Injury Time and The River in the Sky by Clive James

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

For purposes of this review I have focused on Injury Time and The River in the Sky. Clive James published a book in 2015 called Sentenced to Life in which he took the view that his time left on Earth was to be severely limited. To his astonishment his sojourn was long enough for him to produce the current texts, one in 2017 and one in 2018.

When reading Clive James I like to listen as I read him aloud to the tone he adopts towards his readers. In Clive James I find the same conversational tone as I have witnessed on television. It is a warm voice that never seeks pity or shows any level of the trepidation I would have expected to hear from someone facing death. I do not witness any attempt to persuade his readers to a particular point of view. “Explaining itself is what a poem does” (Injury Time, xi).

Injury Time is an occasion for detailing what James believes is essential to his life. Focusing on living well in the time remaining, the joys of family and art, celebrating the immediate beauty of the world, these are the issues he identifies as important. One cannot read James without, sooner rather than later, running up against his irrepressible wit. In recalling the dancer’s recognition that her name is in lights and is for all time associated with The Firebird, he writes,

How time, like fame, flies on such fleeting wings.

No birds were hurt in the making of this poem (10).

In a very moving poem This Coming Winter he conveys the information that all, but his granddaughter will know of his impending death.

I’d like to keep

Her thinking that I’m in some way still there

When she laughs…

There must be independence for the heart:

And, therefore, wishing to transfer my powers –

To give her, for her life, the memory

Of how I laughed when she made fun of me –

I shall renounce them at the fall of night

As I move on to find Elysium (9).

This is serious business but is delivered in the same conversational tone one would expect at a light, social function. His poem Panis Angelicus is written with the sensitivity of a fine artist:

A lifetime has gone by since we first listened

To music, and, wrapped in it, found each other.

Forgive me for not seeing straight away

It was the blessing by which we two pagans

Late in our lives might eat the bread of angels (20).

It should never be supposed that Clive James always writes in a serious, albeit conversational, mode. He does produce that sort of work but he is just as likely to switch to that humorous side which can lead to outright laughter. In Head Wound he tells the story of his head wound (in reality the aftermath of the removal of a huge cancer from his brain):

The carcinoma left a bullet hole

High on my forehead. It looked like a tap

By a pro-hit man.

I mentioned MI5,

A mild gun battle. I got out alive.

The straight-faced joke that might work on the page

Is death on TV.  I should act my age (31).

His poem Declaration of Intent has no undercurrents, no hidden meanings. It is the philosophy of Clive James when all the jokes and the sardonic humour are set aside.

My poems sing of life. Though death is also there

In how they crystallise an emphasis

Like a tango maestro pausing, they do not despair:

They just acknowledge the abyss

Awaiting us. It brings finality

To what we were. It will do that for me

Soon now. My poems prove that I accepted this (23).

This review has concentrated on Injury Time, a collection of very fine poems that Clive James has written under sentence of death. This section could not be complete without this remarkable sonnet, entitled Quiet Passenger:

When there is no more dying left to do

And I am burned and poured into a jar,

Then I will leave this land that I came to

So long ago, and having come so far,

Head home to where my life’s work was begun.

But nothing of that last flight will I see

As I ride through the night into the sun:

No stars, no ocean, not the ochre earth,

No patterns of dried water, nor the light

That streams into the city of my birth,

The harbour waiting to take down my dust.

So why, in that case, should I choose to go?

My day is done. I go because I must:

Silence will be my way of saying so.

We leave Injury Time at this point and consider The River in the Sky. This long poem is brought to life in the author’s recollection of what life was like and will never be again. A quiet positivity underlies the writing:

All is not lost, despite the quietness

That comes like nightfall now as the last strength

Ebbs from my limbs, and feebleness of breath

Makes even focusing my eyes a task (1).

He presents his memories as a flowing stream of vivid images, each stimulated “as if lent power by the force of its own fading” (6). We have always recognised the breadth of Clive James’s interests which are on full display in this book. He is generous of detail and carries his readers along with him in the passion of the telling. The impact of a diver in an Olympic pool, seen from underwater is “a shout rewritten as a whisper” (7). An adverse comment on Berthold Brecht leaves “world-wide, a million far-left male eyebrows fainted in their tracks” (10). When commenting on the Australian sense of history he remarks:

It isn’t history that we lack

It is the habit

Of thinking in it (13)

And on his marriage:

We have been married now so long

Vinyl is back in fashion (18).

The quips keep on coming. They are not the outbursts of a man trying to hide from death through laughter. Rather they are the same comments he used to make when the imminence of death was not a factor They are a brilliant man’s means of saying farewell on his own terms in his own way.

I find the contents of both books immensely revealing and momentously moving.

Injury Time

(2017)

By Clive James

Picador

ISBN: 13-978-1509852987

GBP10.99; 80pp

The River in the Sky

(2018)

By Clive James

Picador

ISBN: 13-978-1509887231

GBP14.99; 122pp

 

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2028 by Ken Saunders

9781760631062.jpg

Reviewed by Rod McLary

2028 is set in the not-too-distant future in Australia.  The Prime Minister of the time calls a snap election and the book chronicles the progress of the election campaign – a campaign which is full of surprises and comedy.

2028 – the year not the book – is almost within touching distance.  If we are expecting the political future to be better than the present, we will be very disappointed according to 2028 the book.

2028 is a satirical work.  A good definition of ‘satire’ is the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.  This book meets the requirements of the definition in spades.  A greater purpose of satire is to provide constructive social criticism to draw attention to – in this case – political ills.  Our politicians on both sides of the House could learn a lot from a close reading of this book.

The Prime Minister is Adrian Fitzwilliams although, as he points out more than once, no one but his wife calls him Adrian.  Relying on his political instincts, the Prime Minister decides to call a snap election.  The Greens are in receivership, the Labor Party barely registers as an opposition – what can possibly go wrong?  As the Prime Minister learns to his chagrin, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

2028 in Australia is an interesting place.  The Communist Party of China is now a multi-national corporation, radio ‘shock jocks’ are automated, driverless cars are the norm, and there are now things called ‘parkies’.  Created in Queensland – an irony in itself – ‘parkies’ are parking meters with a dual function.  You can also use them to play the pokies – if you win, you can take cash or free parking time.  These ‘parkies’ are so popular that even pedestrians insert money into them in the off-chance they may win.  There is no longer postal delivery by postmen/women.  Instead, drones deliver the mail and – again – have a second function.  The drones provide surveillance cameras for ASIO with not only a visual function but an audio function as well.

Into this political mix comes a new political party – the Luddites.  Everyone in this party is called Ned Ludd [all members have changed their names by deed poll] and they all campaign in the nude.  No one in either the ruling party – the Liberal National Party coalition – or the Labor Party can quite get a hold [no pun intended] on the members of the Luddites.  They campaign naked to avoid the Demonstration Protection Act of 2022 which requires all demonstrators to be security screened at such an intrusive level that no one would subject themselves to the process.  However, if an intended demonstrator is naked, then he/she can walk straight through the screening without a qualm. There is a deliberate loophole inserted in the legislation and the questions ‘why’ and ‘by whom’ are answered in a surprising way later in the book.

The creation of the Luddites came from a desire on the part of one person to look for ‘people who were both informed and original thinkers and, most importantly, people who listened discerningly to the ideas and opinions of others’ [276]. The Luddite party takes out the ‘personal ambition and ego from the political process’ [276]. There is a lesson there for all current political parties – thus meeting the greater purpose of satire which is to provide constructive social criticism.

The book also satirises the over-reliance by political parties on polls to tell them what voters are thinking as in this extract.

Nostradamus [a polling program] could tell you how the Australia people would react to even the subtlest shifts of policy.  Ask it whether voters would react better to the term ‘tax break’ or ‘tax rebate’ and it would give you the postcodes of where each term would work best.  …  It could tell you how many people would prefer to see the Prime Minister wear a striped tie. [37.4 per cent] [117]

2028 is full of such paragraphs – paragraphs which are enjoyable and humorous to read but always containing an element of truth.

Ken Saunders is a master of satire.  The book is a pleasurable read while, at the same time, creating a chill down the reader’s spine at what might be in store for Australia in ten years’ time.

The author has lived in Canada, New Zealand and Australia and has won a number of Australian and Canadian short-story prizes.  He is currently living in Sydney and 2028 is his first novel.

2028

[2018]

by Ken Saunders

Allen and Unwin

ISBN 978 1 76063 106 2

307pp; $29.99

 

 

Patient 71 by Julie Randall

Reviewed by Clare Brook

I am happy and healthy,

All my organs have healed,

My body and its organs have healed,

I have faith in life.

Imagine you are a really happy successful 51-year-old, then without warning you suffer a seizure.  The next day you are diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour – Stage Four Metastatic Advanced Melanoma. How would you cope? Julie Randall promised her two daughters she would survive – the above became her mantra and it served her well.

Julie Randall’s Patient 71 is a comprehensive account of surviving a medical death sentence.  And I really do mean ‘comprehensive’!  She includes the outfits worn to medical appointments, the many conversations with doctors in Australia and America, naming and describing friends and family members, who went to extraordinary lengths to support her healing project, and faithful Roxy her Golden Retriever.   Julie is completely honest about losing the plot at various stages, relying on her wonderful husband Scott to pick up the pieces. Routinely, diagnosis begins with an MRI scan, however for Julie it was an enormous obstacle as she is claustrophobic and it would not have been possible without Scot massaging her feet and talking her through it.   She details her internal dialogue with negative and positive thoughts naming them ‘good monster’ and ‘nasty monster.

Religiously following advice from a cellular biologist, Julie eliminated sugar, alcohol, gluton and grains from her diet, and took up yoga and meditation.  She relates how she spent time speaking to her body, thanking and asking cells and organs to work with her to restore health and normality to her life. If that seems a little hippy dippy there now seems to be some evidence that cells in the digestive tract hold mind and memory.  Hence phrases like ‘I have a gut feeling’, ‘trust your gut’.  So intuitively she was on the right track.

All of the above, although helpful would not have been enough. Researching via the Internet, reading everything on brain tumours, it became clear to survive she needed to be included in an experimental drug trial in America.   First obstacle – the experiment was full, only 70 patients allowed.  The second was money.  Her support team and her father handled most of the money problem by fund raising in the community.  But being included in the experiment was down to Julie and it was not easy.

Julie was refused time and again.  Her persistence defied all barriers, until, many pages later, she became Patient 71 and boards a flight to Oregon, ready to be victorious.  Not quite that simple of course.  Readers hear about painful biopsies, massive doses of homesickness, a few expensive trips back to Australia between treatments, and wonderful friends turning up in America to support and ease the loneliness, when Scott had to be in Australia.  And then there’s the participation in the touch football tournament right in the middle of her treatment!  Julie’s not one to miss an opportunity.   And she is a survivor.

Patient 71 is a wide-ranging and raw account about how a mother promised her daughters she would not leave them – she would find a cure for an incurable disease.  And Julie Randall did just that.

Patient 71

(2017)

By Julie Randall

Hachette

ISBN:  978 0 7336 3787 2

$32.99; 306pp

Empress: Queen Victoria and India by Miles Taylor

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Miles Taylor’s mammoth study of the relationship between Queen Victoria and India is a pleasing, authoritative, engaging, scholarly piece of writing that should be read by all those with an interest in ways that a queen, as distinct from the government she heads, builds and maintains the governance and respect of a colonial people. The title is critical in understanding that we are discussing a personal engagement. It is the ways in which the Queen engages with India that is important.

The book is structured around three themes, each interwoven through the chronological narrative. The first is described as the agency of the queen. We tend to see her in the same light in which we view her successors. It is more accurate to think of her as representing the extension of the eighteenth century absolute monarch – the Franz Josephs of Austria, the Romanovs of Russia, and Napoleon the Third in France rather than as a constitutional monarch. She was a dynastic imperial ruler. As Franklin states, she has been silenced too long. The second theme investigates the uses to which the Government of India put the name and fame of the queen, while the third theme is the diffusion of representations of Queen Victoria in Indian political culture.

Franklin begins with a provocation that we grow used to as the book progresses. ‘There has never been a full study of the British monarchy and India’ he tells us. We know that Queen Victoria personified British rule in India for almost half a century, formally from 1858, when the Crown took over from the East India Company and by statute from 1876 when she assumed the title of Empress of India. At the outset of the Indian rebellion of 1857 comes a time when we learn about the changing place of India in Victoria’s own statecraft. The queen was perceived as a final court of appeal. The Awadhi court episode emphasizes how “Victoria was a Christian queen within a European culture infused with a heightened sense of religious difference and superiority…she was not neutral when it came to the Christian religion” (65). What historians have overlooked completely is “the extent to which the queen’s proclamation loomed large in both the projection of British power in India after 1858, and the ways in which it was debated and contested. To re-establish control after the rebellion, the queen’s status, and the queen’s image, were played out by the Government of India in an unprecedented fashion…the guarantees of equality given in the queen’s proclamation created a discursive space within which Indian claims for inclusion within the imperial polity might be made” (88).

A great-grandson Louis Mountbatten was there in 1947 as the last British viceroy when the curtain came down on the Raj. When we try to name studies about the monarchy-Indian relationship, we quickly find that Franklin is right. The books that are of any value assess the Crown and India, and not the Queen. It is the Crown and not its wearer that has received attention.

Now this is distinctly odd. At her death Queen Victoria was the focus of millions of eyes. “On her death in 1901 Queen Victoria’s imprint on India was everywhere, indelible and undeniable. Some of this was princely patronage, but there were plenty of examples of less grandiose projects, supported by a wide range of Indians” (3). During her reign she was cast in stone and cement and her likeness was everywhere. She was also a literary phenomenon. “By 1901, around 200 biographies, verse collections and eulogies had been published since 1858 about Queen Victoria and the rest of her family. Her own diary – Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands – was translated into several Indian languages. Queen Victoria’s reign coincided with the flourishing of vernacular print culture across India, as printing press technology, improved communications and greater literacy expanded the reading public. She was eulogized in poetry and song particularly in Bengali. She featured in ghazals of Urdu poets. Many of these writers are revered today as being part of a literary renaissance in colonial India that paved the way for political nationalism in the late 19th and 20th centuries. During Victoria’s reign there was less of a contradiction between nationalist poetics and loyalism than might be supposed” (3 – 4).

In this regard, Taylor makes an interesting observation. “Such a culture of loyalism is easier to measure than to interpret” (5). In no sense were the Indians dragooned into feting their queen. Yet they did, and Taylor has some refreshing ideas as to why that must be so.

Another provocative piece of historical fact keeps the reader’s interest high. He tells us that Queen Victoria never visited India. She received any number of Indians at Court, but for much of her reign India was lived in her imagination, stimulated by sources at home and on the subcontinent. The Indian rebellion of 1857 – 58 moved her into becoming more sympathetic to India and its people, more tolerant and less instinctively racist. She was made known in India by her administrators, visits by her family, and missionaries. She insisted on seeing all dispatches to India, she insisted on her rights to be consulted on Cabinet appointments. It was she who came to be seen as a solution to the problem of authority in the aftermath of the Indian revolt (77). So while she was a force to be reckoned with at home, mostly, however, the queen existed in the Indian imaginary in all its literary, religious, political and cultural forms. Indian people took hold of Victoria and made her their own. For example, Queen Victoria’s image, tailored for Indian use, featured on coins and postage stamps throughout the subcontinent after 1860. By the end of her life she was as much Indian maharani as British majesty.

Again, “for ninety years India was the most extensive monarchical empire ever known, less populous than the India of today, but greater in its girth. At the apex of the Raj for much of this time presided a diminutive white woman, ensconced in a retro-Gothic castle some 4 000 miles away” (11).

Why then was there never a comprehensive study of the relationship between the Queen and India? Taylor suggests that

Proud of their republican present, contemporary India and Pakistan remain sensitive about reminders of the colonial past. Many imperial relics have been removed from prominent public display e.g. in Udaipur a statue of Gandhi has replaced one of Queen Victoria; in Mumbai the main railway station is no longer the Victoria Terminus (1887) but is now the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (1996). In modern India the past is a foreign country, and its name is Imperial Britain. Its emblems are no longer welcome; they speak of conquest, not of consent (2 – 3).

While this is undoubtedly true it seems to me to be insufficient. When her Consort Albert died, the Queen removed herself from public view for almost a decade, yet, as Taylor points out, she was more visible in India than ever (85). Working quietly but with decisiveness she continued to pull her Ministers into line when they sought to rule without her involvement, she remained invisible at home but was on full display on the Indian sub-continent.

Miles Taylor’s Empress is a first step in addressing the need for detailed studies of the British monarchy’s interactions with India during the time of Victoria. If such studies investigate their areas of interest to the level that Taylor has with this current study there will be some fine reading ahead.

 

Empress: Queen Victoria and India

(2018)

By Miles Taylor

Yale UP

ISBN: 978-0-300-11809-4

$59.99; 408pp

 

To order a copy of Empress: Queen Victoria and India at the Footprint Books Website with a 15% discount click here  or visit www.footprint.com.au

Please use discount voucher code BCLUB18 at the checkout to apply the discount.

The Coves by David Whish-Wilson

The Coves

Reviewed by Rod McLary

The Coves – referring to Sydney Coves or Sydney Ducks – is set in San Francisco in 1849 during the gold rush.  ‘Sydney Coves’ is slang for the Australian emancipated and escaped convicts who flocked to California during its gold rush to make their fortunes.  They brought with them their criminality and propensity for violence.  According to contemporary reports, the ‘Sydney Coves’ opened ‘lodging houses, dance-halls, groggeries and taverns’ – all described as ‘hives of dronish criminals, shabby little dens with rough hangdog fellows’.  It is reported that between 1849 and 1855, San Francisco was burnt to the ground five times – each time with the exception of Sydney-Town the area in which the Sydney Coves lived.  The reader can draw her/his own conclusion from that.

The Sydney Coves were perhaps the first ‘boat people’ and were processed accordingly when they arrived in California.  They were also bitterly resented by the local people – the nativists.

Terry Smyth in his book Australian Desperadoes [Penguin Random House 2017] states:

The Sydney Coves, along with the street gangs of New York, were among the earliest organised crime gangs in the United States, and were arguably more successful because unlike the ethnic New York gangs, which fought each other over neighbourhood territories, the Coves terrorised an entire city.

Into this milieu comes the protagonist of the novel Samuel Bellamy.  Sam is twelve years old and has bought his passage from Sydney to San Francisco with a stolen silver watch.  Sam is not above breaking the law but his motive in this case was a pure one.  He is trying to locate his mother whom he has followed from Perth and who he believes has now sailed to California.  Sam is just able to recall a time when he and his brothers lived with his parents in Western Australia.  Sadly, Sam’s father was savagely killed by the Aborigines and his mother – deeply affected by husband’s death – took to selling herself to the local soldiers for food.  She was flogged and sent to Van Diemen’s Land and was not seen again by Sam and his brothers.  One brother died of food poisoning and the other wandered into the bush and was never seen again.

After time in a boys’ home, Sam managed to find his way to Sydney to board a ship bound for California.  Sam is certain he will find his mother in the ‘hives of dronish criminals’ in San Francisco.

The story is essentially Sam’s search for his mother and the adventures he has while doing so.  However, the reader should not expect an Australian Huck Finn.  This story is very different.

Sam is an intelligent and appealing young lad – bright enough to answer a quote from King Lear with one from Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn.  But this intelligence doesn’t do him much good in a place where quick wits and quicker fists and knives is the only way to survive.  However, by way of his cleverness, he manages to gain a protector and is ‘employed’ to run messages – a role which provides him with a degree of protection from harm.

His message-running brings him contact with an older Chinese man who – at Sam’s first glance – appears to have a young girl imprisoned.  Sam attempts to communicate with her – she is called Ai – but is warned off by the man.  However, he takes whatever opportunity he can to speak with her and gradually a friendship develops as the man increasingly trusts Sam and consequently turns a blind eye to the friendship.  Sam discovers that there are two beds in the hut so he is reassured and comforted that there is nothing untoward happening between Ai and her uncle.  Because of his life circumstances, Sam has extensive second-hand knowledge of how men can use and abuse women, girls, boys and other men.

This friendship between Sam and Ai – and it cannot be called anything else – provides a little warmth in Sam’s life which up until now has been very much lacking in anything approaching a family life.

It would be giving too much away to describe the circumstances surrounding Sam’s discovery of his mother and what follows.  Suffice to say, it provides an opportunity for much bloodshed and mayhem.

Overall though, the story of Sam and his search for his mother is subsumed by the telling of the history of the Sydney Coves in San Francisco.  Unfortunately, it is not until towards the end of the novel that the story of Sam takes centre stage again and the story gains momentum.

Whish-Wilson states in his Author’s note that the novel is based on fact and many of the incidents described in the book actually happened [218].  Some names have been changed and time frames conflated in the interests of dramatic tension.

As a snapshot of a rather sordid chapter in Australian history – not taught in our schools – there is considerable merit in the telling of this story.  Fortunately, the chapter was not a long one as, in 1851, gold was discovered in Ballarat and many of the Sydney Coves returned to Australia – including Sam and Ai and her uncle.

David Whish-Wilson is the author of three crime novels.  His non-fiction book Perth was shortlisted for a WA Premier’s Book Award.  He lives in Fremantle and coordinates the creative writing program at Curtin University.

The Coves

[2018]

by David Whish-Wilson

Fremantle Press

ISBN 978 1 925591 27 9

221pp: $27.99

Leverage in Death by J.D. Robb

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

The latest J.D. Robb thriller retains the hard edge that Robb maintains in all her crime novels based on the New York-based Lieutenant Eve Dallas. There have been many of them. Her latest, Leverage in Death has all the tangled twists we have come to associate with this writer. It’s difficult to think of an original superlative for the author as they’ve all been used up.

The plot requires more concentration than many of her previous works. The storyline seems simple enough. Paul Rogan sets off a bomb in a suicide vest and kills eleven people. No one can understand why. But, when Paul’s wife and child are found bound by chains and beaten severely, it soon becomes clear what the real perpetrators want, and that is to put a man in a situation that either kills him and many others or causes the criminals to torture his wife and children to death while he listens to their every scream. Why do this? To get at the money, of course; always, get to the money. And for this reason, the crime is repeated.

This is not much of a foundation on which to build a book of 400 odd pages. What was the motive? How were the victims chosen? That’s what Eve Dallas has to answer, but in addition, she needs to find out who is doing this and bring the criminals to justice.

The key to this crime mystery lies in the title. The criminals have leverage over their victims in the sense that the victim’s assets are held in the criminals’ hands. The assets are the family members. At the same time the word ‘leverage’ is a term used in economics. This is where Robb’s explanations become convoluted and abstract and, may I say, somewhat drawn out and boring. Once she gets past that, then the old Robb returns and the police can get about their business.

When the criminals are eventually caught, I would think most readers would be satisfied. They had weathered the complex material leading to this endpoint. However, the ways in which the crooks protected themselves were too clever in my opinion. I felt that perhaps J.D. Robb might have been having a ‘lend’ of her readers. We have a house wired up in every direction and ahead of all his elaborate trickery runs our man to the window, where he climbs out and down straight into the arms of the police constables that Eve Dallas had stationed there. All that intellect on display and then a prosaic ending.

The delightful Peabody is in the book and plays her part as a companion and a foil for Eve in every way we’ve come to expect of her. Feeney and his outlandish IT troopers put in a solid day’s work, McNab is as mad as ever. His combination with Peabody works well in the J.D. Robb books but I doubt it would stand the test of time with a lesser writer.

J.D. Robb never disappoints and, with a recipe that is now so weather-worn that her readers could nearly write the book for her, she might be expected to fade into obscurity. This will never happen. The readers are in the corral and await with impatience their next outing.

Leverage in Death

(2018)

By J.D. Robb

Hachette

ISBN: 978-0-349-41790-5

$29.99; 389pp

Sun Music: New and Selected Poems by Judith Beveridge

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

It has been many years since I have enjoyed the comprehensiveness of a major poet, and striven to reach the intellectual level at which Judith Beveridge’s verse lies, relaxed and casually  presented in her Sun Music: New and Selected Poems. I am a huge fan of her breadth and especially the depth of her knowledge. she is an expert in the different forms of verse and when their use is or is not appropriate.

She exhibits a sophisticated knowledge of technology. One senses a Buddhist ethos permeating a number of poems (sometimes explicitly as in The Elephant Odes – the elephant seen as the avatar of the Buddha). She knows giraffes and presents their habits in the biological sense with conviction. She knows her flora and fauna. She reminds us that cranes are associated with Japanese, therefore haiku are an appropriate medium for her verse; there is nostalgia for the time before sophisticated organisation, by which she means modernity, took over. The variety never ceases.

Variety takes at least two forms – variety of subject matter across the poems and the variety in the manner with which she delivers them.

In The Domesticity of Giraffes she employs lengthy Latinate lines with a rich vocabulary, and dexterity with almost clinical precision, to deliver what she wants to say. In captivity the giraffe “languorously swings her tongue”, it is “like a black leather strap”, she is “bruised-apple eyed”. In a state of freedom the giraffe’s “head [is] framed in a leafy bonnet/or balloon-bobbing in trees”. Then, the powerful means by which she shows the unnaturalness of penning giraffes in captivity, “she thrusts her tongue under his rich stream/to get moisture for her thousandth chew” (4). When running free, male giraffes approach a female and place their tongues in her urine only for the purpose of testing if she is ‘in heat’. Male giraffes more often enjoy a homosexual relationship with other males. Thirst in both sexes is overcome by the juice in leaves. So deprivation could not have been shown in a more graphic way than Beveridge has displayed in this devastating poem in which she reverses the natural order to depict an unnatural world.

The Domesticity of Giraffes is immediately succeeded by the poem Making Perfume which demonstrates the poet’s intimate knowledge of the plant kingdom. Then comes the delicate For Rilke and the compelling Orb Spider and The Caterpillars “lying down in the road and dying/when they could no longer touch each other” (14) just as each and all, pacifist or not, need the touch of our shared humanity. Suddenly, we’re reading Japanese Cranes, a haiku-structured poem. The waves of different styles and the ripple of tones as we flick through her verse is quite breathtaking.

On page 30 lies a surprising piece of creativity. It is Flower of Flowers which is a verse form that has prose-like features. In form it seems to be prose but read aloud it falls into regular poetic rhythm.

Variety can be gauged by a means other than subject choice. We are given a lesson in lineation and enjambment when we read Beveridge.

1.

Dark was just coming on. Lightning flexed

Its muscled whip. The rain fell in heavy drops.

Steadily, the clouds puffed up. Many times

 

I thought I knew the predicted outcome.

I thought I knew the way the evening would

Turn out, sure and tight – a monkey’s tail-ring.

 

Here we have the opening stanzas of The Courtesan and immediately note that the main idea of the line is concluded before the line runs on. The strength of the storm is demonstrated in the choice of vocabulary as in ‘flexed’ and ‘its muscled whip’. I must admit to puzzlement over the poet’s choice of numbers of verses within each group. Some have two verses, some have three or four.

Generally speaking, the poems are fresh and committed to the reader in an even, conversational tone. Where fierce words are needed they are used but the chat is never disturbed from its even flow. A Girl Swinging is a short girl, hence short lines and simple language; spider webs are complex, hence long twisted sentences, accurately and minutely described; pacifists who follow a leader, are destroyed if they lose their leader – The Caterpillars demonstrates this.

Artist follows the dramatic monologue construction so favoured by Robert Browning in his many poems, but specifically, My Last Duchess. Beveridge incorporates into the poem a deep psychological interest. Her focus appears at first sight to dwell on externality, especially as observed in visual imagery, but an observant reader should not miss her focus on the inward drama of the characters:

Elise, around your shoulders

I’ll paint blood. Around your

breasts an expedience of leaves.

I’m waiting for the light to be

cornered on the sill. I’m waiting

for your voice to short out

my heart along the quickly burning

length of St Christopher’s spire.

Already an unthankful moon

has climbed opposite the sun (118).

There is motion in this poem. What can I ask ‘of your lips’ gives way to ‘your hands’ to ‘your eyes’ to the porticoes of the square but also to the sun burnishing and the focus on scarlet, a colour Beveridge loves to incorporate in her work. Here the colour tracks from the artist’s palette under a ‘vanquished’ bridge – one that carries the blood of the fallen – to the plumage of finches high up in the trees at the level of desire that Beveridge claims “should always live on the wing” (116). She continues the ‘scarlet’ reference in “your skin/is a breaking wound” (116) to the ‘red facade’ that is closer to the artist’s heart.

As always Nature is a powerful player. It is a source of transfiguration and redemption. But it is the transfiguring and associative powers of the poet’s imagination that gives the imagery its power of redemptiveness. There is evidence of an attempt to make interiority more tangible. In meeting the challenge of writing a good poem she attempts to replace the meditative with dramatic polarities. A good example occurs in An Artist Speaks to his Model:

I search all

the shades the wind might bruise

you with, days in these bitten-out

streets. Impossible to get your

lips to resemble fate (117).

But Elise lives by endless palisades, by fierce pigments i.e. an exotic life. Ordinary mortals, like the artist himself, live in rooms i.e. they live ordinary lives. The poet is compelled to examine the intersection of human characters and places with the world of Nature. Beveridge writes true to the maxim of Ezra Pound: Only emotion endures. As an example I would instance The Courtesan who recognizes a dissociation, and therefore a condemnation, by the courtesan herself of her way of living. Men lose their individuality in her stark portraits. I think of a pen and ink drawing. She dismisses one fellow with

O, I’ll remember him under the weight

Of the millstone maker, the grain sack puller,

the mausoleum attendant with his callous breath (120).

With a convrsational tone, she condemns the way she lives, having sent away the only one she cared for because she was envious of his preoccupation with guinea fowl. A façade of impersonality is her way of coping with loss.

How to love bats is an ironic comment on self-appointed experts. Like The Courtesan its tone is far less volatile, less fired than the imagery of An Artist Speaks to his Model. The latter is where Beveridge’s interest lie and she lays her words out as the words of her most fervent inner being.

I was drawn in by Invitation, a poem where Beveridge sets up an extended image of cooking oil as a motor carrying the kitchen which sets the course. The kitchen is the carrier of the imagery. Note the phrases feeding off each other:

“My kitchen is setting its course!…The pan dips low…I’m reading the brochures…I like the way a carob bean maps/the Caribbean…I try to steer/the flavour, arrange the colours on a plate./The kitchen is the compass” and so on, the outcome a complete poem that is an extended image of superb and intelligent beauty. I can’t get enough.

Consider this:

Islands of figs, oil carefully frying

a wild banana, a breeze gently rocking

and water murmuring like a slow sentence

lifted from the phrase book.

Whoever owns the language owns the food,

though once dreaming paths may have linked

our sites. We will stare into our plates,

call all fares to our table.

I light the candles, their flames

are the soft palms of stewardesses

in the heart’s wild, imagined places (38 – 39).

If the work of any living poet were to be set to be emulated it would be that of Judith Beveridge. It is enriching, supportive, caring and determined in its many roles. My copy of her new book Sun Music doesn’t look new anymore. The edges are tattered from my reading that does not cease since each time I read it, I find something new. Buy yourself a copy.

Sun Music: New and Selected Poems

(2018)

By Judith Beveridge

Giramondo Press

ISBN: 978-1-925336-88-7

256pp; $26.95

The Qur’an and the Bible by Gabriel Said Reynolds

Reviewed by Rod McLary

“Exegesis’, or the critical interpretation of a religious text, has an extensive history dating back to 100 BCE.  It includes an investigation into the history and origins of the text and may also include the study of the historical and cultural background of the author and the text.  In Christian terms, exegesis begins with the view that the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the scriptural texts.  Thus, the texts have a ‘fuller meaning’ because of their divine authorship and this fuller meaning is gradually revealed through the process of exegesis.

However, exegesis is not practised only in the Christian religion but in all religions including Judaism and Islam.  In relation to the latter, Muhammad has been cited as having said that the Qur’an has an inner meaning, and that this inner meaning conceals an even deeper inner meaning.  Exegesis is the process by which this ‘deeper inner meaning’ can be brought to light.

Exploring the bonds which link two of these three major religions together is the focus of this major study by Dr Gabriel Said Reynolds – Professor of Islamic Studies and Theology at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana USA.

In his book, Dr Reynolds examines together the Bible and the Qur’an to contribute to a deeper understanding of the Qur’an by bringing to light its conversation with the Bible [2].  By ‘conversation’, Dr Reynolds means the ways the Qur’an alludes to Biblical texts; and within his definition of ‘texts’ is included not only texts from the canonical Bible but also from Jewish and Christian writings which form part of the sacred history of the Jewish and Christian faiths.  He contends that these texts also formed part of the repertoire of the author of the Qur’an [2].  The Qur’an was written as a monograph over a period of 22 years whereas the Bible comprises some 66 ‘booklets’ by a number of writers over a period of 1500 years, and is 600 years older than the Qur’an.

Earlier Muslim exegetes [that is, those who practise exegesis] have provided Biblical texts as a way to make the Qur’anic texts more understandable [3].  This then begs the question – how much did the author of the Qur’an know about the Bible?  Understandably, this question is almost impossible to answer.  What can be said though is that the Qur’an seems to know the Bible as it was read and communicated at the time – and taking into account its various interpretations of the time [15].  Of course, theologically speaking, the author of the Qur’an is God just as the author of the Old Testament is God.  But academically speaking, the author may be Muhammand and there may have even been a number of authors or editors.  This latter view goes some way to explain the diversity of material included in the Qur’an.  Dr Reynolds suggests that the answer is complex – there are passages in the Qur’an where it seems that there is a departure from the Biblical text in order to ‘develop a certain symbolism’ [14]; in other passages, the departure may be a result of confusion; and even, in some passages, the Qur’an seems to follow the Biblical text.

Dr Roland E Miller – Professor Emeritus of Luther Seminary, Minnesota – in a public lecture in November 2016 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon, Canada said ‘two books, two different primary purposes … yet many points of contact’.  He went on to say that that the primary purpose of the Qur’an is ‘to offer God’s guidance’ and that of the Bible is ‘to reveal God’s plan of salvation’.

One critical connection between the Qur’an and the Bible is Jesus.  In the Bible, God’s salvation begins with the promises of a Saviour and then their fulfillment in the life of Jesus.  According to Miller, the Qur’an ‘does not report the activity of Jesus as the saving Word of God [but] it looks at him through the lens of guidance’.  Jesus is one of small group of revered prophets and is mentioned 93 times in the Qur’an.

In terms of the structure of the book, the book proceeds according to the order of the Qur’an not the Bible.  Thus, the structure allows the reader who may interested in a specific passage from the Qur’an to readily find the discussion on that passage.  However, the author avoids making just simple comparisons but provides Biblical material which will assist in a better understanding of the Qur’an.  In some places, the author adds explanatory notes which will further assist the reader to understand the Qur’an.

An apposite example of passages in both books which strengthen the author’s contention of ‘a conversation between the Bible and the Qur’an’ is –

Moses said to his people, ‘Turn to God for help and be patient.  The earth indeed belongs to God, and He makes whomever of his servants He wishes to inherit it, and the outcome will be in favour of the Godwary.  [128. al-A’rāf, The Elevations]

“Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid!  Stand firm, and you will see what the Lord will do to rescue you today; the Egyptians you see today you will never see again”.  [Exodus 14:13]

The book is beautifully presented and is well-footnoted and referenced.  It is an academic study and the content reflects the author’s depth and breadth of knowledge regarding both the Qur’an and the Bible.  While the primary target audience would be academics in the fields of exegesis and comparative religions [if that is not now a pejorative term], there is much to interest and delight the casual reader.

Dr Gabriel Said Reynolds is the Professor of Islamic Studies and Theology at the University of Notre Dame.  He is the author of two further books on the Qur’an and Islam and is the editor of The Qur’an in Its Historical Context.

 Dr Reynolds was one of 15 Catholic delegates invited by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) to participate in a bilateral conversation with 15 Muslim counterparts at Al-Azhar al-Sharif Centre for Dialogue (ASCD) February 2017 in Cairo, Egypt.

The Qur’an and the Bible

[2018]

by Gabriel Said Reynolds

Yale University Press

ISBN 978 0 300 18132 6

1008pp; $US40.00

To order a copy of Qur’an and the Bible: Text and Commentary  at the Footprint Books Website with a 15% discount click here  or visitwww.footprint.com.au

Please use discount voucher code BCLUB18 at the checkout to apply the discount.

Impostors by Scott Westerfeld

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Reviewed by Ian Lipke

It’s comforting to know that a reader can still find an honest, well-written, enjoyable thriller of the likes that Scott Westerfield writes. His new book is just that. It’s intended for Young Adult reading and fits that niche market quite neatly.

It is the story of two sisters. Rafia is brought up to be a high class society lady, who appears at the side of her megalomaniac father, on all occasions where a beautiful woman is needed. She has the grace and the raw beauty that persuades any opposition to fade away, except for the malcontents who oppose her father and run the real risk of a bullet.

That there was a twin sister was never revealed to the public. While Rafia was trained to be the perfect socialite, Freya was trained to be the ultimate weapon. She it was who doubled for Rafia whenever there was likely to be danger. At all other times she remained out of sight and confined in a part of their father’s headquarters, where there was no public access.

When a deal is negotiated between the twins’ father and his opposition, the Palafox family, the latter require Rafia as collateral. Neither trusts the other. Freya is sent in Rafia’s place. Her father intends to attack the Palafox family when their guard is down, knowing that the first to receive a bullet will be his own daughter. But it does not take long for Col Palafox to realise that the girl is not who she claims to be. Freya is astounded when Col reveals that the Palafox family are seeking an alliance in blood viz through the marriage of Col with the other family’s daughter.  When her father attacks, Freya is caught up in a plot to have her killed and is forced to tell Col the truth while rescuing them both from the opposing soldiers. The story proceeds from there.

I particularly like to see evidence of the effort that has gone into the creation and specific details of the scenes through which the characters move at lesser or greater speed. The action scenes are particularly exciting, but it is the narration of the growing feeling between Freya and Col that is most engaging. I would think that several drafts must have been written before the romance was configured and the book came into being.

If I have one criticism it is that the name ‘Col’ just has no resonance when set beside Freya, Rafia, Aribella, and Yandre. The name is Anglo-Saxon and is an irritant when the reader tries to absorb the information about a society that is far away and glamorous. No name of Latinate origin was selected, just dull as mud ‘Col’.

No review could dismiss the ingenious ideas that have been used to create the costumes the characters wear and some of the gimmicks. The creation of sneak-suits that mould to fit the body, the knife that does so much destruction, the air ships with their idiosyncrasies sound like a civilization more advanced technologically than our own, but no different in terms of their bloodthirstiness and lack of moral fibre.

The book is intended to put action books back on the writers’ horizons. It is the era of the Jason Bourne novels, Patriot Games and the Hunger Games that Westerfield hopes to resurrect. I couldn’t disagree with the man. I can thoroughly recommend this book, among the best of escapist literature.

Impostors

(2018)

By Scott Westerfield

Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 978-1-76052-824-9

$19.99; 400pp

Tears for Tarshiha byOlfat Mahmoud

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Reviewed by Norrie Sanders

Exodus was Leon Uris’ influential novel about the birth of Israel, commemorating the extraordinary events which created a homeland for Jews after the Second World War. It was a story of hope following the horrors of Hitler’s holocaust.

But another exodus took place at that time that has not been commemorated. The lands given to Israel were not vacant; they had been occupied for millennia by a people of Arab culture and many religions, including Christians, Muslims and Jews.  A people known as Palestinians.  In 1948, under siege from the Israeli army, a diaspora occurred in which more than 700,000 fled or were expelled from their land. Overnight, settled landowners became refugees

Olfat Mahmouds’s story begins in 1948, twelve years before her birth, with her grandparents fleeing their village of Tarshiha to a makeshift camp in Lebanon.

The memoir that follows is centred on Olfat’s family, friends and colleagues. The reader is immediately immersed in the unstable and sometimes frightening confines of the Burj el Barajneh camp in Beirut. This is an era of intense political, ethnic and religious conflict that leads to constant tension and frequent armed violence. The camp is periodically bombed and subjected to siege and invasion. Rape, beatings and execution are common. The protracted civil war in Beirut is just one event in a series of conflicts, many of which are cruel and sadistic. The combatants – Israelis, Christian militia and Muslim militia – are many and varied and even if the primary struggle is not with the refugees, the camp is often targeted.

Olfat decides early in life that she should do something to help. Tending to the sick and wounded is a practical and immediate action. Although her dream of becoming a doctor is dashed for cultural reasons, she becomes a nurse and eventually an organiser and trainer of nurses. A woman of peace, she devotes her life to supporting victims of war under extreme circumstances. She tends to her patients in makeshift hospitals which are sometimes refuges and sometimes targets.

Olfat’s dedication and bravery in the face of repeated setbacks and mortal danger are partly embedded in a sense of fatalism under her God:

“We had just bought ice cream at one of the shops and were in the street when the bombing started, so we rushed for shelter. When the bombing was over we saw that the ice-cream shop had been hit, and everyone inside was killed……My time was not yet up”

Meanwhile, her skills as a trainer, organiser and spokesperson develop to the point where she has contacts across the world and is a sought after speaker, promoting the plight of Palestinian refugees and even addressing the United Nations in 2015. She is also the Director of the international NGO, the Palestinian Women’s Humanitarian Organisation.

In her ‘spare time’, she raises four boys, cares for her aging parents and completes a University doctorate.

An arresting fact is that the camp, and others like it, has been in continuous use for 70 years and for most of that period, has been under some form of siege or attack. The Palestinians in the camp remain stateless. They have limited rights in Lebanon, particularly with employment, and are excluded from entry to Israel even to briefly visit their homeland. Thousands of additional refugees have arrived during the recent Syrian conflict. The camps are deteriorating:

“The camps are now old – they were never built to be permanent [and have been bombed many times]; hundreds of homes are barely fit for habitation and are on the brink of collapse”

The book is both harrowing and inspirational.  Olfat’s achievements would be noteworthy had she been born into a well-off family in a stable country; but in the face of persistent adversity, they are nothing short of remarkable.

The story is historic because it intersects with so many monumental events of the last 70 years. Events which take on a completely different meaning when viewed from a largely defenceless refugee camp. Armed conflict between Israel and Lebanon, the Oslo Accords, the Gulf wars and the Lebanese civil war have all had adverse consequences for the refugees, even when the camps were not specifically targeted. Yet many of these events were viewed in the western media as important for peace and stability.

Olfat writes largely without embellishment – the descriptions speak for themselves. On the few occasions where she registers her own fear, it is all the more convincing.  For those of us who have never had to face such situations, we can only imagine the grim reality confronting her.

There is a strong antipodean connection. Olfat travels to Australia many times for training and to publicise her cause. The material and moral support of the ACTU and Dr Helen McCue in particular is praiseworthy. Foreign minister Gareth Evans’ visit to the camp in 1992 – an event that Australians might consider unremarkable – was the first by a government minister from any country for 50 years:

“When Mr Evans walked along our laneways people just couldn’t believe he was there – it was an amazing morale boost for us and gave Australia an abiding place in our hearts. “

Despite that trip, despite the tireless work of Olfat and Helen and despite many UN resolutions, Olfat’s dream of Tarshiha descendants returning home remains unfulfilled. But her hope is undiminished. She reverses Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion’s assertion in 1948 that Palestinians would soon forget about their homeland:  

“I.. raise my voice around the globe in defiance of that. Yes, the old have died, but the new generations still remember, and one day we will go home.”

Tears For Tarshiha

(2018)

By Olfat Mahmoud

Wild Dingo Press

ISBN: 9780648066361

203pp

$29.99 (paperback)