My literary week (15), readings and readers

As regular readers here know, my “literary week” posts are irregular affairs, usually inspired by something I really want to share (or document for my own benefit!) And so it is this week …

Reading Boochani in public … and related thoughts

Public reading No Friend but the MountainsI was especially pleased, given the events in Christchurch last Friday week, that I’d been asked to take part in an all-day public reading of the book No friend but the mountains, written by Kurdish-Iranian poet and Manus Island detainee, Behrouz Boochani. The reading was organised by local writer (and ex-work colleague) Sarah St Vincent Welch, with the support of the Canberra Refugee Action Committee. It took place in Canberra’s Garema Place on Thursday March 21, which happened to be World Poetry Day and World Harmony Day. The reading started at 8.15am and went through into the early hours of the evening, with my 10-minute slot taking place in the early afternoon. It was a privilege to be one of the 60 readers, most of whom were local poets, taking part in the event.

As we all know, it’s strange how events and ideas can coalesce. We have, here in Australia, a current affairs television program called The Drum. It’s a panel discussion show and, earlier this week, in the wake of Christchurch, they had an all-Muslim women panel. It was confronting, but it reinforced the ideas that are also embedded in Growing up Aboriginal in Australia (my review), and that also reflect the experience of the detainees. Each situation is different in specifics and history, but Muslims, indigenous people, and asylum-seekers know what it is like to be reviled. Each member of these groups wakes up each and every day, wondering what act of prejudice or hatred they might confront*. It’s truly appalling.

If only naysayers and decisionmakers would stop, listen and/or read, and imagine walking, for just a moment even, in another’s shoes, they might think again about their actions. This is not about class or religion or wealth or education (though they are implicated in the bigger picture), but about human feeling. I know I speak from a position of fortune – I can’t change that – but I can try to do my bit to lessen the load.


Two of my recent posts resulted in short story recommendations that I thought worth sharing, though I haven’t yet had time to follow them up myself:
  • Ian Darling, commenting on my post on Rudyard Kipling’s story “The Janeites”, recommended an earlier Kipling story, “Mary Postgate” (available online), originally published in 1915. Ian describes it as “a fearful mixture of hate and compassion.” Sounds eerily relevant doesn’t it?
  • Lisa (ANZLitLovers), commenting on my Monday Musings post on the NSW Premier’s Translation Prize, recommended an Indonesian short story translated by one of this year’s shortlistees, Harry Aveling. The story is “The biography of a newborn baby” and is by Raudal Tanjung Banua (available online).

I will try to read them in the next week or so, once I’ve read this week’s reading group book!


Melissa Lucashenko, Too Much LipReaders are interesting beasts really (and I use the term affectionately!) We differ greatly in what we like to read, what we think is good, what we think is worth reading. I was interested to read, after writing my post on Melissa Lucashenko’s Too much lip, Karen Wyld’s very thorough review in the Sydney Review of Books. Late in the review she comments on the challenge for readers:
Too Much Lip is, of course, not the first novel to include family violence or to expose its colonial roots. There are, however, risks with telling stories like these. Non-Indigenous readers could fail to recognise the strength of culture to mitigate intergenerational trauma, and not understand its roots in colonial violence and systemic racism. Some readers might see the Salters through an over-used deficit model, or believe they have the solutions to ‘fix’ Indigenous families. Instead, the Salters’ story shows how ineffective governments have been in trying to patch up the wounds of colonisation through paternalistic and draconian approaches. Some readers might find it hard to grapple with the violence in this novel. And some might find it hard to forgive the Salter siblings’ creative disregard for the law. It’s important to remember that this book is a piece of fiction but it is grounded in reality.
If there is a risk of non-Indigenous readers misconstruing parts of this novel, how can First Nations writers mitigate such risks? In most cases they can’t, and they shouldn’t have to. The responsibility of interpretation and the heavy lifting of expanding one’s worldviews and letting go of ingrained prejudices lies with the reader [my emphasis].
Too much lip is an exciting read, but it is also a confronting one that can easily lend itself to judgement if not moralising. I love that Wyld discusses this potential head on.

Quote of the week

I included a Quote of the Week in my last literary week post, and can’t resist including one again. It comes from Rudyard Kipling’s “The Janeites” (linked above):
“… there’s no one to touch Jane when you’re in a tight place. …”
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what this means, even if you haven’t read the post!
* Well, asylum-seeker detainees probably have a good idea, as every day brings the same, but I think you take my point.