‘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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An invitation: hear about my “Women and War” project for SLQ

Preserving Queensland memories. Image: SLQ

Are you curious about what happened during wartime in Australia

Follow the progress of the 2018 Q ANZAC 100: Memories for a New Generation Fellows Elaine Acworth, Dr Anastasia Dukova, Dr Martin Kerby and Deborah Terranova as they bring to life memories and experiences of Queenslanders during the war.

This free public event is at the State Library of Queensland, Cultural Centre, Stanley Place, South Bank, South Brisbane.

Friday 29 March 2019, 2:00pm to 4:00pm. 

To book a place, click here. Hope to meet you there.

 

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From Brisbane trainee nurse to U.S. war bride.

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Locket showing Elvie Geissmann and Roy Bridges, the U.S. serviceman she would later marry.

How different was the life of a young woman in Australia during World War II? Personal diaries are a wonderful way to rediscover the day-to-day activities of our past.

In this 1941 diary, twenty-year-old Elvie Geissmann records her first year as a trainee nurse at the Brisbane General Hospital. She has had to trade the comforts of her childhood home on Tamborine Mountain for cramped nurses quarters at the hospital, where she will train for three long years. Her first months are not easy: she bucks at the discipline, gets into trouble, and spends way more than she earns. But, above all, she perseveres. 

To read more, go to my guest blog post on the State Library of Queensland website.

Finally, a suggestion. If you’ve inherited personal diaries about life in Queensland and don’t know how to preserve them, consider donating them to the collection of the State Library of Queensland.

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The War Diaries of Nurse Taylor

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The war diaries of Nurse Taylor: 1941-1944

In 1941 a young Brisbane nurse began recording the events of the war in these dainty little cloth-covered notebooks.

For four long years, while working and studying, she never failed to note what happened.

Like to read more?

Go to my guest blog post for 10 December 2018 at the State Library of Queensland.

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Read history this year

Book signing

Secret shame or wartime security?

Learn the shocking truth about civilian imprisonment in Australia during WWII.

Great gift idea for the history buffs in your family.

Buy a copy direct from the author and have it autographed.

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