It’s April and finally the first starting book for 2020’s Six Degrees of Separation that I’ve read. If you are new to blogging and don’t know this meme and how it works, please check out meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.
Now to April’s starting book, the critically acclaimed, multi-translated, award-winning nonfiction book by Australia’s Anna Funder – Stasiland (my review). Have you read it? If you haven’t do consider it because it’s not the sort of book to go out of date.
Stasiland tells the stories of Stasi officers and collaborators and of those who suffered at the hands of the Stasi in the then East Germany. Largely because of this book, Mr Gums and I made a point of going to Leipzig in 2013 and visiting the Stasi’s Runde Ecke headquarters there. Anyhow, in announcing this book, Kate described it as a “classic on tyranny and resistance”. There are so many books that can link from that, so I’ll be interested to see what my co-meme-players do. I’ve decided to choose a related aspect, surveillance, which was fundamental to the Stasi’s tyrannical practices, and link to Janette Turner Hospital’s Orpheus lost (my review).
From here, I could take a cheery turn and link on, music, say, or the classics, but I’m going to stick with serious themes. Orpheus lost is partly about how terrorism leads to fear, surveillance and the loss of freedoms. Hospital was interested, she said, in the trading of civil liberties for safety in the post-9/11 world. However, I don’t want to spend all this post on this issue, so I’m making a cheeky jump to David Brooks’ The grass library (my review). It’s an animal rights focused memoir in which one of the main “characters” is Orpheus the lamb!
From here it’s a very simple jump to another animal rights book, this one about the live export business, Bidda Jones and Julian Davies’ Backlash: Australia’s conflict of values over live exports (my review). I remember that when he sent the book to me, co-author and publisher Julian Davies described it as the most important book they’d published.
So, I’m going to stick now with Julian Davies, or, at least, with his publishing company Finlay Lloyd, and link to the latest book of theirs published, John Clanchy’s In whom we trust (my review). One of the commenters on my post – someone who knows the author – described it as “an origin story” for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It is about child abuse, but is also about, as commenter David wrote, “the institutional tension between the Brother’s and Clergy power structure within the Church”. It’s a powerful, but deeply human read.
Trust, as Clanchy shows, is in short supply between powerful institutions and those who have no power and who, by rights, should be able to trust those who are not only able to but who morally should protect and support them. Rebecca Skloot had to work very hard to gain the trust of African-American Henrietta Lacks’ poverty-stricken family to write her scientific biography The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks (my review). This book is both a fascinating story of scientific discovery and a horrifying story of the abuse of people’s trust and, in fact, their rights.
I am going to stay in America for last book, albeit the author is Australian, Elliot Perlman. The street sweeper (my review) is about many things, but the titular character is street sweeper Lamont Williams, an African-American, who has just started work as a janitor at a cancer hospital in a pilot program for ex-convicts. He is innocent of the crime that put him in jail but his colour and poverty meant he didn’t have a chance. This book which links the Holocaust to Civil Rights in America is fundamentally about moral responsibility – which, of course, is not what the Stasi practised at all!
I have stuck with politically charged books this month – and why not given the important role writers play in keeping us honest. So, I am going to conclude with Orwell from his essay, “Why I write”:
What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience.
PS I wrote and scheduled this before COVID-19 restrictions took hold internationally. I decided not to rethink my post in the light of that but to leave you with what initially inspired me! However, I’ll add that I wonder what writers will make of COVID-19. When will the first COVID-19 novel appear? From where and from whom will it come, and what will be the take?
Anyhow, now the usual: Have you read Stasiland? And, regardless, what would you link to?