Human rights tyrants and how to stop them

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

Yes, there may be sceptics. But I have no doubt that the events leading up to the torture and murder of Russian tax expert, Sergei Magnitsky, and Russia’s ‘red notice’ to capture and/or kill author, Bill Browder, is true.

Reads like a Soviet-era spy thriller, only this story really happened.

As a result of Browder’s high-profile activism and persistence, many countries have now enacted ‘Magnitsky laws’, which sanction Russian oligarchs by freezing assets held in those countries.

If you are struggling to understand international relations between the so-called western countries and Putin’s Russia, do yourself a favour and read this book.
It is shocking and compelling in equal proportions.

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 books ‘Red Notice’ and ‘Freezing Order’.

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. In 2021, the Australian government followed suit and also passed Magnitsky-inspired legislation.

Robertson’s book is not easy to fully absorb. Many of the names and events will not be generally known. 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.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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

Dunera Lives: A Visual History by Jay Winter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beautifully curated, 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. Highly recommended for anyone interested in exploring alternative versions of life in Australia during WWII.

Posted in Book Reviews, WW2 and Internment | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

All 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.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Unorthodox’: a heroic escape from oppression

Unorthodox: 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.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An unusual take on WWII espionage

Warlight 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.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Literary fiction at its best

A 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.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

My year as a research fellow …


My 12-month research fellowship with the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) has now ended and what a wonderful experience it was! While I learnt a lot about my topic, I learnt even more about myself.

If you’d like to find out more about the fellowship, my findings, and personal discoveries, click through to the SLQ video interview. My thanks to SLQ for providing such a huge 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.

Posted in Content and Research, WW2 and Internment | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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


I was honoured to present 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.

To see the full event, featuring the presentations of all four Fellows, go to the SLQ website.

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

The three case studies are of ordinary 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.

Posted in WW2 and Internment | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment