two met at a Baha’i camp, and became good friends, and eventually, started dating. However, the government had decided on Mojgan and Hossein’s fate – they had not been granted visas and after months of living in community detention, and a relationship, and marriage between Mojgan and Milad, the brother and sister were sent back to detention, where they were again in limbo, awaiting decisions.

Throughout these turbulent times, Milad, his family and the friends and teachers Mojgan had met at Yeronga at school began fighting for her to be freed, and returned to a safe home with people who cared about her. This fight is included in the story, in some of the chapters told by James Knight, who gives a lot of background to the instability of Iran and the changing attitudes towards asylum seekers and refugees and their treatment. Mojgan’s experiences in detention affected her deeply –even though she wasn’t always harshly treated, the instances she was, and the guards who were rough with her stood out in her mind. Even the guards who tried to help her , who were nice, couldn’t fully erase these experiences.

At the time of the publication of the book and the writing of this review, a final decision is yet to be made and Mojgan and Hossein, though now living with Milad and his family, are still in limbo.

Mojgan and Milad’s story sheds light on an issue that is fraught with complexities and often simplified in the media – which does not always allow for in depth discussion. Mogjan, Milad and James all acknowledge throughout the complexities, especially in the constantly changing attitudes at the political level and in public opinion about refugees, illustrated by interviews with teachers who knew Mogjan and Milad, and quotes from papers about refugees and asylum seekers and references to speeches by the former Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison. What these do is to establish the political backdrop of Australia, and in a way, contrast it against what Milad and Mojgan ran from – the stark contrast of a dictatorship like Iran, whose government demanded to know the whereabouts of Mogjan long after she left, and the freedom of Australia that they sought but that they were unsure they would ever gain. James Knight’s statements are supportive of those who helped Mogjan and Milad, and less supportive of the government of the time. Some come across as political because issues of asylum seekers and refugees can never be divorced from politics, but I feel like he fell short of outright condemnation and name-calling.

It was an interesting book to read, because it presented a side to the issue not often seen, and one that maybe, should be given more attention. Cases such as Mogjan and Milad’s, where they’ve fled danger and persecution, and simply want a safer life, are the ones we should be hearing about as well as any negative stories that come out. Reading it, I felt moved and shocked by what Mogjan had gone through in Iran and detention. It is only their experiences of fleeing and people smugglers, and becoming asylum seekers. It touches on the issue of how difficult it can be to leave a place like Iran for good. I recommend it for anyone interested in human rights and those wanting to know about the experience from the perspective of someone who has been there.