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Category Archive for 'Australia'

Australian author Felicity Castagna focuses here on general immigration issues facing Australia, much like immigration issues here in the US. Without taking sides, the author depicts two successive generations of the Martone family which itself came to Australia from “outside” – in their case, from Calabria in the toe of Italy. In the Preface, the author sets the time in 1967, and the Australian Prime Minister has recently disappeared while swimming. No trace of him has ever been found, the author implying that the many rescued refugees on the Tampa in 2001 would have met that same fate if they had not been rescued from their sinking ship. In this somewhat awkward introduction to the novel, Antonio Martone, a recent immigrant, is further described as standing in his new home in 1967, outside of Sydney, thinking about how his future has materialized. Looking from 1967 into Antonio’s future in 2001, the author informs the reader, that Antonio “is not yet the Antonio Martone who becomes so famous for a brief moment in [future] history when his own existential crisis coincides with that of a nation that can not decide whether to admit a Norwegian container ship named the MV Tampa and its cargo of four hundred thirty-three refugees who had escaped a sinking ship.” Antonio Martone will eventually become famous, and not in ways one would have predicted.

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As soon as I saw the announcement that Australian author Peter Carey had published a new novel, his fourteenth in thirty six years, I knew I would read it, just as I have read and enjoyed six other Carey novels. I have just finished reading it, and I did, eventually, enjoy and even admire much of it, but I read the first twenty-five pages three times before I was able to get a sense of who the initial speakers are, how they are connected, and where this book will be going. Even now I see the plot as consisting of several loosely connected parts, instead of reflecting several different aspects of the same themes and a strong sense of direction and interconnection. When I finally read some of the professional reviews today, I saw a similar dichotomy among professional reviewers. The first plot line, lasting for almost half the novel, begins when car salesman Titch decides to gain publicity for his incipient car dealership by participating in the Redex Trial, a competition involving almost three hundred participants who plan to circumnavigate the whole Australian continent – all sixty-five-hundred miles around it. The winner is the team with the highest number of points gained and the fewest penalties. No big prize results, except for the immeasurable positive publicity for the winner. Titch and his wife Irene will be the two drivers for their team, and their new neighbor, Willie Bachhuber, will, with his map-making expertise, become the navigator as they prepare their Holden sedan for the long trip and the hazards they will face. The Redex Trial dominates the first half of the novel, and the plight of the indigenous black community dominates the second half. Many aspects to admire, and some to regret.

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The speaker of this work of “fiction,” who appears in every way to be the author himself, insists that this book is, in fact, a report – “pages intended only for my files.” Despite this assertion, the resulting work is so introspective and so intimate, and the many known “facts” of the author’s own life are so clearly identical to events of the speaker’s life that the very borders between fact and fiction, reality and imagination, and observation and interpretation are blurred. The book feels like an internal monologue by a talented writer exploring the very nature of his own being, Its Australian author, Gerald Murnane, often suggested as a candidate for the Nobel Prize, appears to be so invested in the nature of thought and its creative manifestation through writing that he is willing to sacrifice what many of us would regard as everything physical that has had meaning for him in the past to find answers to his inner questions. The book which has resulted is unlike anything else I have ever read – a book without a plot, without a real conflict, and without a clear sense of direction – yet I found it hypnotizing.

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I am especially fond of Japanese novels for their quiet power, restraint, and careful structure, and I was looking forward to this one, written by a Japanese woman but focusing on characters who have immigrated to Australia, with its totally different culture and completely different language. Iwaki Kei, the Japanese author, knows all about this, having first gone to Australia herself twenty years ago when she was a recent college graduate. She has stayed there with her expatriate Japanese husband ever since, an eventuality which I expected would give much added insight into cultural adaptation, perhaps also including an overlay of analysis into how the differences between cultures affect every aspect of the lives of immigrants. What I found was completely different – surprising, even shocking at first, but which made this, ultimately one of the most intriguing and original debut novels I have read in years, as a Nigerian war refugee and a Japanese scholar both find themselves together in an ESL class in Australia, where they both learn more about life than pronunciation and grammar.

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In a novel widely regarded as the high point of his work to date, Australian author Tim Winton expands his view of the world and his ability to create fascinating, even symbolic, characters, placing them in circumstances in which they must take actions for which they may not be prepared. Set in the remote wilds of western Australia, where life is often raw and behavior sometimes lacks the constraints which “civilization,” by definition, requires, Winton creates two characters on their own, each one abused, and both trying to escape the events which have marked them for life. Jaxie Clackton, a seventeen-year-old whose family life has been significant primarily for his beatings, has lived through the lingering death of his mother. His father, a man who seemingly obeys no laws and feels no sense of love for anyone, takes his own frustrations out on Jaxie, beating him mercilessly, sometimes for no apparent reason. When he finds his father dead in an accident, Jaxie takes off into the outback, determined to walk almost two hundred miles to see the one person who had been kind to him in recent years. On the way he meets a former priest living alone in a hut, a man who also is rejected by his society but helps Jaxie for many days.

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