The Wisdom of Tea by Noriko Morishita

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Reviewed by Gerard Healy

This is a challenging read for a gaijin. The traditional conventions of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, as explained by Noriko Morishita, are a world away from most Westerners. Nevertheless, it is an intriguing world of ritual and ancient practices from which Miss Morishita has taken some valuable life lessons. She has been practising for twenty-five years and yet she says, “but there is no graduation from Tea.”

The majority of the book is dominated by the detailed descriptions of the intricate movements and utensils required for each of the various iterations of Tea which vary according to the seasons. Foreigners like myself (gaijin) will probably soon become lost in the myriad Japanese words and phrases associated with each specific step in the process. There is a helpful section at the end of the book called Tea Terms, which offers some clarification, as well as a selection of coloured photographs in the middle, which is invaluable.

My tip would be to go straight to the photos before reading the text to get some idea of what’s coming up. On the other hand, taking short cuts doesn’t seem to be the way of Tea. So perhaps you should follow the example of Miss Morishita and start at the beginning and work your way forward diligently. Is it only in the West that we try to find short-cuts to acquiring knowledge?

Just as the students appreciated the sweets served with the tea, so too did I appreciate the author’s personal revelations. We learn of her initial doubts over University, some later career stumbling blocks and the self-doubts about her relationships, including a painful engagement breakup. To her parents’ disappointment, she didn’t seem to follow the well-worn path of many of her peers, like her friend Michiko, who accompanied Noriko to their first lessons, before herself leaving to get married. There is also a very touching insight into the loss of one of her parents.

The turnover of students in her group became a steady pattern over the years. However, while many faces changed, one remained steadfast- her teacher or Sensei.          

At first, she was known as Aunt Takeda, a neighbour and friend of Morishita’s mother. She was unusual in that she’d pursued a career into her thirties before having children. She had a calm presence and a straightforward manner, typical of a resident of Yokohama we are told. She was also a stickler for detail. She put much thought into her lessons with flowers and a daily scroll which hinted at the lesson to be taken from each session. But she was reluctant to give her own interpretation, preferring students to gain their own insights. The author gradually came to see the wisdom of this approach. Much later she urged Morishita to become a teacher of Tea and deepen her understanding of the practice.

One historically intriguing aspect of Tea is how today it seems to be overwhelmingly seen as a pursuit for women, but long ago it wasn’t.

Morishita explains how the small, low doorway into the tea room (nijiriguchi) was designed so that samurai had to leave their swords outside. This had the benefit of letting these warriors put aside. temporarily, the physical reminders of the precarious world they inhabited.

One thought that emerges, upon reflection, is the amazing dedication needed to pursue this arcane and highly repetitive practice for decades. Is Morishita representative of Japanese society in general? According to Malcolm Gladwell, she isn’t unusual in having this trait of persistence.

In his 2008 book “Outliers: the story of success”, he cites research into international high school Maths tests (where Japan often comes in the top five) and the link between filling in a lengthy questionnaire beforehand (p 247). On average, Japanese students fill in more questions than American students. In another study, given a difficult puzzle to solve, Japanese first-graders worked at it for 13.93 minutes before giving up. American first-graders lasted 9.47 minutes on average (p 249). Gladwell thinks there’s a link to the wet-rice growing practises of Asian countries over the centuries and this ability to stick to a task.

Morishita’s regular Saturday class seems to have provided a steadying influence on her wellbeing and a way of viewing the world philosophically. One lesson she draws is: when it is raining, listen to the rain. Another pertinent one is, “When you are living in difficult times and things seem confusing, Tea teaches you one thing above all others, live in the moment with an eye to the future.”

I would recommend this book with two caveats. One is that it helps if you have an interest in and/or have travelled to Japan. Then, are you the type of reader who can persist through mounds of detail to find the gems hidden beneath?

Noriko Morishita was born in Yokohama in 1956 and studied Humanities at the Japan Women’s University. She has worked as a reporter and essayist and has had several books published. The Wisdom of Tea (originally published in Japan as Nichi Nichi Kore Kojitsu in 2002) has sold over 75 000 copies in Japan.

The Wisdom of Tea

by Noriko Morishita

(2020)

Allen and Unwin

ISBN: 978 1 76087 854 2

$24.99; 223 pp

Translated into English by Eleanor Goldsmith (2020)

How to Think like Shakespeare by Scott Newstok

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Scott Newstok’s How to Think like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education really is a feel good book. A thick lather of the author’s enthusiasm, a comprehensive coverage of his subject matter, and the common sense inherent in his value judgments, work together to whip up a likeminded enthusiasm in his readers. It has an advantage of being a small book, easily transported in a bag.

A title that contains the word Shakespeare has an excellent chance of being given at least a quick glance. Something of magic clings to the name even after hundreds of years. When Shakespeare is linked with his way of thinking, as if his thinking is idiosyncratic to that particular writer rather than a generation of writers, then a clever piece of marketing is tied to an area of current academic interest. This means that the book has a heavy expectation lying like a cloud upon it.

The book delivers what it promises. Scott Newstok’s position is stated on the first page of the prologue viz that parents like himself are anxious because of a “worrisome muddle about what we even mean about ‘education’” (ix). Along with millions of parents and employers across the world Newstok is disturbed by what passes for education these days. His text “seeks to offer not only an exploration of thinking, [the true basis of what he means by ‘education’] but an enactment of it, for joy’s soul lies in the doing (Troilus & Cressida, 1.3.265)” (x). Newstok goes on to assert that:

“Play emerges through work, creativity through imitation, autonomy through tradition, innovation through constraints, freedom through discipline…Preserving the seeds of time enriches the present” (xii).

Once the reader is past the prologue, a section called How to Think Like Shakespeare reveals a list of fourteen chapters each having the title in this construction – Of Thinking, Of Ends, Of Craft, Of Fit and so on. Each of these chapters contains a balanced, but hard-hitting analysis, of the Shakespearian model matched against those of our own. To snatch something of the structure of these chapters, I shall instance Of Thinking.

The chapter is constructed thus:

There is a quote from David Willingham (Jossey-Bass, 2009, 4) to the effect that our brains are constructed for the avoidance of thought. In support of this position are quotes from three philosophers and three poets, all recognised as famous in their fields. An erudite discussion on the nature of thinking follows, along with agreement that “we’ve imposed educational programs that kill the capacity to think independently, or even the desire to do so” (3). The author argues that our children are subject to a testing obsessed regime (5). After several pages of diatribe directed at modern educational systems – unfortunately, most of which I support – Newstok reaches the conclusion that, “Shakespearian thinking does demand a deliberate engagement with the past to help you make up your mind in the present” (11). To think like Shakespeare, we need to reconsider the habits that shaped his mind.

The chapter’s contents are amply served by quotations from Shakespeare and numerous other sources gathered not just from Shakespeare’s contemporaries but from scholars across the centuries. If I have one criticism, it would be that the frequency of the quoted material interferes with the flow of the argument. Additionally, sources of all quoted material and references appear in footnotes on each page.

Newstok’s chapter Of Ends questions the strangle-hold that assessment has upon our educational lives, and chides a practice that removes learning how to learn in favour of learning what is to be assessed. He prefers the practice of Shakespeare’s time of “devoting] endless hours to its full arsenal of strategies for encompassing a situation: imitating vivid models, exercising elaborate verbal patterning, practising imaginative writing, and building up an enormous inventory of reading” (23). The author promotes the view that fierce attention to clear and precise writing is the essential tool to foster independent judgment.

The author does not hedge when he declares that, rather than measuring what matters, assessment measures what is easy to measure (19). Direct statements, issued without equivocation, are a feature of the book. No matter the topic, this is the preferred communicative mode. It is refreshing to read.

Not only the speech patterns but also the topics keep interest high in this book. The chapter Of Fit is a case in point. Using Aristotle, Milton, Leon Battista Alberti and William Hogarth as support, Newstok argues that, “Learning to think means picking up that ‘feel’, akin to a baker’s awareness of the consistency of dough, a doctor’s gentle pressure on the patient’s body, a sailor’s hand on the tiller” (42). William Hogarth writes, “Fitness of the parts to the design…is of the greatest consequence to the beauty of the whole” (Newstok, 42). ‘So it is with thinking’ is a prominent element in Newstok when, for example, Shakespeare’s characters tinker with their own thoughts to force them into a better fit for the moment. Richard II imagining the appropriate size of his grave, for example.

In Shakespeare’s time, people studied in the same place at the same time. Newstok supports children’s identification with their place of learning and attacks demands that insist on “demolish[ing] conventional’ classrooms, disaggregate[ing] the ‘components’ of education, and free[ing] ourselves into remote, asynchronous fora” (47). Savage criticism – but amply supported. He is just beginning. He sears the air with criticism of mobile phones, describing their suppliers as “merchants of distraction who know that information-richness produces attention-impoverishment” (56).

The chapter Of Imitation takes the reader into plagiarism (which was legal prior to 1710) and creative imitation in Shakespeare, arguing that our condemnation of the former often leads to indifference to emulation and the purported quashing of independent thought. People learn to write through their engagement with the thinking of other writers. “Even the most extreme form of imitation – raw reproduction – generates insight” (77), and hence new pathways to knowledge. This chapter, I found, unduly provocative.

Exercises leading to refinement, conversation generating precision, teaching a common stock of knowledge seen as privileging, constraints  on reading and thinking, failure to allow our thinking, as well as our words, to stretch the boundaries (“a curtailment of our birthright” (151)), all feature in Newstok’s breathtaking work. All aspects are argued in cogent fashion. Some views may be thought extreme, but no one can deny the passion, the brilliance of the thought, the cogency of the argument, and the depth and breadth of the writer’s knowledge.

I found the experience of reading Newstok nothing short of exhilarating.

How to Think Like Shakespeare

(2020)

By Scott Newstock

Princeton UP

ISBN: 978-0-691-17708-3

USD19.95; 209 pp

The Year of the Farmer by Rosalie Ham

Rosalie Ham: The Year of the Farmer

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

When I first read the title of this book, I imagined the storyline would be something that highlighted the dedication of this group of people who provide us with the sustenance to survive. I was wrong in my assumption.

This story does have a farmer at its centre. Mitch Bishop is a pleasant guy, trapped in a loveless marriage, accused of being weak as he struggles to survive on a farm suffering from drought. As Mitch tells the Water Board representative who is trying to get him to spend more money, ‘Mate, it’s been a long drought and I’ve got worn-out machinery and sick donkeys, an unhappy wife, a deaf father and there are dogs and foxes happy to eat my only profitable thing, my sheep, and I’m up to pussy’s bow with every fucking thing, at the moment, alright’ (97)?

Towards the end of the book, Mitch decides to do something about his situation. ‘This is my year. Take it or leave it’ (309). Maybe this is the link to the title?

For me, it was the women in the town who were the main focus in the storyline and they were not represented in a very admirable way. They were always trying to score off each other and to be the focal interest for any new male in the town. Stacey, one of the new guys to town, described the women as ‘his swimming hole stalkers…, the neat and tidy ones with swinging pony tails, and the older ones with their dogs or frail spouses and the fat-bummed cast from Single Mothers Street (who wore) snug outfits that afforded no speculation, but should have’ (211).

Among these were Mandy, Mitch’s unloving and unloved wife, and Neralie, Mitch’s ex-girlfriend, who, finding life on a farm not to her liking, had gone to Sydney only to later return to re-open the local pub.  She is constantly in touch with Mitch much to Mandy’s annoyance. Then there are the two who share the one man and Glenys “Gravedigger” Dingle from the Water Board who is more interested in filling the local lake to get business and tourist dollars than in helping the farmers.

When Neralie returns to town, Mitch’s father predicts, ‘That’ll set a cat among the pigeons’. Cal, (who was an octogenarian), felt more hopeful than he had in years (101). Tensions do escalate.

This book follows the same pattern as the author’s earlier one which was such a success. It is set in a small rural town beside a sluggish, brackish river. The occupants form many factions, often working against each other as they try to elevate their own position of importance. There are also those who have alternative life-styles and vastly different philosophies. Revenge is a central thread.

To this mix, the author highlights the tensions that exist between those who wish to share the coveted resource, water, and the pressure put on the interested parties by organisations like a government Water Irrigation Board.

According to Sue Maslin, producer of The Dressmaker, ‘Rosalie Ham deftly sharpens the razor edge between comedy and tragedy. The Year of the Farmer is a book that delights, appals but never waivers in its brutal honesty. If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.’

I cannot say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I found it somewhat depressing and the actions of some of the characters over-the-top. However, having watched the film The Dressmaker again recently, I believe that I might have been more appreciative of this storyline if it had been in a film form.

The Year of the Farmer

(2018)

Rosalie Ham

Picador Pan Macmillan

ISBN: 978-1-76078-487-4

$2.99: 336pp

Providence by Max Barry

Reviewed by Antonella Townsend

Six-legged bear-sized aliens living and procreating like bees in enormous hives that float in deep space; a state-of-the-art weaponized space ship; a volatile crew of four; and, artificial intelligence (AI) so evolved that humans are superfluous. Such are the elements of Max Barry’s latest speculative novel – Providence. This is a wild read!

As for the plot, well, there is the mother of all intergalactic wars going on against the Salamanders, who are the bear-bee things; the space ship, named the Providence, is equipped with an AI so sophisticated that it immediately becomes the source of suspicion.  It does everything but speak, another source of suspicion because its actions clearly require explanation.  The four protagonists make up the crew of Providence.  They are highly trained and highly frustrated.  The AI is basically in charge and the crew’s raison d’être is to be media bait for a global PR campaign promoting the war.  For one crewmember, this leads to destructive behaviour and the catalyst for a series of life and death events. 

Max Barry ratchets-up tensions from the first page of the first chapter ‘The Encounter’.  Written in the second person, it is easy to merge with the crowd watching a video of the first contact with the Salamander.  And it isn’t pretty.  The recording acts as motivation to continue the extermination of Salamanders: … when the video finally, mercifully stops, you want to kill salamanders, as many as you can.  

In the following chapter, Barry jumps his readers forward seven years.  The protagonists are preparing to leave Earth for a four-year mission on the Providence to wage war with millions of Salamanders.  

Writing in third person, Barry presents each character’s perspective in separate chapters.  This works well, as they are a variable bunch with complicated profiles, so this structure allows for the nuances of their personality to be developed as the narrative unfolds.  All the characters have in common the knowledge that they are merely passengers, social media personalities sending social media ‘feeds’ to glorifying the war effort in order to garner public support. (That sounds familiar).  As the mission proceeds tension and frustration escalates, particularly for Anders, who is a gun-loving, claustrophobic adrenalin junky.  He has been chosen for the mission essentially for his charisma and chiseled film-star face.  His ‘job’ is to report on ‘Weapons’.  That is to say, to regurgitate what strategy AI has decided to take.  This frustrating lack of action is driving him crazy.

As captain, Jolene Jackson, insists on keeping up military standards insisting all crewmembers are at their stations reporting on AI engagements. Talia Beanfield, taking up the job of ‘Life’, has more to do, as it is her job to ensure everyone stays sane and happy.  Anders is a full time vocation all by himself.  Gilly is ‘Intel’; he does not have a military background but is there as representative of the corporation responsible for the design and building of Providence.  His analytic pedantic nerdiness becomes useful despite AI’s relentless control.  

It’s all going reasonably well; Salamanders are expiring by the thousands as readers become acquainted with the crewmembers.  Barry foreshadows Anders power keg potential, leaving the reader slightly on edge wondering when he is going to explode.   Tensions spiral to another level when a message from base informs them that Providence is going to sally forth into the Violet Zone (VZ).  This is the heart of the Salamander territory, uncharted deep space – no communications with Earth are possible.  This has never been done before and the crew is anxious.  And with good reason!

To say any more might anger author and publishers alike. But to reiterate the above comment – this is a wild read!

Max Barry is an Australian writer based in Melbourne. Providence is his sixth book, which follows Syrup, Lexicon, Jennifer Government, Machine Man and Company.   He is perhaps best known for Jennifer Government and Lexicon.  Jennifer Government, a satiric speculative fiction novel, has been compared with George Orwell’s 1984, and Lexicon was named one of the best ten books of the year by Time. Providence is less cutting edge, but a fun read, nevertheless. 

Providence

 (2020)

By Max Barry

Hachette Australia

Paperback     isbn:  9780733643019     $32.99

e-Book            ISBN: 9780733643026      $14.99

Audiobook    ISBN: 9780733645174      $34.99

pp.299

The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey

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Reviewed by Rod McLary

Perveen Mistry is a lawyer – in fact, she is the first and so far the only female lawyer in Bombay – and in The Satapur Moonstone she is called on to resolve a dispute over the education of a young crown prince.  The prince’s father and older brother have died in mysterious circumstances leaving the ten-year-old prince as the heir to the crown.  His mother and grandmother are in conflict over his education – palace tutoring or a public school in England?

Set in 1922 in the time of the British Raj, the novel not only tells the story of how Perveen Mistry resolves the issue – and uncovers and solves a conspiracy for murder as well – but offers an intriguing glimpse into life for Indian women in the 1920s.

The fictitious kingdom of Satapur is located in the Sahyadri Mountains southeast of Bombay and, as the crown prince is not yet of age, is ruled by an English agent Colin Sandringham.  Perveen Mistry is working with her father in his law firm in Bombay.  As this is the time when Indian women of class live their lives in purdah and are not able have contact with men outside their families, no male could be called in to resolve the palace conflict.  Consequently, Perveen is asked to intervene.  Perveen is married and estranged from her husband but cannot obtain a divorce as the abuse she suffered was not sufficiently serious.  Thus, an interesting dynamic is set up.  Perveen travels alone but must be conscious of her social obligations in terms of contact with males – especially English males. 

However, her awareness of propriety does not preclude her from being attracted to Colin.  On one occasion, she inadvertently comes across him exercising and instead of leaving as she should have, ‘she stayed because she wanted to fill her eyes with the sight of Colin’ [43].  Nothing comes of it but, as this book is only the second in a planned series, perhaps there will be further opportunities at another time.

But the heart of the novel is the deconstruction of the relationships within the palace – between the prince’s mother and his grandmother, between the attendants who are as factionalised as any political party – and between the Indian people and their English rulers.  This is done very well and the novel offers genuine insight into life in purdah and the strictures on all palace inhabitants and their interactions with each other.  To add verisimilitude, there are a number of Indian words and expressions used – and helpfully, a glossary is provided at the end of the book.  It is though, just a little confusing on occasions when the royal family’s titles, formal names and family names are used interchangeably.  For example, the prince is variously known as the maharaja, Prince Jiva Rao or simply Prince, and sometimes simply Jiva Rao.  However, this is a minor quibble and close attention in the early stages of the book will easily avoid any confusion.

The story unfolds in a gentle and well-paced manner.  The plotting of the novel is meticulous and it flows easily without any loss of tension.  Previous novels by the author have won or been finalists in competitions such as the Agatha award and the Mary Higgins Clark prizes.  It is understandable that this is the case as this novel has the gentleness of an Agatha Christie novel but with an iron fist in the velvet glove.  The insights into life in the time of the British Raj are a bonus and do not in any way distract from the key narrative. 

It is an enjoyable read and will appeal to all those who like mysteries without the confronting detail offered by some modern thriller writers.

Sujata Massey was born in England to parents from India and Germany.  She lives in Baltimore in the United States and was a features reporter before becoming a full-time novelist.  Author of fourteen novels, she sets her mystery novels in pre-independence India and has written a series set in modern Japan.

The Satapur Moonstone

[2020]

by Sujata Massey

Allen & Unwin

ISBN 978 1 76052 942 0

349pp; $29.99

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

As a charming distraction from the Covid19 world, The Switch has all the winning ingredients, especially for the female reader.

There is a clever, beautiful thirty-something heroine; a feisty adventurous seventy-year-old, her grandmother; a handsome, near perfect hero and a host of diverse minor characters. There is even a lively Labrador puppy to provide the link from heroine to hero.

All this is basking in a setting of inner London, living in a block of flats, and a picturesque village nestling in the Yorkshire dales.

Leena, the heroine, is advised to have some time away from her events-managing, high pressured work in London in order to deal with her rising stress levels made more acute by her grief surrounding the death of her beloved sister, Carla, from cancer.

She has unresolved issues with her mother, who is attempting to handle her grief in a different way.

Exchanging places, literally, with her lively grandmother emerges as an irresistible suggestion.  A completely different lifestyle in a small village in the country offers Leena a solution. What better way to slow down and lower her anxiety by returning to the spot where she grew up with many happy times remembered.

Clearwater Cottage, in tiny Hamsleigh, is the backdrop to her activities. She soon becomes part of village life, assuming the roles and friendships her grandmother had fostered there. Not only does she manage the vagaries of the locals, determinedly settled in their routines, she successfully handles their quirks and encourages some to overcome their shortcomings. Leena plays a significant part in the Neighbourhood Watch and the organisation of May Day celebrations.

Amidst these activities she comes to the realisation of what is truly worthwhile in a relationship.

Simultaneously, in London in Shoreditch, Eileen, her grandmother sets about transforming the lives of people in the flats, that is Leena’s world. She encourages communal contact, enhances her fashion sense and even manages to explore online dating.

At the risk of divulging too much of the plot, I have highlighted some of it in order to show that The Switch ranges over many aspects of modern life, in the city or the country.

The pressure of work and relationships on the young, society’s attitude to ageing, the isolation and loneliness of many in Western societies, domestic abuse, and same sex rights to parenthood, to name the most important.

Beth O’Leary has written for children and one other adult novel.   She writes with a deft and almost light-hearted touch, in spite of the seriousness of some of the circumstances. The romance of the concept of the switch is treated with an engaging warmth, and the characters all display endearing traits.

Humour emerges too.

Ethan, a flashy financial guru, takes his leave in his condescending way; “People counting on me, millions at stake, that sort of thing” ….

Jackson, the village teacher, retorts, “I’m a teacher. No millions at stake, just futures”.

If there is a negative to the book, for me, it is its happily-ever-after quality.  Big problems are solved in a very short space of time, a few weeks. For example, Betsy, a neighbour, has suffered psychological abuse from her husband, Cliff, all their married life. Encouraged by Leena’s urging, she refuses to accept her life with him anymore. This happens during Leena’s brief stay in Hamsleigh.

It lends a fairy tale air to the plights of the characters facing serious difficulties.

Of course, there are many readers who would revel in the ‘feel good’ scenario and this explains why this genre of writing is so successful.

The Switch

by Beth O’Leary

[2020]

Hachette Australia

ISBN 978 1 78747 500 7

330pages    $32.99.  Ebook $15.99

Radical Uncertainty: Decision-making for an unknowable future by John Kay and Mervyn King

Reviewed by E.B. Heath

When the Global Financial Crisis rocked our confidence in the banking sector, it was not envisioned that a few years on a virus could wreak yet more economic havoc on our world.  And now, Covid19 has landed on the heels of devastating bush fires that brought global warming up close and personal for many Australians.  So, it is hard to imagine a publication more opportune than Radical Uncertainty: Decision-making for an unknowable future, or two men more qualified to be its authors.  John Kay and Mervyn King are highly regarded economists with forty years of high-level academic and business experience. Kay has held professorial appointments at the University of Oxford, London Business School and the London School of Economics. King was Governor of the Bank of England from 2003 to 2013, and is currently Professor of Economics and Law at New York University and School Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics.  They apply this heft of experience to interrogate methods within economics, decision analysis, behavioural economics and finance.  And they are not happy!  In an accessible, often entertaining, style they explain why.

It all went wrong when economic theories departed from Frank Knight and John Maynard Keynes’ (1929) distinction between ‘risk’ and ‘uncertainty’. The authors make clear how this distinction is crucial to economic analysis: ‘risk’ can be compared to a puzzle, not yet solved but its parameters are measureable, whereas  ‘uncertainty’ is like a mystery, our knowledge is incomplete therefore it is not measurable.  Kay and King adopt the terms ‘resolvable uncertainty’ and ‘radical uncertainty’. 

Radical uncertainty cannot be described in the probabilistic terms applicable to a game of chance … we do not know what will happenWe often do not even know the kinds of things that might happen. 

This vital distinction collapsed when it was theorized that probabilistic reasoning, based on subjective probabilities of possible outcomes rather than known established probabilities, could be used for analyzing unique events.  The mathematics used for the analysis of probabilities based on frequencies was applied to subjective probabilities.  Probabilities and outcomes that may, or may not, exist, while ignoring the possibility of unimagined events such as Covid19.

Mathematical modeling of our complex society, say the authors, is problematic as human life has never been stationary. We live and interact in a state of flux, but are adept at making sense of the natural world through narratives built on evolutionary rationality rather than axiomatic rationality.  As the authors explain, our knowledge of context and our ability to interpret it has been acquired over thousands of years.  Unique events are dealt with by using abductive reasoning, which seeks to provide the best explanation from a set of known data, being updated as new information becomes available. 

The authors believe the conditions of each context should be investigated by asking – What is going on here? This question acts as a mantra, reverberating throughout the book.  Groups have proven to be the best forum, critiquing what they know, rather than making baseless assumptions.

I might add that change as constant is a western-centric idea. Indigenous Australians lived according to the narratives of their ‘stationary’ culture for thousands of years and have been, in many cases, unwilling to change the narratives of millennia.  Interestingly, it is Indigenous knowledge that might have prevented the recent bush fires throughout Australia.  To quote the authors: Under radical uncertainty, the premises from which we reason will never represent a complete description of the world. (p. 139) It is wise then that problem-solving forums should seek out the widest range of evolutionary knowledge possible and that would surely encompass other cultural knowledge.  

So many topics are covered here, too many for one review, such as how bogus quantification led to the weakening of the British pension system.  How Canadian fishing grounds suffered serious stock losses due to ‘sophisticated’ models, and the problems associated with insurance in a data rich world.  Challenging narratives within medicine, politics and foreign policy, particularly how John F. Kennedy handled the Cuban Missile Crisis.    

A noticeable absence from this otherwise comprehensive volume is the authors’ neglecting to discuss how institutions under their leadership, such as the Bank of England, employed collaborative forums, or indeed if they did. 

But it is not all doom and gloom. The take home message being that if risk is managed via intelligent strategies then radical uncertainty becomes less of a problem.  Kay and King explain how radical uncertainty advances evolutionary processes fundamental to social, technological and economic progress.  

Radical Uncertainty: Decision-making for an unknowable future is a most interesting book; readers can only profit from a careful reading of this text.

Radical Uncertainty: Decision-making for an unknowable future

By John Kay and Mervyn King

Little Brown Book Group

Hachette Australia

Paperback

ISBN: 9781408712597  –    $34.99

Hardback

ISBN: 9781408712603   –   $49.99

Audiobook

ISBN: 9781405543781    –  $35.99

e-Book

ISBN: 9781408712580    –  $16.99

Pp. 528

The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning

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Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning is a work of fiction woven around the mysterious Cheapside Hoard dug up in 1912.  This was a cache of jewels from the late 16th and early 17th centuries unearthed by workmen using pickaxes when excavating a cellar in London. It is said to have been the most important collection of Elizabethan jewellery ever discovered.

According to the curator of the exhibition of this amazing collection, Hazel Forsyth, what makes it so intriguing is that nobody knows who buried it, when and why it was buried, and the inspiration for the creation of the individual pieces in the first place.

Kirsty Manning has set about thoroughly researching this discovery (as the List of Further Reading at the back of the book suggests and her writing reveals) and turning her findings into a novel which becomes ‘a thrilling treasure hunt across centuries’ (book cover).

The reader is taken on a journey from 1630 and the Golconda diamond mine in India to Bandar Abbas, Persia in 1631, then back to London, where raw gem materials come from all over the world to be fashioned by skilled workmen for individual purposes.  In the prologue, the reader is immediately transported to the hustle and bustle of people trying to flee the ever-engulfing Great Fire in London while a young woman pushes against this flow of humanity to try to save her father’s treasure.  

The important aspects of this story are not revealed in chronological order but rather each snippet of information has to be set aside like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle until all that is needed to complete the puzzle is ready to be placed into its correct position.

To bind all this information together, the author has given the reader a story in the present, about Dr Kate Kirby, who lives in Boston, but travels around the world researching the provenance of important items for mostly private collectors. Kate has been invited to London where her search will begin on several of the Cheapside pieces of jewellery. She will be accompanied in this endeavour by the well-renowned energetic photographer, Marcus Holt, whose work has been displayed from Vogue to National Geographic.

Adding spice to this particular project is the fact that Kate’s great-grandmother, Essie, had often told stories to Kate and her sister about ‘buckets and chests of jewels (that) were pulled from a pile of rubble … Nobody was allowed to touch the jewels. But there was a man, with eyes as green as emeralds. He cast a spell on me’ (302). Kate had known that Essie had once lived in London but, in all the years she had resided in America, she had not once returned there, even for the funeral of her only living sister. Essie had told Kate that she had made a terrible mistake but she had died before she could elaborate more. Both Kate and her cousin Bella are in possession of jewellery of significance yet they do not know its history. Maybe now Kate is in a position to rectify this.

The authors detailed descriptions transport the reader to the dangerous workplaces of the exploited workers, and the early days of English society with the great divide between the rich and poor.  Although this is a book of fiction, the author has inserted cameos of people who really did exist – specifically George Fabian Lawrence (Stony Jack), the dealer with an eye for precious stones regardless of their source, and Gerhard Polman, a Dutch merchant who was to lose his life as well as the precious jewels he owned. Both of these characters add depth to this intriguing story.

Kirsty Manning has created a plausible history for the Cheapside Hoard, but this is not just a story about the jewels. It is also a story of human endurance and how two young women were prepared to take risks to free themselves from poverty and class for a more fulfilling future life. These women became strong role models for the generations who followed. It was Essie who’d told the girls not to be dazzled by the sparkle, that, when choosing a life partner, gestures were far more important than gemstones, and kindness and hope. She had shown Kate how to carry a heart full of sorrow and joy so she could look forward to the future.

This is a story about the desire to be loved, to connect and to be remembered, carried along with jewels and gemstones as they were set and reset; forgotten and rediscovered. The history of a jewel really has no end.

I thoroughly enjoyed Australian writer, Kirsty Manning’s, The Lost Jewels. She is also the author of the enchanting The Midsummer Garden published in 2017 and the bestselling The Jade Lily which was published in 2018. Her novels are also published in the US and in Europe.

The Lost Jewels

(2020)

Kirsty Manning

Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 978-1-76052-80-2

$32.99; 336pp

The Ratline: Loves, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive by Philippe Sands

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

This book traces the career, and the attempts to escape retribution, of SS Brigadesfűhrer Otto Freiherr von Wächter, a Nazi officer who commanded various armed groups during the Second World War. Charged with ‘mass murder’ and indicted, Wächter escapes the unstoppable American and Russian forces by taking to the Austrian Alps and calling in favours from fellow Nazis. His death in 1949, attributed by some to poison, draws his part of an untidy life to a close.

This book has a double-barrelled title, one part of which doesn’t match the other. ‘The Ratline’ is the route or routes followed by fleeing Nazis that led from European starting points, via the Vatican many believe, to safety in Argentina or Brazil. ‘Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive’ is closer to what the book is about. This is a detailed account of Wächter’s career and subsequent flight, richly adorned by the efforts of his wife to see him safe. It has nothing to do with the Ratline, which is mentioned, virtually in passing, by a few characters already safe in Argentina. Wächter is dead before he puts a foot on this route.

An additional feature of the telling of this story is a narrator, who is planning a podcast. He is reporting on his research in 2012 or thereabouts, and there is a tale, set in the 1940s, told, not so much by the escapee, as by his wife. She is so much immersed in the story that readers have an almost mile by mile narration of her husband’s career and, when the war turns to defeat, a description at such a micro level as supplying him with shoes, while he covers the miles endeavouring to avoid the hangman. It is as much the story of the joys and privations, the petty triumphs and amoral psyche, of Charlotte Wächter as it is of Otto. The story swaps from twenty-first century to the Nazi era, back and forth, but does not annoy as this practice often does.

Readers are treated in this book to careful descriptions of certain parts of Germany and Switzerland, the Austrian Alps and Vienna, Galicia and Italy…the locations are numerous and the descriptions outstanding. The author projects a view that he has personally visited these locations. The character penmanship is thoughtful and its subjects rendered with accuracy within the limits of my understanding. There are monochrome portraits of the major players scattered throughout. The one of Adolf Hitler on page 152 is a classic!

Wächter finds his way to Rome where he lives a penurious existence before falling ill and dying in hospital. Such an outcome was decidedly unexpected. The question of foul play is mooted and believed by some but not by others. Charlotte has the body buried five times, the Roman Catholic Church is a player, the situation appears farcical. Adding to the confusion is Otto’s son Horst in the following century stoutly maintaining that his father did not murder half a million people; he was a saint. It’s a Gilbert and Sullivan scenario.

With the death of Otto Wächter, one might expect the tale to be told. This is not the end. Philippe Sands’s research was in large part an activity paying homage to Lisa Jardine, a researcher colleague at University College London. The matter of Wächter’s poisoning or non-poisoning was not settled. Hence, from approximately page 200 until the end at page 333, the reader observes some of the most scrupulous research he is likely ever to see. Observation, ratiocination, and reduction of procedures less likely, lead to the next step in identifying who might have poisoned the fugitive and, having reached a conclusion, taking the next step to the final, unambiguous result.

There are so many other aspects to this marvellous book. Charlotte Wächter, on her own, could keep a psychologist happy for years. I assert in the strongest possible terms that readers should buy the book and enjoy the text to the extent that I did.

The Ratline: Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive

(2020)

By Philippe Sands

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 978-1-4746-0813-8

$34.99; 432pp

Seven Lies by Elizabeth Kay

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

With the words Seven Lies emblazoned across a fan folded red backdrop, one gets the impression that this book will not be a relaxing ‘feel good’ read. This feeling is further increased when learning that it has gained much attention in the literary world and garnered a flurry of 18 international deals including a significant six-figure one with Sphere and a further deal worth an undisclosed seven figure sum. Lucy Malagoni, at Sphere, said: Seven Lies is that very rare book indeed and one of the most accomplished and spellbinding debuts I’ve ever read – it thrilled me to the core, it chilled me to the bone and I absolutely can’t wait to publish it.”

This “hypnotic thriller” novel is attributed to Elizabeth Kay, a pseudonym for the author who started her career as an assistant at Penguin Random House. She is now a commissioning editor and is simultaneously pursuing her passion for writing. She lives in London with her husband.

Her writing is eloquent and easy to read. As the novel is written in the first person, the reader is taken on an interesting ‘journey’ where s/he has to interpret the actions and motivations of the players through the honest but flawed narrator, and consider their own beliefs and experiences.

A best friend can bring great joy, comfort, solace and fun to your life. We all need friends that share the good times and offer support in the bad. In such a relationship honesty is important.

But the friendship between Jane and Marnie, which began at school when they were eleven years old and gave them the confidence to face life, could not last forever. Jane acknowledges this when she says: ‘It is intoxicating to be so needed, to crave someone so acutely, and that feeling of being so completely entwined. But these early bonds are unsustainable. And someday you will choose to extricate yourself from this friendship … until you can exist independently, until you are again one person where once you were two’ (14). But in this case, it will be the lies that will do the most damage to this friendship.

When Jane meets Jonathan, she is happy to forget everyone and submerge herself in her love for him; however, when she loses him tragically, she once again turns to her best friend. Marnie has moved on with her life but still wants to be there for her friend.

At this stage the reader feels some empathy for Jane, considering her recent loss and her feelings of always being second best to her sister. Her father has left the family and her mother is in a home with the onset of dementia.

However, Jane soon begins to display behaviours which make her less endearing to the reader. She wants to return to the time when she was the centre of her friend’s world and this leads to an unhealthy hatred of Charles who has become Marnie’s partner. It is as if Jane is two different people. The one Jane is successful at her job and is a caring and supportive daughter, sister and friend. The other Jane is self-centred, obsessive and ruthless.

Jane is aware that her actions may not be easily accepted and so the whole book is based on her personal confession and her need to explain why she told each of the seven lies and why their repercussions were acceptable, almost wanting to take the responsibility for the results away from herself.

Initially she seems to be confessing to the reader but towards the end of the book the true recipient is revealed. This is a very disturbing story, probably more powerful because of the first-person narration.

As the quote on the back cover says this book is ‘Shockingly intimate and scarily insidious. Seven Lies explores the explosive truths behind obsession, love, and a seemingly perfect friendship’. It left me with some anxiety that someone could do what she did, feel little remorse and get away with it. The last chapter of the book, in particular, disturbed me.

Seven Lies

(2020)

By Elizabeth Kay

Hachette Australia

ISBN:978-0-7515-7812-6

$32.99;384pp