Authors’ pick 23: Sharon Rundle

asylum palaverToday’s authors’ pick has been chosen by Sharon Rundle.

Asylum,  Channa Wickremesekera, Published by Palaver.

For the purpose of my research, I’ve been reading a lot of novels by South Asian-Australian authors with ties to Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. I’ve read marvellous narratives from established and emerging writers. To choose one novel from this amazing array of fiction, is an enormous challenge. After long and difficult deliberation, I plumped for one that provided a new perspective, was surprisingly enjoyable, beautifully structured and written in a page-turning style.

Sometimes the best way to encourage discussion and provoke deeper thinking is through humour. Ideas that may seem simple on the surface havewider ripples and deeper currents than appear at first. So it is with Asylum by Channa Wickremesekera.

A young prison escapee decides to break into a home and take hostages,after the news that he is on the run with a gun is broadcast through media and police reports. The house he chooses is the home of Afghanis of Muslim faith. The mother wears a niqab, while her sometimes sullen, sometimes giggling young daughter, Aisha,wears a hijab. The mother understands English but prefers to speak in her Dari language.Through her family, she is the main negotiator with their captor. Khalid, the male teenage narrator with typical ‘attitude’, “I’ve seen bigger guns than that in Afghanistan with kids half his size” (p 23), is the perfect choice as the cynical observer. He is also a main player in the drama that unfolds as police surround the house. Negotiators are brought in to help, with mixed and sometimes hilarious results.

What could be a disaster turns into a tragi-comedy as the actions of the police and young man on the run with a gun become farcical when faced with this unexpected turn of events.

The Afghani family face another even deeper dilemma. Should they offer asylum to this person seeking refuge, as they believe they should? Should they lie to the police for the greater good? Which would give lesser offence to God? What to do in such an impossible situation? He is only a scared, tired, hungry, delinquent boy, after all. Khalid has heard it all before, “How you should look after people who take refuge with you, even if they are your worst enemies. Even if they had killed your own mother and father. I always thought that sort of thing happened only a long time ago and if it happened now it was only in the movies. Never thought we will have to practise it.”(p 40).

While the family debate the best plan, mum keeps cooking and feeding them all, including their captor Rusty.

This novel has impact and lingers in the mind long after it’s read. To my mind, ‘Asylum” should be on the HSC reading list. Suitable for both adults and young adults, the deceptively simple style and endearing narrator in “Asylum” allow for serious ideas to be discussed without polarising the audience. Many may be surprised by such a fresh perspective and by what they learn through humour.

 

Channa Wickremesekera is a Sri Lankan-Australian who has published three other novels, “Tracks” (published Sri Lanka, 2015), “Walls (Wasala, Sri Lanka, 2001)” and a novella “In the Same Boat” (Bay Owl Press, 2010).

A fun novel written in a jaunty teen voice—a novel that tries to tip our assumptions on their heads and succeeds.” —Anna Funder, author of Stasiland and All That I Am

“This is a timely novel, written with daring and imagination. It deals with themes that we urgently need to engage with and reflect upon, challenges that cry out for a long-overdue national conversation.” —Arnold Zable, author of Cafe ScheherazadeThe Fig Tree, and Violin Lessons

Asylum Wickremesekera, Channa. Published by Palaver.

ISBN 10: 0994343108 ISBN 13: 9780994343109

 

 

Sharon Rundle has researched novels by South-Asian Australian authors published in Australia for a Doctorate of Creative Arts thesis. She is co-editor of Indo-Australian anthologies of stories published by Picador Pan Macmillan (2009 & 2010 India, Australia & UK), Rupa Publishing in India (2014) and Brass Monkey Books in Australia (2012 & 2014).

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Authors’ pick 21: Yangsze Choo

IMG_0189Today’s Authors’ Pick has been chosen by Yangsze Choo. 

I must confess that I haven’t read much fiction recently. This is because I’m struggling to finish my second novel, a giant doorstop which I keep telling myself is almost done, but continues to expand in alarming ways as I try to squeeze in just one more plot twist. The situation is worsened by my frequent attempts to seek “inspiration” in dark chocolate… I need to go on a diet in more ways than one, which is why my book pick for 2015 is a cookbook.

Madhur Jaffrey is my favourite Indian cookbook writer – over the years, I’ve cooked my way through many of her books, always with good and very authentic results – so when I realized that she had a cookbook called “Vegetarian India”, I rushed off to get it. Our family has been trying to move towards a more vegetarian diet (one of the reasons I’ve so enjoyed Sophie’s food blog featuring her lovely garden) and this book is stuffed with delicious ideas. In fact, when I first got it, I made the roasted cauliflower with Punjabi seasonings that’s featured on the cover three times in one week. Tossing cauliflower with lemon juice, cumin, coriander, ginger, turmeric and olive oil results in a sizzling pan of crusty goodness that’s quickly devoured in our house, even by small children who claim they will never, ever eat cauliflower.

Like Madhur Jaffrey’s other cookbooks, each recipe comes with a little backstory or some helpful tips, and there’s enough variety from rice dishes to hearty vegetarian mains and pulses, to cook an entire dinner banquet, if you’re so inclined. Or you can just do what I’ve been doing and add an extra veggie dish or two on weeknights.

So, if your New Year’s resolution is to eat less meat and more healthily, I highly recommend this book! Happy reading and eating 🙂

Yangsze Choo’s first novel, The Ghost Bride, was published in 2013. She loves to eat and read, and often does both at the same time. She lives in California with her husband and children, and a potential rabbit.

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Authors’ pick 19: Kelly Gardiner

H_is_for_Hawk_cover-2Today’s Authors’ Pick has been chosen by Kelly Gardiner.

My favourite reading experience of the past year has been Helen Macdonald’s award-winning H is for Hawk, a memoir about grief, the vanishing British countryside, and a goshawk called Mabel. I’ve long been fascinated by the traditions of falconry, an ancient form of hunting in many cultures that became a sport of royalty in Europe in the middle ages.

H is for Hawk acknowledges this lineage, but more importantly it focuses on the relationship between raptor and trainer, taking us through the process and also tapping into the rich tradition of writing about hawks and falcons.

Chief among these is the work of T H White, author of The Once and Future King and other brilliant historical fantasies. His 1951 book, The Goshawk, was based on the journal tracing his own training of Gos – a troubled, tumultuous process that nearly finished off both of them.

Helen Macdonald weaves the story of White and Gos through her own reflections on the relationships between humans and wild creatures, and one another, as she learns to live with the sudden loss of her father, while Mabel and White reflect aspects of her own life back to her.

It’s brilliant, fascinating nature writing wrapped up in a poignant memoir about grief and belonging.

Kelly Gardiner’s books include Act of Faith and The Sultan’s Eyes, both of which were shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Her latest book is Goddess, a novel based on the life of the seventeenth century French swordswoman, cross-dresser and opera singer, Mademoiselle de Maupin.

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Authors’ pick 18: Lucy Sussex

SutcliffToday’s Authors’ Pick has been chosen by Lucy Sussex.

I revisited Rosemary Sutcliff’s THE RIDER ON THE WHITE HORSE this year, after having mislaid it for some time. I wanted to know how I would read it after a long absence, if what I remembered still impressed, and what might have diminished with my increased craft/critical acuity. The answer is, very little.  The book is about the English Civil Wars, of two well-documented figures from the Roundhead side, General Sir Thomas Fairfax and his wife Anne. At the beginning of the conflict, in his native Yorkshire, Fairfax campaigned with his family, Anne and their small surviving daughter–which led to Anne being captured by the Royalists under the command of the Duke of Newcastle (later to marry another formidable woman, writer Margaret Cavendish). From the existing sources and her own imagination, Rosemary Sutcliffe wrote a portrait of a marriage, and with considerable emotional subtlety, for the romance is one-sided. The Fairfaxes have an arranged marriage, as was usual for the gentry, but while Anne loves Thomas, he is only grateful to her—or is he?

When working in the rare books section of a library, I had occasion to read some of Sutcliff’s source matter, Thomas Fairfax’s own memoirs. It showed me Sutcliffe’s fidelity to history, and at the same time how she imaginatively breathed life into it. In the battle of Wakefield town, Fairfax narrowly escapes capture by jumping his horse over a garden wall. In the book he finds the incident absurdly funny–as is quite clear from his own words. Sutcliff stages the scene brilliantly.

The novel is unquestionably for grown-ups, a story of unrequited love within a marriage. It also contains superbly realised battle scenes, vivid depictions of nature, and regional dialects reported without condescension.  It is immersive history, without the post-modern intrusion, as when Hilary Mantel has Henry VIII describe Jane Seymour as  his little “bun-face”. That is not Tudor language, and while absolutely right in terms of the lady, it jars. Similarly Cromwell, from his visual image–and Holbein was an acute observer–was a bit of a brute. Mantel depicts him as quite feminine in that people confide in him, and he listens, without interrupting. Fairfax is contradictory, a masculine man of war, a berserker in battle, but also gentle in his manners, kind.  Anne conforms to the gender expectations of her time, while not concealing her intelligence, nor her forcefulness–she is deeply involved in the political/religious struggle.  And yet she can be very obtuse.

Were this book published now, would it rate in the Bookers?  Surely yes, if the author’s genre/readership placement did not get in the way.

One final comment. Writing the pre-Enlightenment is tricky, as to be strictly accurate the religion would dominate the world-view, in a fashion incomprehensible to us rational post-moderns, wringing our hands over IS.  So while the title of Sutcliff’s book comes from Revelations, the wild religious discourse of the Civil Wars is downplayed.  But she does it, as she does with so much in this book, subtly and intelligently.

Lucy Sussex’s most recent book is the award-winning Blockbuster (Text, 2015), about crime writer Fergus Hume, and his Mystery of a Hansom Cab.

Lucy Sussex with portrait of herself by artist Dora Levakis, from the Archibald Prize's 'Salon des Refusés'

Lucy Sussex with portrait of herself by artist Dora Levakis, from the Archibald Prize’s ‘Salon des Refusés’

Authors’ pick 17: Amanda Bridgeman

Station-Eleven-CollageToday’s Authors’ Pick has been chosen by Amanda Bridgeman.

This year I really enjoyed reading Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. It’s the story of how a deadly flu epidemic sweeps the world killing the majority of the population. Told half in the post-apocalyptic world, and half in the pre-apocalyptic world, the story follows several characters who are linked in one way or another with one central character, an actor by the name of Arthur Leander. I thought Mandel captured the flu epidemic perfectly (it was scarily realistic), and I found the characters’ stories, of how they try to survive (or don’t as the case may be) in a world gone to hell, very interesting. It’s a great examination of the human spirit, of how through the chaos, hope can still shine on.

Amanda Bridgeman is the author of the character-driven space opera ‘Aurora’ series.

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Authors’ pick 16: Wendy J.Dunn

poldarkToday’s Authors’ Pick has been chosen by Wendy J.Dunn.

2015 has been a very good reading year – even if Goodreads keeps reminding me that I better hurry up if I am ever to reach my goal of reading 25 new novels this year. My problem is I like going back to old friends – those magical novels on my bookshelves to be re-read and re-read. Amongst the old friends I re-read this year were Winston Graham’s Poldark novels. That resulted from watching the new Poldark television series, when I yielded to the temptation to pull out the first Poldark novel from my home library. The first novel was followed by the second, until weeks later I closed the last page of the thirteenth novel, feeling sad again that Graham has left us. No more novels from his pen – novels demonstrating the power of a true storyteller.

This year, I also discovered novels I couldn’t put down by another great storyteller. Written by Barbara summerfoldGaskell Denvil, the first of these novels was Sumerford’s Autumn. Set at the beginning of the Tudor period, this gripping and richly researched novel kept me turning its pages until I reached the end. By then, Barbara Gaskell Denvil had gained a new fan and I couldn’t wait to read her other novels. What I loved about Sumerford’s Autumn was not only that it took me back to a period I love passionately and inspires my own fiction, but also how much Denvil’s wonderfully told story and well drawn fictional characters engaged me as a reader. The novel opening the door to a very lively and believable Tudor world, Sumerfold’s Autumn is pure escapism. Dialogue was another plus; perfectly pitched, evoking Shakespeare at times with its use of dark humour to help get the reader through those many tragic, poignant moments in the story, the dialogue powerfully made all the characters step off the page and into my imagination. Sumerfold’s Autumn doesn’t shy away from the violence and harshness of the Tudor period – or how death then was faced as a daily proposition. But it is also a novel of romance and adventure told through unforgettable characters.

Highly recommended.

Wendy J. Dunn is the author of two Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, and The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel.

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Authors’ pick 15: Emma Viskic

a-wrong-turn-at-the-office-of-unmade-listsToday’s Authors’ Pick has been chosen by Emma Viskic.

One of my favourite reads of the year was Jane Rawson’s A Wrong Turn At The Office of Unmade Lists. It’s a charming, disturbing, wonderful book, set partially in post-environmental collapse Melbourne. The novel begins with the day-to-day struggles of Caddy, then steps neatly sideways and deposits you into a world where stories can come true, and magical maps are portals to other places. A Wrong Turn won the 2014 Most Underrated Book Award and it’s easy to see why: it’s one of those novels that defies categorization, but stays with you. There are places in Melbourne I still can’t go without remembering it.

Emma Viskic is the author of the critically acclaimed crime novel, Resurrection Bay. She has won both the Ned Kelly SJ Harvey Award and the New England Thunderbolt Prize for her short form writing.

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