I am reading The Yellow House by Sarah M Broom. I have just finished Margaret Simons’ Cry Me A River: The tragedy of the Murray-Darling Basin (Quarterly Essay #77).
I wrote a piece for the Forced Adoptions History Project over the weekend. It will be moderated and put up in the near future; there are many contributions from people affected by forced adoption available to be read on this website.
I shall be writing a short piece for a project My Inside Voice, an anthology about creativity in isolation. Whether it is accepted for publication is another question!
Also shall be co-writing another paper for the research project about nurses’ storytelling for which I am a research assistant.
The next memoir express workshop will be videoconferenced, which should be ‘interesting’. It will be on 10 May, which I’ve just noticed is also Mother’s Day in Australia. I haven’t started rewriting/reworking my memoir as yet. The pandemic hasn’t cajoled me to do so, but the short piece written for the Forced Adoptions Project above was a nudge.
By Suzanne Leal
Allen & Unwin
March 2020, ISBN 9781760875275, 278 pages
There are great numbers of novels that take the Holocaust as their central topic or theme, including the very well known Schindler’s Ark (1982) by Thomas Keneally, Jacob Rosenberg’s exquisite East of Time (2005) and Sunrise West (2007), Bram Presser’s award-winning The Book of Dirt (2017), and Leah Kaminsky’s The Hollow Bones (2019). There is also, of course, a large body of non-fiction literature, including notable memoirs such as Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl (1952 in English), Elie Wiesel’s Night (1960 in English), and Art Spigelman’s Maus (1980).
Suzanne Leal, an Australian novelist and lawyer, has contributed a powerful novel to this large body of Holocaust literature. It is based on a true story she learned from her former Czech, Jewish landlords, who were also Holocaust survivors. The strength of the story lies in her characters, particularly Hana Lederová. She has a clear and distinctive voice, and we learn of her experiences directly from her, in contrast to Karel Kruta who is described by an omniscient narrator. The other main characters, also written in the third person and who receive alternate chapters, are Tessa, Karel’s granddaughter, and Ruth, a minister of religion.
Continued at Compulsive Reader.
Always Was, Always Will Be, Aboriginal Land.
There are numerous bushfires in various parts of Australia right now, as there have been for some time. They started early, are extensive, fast and fierce. People have been killed. Homes destroyed. Animals burned to death. Landscape devastated. Cities and regions are covered in smoke. (I’ve just read that the smoke has reached New Zealand.) People are being evacuated from towns, roads closed, supplies are running out, power is out. There are stories of great heroism and of kindness, people helping others and helping wildlife and other animals. It’s a time of crisis and I expect it to change the nation.
Live update on current situation from the ABC website.
Dawn at Archives Fine Books in Brisbane has announced Australia’s first book collecting prize! All of the details are on their website, but it’s for people up to the age of thirty-five who live in the Greater Brisbane area. It opens on the 1 January 2020 and deadline for entries is 29 February 2020.
Keep up with what these fine book people are doing on their Facebook page and go visit their bookshop at 40 Charlotte Street, Brisbane City. As they say themselves:
Located on the ground floor of John Mills Himself, a heritage-listed building in the heart of the Brisbane CBD, Archives Fine Books is one of the largest second-hand bookstores in Australia. Our size means we are like a number of specialty stores in one: literature, philosophy, politics, sport, military history, westerns, Australiana, esoterica, religion, law, business, science, science fiction, fantasy, popular fiction, biography, music, quilting…the list goes on…and on.
Established in 1985 by the well-remembered Emmanuel, the store has been cared for by a handful of unique personalities, each one contributing to its reputation as a Brisbane icon. Hamish Alcorn bought the business in 2008 and since then has organised more than half a million books, weathered the GFC, the e-book revolution, and survived freak storms and floods. He also married Dawn Albinger and has strongly supported her vision to build the antiquarian and ‘Fine’ end of the business. Together they plan to keep the doors open for decades to come, contributing to the intellectual, cultural, and aesthetic life of Brisbane City.
I’ve been going there since the 1990s and have bought large numbers of books from them, including a full set of Anais Nin’s diaries. It’s rare that I leave without finding a book that I’ve long sought after, or one that I’ve just discovered is essential to read. I went once looking for Georg Büchner’s plays, particularly Wozzeck, and they had a copy!
Dawn and Hamish run an essential business for, without fine bookshops like theirs, our cultural lives run dry. We cannot live only by economics and, although I love a nice café or bar as much as the next person, we need enrichment of our creative and imaginative selves and a sharpening of our critical thinking skills as much as we need food and drink.
I love old things and objects that have evidence of being used or, in the case of books, read. So Andrew Baseman’s blog caught my attention. He writes about ‘antiques with inventive repairs (also known as “make-do” repairs)’ and provides photographs of each item in its state of repair alongside a ‘whole’ example with which to compare it.
Here is my own ‘make-do’, a Wileman sugar bowl and plate, with a nasty breakage repaired expertly with staples.
It’s still in the shop in these photographs, and I visited it for several months before finally plunging in and buying it. It wasn’t costly, I just wasn’t flush with funds around that time. I hadn’t seen anything repaired in this way before, only online, so was excited to be able to have a piece of my own. The thought of repairing china with metal staples is intriguing and a wonderful example of creative repair. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
This essay was published in TEXT Special Issue 50, Life Narrative in Troubled Times, eds Kate Douglas, Donna Lee Brien and Kylie Cardell, October 2018. It also appears in my PhD thesis, in longer form, as one of the chapters of the exegesis. The thesis is called ‘A shark in the garden: an adoptee memoir’: adoptee memoir as testimonial literature – a creative and exegetical reflection.
To read the essay in its entirety, go to the website of TEXT as per the link above.
Binjamin Wilkomirski’s Fragments: Memories of a childhood, 1939–1948 was first published in 1995 in Germany, and in English translation in 1996. It purported to be a Holocaust memoir: the author wrote of his experiences as a six year old in concentration camps in Poland. Doubts were raised as to its authenticity, and eventually the memoir was revealed to be a ‘hoax’. Wilkomirski (whose actual name was Bruno Grosjean at birth) had been given up for adoption by his mother, who was poor and the victim of an accident that left her with brain injuries. I argue that the author of Fragments could not find a sense of identity or belonging as an adoptee, but did as a Holocaust survivor, and through a long and complex process he came to produce a narrative that explained his life as he saw it. I discuss the case in detail to build a picture of Wilkomirski as an adopted person rather than a literary hoaxer, and utilise the work of Betty Jean Lifton, who postulated that the damage done to him in childhood reverberated through the years into his adult life. A discussion of trauma (and trauma theories), as it relates to adopted persons and their life narratives, and the Divided Self theory adapted by Betty Jean Lifton and Jo Sparrow, are employed in providing a reading of Fragments as a troubled adoptee memoir, one that is embedded within the ‘false’ or ‘hoax’ memoir of Holocaust survival.
In researching and writing about adoptee memoir for my doctoral thesis, I read a review of a study of a memoir from the 1990s that at first glance seemed to have nothing to do with adoption. Binjamin Wilkomirski’s Fragments: Memories of a childhood, 1939–1948 (1996) purported to be a Holocaust memoir, a child’s-eye view of surviving concentration camps in Poland. It was widely praised and awarded prizes until it was proven to be a ‘hoax’. A number of memoirs purporting to be by survivors of the Holocaust have been revealed as false (Katsoulis 2009), but the focus of my interest here is not hoaxing but adoptee narratives. The review was of Stefan Maechler’s The Wilkomirski affair: A study in biographical truth (2001) and the reviewer was Betty Jean Lifton, an adoptee, adoptee activist, psychological counsellor and writer. Why was Lifton reviewing this book about a literary hoax and its author?
That Wilkomirski was adopted is the obvious answer to Lifton’s interest, but the fact that the author chose to write a ‘false’ memoir about being a Holocaust survivor rather than a factually ‘true’ memoir about being an adoptee (survivor) is the troubling, complicating feature. Lifton’s review, and Wilkomirski’s memoir, are the starting points for my larger investigation into the nature of adoptee trauma and testimony as it can be manifested in memoir. For this essay, I will specifically discuss the Wilkomirski affair and present an alternative reading of his memoir as that of an adoptee.
Active Labour: Memoirs of a Working-Class Doctor
By Percy Rogers
Nero (imprint of Schwartz Publishing)
ISBN: 978 1760640842, 214 pages, 2018
I haven’t seen much publicity for this humane and simply-told memoir but it deserves a wide readership. The working life of this particular general practitioner is exemplary. He is now into his nineties and although no longer practising as a doctor (after fifty-nine years of medical practise, he is now an advisor to international doctors working in Indigenous communities), this book shows that he still has plenty to contribute to society.
Percy Rogers was born in Perth and grew up in a working class family. His schooling was interrupted by his having to work to support the family. Nevertheless, Rogers entered the University of Western Australia to study science, with his fees and living allowance paid from a benevolent scheme of the then Chifley government (and he notes that this was stopped when Menzies attained government in 1949). He initially began studying education but changed to medicine as he felt that the education system was ‘not the basic agent of social change’. This was the first of six degrees that the author was to gain during his life.
The entire review can be read on Maggie Ball’s The Compulsive Reader.