Monthly Archives: July 2018

Mohammad Ali Maleki’s Truth in the Cage

Mohammad Ali Maleki (translator Mansour Shoshtari), Truth in the Cage (Verity La Press 2018)

truth.jpg

It can’t be right that my birthday hurts me;
I feel such regret for having been born.
(‘An Unforeseen Life’)

In 2001, when the Norwegian ship Tampa was turned away from Australian mainland with its burden of desperate people seeking asylum, Prime Minister John Winston Howard made sure that nothing reached the Australian population that would foreground their humanity: no photographs of their faces, no TV, radio or newspaper articles telling their personal stories, or quoting their own words.

Seventeen years later, Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull maintain the same depersonalising policy regarding the men, women and children refugees and seekers of asylum now detained on Manus Island and Nauru, some of them for just over five years. The cost of a visa to Nauru is prohibitive; doctors and others speak about what they witness there under threat of imprisonment; Peter Dutton recently said that ‘the hard-won success of the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion’, and he seems to insist that no such act be allowed within his department, even to people who have died.

The detainees are not voiceless or faceless, but they are systematically denied a platform from which their faces can be seen and their voices heard. Word has managed to get out. Notably, Behrouz Boochani co-directed the documentary Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time with Dutch film director Arash Kamali Sarvestani, and his book No Friend but the Mountains is to be launched next month. There have been other newspaper articles by him and other detainees, and there are a number of detainee  Twitter accounts. Penny Ryan’s Connecting Hearts project garnered a collection of short messages from people on both islands, published in the Guardian in late 2016.

Now Verity La, a tiny, no-way-for-profit online literary magazine, has added to the voices we can hear with this chapbook containing eight poems by Mohammad Ali Maleki, translated from Farsi by another detainee, Mansour Shoshtari. All profits from sales of the book go to the poet.

As you would expect, the poems are grim: ‘The Migrant Child’ is for Aylan Kurdi, the child whose body was photographed washed up on a Turkish beach; ‘Brother’ is for Hamed Shamshiripour, one of the men who has died on Manus Island on Peter Dutton’s watch; and generally the poems reflect the desolation and despair of the experience of indefinite detention.

So, OK, this isn’t a cheerful read. But it seems to me that as well as going on protest marches, lobbying our MPs, and voting in elections, it’s important to take every opportunity that arises to listen to the voices of people with the lived experience. From ‘Where Is My Name’:

All people are known by name;
I’ve never met a human without one
Yet they stole mine and gave me
a meaningless nickname instead.
I’m fed up wth repeating this false name!
Take it away and return my identity.
That is the only thing I have left in this land.
That is my parents’ only mark here.

The book can be bought direct from Verity La. It costs $10 plus nominal postage.

Two quick reads

Ian McPhedran, The Smack Track: Inside the Navy’s war : chasing down drug smugglers, pirates and terrorists (HarperCollinsAustralia 2017)
Dervla McTiernan, The Rúin (HarperCollinsAustralia 2018)

rúinsmackThis blog post is an exercise in completism. I read The Rúin and The Smack Track last year but didn’t blog about them at the time for reasons I won’t go into. I want to make up for that omission, if briefly.

The Rúin is an excellent thriller/detective yarn set in Ireland, the debut novel of Dervla McTiernan, an Ireland-born writer who lives in Perth. An author’s note explains that the book’s title can be read in English, or can be given it’s Irish meaning: ‘In Irish, Rúin means something hidden, a mystery, or a secret, but the word also has a long history as a term of endearment.’  And that pretty much sums up the feel of the book: there’s a mystery to be solved – two murders decades apart – and a story of family love and commitment to be uncovered along with much darker secrets. It’s fast moving, and satisfyingly complex. The Galway setting is vividly real. I’m surprised it hasn’t been snapped up for a television series.

A second book featuring McTiernan’s garda Cormac Reilly is promised for March next year. I expect it will have me breaking once again my general resolution not to read crime novels.

The Smack Track makes me think of Trotsky’s warning: ‘You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.’ I was the boy in my primary school class who wasn’t interested in war comics. I was never into model war planes. I was a conscientious objector to the draft at the time of Australia’s military involvement in Vietnam. Ian McPhedran, by contrast, worked as a defence writer for The Australian for nearly twenty years. He has written six books, including this one, about aspects of the Australian armed forces, and has had extensive experience of being embedded with the military. Just the writer to help me out of my comfort zone.

This book isn’t about combat, but about the RAN’s extraordinary work disrupting the drug trade off the east coast of Africa. It includes first hand accounts of intercepts, including dramatic accounts of the dangers faced by the sailors on these missions. McPhedran, writing as an embedded writer, doesn’t swagger. If anything, he mocks his ‘landlubber’ status. His respect and appreciation for the men and women whose work he observes up close is contagious.

As I read The Rúin in 2017 I’m not including it as part of the 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. But it’s an excellent addition to the list of books written by Australian women, so I’ll mention it on the AWWC site anyhow.

I’m grateful to HarperCollinsAustralia for my copies of both books.

Stephen Hart’s Lighthouse at Pelican Rock

Stephen Hart, The Lighthouse at Pelican Rock (Eagle Books 2018)

lighthouse.jpgPublished by Eagle Books, an imprint of tiny, Armidale -based Christmas Press, this is Stephen Hart’s debut novel for young readers. May he live long and give us many more.

It’s a time-slip adventure novel. Twelve-year-old Megan is recuperating from serious illness, and is sent to stay with her Aunt Rachel in Pelican Rock, not far from Eden on the south coast of New South Wales. While she’s there, a strangely aggressive pelican visits her in the night and somehow transports her back to a time when Pelican Rock’s ruined lighthouse was in one piece and functioning. In a number of what we at first think may be just dreams, she becomes friendly with the ancient lighthouse keeper.

If you’ve read a lot of children’s adventure books, you know that the first thing to do is get rid of the parents, and that’s how it is here, but it turns out that although Megan’s parents are still in Sydney, hundreds of miles away, they are very much on her mind: Aunt Rachel’s interest in her, and obvious caring for her, make her realise that she has come to expect to be treated as uninteresting and unimportant compared to her younger brother, Alex. At Pelican Rock she begins to recover her health and fitness, and also her sense of herself as deserving to be loved and cherished. The trips back in time are at first just icing on the cake.

I enjoyed this book a lot, not just for the well-paced, less than predictable story. One thing I especially like is the way it speaks to the young reader’s curiosity – and the old reader’s for that matter. Aunt Rachel tells Megan why the nosy little Jack Tussell terrier is called Cyrano, the lighthouse keeper explains interesting bits of how lighthouses work, the doctor and the vet both make sure Megan understands what they are doing. And Megan’s understanding of relationships between adults deepens and grows: with her we gradually come to understand that Aunt Rachel and Rhys Evans, whom Megan meets on the train, have been in love and still have feelings for each other (as the Americans would say); she grasps from the beginning that cranky old Aunt Rachel is critical of her parents and over the course of the book’s action comes to see this is as a very good thing;  she takes careful note of the way the doctor and the vet relate to children differently from anything she has previously experienced.

The illustrations by Kathy Creamer are perfect for the story.

So if you’re looking for a book for someone on the cusp of teenagehood, or if like me you enjoy an occasional children’s book for your own pleasure, here’s one I recommend.

Eunice Andrada’s Flood Damages

Eunice Andrada, Flood Damages (Giramondo 2018)

damages.jpg

There’s a lot of pain in these poems: the pain of migration and living in diaspora, of miscarriage and sickness, of  domestic violence, racism and internalised racism, and – shockingly topical just now – of family separation at the hands of officaldom. There are also poems that celebrate the body and family relationships, especially of a young woman with her grandmother.

There’s a wonderful variety in the forms of the poems. There are ‘novenas’, which echo the cadences of the Catholicism of Andrada’s native Philippines. There are prose poems – such as the one that would be a straightforward account of an allergy test except that the doctor is Ferdinand Marcos. There’s ‘photo album’, made up of captions to photographs, some of which probably actually exist. There’s a narrative element: no dates, times and places, but a cast of characters that we come to recognise, and when in ‘alibi’ the speaker refers to ‘the muscle memory of dancing / to the gospel / of my father’s temper’ the reader knows what she is talking about.  There are elusive epigrams, of which the best example is ‘forms’:

It is no sacrifice
when he collapses over his own altar
then asks for your body.

Eunice Andrada is also a Spoken Word practitioner – a poet of the stage as well as the page. She recently appeared at the fabulous Bankstown Poetry Slam. Here, for my readers who might hesitate to read an actual book of poetry, is a video of her performing her climate change poem ‘Pacific Salt’ at Sydney’s 2015 Youth Eco Summit, preceded by a short and charmingly awkward interview:

Flood Damages is the tenth book I’ve read for the 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. I am grateful to Giramondo for my copy.