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.

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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.

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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:

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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

Born A Crime: Stories from A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

born a crime.jpgTitle: Born a Crime: Stories from A South African Childhood

Author: Trevor Noah

Genre: Memoir/Non-Fiction

Publisher: John Murray/Hachette

Published: 29th November 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $35.00

Synopsis: Growing up mixed race in South Africa, this is the fascinating and darkly funny memoir from Trevor Noah.

Trevor Noah is the host of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, where he gleefully provides America with its nightly dose of serrated satire. He is a light-footed but cutting observer of the relentless absurdities of politics, nationalism and race — and in particular the craziness of his own young life, which he’s lived at the intersections of culture and history.

In his first book, Noah tells his coming of age story with his larger-than-life mother during the last gasps of apartheid-era South Africa and the turbulent years that followed. Noah was born illegal — the son of a white, Dutch father and a black Xhosa mother, who had to pretend to be his nanny or his father’s servant in the brief moments when the family came together. His brilliantly eccentric mother loomed over his life — a comically zealous Christian (they went to church six days a week and three times on Sunday), a savvy hustler who kept food on their table during rough times, and an aggressively involved, if often seriously misguided, parent who set Noah on his bumpy path to stardom.

The stories Noah tells are sometimes dark, occasionally bizarre, frequently tender, and always hilarious — whether he’s subsisting on caterpillars during months of extreme poverty or making comically pitiful attempts at teenage romance in a colour-obsessed world; whether he’s being thrown into jail as the hapless fall guy for a crime he didn’t commit or being thrown by his mother from a speeding car driven by murderous gangsters.

~*~

Trevor Noah’s biography, Born A Crime, finds a way to deal with apartheid South Africa and growing up during this time and the turbulent years that followed in a moving, humourous and effective way. Growing up in a world where your very existence is considered a crime because your mother, a Xhosa woman, had relations with a white Swiss man at the height of apartheid can shape you. Using his comedic skills, Noah manages to convey the hatred and segregation, and struggles of the era to an audience who may not be quite familiar with it. We know it happened, we know how bad it is – but how many of us who didn’t live there at the time or who haven’t spoken to people who lived through it know how truly bad it was? Noah’s ability to tell the story through the eyes of a child who did not quite understand at first how his existence was breaking the law, and the innocence of these days illustrated how some people may have tried to deal with it – protect your children, yet they will still become aware of the harsh realities surrounding their lives.

Noah discusses the flaws in apartheid, and how the logic of race classifications was actually illogical: The Chinese were classified as black, but the Japanese were classified as white: Noah’s suggestion is that as South Africa received imports from Japan, they were given the white classification to keep them happy. Yet at the same time, a black person could become classified as coloured, or an Indian person could become classified as white. A coloured person could become classified white and a white person could have their white status downgraded to coloured or black. Even a child born to two white parents, he says, could be classified as coloured and the family separated unless the parents chose to reclassify as coloured. Yet Noah was too white to be black and too black to be white – so where did he fit in?

Trevor Noah has told a side of apartheid that may not have been possible to tell in the early nineties, so soon after it ended. As he is mixed race, Trevor Noah was able to move between the groups at school: speaking various African tribal languages, English and some Afrikaans, his ability to be a chameleon in a world where colour was given a lot of attention was something he soon found he could use to his advantage. In writing this memoir, he has invited fans of his comedy and other readers into a world that had humour, love and some moments of pure terror and fear, and the confusion that some people had, not knowing how to deal with a boy who could speak at least seven languages and who wasn’t quite white, but wasn’t quite black. Like all of us, these experiences growing up in the final years of apartheid and in the years following, where people who were still products of apartheid weren’t always sure of what to do, have shaped Trevor. His words can affect everyone. Though he is a comedian, his words are strong, and could encourage unity and working together, showing the ineffectiveness of dividing people up based on race or skin colour. Further division came in the category of black based on whether you were Xhosa, Tswana, Zulu or a member of another tribe or cultural group, and this could determine how you acted within this group according to your gender. Apartheid not only set race against race, but sometimes set people who had been classed as one race against each other.

Reading this book was eye opening – I knew how bad it was from my parents, and that’s why they left, so I wouldn’t grow up exposed to any of the impacts of apartheid, because it could affect everyone adversely, as Noah pointed out. Though some groups gained more privileges than others, the fact that these could be taken away with what Noah describes as the slash of a pen and the whim of the person wielding it, likely instilled fear in many. Noah’s world as the child of a black woman and a white man, a mixed race child, in a world that didn’t accept him or always know what to do with him, is one that not many of us will really know, yet through his words, we can visit and find out what it was like – mainly for him, but also, the world seen through his eyes as to how anyone and everyone could be affected by apartheid is just as powerful. The limitations of what people could do for work were determined by race.

A great read for anyone who lived through apartheid, or who wishes to know more. Trevor Noah shows that people have the ability to become more than what society tells them they are, that yes you may struggle and fight, you may face adversity but in the end, you can get there.