Question: What does a mother do when her only son is in prison with a life sentence? Answer: She buys a crumbling shack by the sea and builds a labyrinth in the backyard. To proceed, she must become part of the little seaside community. Her neighbours are, quite frankly, a strange lot. But who is she to judge, given her curious childhood as the daughter of the chief medical officer of an asylum? One by one, she attracts various odd-bods to the project: the shy teenager, Lexie; the illegal immigrant, Jurko; the aloof neighbour, Ray. The activity of making something draws them together and gives everyone a sense of purpose and hope. This is a spiritual project as much as it is a physical one. Somewhere amongst the chaos, she also rediscovers herself.
The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen by Krissy Kneen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When Krissy Kneen was a speaker at my authors’ group a few months ago, I was intrigued by her latest book. I’ve read some of Krissy’s work before. While I love the way she writes, I confess that I find explicit erotica confronting. So, when she said this was a quest of discovery to find her roots in a faraway land, accompanied by bucketful of family secrecy and a good slather of quirkiness, I was hooked.
The memoir does not disappoint. In fact, I couldn’t put it down. Krissy’s storytelling is sublime. Her research tour of Slovenia and Egypt is thorough and personally risky. Gaps are filled with possibilities, family lies, fairytales. Her metaphors are spot on; one I loved was the dream of Lotty Kneen, reincarnated as a snake. ‘She is coiled up in a dark place … she is coiled in the belly of her granddaughter. Big belly, big enough to hold the long snaking form she has become. The grit of rock, the crackle of grass, the heat of the sun.’
This wonderful, uplifting story about personal discovery, grieving, and the pursuit of truth is highly recommended.
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The bartender called for last drinks. Closing time: eleven o’clock on a Friday night. The band was packing up; the patrons were drifting out. The four of us were reluctant to part.
‘Come to my place for coffee.’ A statement, not a question. Spoken by Keith, our new-found drinking buddy.
Louise lit a smoke, tossed the pack across the table. Janet made a grab but Keith beat her to it. He flipped it open, offered her cigarettes, flashed a silver lighter. His James-Bond self-assurance sent a ripple of annoyance through me.
‘How old do you reckon he is?’ I rasped in Louise’s ear.
‘Gotta be forty,’ she said. ‘But he’s fun.’
We were in final year at uni. Almost twenty-one. We sat together in a packed lecture hall but barely knew each other.
‘The car’s not far.’ Keith took a pre-emptive step toward the pub door.
We stood to leave, a little unsteadily I might add.
Outside, the night air hit us like ice-water. The cosy warmth of camaraderie washed down the gutter. Keith strode ahead. We three girls ambled behind like servants or concubines.
‘I’m not so sure about this,’ I hissed.
‘Safety in numbers,’ said Louise. She and Janet began singing Stand by Me like fools at a country wedding.
We reached the car, a baby-shit yellow sedan. ‘Not the Kingswood!’ they chorused and dissolved into giggles. Louise claimed the front seat. Janet and I took the back. Keith coaxed a spark from an almost-flat battery and the car rumbled down George Street.
‘Think I’ll call it a night,’ I muttered.
‘Party pooper!’ A duet of big-girl voices.
The traffic lights went red; Keith tramped on the brakes. I flung the door open and leapt out. Half-walked, half-ran in the opposite direction. Hailed a taxi, made my cowardly escape. The friendship was over; I would never live it down.
Monday morning, the girls were already in the lecture hall. At first, relief. Then my heart sank. What should I say? Guilty of desertion, as charged? I ambled over to apologise.
Louise piped up first. ‘That Keith was a real prick.’
She began to laugh. ‘His place was out in the sticks. He did give us coffee, but.’
‘And liqueurs,’ added Janet. ‘By candlelight.’
‘Then, out of nowhere, came this woman. His WIFE. All hell broke loose.’
‘We walked home. Didn’t get there until four.’ Janet again.
‘A disaster! We should’ve listened to you.’
I smiled. Silently I thanked my inner voice. My quiet voice of reason.
Copyright, Debbie Terranova, June 2021
Bad People – and How to Be Rid of Them: A Plan B for Human Rights by Geoffrey Robertson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
While this book provides a history of human rights dating right back to the 17th Century, the real background to Geoffrey Robertson’s treatise about how to stop human rights ‘baddies’ is the torture and death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax expert murdered by his own government for exposing fraud and corruption. Magnitsky’s story – and it is well worth knowing – is told in detail by former client, supporter, and fellow target, Bill Browden, in his book ‘Red Notice’ (reviewed below).
Human rights lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, became involved in Browden’s quest for justice. Since, several countries, including the US, the EU (in December 2020), and the UK have passed ‘Magnitsky laws’, which ‘name and shame’ tyrants who perpetrate these crimes against humanity when the usual forms of justice fail. Australia is currently considering the form its ‘Magnitsky law’ will take. Robertson’s book is not easy to fully absorb. Many of the names and events will not be well-known to the general public. However it is well worth a read. Its currency -Robertson covers human rights developments up to March 2021 – is noteworthy. While the subject matter is weighty, his droll humour sometimes raises a smile.
Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Reads like a Soviet-era spy thriller, only this story is true. Yes, there will be sceptics, but I have no doubt that the events leading up to the torture and murder of Russian tax expert, Sergei Magnitsky, and what happened as a result to author, Bill Browder, actually happened.
In a coincidental piece of triangulation, an article in ‘The Weekend Australian’ (1 May 2021) written by human rights lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, reveals his role in bringing about international sanctions against the perpetrators. Shocking and compelling in equal proportions. Robertson’s book is reviewed above.
Inspired by a turning point in my life, ‘The Next Twenty Years’ is a reflective piece about change and resilience. My short story was penned for a monthly competition run by the Queensland Writers’ Centre for their online magazine, ‘Pen and Pixel’. It was the winning entry for April 2021, and was published in the May edition.
My fingers hover over the lighted screen in my lap. The online form is complete. Only a few questions really: name and employee number, tick the right box.
From my vantage point on the headland, early sunlight illuminates the bay. Facets of gold, pink, cerulean glisten like shards of a broken mirror. Out on the water, a dark object floats unattended. A tinnie perhaps. No sign of anyone on board. Adrift from its moorings, it bobs with the swell. Directionless and buffeted by the wind. Like me.
Until now, life has been ordered into neat twenty-year blocks. Twenty was the age I left home. First career: twenty years, ended after a change of government. Motherhood: twenty years, abandoned when the kids flew the nest. Marriage: two blocks of twenty years, blissfully intact. Current career: twenty years, endangered but not quite extinct.
I’m on the wrong side of sixty now. Finding a new job will be tricky. At work my colleagues are younger than my offspring. Deals are done over Friday night drinks. I’d rather sip a glass of red and watch the seven o’clock news. Promotions are given to the up-and- coming, not the over-the-hill. Technology has made my skills—once in demand—curiosities. After all, who calculates percentages in their head when computer modelling can do everything? Millennial offsiders gawk at me as if I’m Methuselah when I speak of a childhood devoid of social media, streaming, and drones. I’m a relic, a human museum-piece.
The decision I’m about to make is irreversible, as irreversible as falling pregnant. As soon as I touch that screen button, my career will be finished. Am I ready? Reasons for and against fill a pad of notepaper. The routine and discipline of work gives structure to my days and weeks. Duty and deadlines are reasons to get out of bed. For the first time ever, my future is a chasm. Exciting and waiting for me to explore, but somehow dangerous. To enter is a leap of faith. Like a fledgling eagle, I stand at the brink, my wings outstretched. Will I glide or will I drop like a stone to the bottom?
My life-pattern suggests that the next twenty-year time-slot could be my last. A shame to waste it working, my elderly mother would say.
Out on the bay, a motorboat streaks across the water. Throws a line to the tinnie, tethers her and tows her in. Hope warms my heart. I am adrift now, but a life-rope will be thrown. And when it is, I will catch it and pull myself in.
I hold my breath, touch the button on the screen. My phone makes a whooshing sound. An automatic response: Your resignation has been received. A giant leap for one woman. If I expected fireworks or the ground to move under my feet, I was mistaken. The moment passes easily, softly. Nothing explodes or shakes the earth. It is over; I have survived.
Bring on the next twenty years.
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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Meat: nothing but mince and chuck
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.
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.
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.