Mudlarking: Lost and Found of the River Thames by Lara Maiklem

mudlarking.jpgTitle: Mudlarking: Lost and Found of the River Thames

Author: Lara Mailkem

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

Published: 15th October 2019

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 320

Price: $32.99

Synopsis:  Mudlark (/’mAdla;k/) noun A person who scavenges for usable debris in the mud of a river or harbour

Lara Maiklem has scoured the banks of the Thames for over fifteen years, in pursuit of the objects that the river unearths: from Neolithic flints to Roman hair pins, medieval buckles to Tudor buttons, Georgian clay pipes to Victorian toys. These objects tell her about London and its lost ways of life.

Moving from the river’s tidal origins in the west of the city to the point where it meets the sea in the east, Mudlarking is a search for urban solitude and history on the River Thames, which Lara calls the longest archaeological site in England.

As she has discovered, it is often the tiniest objects that tell the greatest stories.

For thousands of years human beings have been losing their possessions and dumping their rubbish in the River Thames, making it the longest and most varied archaeological site in the world. Lara Maiklem has trekked miles along the banks of the Thames, scouring the shores for over fifteen years in pursuit of the objects that the river unearths: these objects tell her about London and its lost ways of life. Where others only see the detritus of city life, expert mudlarker Lara Maiklem unearths evidence of England’s captivating history, with some objects dating back as far as 4 AD, when London was an outpost of the Roman Empire, up to the present day. A mudlarker can expect to find Neolithic flints, Roman hair pins, medieval buckles, Tudor buttons, Georgian clay pipes and Victorian toys.

~*~

Discovering history and archaeology is a unique process for everyone – from those who study the fields and work within them writing books and reports, to those whose interest lies in simply discovering the facts through these sources, and finally, people like Lara Maiklem, a mudlarker. A mudlarker is someone who scavenges for debris in the mud of a harbour or river.

For Lara, this scavenging area is the River Thames, stretching from the Tidal Thames and all the way through Central London. As a result, Lara has divided the book into sections of the River Thames, and within each section, it appears that different times in history are reflected in certain areas, from prehistoric times to the current day, where Lara discovers items made of all kinds of materials, from coins to buttons, old toys and remnants of war uniforms and battles that shaped the history of London and give a deeper insight into the lesser known stories than what is written in the history books.

Whilst discovering toys and buttons, Lara has also discovered old printing press letters, which have been used in the book, and she also gives a brief history of the printing press, and upper and lower case: Upper Case letters, or capital letters, where in the upper case of the press. So, naturally, the smaller letters, known as Lower Case, were in the cases below. This was one of the most interesting stories amongst many, where the items were not linked to anyone in particular, and perhaps this is what makes them so interesting because they would have belonged to someone whose name we might not know from history, and it is the potential to discover these stories and make links to those that have come before, as well as ensuring that even those without a voice are in a way, recognised even though their stories and names may never be known.

This is a history book with a difference: it gives insight into a world that is often hidden or unknown and provokes the ideas that history and archaeology is everywhere. It makes you wonder what could be in the waterways in other areas other than London, and what this could mean for local histories and what it could contribute to local, national and world history. It provided a unique and personal view of how mudlarking works, and the individual journey it can take you on, exploring the ethics and personal questioning of what to do with items, and when to collect them, as well as what to collect. It depends on the value the individual sees in them, and what one person sees will be different for someone else.

Alice to Prague by Tanya Heaslip

Alice to Prague.jpgTitle: Alice to Prague

Author: Tanya Heaslip

Genre: Memoir/Non-Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 6th May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:What happens when a young independent Northern Territory country girl decides to follow her dreams and go off in search of adventures abroad? An honest, often funny, bittersweet memoir of love, loss and belonging; of the hard-won understanding around where home lies.

‘I loved it! I laughed and cried and it was very hard to put down.’ Fleur McDonald, bestselling author of Where the River Runs

‘A story of love for country, for home.’ Toni Tapp Coutts, author of A Sunburnt Childhood

In 1994, with a battered copy of Let’s Go Europe stuffed in her backpack, Tanya Heaslip left her safe life as a lawyer in outback Australia and travelled to the post-communist Czech Republic.

Dismissing concerns from family and friends that her safety and career were at risk, she arrived with no teaching experience whatsoever, to work at a high school in a town she’d never heard of, where the winters are frigid and plunge to sub-zero temperatures.

During her childhood on an isolated cattle station in Central Australia, Tanya had always dreamed of adventure and romance in Europe but the Czech Republic was not the stuff of her dreams. On arrival, however, she falls headlong into misadventures that change her life forever.

This land of castles, history and culture opened up to her and she to it. In love with Prague and her people, particularly with the charismatic Karel, who takes her into his home, his family and as far as he can into his heart, Tanya learns about lives very different to hers.

Alice to Prague is a bittersweet story of a search for identity, belonging and love, set in a time, a place and with a man that fill Tanya’s life with contradictions.

2019 Badge

~*~

In 1994, Tanya Heaslip, who had grown up in the Australian outback on a farm, and attended boarding school in the city, heads off to live in Prague, in the Czech Republic for year – only three years after the collapse of Communism, and five years after she saw the Berlin Wall come down. Heading there to teach English, she enters a world that is unfamiliar, and in some ways, is still clinging onto the Communist past, yet at the same time, trying to embrace the new way of life and venture into a new world. Unable to speak Czech, Tanya had to rely on the generosity of the Czechs who spoke some English, and the keen students at her school like Pavel and Kamila who loved learning from her. She found ways to connect with her students through Australian songs like Waltzing Matilda, and met Karel, a man who would help her find her way in Prague, who she would fall in love with. Yet their cultural differences and understandings of love and relationships did not always see eye to eye.

The Prague that Tanya visited and lived in is very much the Prague I visited in 2007- where remnants of Communism still cling on, and where the first MacDonald’s built in Prague is opposite the Museum of Communism – which goes through the history of Communism in the Czech Republic from 1948 until the Velvet Revolution.

What we know of Communist era Prague and Eastern Europe from the Western tradition, and what the people Tanya became friends with told her have a stark difference for understanding and interpretation. Where the West – and Tanya – believed it was oppressive, people like Karel said they found it safe – they knew where they lived, where they worked and how their lives would turn out. The fall of Communism had made that uncertain for some people yet given hope to others.

Visiting in 2007, there are still elements of Communism amongst the new capitalist areas, and the old, medieval icons such as the Astronomical Clock. Each of these elements combines to create a unique city that has seen many changes, war, revolution and everything in between. Its identity is clear in Tanya’s memoir as one that has been cobbled together of all these elements, and one that continues to grow in Europe. Tanya’s story is amazing and intriguing – and the way she adapted to life in Prague illustrated how anyone might have to adapt to any environment starkly different from the one they are familiar with.

Where Tanya had the freedom to head back to Australia, and younger students expressed a desire to leave Prague and head to what they saw as freer nations, people like Karel expressed that they could not leave their lives for uncertain futures or places. In this meeting of East and West, Tanya discovered through discussions with her students at the school, legal institutions and a ministry, that both sides had been fed a narrative that suited their respective governments. That everyone had a valid viewpoint but some things simply did not translate or crossover – and only Tanya could make the decisions she needed to make about her life and her future – which she touches on at the end, and where she ends up in Australia, a decade after her journey to Prague.

This book gave an interesting insight into travelling to and around a former Communist country in the years just after the changes came forward, and the difficulties in transitioning from one to the other, and the conflicts of those who want change, those who don’t, and those who have come from an entirely different place where definitions of freedom and security are very different. It is eye opening and engaging – and I could picture Prague as she wrote about it – the River Vltava, Charles Bridge and all the ancient architecture peppered with newer, Communist bloc buildings. An interesting read for all into history and Prague, and for those who have visited or want to visit.

Book Bingo 19: A Memoir and a book by someone under thirty.

Book bingo take 2

To make sure I manage to fit in the rest of the card evenly, this is one of a few posts that will have multiple squares marked off – progress has been a little slower, so some squares might have books from earlier in the year, but in different categories to the first card.

Book bingo take 2 .jpg

no country womanFirst square being marked off this week is a memoir – No Country Woman written by Zoya Patel, an Australian with Fijian-Indian heritage, about her struggle with identity, and reconciling her Fijian-Indian, Muslim heritage with an Australian identity, and looking for ways to embrace both, during a time when she felt like she had to make a decision as she grew up in Australia with modern Australian influences, as well as the traditional influences of her family, and the conflict that this brought with it, where an Australian life and the access she had to everything – vastly more than her parents had had as children – was at odds with her familial heritage. This memoir explores how she came to embrace both identities and her interactions with racism, feminism, and the intersectional feminism that can benefit all, and not just one group.the yellow house

It is eye-opening and informative – Zoya allows herself to reflect on things said to her, things she sees and the idea that everyone’s interactions with society are different based on how much access they are given or have, and there is no one experience of this, each one is different and some people get lucky and have more than others – she goes further in-depth than i have here, and she says it much more eloquently than I have, so go forth and read her book!

The second book I’ve marked off in this post falls under a book by a person under thirty years old. For this, I have chosen another Australian Woman Writer, Emily O’Grady, The Yellow House, examining whether having a serial killer in the family ensures a legacy of violence in later generations. It was intriguing and disturbing – it drew you in and even though there was a sadistic feel to it, as a reader, I felt I had to read on to find out what happened and how it all played out – it was quite different to the usual fare of crime novels I read but very well written.

AWW-2018-badge-rose

So there are my latest two squares, with more to come as I tick them off.

No Country Woman by Zoya Patel

no country woman.jpgTitle: No Country Woman

Author: Zoya Patel

Genre: Autobiography/Memoir

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 14th August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 264

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: ‘An ambitious, nuanced and confident debut: Patel writes with passion, curiosity and purpose.’ Maxine Beneba Clarke, bestselling and award winning author of The Hate RaceForeign SoilThe Patchwork Bike and Carrying The World A fresh and exciting feminist memoir about what it means to never feel at home where you live.

‘I was born in a hospital in Suva, Fiji. I can’t recall ever seeing the building on my trips back to the city, first as a child or later as an adult. I imagine it in shades of blue and brown, the plastic waiting room chairs covered in the fine film of moisture that creeps over everything there. It is not a place I’ve thought of often, but I think of it now and wonder how it has shaped me. I am Fijian-Indian, and have lived in Australia since I was three years old. Memories of my early life in Fiji are limited to flashes, like an old film projector running backwards. I remember a blue dress, a trip on a boat where my father handed me a dried, floating starfish that I clutched in my fingers, determined not to lose it back to the ocean.’

No Country Woman is the story of never knowing where you belong. It’s about not feeling represented in the media you consumed, not being connected to the culture of your forebears, not having the respect of your peers.

It’s about living in a multicultural society with a monocultural focus but being determined to be heard.

It’s about challenging society’s need to define us and it’s a rallying cry for the future.

It’s a memoir full of heart, fury and intelligence – and the book we need right now.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseNo Country Woman by Zoya Patel is a story of identity – the intersection of three cultures and nations across generations – Fiji, India and Australia, and how these contributed to the identity of Zoya, and how the clash of her Fijian-Indian identity, to her, felt like it was at odds with the Australian identity that she grew up with. Zoya grew up in flux and flitting between her Fijian-Indian identity and culture at home with her family, and her Australian identity at school, with friends, that saw her feeling like she had to choose between her identities, and where it took her many years to realise she could embrace both of them equally and find solace in each – that being Fijian-Indian-Australian was who she was and each culture, country and heritage was who she was. Grappling with how to navigate the traditions of her family, parents and the culture they grew up in with her new life in Australia, where she found herself faced with the conflict of trying to embrace an identity as a Fijian-Indian, a migrant and an Australian – all of which were, to Zoya, felt as though they were competing against each other and she could only choose one.

Zoya’s story reflects her own experience as a migrant, as someone of non-Anglo heritage, and her experiences of racism and prejudice.

Zoya’s story isn’t chronological, but rather, thematic. Each chapter is related to a theme, and sometimes various family events: moves, school, weddings, or going back to Fiji to see family – and through these experiences, Zoya felt different all the time – too Australian for Fiji and family, yet too much of her Fijian-Indian identity to be fully Australian – not realising that there was a way for her to be both while she was growing up.

Zoya has also tried to tease out some of the complexities of how we interact in a multicultural society, and the different ways in which people experience privilege and disadvantage – race, gender, sexuality, class, and disability – and how this can differ for each person, yet there are also common experiences of privilege, disadvantage and discrimination that affect everyone in different ways, or ensure there is some kind of hierarchy, even if it is one that we cannot always see and that is not always obvious.

It is eye-opening and reflective, a book where people can learn what racism looks like and hopefully, fight against it and feel like they can – as allies or as those often discriminated against. Zoya teases out the complexities of all these issues, through her lens but also, through her interactions with various people along the way, looking at as many sides as possible whilst still exploring her identity and what each interaction means, how each interaction affects how she sees herself, then and now, and her journey to reconcile her whole identity as a Fijian-Indian-Australian, who has spent time living in Edinburgh, without having to give anything up, and knowing her identity is a combination of her ancestral and familial past, her life in Australia and her time spent in Edinburgh, where she was writing this book.

I enjoyed reading this, and gaining a greater understanding of what someone like Zoya goes through and how they might deal with it. Zoya’s openness and desire to communicate to her audience is fresh and easy to understand, with a flow to her story that ensures it is engaging, and is filled with humour and humanity, where Zoya discovers what feminism means to her and her identity – an identity that she comes to discover over time, where she can embrace every part of it: as a Fijian-Indian, as a migrant, and as an Australian, and a feminist.

A wonderful memoir that that explores the intersection of vastly different cultures, religions, nations and race, alongside feminism, and how this shaped Zoya and her world, whilst recognising how the factors that make up an individual’s identity – whatever their race, gender, beliefs and ability – are as individual as hers, and whilst there are common experiences related to these aspects of identity, and assumptions made based on these factors, each individual experience is always going to be different in some ways, and similar to the common experiences in others.

Book Bingo Five – A foreign translated novel, a novel with a yellow cover, a novel by an Australian man, a funny book, a memoir and a non-fiction book.

book bingo 2018.jpgIn my fifth Book Bingo post for the year, I can report that I have a BINGO! The final row going down, row five, is complete, with three out of the five squares being filled with Australian Women Writers. The text version of the row is below:

AWW-2018-badge-rose

Row #5 (Down) – BINGO

 A Foreign Translated Novel: Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutschner (translated by Niall Seller

A book with themes of culture: The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

A book with a mystery: Olmec Obituary by LJM Owen – AWW2018

A book with a number in the title: Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband by Barbara Toner – AWW2018

A book written by someone over sixty: Eventual Poppy Day by Libby Hathorn – AWW2018

babylon berlinOf these, the latest addition is a foreign translated novel – Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutschner, translated by Niall Seller and sent to me by Allen and Unwin to review. It is the first in a crime series by a German author, set during the dying years of the Weimar Republic in the inter-war period, when the world is inching towards the Great Depression. It centres around Detective Gereon Rath, and the crimes he solves, and the things that he overlooks, the various underworld activities that are accepted in dark corners, but not always out in the open. I did like the idea behind this, and the historical backdrop, however, as stated in my review, I felt some things dragged on a bit, making these sections a tad slow but the fast-paced sections were what really drove the novel and gave it the oomph that it needed.

tin manI have five other squares to include – I am aiming to fill them with whatever works, and some will be Australian Women Writers, others won’t, it simply depends on where the books fit. First, is a novel with a yellow cover – Tin Man by Sarah Winman. It is the story of two gay men, whose first encounter has them ripped apart but then drawn back together as friends, with Annie, the wife of Ellis, one of the main characters. It is a touching story of the various ways we express our love, and to whom we choose to express that love. With a touch of realism about it, it touches on fears as well as love.

Skin-in-the-Game_cover-for-publicity-600x913My memoir square has been filled by Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories by Sonia Voumard. In a series of essays, Sonia tells her story about being a journalist, and the daughter of a World War Two refugee – her mother, with humour and frankness, and an honesty that shines a light on some of the challenges faced by journalists behind the scenes of stories, interviews and publications, and how they try to overcome these under increasing pressure of a 24 hour news cycle, where the demand for facts and results at all times seems to be a struggle to keep up with. It is insightful and gives a new appreciation for what journalists do and at times go through for me.

grandpa me poetryThe book taking up the square of a funny novel has not been published yet, so the longer review will be linked here when it goes live. Grandpa, Me and Poetry by Sally Morgan, and published by Scholastic. It is the story of Melly, who loves poetry and her Grandpa. When given the chance to explore her two loves, she jumps at it, and through a series of amusing scenes with funny rhymes, she finds a way to write a wonderful poem for Family Day.

the opal dragonflyThe novel by Australian Man square was filled by new release, The Opal Dragonfly by Julian Leatherdale, about Isobel Macleod, youngest of seven and her father’s favourite, and the opal dragonfly brooch left to her by her mother that sees hard times befall the family through a series of tragedies over the years that they can never recover from. It is about family loyalty, betrayal and finding oneself in the harshest of circumstances, and finding a new life for yourself

spinning topsSpinning Tops and Gum Drops: A Portrait of Colonial Childhood fills the non-fiction square. Using images and statements, and other stories from the time, Edwin Barnard has created a window into a world where the realities of childhood were vastly different to those for today’s children. It tells of a time when threats from illness and bushrangers were ever present, where children had to work as well as go to school, and in some cases, instead of going to school. It is interesting and gives a window into colonial life beyond text on a page.  

Look out for my next Book Bingo in a few weeks time!

Booktopia

Tell It To The Dog: A Memoir of Sorts by Robert Power

Tell-it-to-the-Dog_cover-for-publicity-600x913.jpgTitle: Tell It To The Dog: A Memoir of Sorts

Author: Robert Power

Genre: Non-Fiction/Memoir

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $29.95

Synopsis: Tell it to the Dog is an exquisitely written memoir that is at once playful, heartbreaking and affirming. From a Dublin childhood to London, then on to Europe, to Asia and Australia, there is a deep engagement with the world in this book about growing up, about human and animal connectedness, about friendship, love and loss. Power understands the uncanniness and endurance of memory. He can make us laugh, and then stop us in our tracks at the profundity of this business of meeting life. Each of these short chapters is beautifully complete; together the whole thing shimmers. In the most delightful and subtle of ways, the language, trajectory and wisdom of Tell it to the Dog underscores our need to embrace our own vulnerabilities, to confront our experiences and memories, and to believe as Jane Austen once wrote, that ‘when pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure’.

 

~*~

 

Tell It To The Dog is one of those books that is very niche and is written, I feel, with a very particular or specific audience in mind. Tell It To The Dog begins with the author recounting the day he adopted a dog, and then it slithers into reflections on his time in Lhasa before heading into short chapters that recount a single event or memory of the author’s life, or a story about a person. The disconnect between each of these short chapters, especially in the early parts of this six segmented book were confusing and often left me wondering how it all fit together – as a memoir, or as the cover states, a memoir of sorts, I found it hard to follow at times, and when I’d come to an interesting story, it would just stop, and I’d never get anymore of that particular story or event, which to me felt dissatisfying though it may appeal to other readers.

 

Tell It To The Dog traverses a life lived in Dublin, London, across Asia, Europe and Australia. In some places, there is a definite sense of place, in a specific city, or a specific place in a city, though in others, as a reader, I felt lost, not knowing where I was, or where the author was going. This contrast in how place was presented, though something I felt took away from the book, was one way Robert Power showed the fragmented nature of memory, and how our minds can play tricks on us.

 

For me as a reader, it took most of the book before I could see some connections being made, although some fragments of story were never resolved, left hanging at the end of a rope, swinging in the air without purpose, and lost to the reader. It was at a couple of these points that I felt very confused – something rare with reading a book for me, so I think it was the style and format it had been written in. As I got to the end of the book, and into the final two parts, some things started to make sense, and the final part read more as a meditation on the writing journey. Whether it was meant to reference the writing journey in general, and how some writers can experience it, the author’s writing journey, or both, I couldn’t discern this, and still found some of these chapters confusing, but some had a bit of interest in them.

 

Even though this wasn’t a book I completely enjoyed, I did read to the end before making my judgement, and to see if any of the first stories found connections in the later ones to help make sense of the story. It is an interesting way of writing a memoir, and not one that works for me as a reader or writer, but I do think this book might find an audience, even if it is a small one, there will be someone who might enjoy this story. It’s just not me.

 

 Booktopia

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada

memoirs of a polar bear.jpg

Title: Memoirs of a Polar Bear

Author: Yoko Tawada, translated by Susan Bernofsky

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Granta/Allen and Unwin

Published: 29th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $27.99

Synopsis: A story of three polar bears: a memoirist who flees the Soviet Union; a dancer in an East Berlin circus; and Knut, a baby bear born in Berlin Zoo at the beginning of the 21st Century.

Someone tickled me behind my ears, under my arms. I curled up, became a full moon, and rolled on the floor. I may also have emitted a few hoarse shrieks. Then I lifted my rump to the sky and tucked my head beneath my belly: Now I was a sickle moon, still too young to imagine any danger. Innocent, I opened my anus to the cosmos and felt it in my bowels.’

A bear, born and raised in captivity, is devastated by the loss of his keeper; another finds herself performing in the circus; a third sits down one day and pens a memoir which becomes an international sensation, and causes her to flee her home.

Through the stories of these three bears, Tawada reflects on our own humanity, the ways in which we belong to one another and the ways in which we are formed. Delicate and surreal, Memoirs of a Polar Bear takes the reader into foreign bodies and foreign climes, and immerses us in what the New Yorker has called ‘Yoko Tawada’s magnificent strangeness’.

~*~

Memoirs of a Polar Bear tells the story of three generations of a polar bear family – a grandmother, her daughter, Tosca, and Tosca’s son, Knut – and their lives in the German Democratic Republic, Russia, Canada, a circus and Berlin Zoo. In this book, the reader steps outside of the mind of humans, and into the minds of the three polar bears and their lives as polar bears, writers and performers, providing a commentary on how animals and humans are viewed differently through the eyes of three unique, yet connected animals.

Through each story, a world where rules constrict what people and bears can say and do emerges, contrasting in the first two parts the Soviet Union with the rest of the world, and the challenges faced by the bears to exist within the rules but still be who they are. When in the Soviet-era, Tosca and her mother interact with people who want to use their voices and writing to speak out against the faults they see but they want Tosca’s mother to do so in a certain way, their way, and to write in the language they wish her to write in, rather than allowing her to choose the language.

Tosca’s story is that of a former performer, who is recruited to the circus to create a performance. Here, she struggles against the constraints of Pankov and his demands, and what he deems as appropriate to show and say, fearful that anything with any kind of social commentary will be dangerous in the world they live in. In the final section, about Knut, at the Berlin Zoo, is based on the actual bear that lived there from 2006-2011, born in captivity and the first to survive this at the Berlin Zoo in thirty years.

Knut’s story had a sad feeling to it, perhaps because it was based on reality. As a whole, the book is strange and intriguing at the same time. Where the grandmother’s tale is told solely in first person, Tosca’s begins as though a human is speaking about her, until it seems like Tosca and Barbara merge, and Knut’s tale begins in third person –which made me think that somebody else was telling his story until an encounter with a Sun Bear encourages Knut to begin speaking in the first person.

Amusing, strange, heartbreaking and intriguing, Memoirs of a Polar Bear shows how animals see humans and how the world might be if humans and animals could have conversations and walk around together. I enjoyed this journey into the minds of a polar bear – it held my interest, and was cleverly executed. A well written, and interesting novel, Memoirs of a Polar Bear will hopefully interest anyone who enjoys stories from an unusual perspective.

Booktopia

Booktopia