Recommended for fans of convict-era historical fiction

Fled by Meg Keneally

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Convict-era historical fiction based on the true story of the daring escape of Mary Bryant (and others) in an open boat from Sydney Cove to Kupang, Timor. The known aspects of Mary’s life, which are rather sketchy, are well embedded in the fictional retelling. Jenny Trelawney (Mary) is a plausible eighteenth-century convict woman. The trials and tribulations of those tough times are well-depicted. The use of language, in general, reflects the era. However, for characters who are, in the main, illiterate and uneducated, the dialogue is rather too eloquent. After her return to England, Jenny acquires a wealthy benefactor. From there, the story takes a ‘Pygmalion’ turn that leads to an odd fairytale ending. Why? In the author’s own words, ‘I wrote for Jenny the ending I feel Mary deserves.’ Is this approach justified? Few details are known about the real Mary Bryant, so … why not?



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WWII in pictures: the voyage of the notorious ‘Dunera’

Dunera Lives: A Visual History by Jay Winter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Beautifully put together, this visual history shows through paintings, cartoons, photographs what happened to a shipload of German, Italian, and Jewish men – most of whom were refugees from Nazi Germany – who were transported from Great Britain to internment camps in country NSW and Victoria. Fascinating reading and highly recommended for anyone interested in alternative versions of WWII in Australia.



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‘In the Moment’ – The Lockdown Diaries

Meat: nothing but mince and chuck

Pasta: none

Milk: going fast

Flour: 12.5 kilo bag or nothing

Toilet paper: don’t get me started

Recently the Queensland Writers Centre called for short stories (500 words) for an online anthology, The Lockdown Diaries. No prizes for guessing that the topic was personal experiences of COVID-19 during 2020.

My story ‘In the Moment’ was one of ten selected for inclusion. Click on the link below to read my story, and the other nine selected.

In The Moment – Debbie Terranova — Queensland Writers Centre

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An escape to the magical ‘deep country’ of our ancient land

All Our Shimmering SkiesAll Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An epic tale, in the spirit of the Brothers Grimm, set in the impossibly harsh country of Australia’s Top End. The characters are intriguing and larger-than-life, in particular the 12-year-old gravedigger girl (Molly Hook), her glamorous actress side-kick (Greta Maze), and the Japanese deserter (Yukio) who falls from the sky.
The plot is brutal, bleak, fast-paced, surreal, compelling, inspirational. At times the narrative and characterization becomes so far-fetched that the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ almost crumbles and you must remind yourself that this is essentially a fairy-story. Extremes of love and hate are to be expected. Characters are meant to be vile villains or invincible heroes; conflict is meant to be cruel; rescues are meant to be daring; and miracles are meant to happen.
Dalton’s use of language is fluid, vibrant, confident, colourful and bleak, deliciously descriptive, and at times repetitious to the point of irritation. The ‘Dig, Molly, dig’ and its variations are a certainly overdone.
Overall, the novel offers readers an amazing escape to a magical place in the ‘deep country’ of our ancient land.

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‘Unorthodox’: a heroic escape from oppression

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic RootsUnorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like many other readers, I discovered the existence of ‘Unorthodox’ while binge-watching the enthralling four-part series of the same name. The memoir (a truer version of the author’s experiences of growing up in and later escaping an ultra-conservative sect of Judaism) was even more shocking and engrossing than the films. Well-written but ‘raw’, the author reveals the inter-generational oppression of women within the sect through exclusion, ignorance, and difference. Her decision to escape, and then to disclose intimate details in a published piece, is nothing short of heroic. Not a literary masterpiece but a riveting read that makes me grateful for freedoms that I take for granted.

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An unusual take on WWII espionage

WarlightWarlight by Michael Ondaatje

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A beautifully-written historical novel, from start to finish. For someone who likes to write, such as me, the use of language is inspirational. Delightful and succinct descriptions abound, e.g. ‘we moved under a panoply of passing trees’ (p111). However, the unconventional structure and rapidly-changing point-of-view characters, particularly toward the end, makes the story a little hard to follow at times.

Most intriguing is the theme of secrecy, of not knowing the true nature of a person or their motives. This is introduced in the very first sentence. ‘In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals.’ What a literary hook!

I enjoyed the use of perfectly-chosen nicknames (‘The Moth’ and ‘The Darter’), code names, and the sprinkling of tiny hints about secret activities throughout the narrative. Only in the last chapters are we able to ‘Stitch’ together the significance of various odd events and the interaction of several dubious characters who appear and disappear throughout Nathaniel’s young life, not the least being his mother. The final twist is unexpected but plausible.

In the last paragraphs the author draws an apt and satisfying conclusion. ‘We order our lives with barely held stories. As if we have been lost in a confusing landscape, gathering what was invisible and unspoken … sewing it all together in order to survive, incomplete, ignored like the sea pea on those mined beaches during the war.’

A thoughtful and unusual perspective on WWII espionage.

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Literary fiction at its best

A Gentleman in MoscowA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is, without a doubt, the most uplifting novel I have read in years. Beautifully written and engrossing from start to finish, it is the story of a Russian nobleman who is placed under indefinite house arrest in the Metropol Hotel after the Russian Revolution. Over decades of confinement, he finds amusement, friendship, contentment, and love in the most unlikely places. Every twist of the plot – and there are many – is artfully crafted. This is not a quick read, but a book whose delicious use of language invites you to linger. Literary fiction at its best.

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My year as a research fellow …

Debbie

My 12-month research fellowship with the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) has come to an end. What a wonderful experience! While I learnt a lot about my topic, I learnt even more about myself.

Here’s my SLQ video interview about the fellowship, my findings, and personal discoveries. My thanks to SLQ for providing such a wonderful opportunity.

My research findings – an unpublished manuscript entitled “Queensland Women and War: a multicultural perspective of the experiences of female civilians during World War II” – is available at the SLQ.

 

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What happened on the homefront during WWII? Townsville Festival of Stories.

Townsville

 

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“Under the Skin 4” – SLQ Fellows’ presentations about the world wars

qanzacfellows-045On 29 March 2019, I was honoured to present some findings of my project, “Queensland Women and War: a multicultural perspective of the experiences of female civilians during World War II”, at a public event at the State Library of Queensland.

The full event, featuring all four Fellows was recorded, and is now live on the SLQ website.

As the final speaker, my segment about women in internment in Australia is in Part 2 (after Dr Martin Kerby) and it commences at the 22-minute mark.

The three case studies presented are about ordinary civilian women who were “locked up” in the Tatura Internment Camp in Victoria for the duration of WWII. One was a German from Murarrie, one was an Italian from Innisfail, and one was a Japanese from Cairns.

 

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