A Carrion Death is the first in a series of crime and mystery novels set in Botswana and introduces Detective David Bengu , nicknamed Kubu because of his size (kubu means hippopotamus in Botswana). Written by Michael Stanley, a pseudonym for Micheal Sears and Stanley Trollop, there are six follow up books in the series.
Being a crime novel there are numerous dead bodies spread around water holes and the semi desert sands of the Kalahari and Kubu has his work cut out. It’s slow work as you would expect in the heat and the dry. There are hyenas, vultures, gold mines, and a witch doctor, all the things we would associate with Botswana.
Kubu is never too busy to stop for a feed and I enjoyed the Glossary for detailing what some of the meals involved. Other than wine, Kubu’s go to drink is a steelworks, made up of cola tonic, ginger beer, soda water and bitters and he’s fond of Elan Carpaccio. ( thinly sliced Antelope , pounded and served raw).
I’ve stated previously that I never attempt to solve the crimes in books. What I found fascinating in this novel was the description of how Kubu’s parents live compared to their son. Whilst Kubu is considered an “important man”, with a car and good job, his parents are from a different era. They live in a little house in the back blocks, have a mobile phone courtesy of their son but don’t know how to use it, and the electricity to the house rarely works. Yet, they feel like king pins. It’s the traditional with their belief system in the power of witch doctors versus modern scientific practises such as forensics which makes this a worthwhile read.
Would I read any more books in the series? Look, if one fell in my lap I would read it, but I wont go chasing any copies.
Wouldn’t mind sampling the Chenin Blanc and some of that carpaccio. Anyone brave enough to join me?
My latest read for the Gaia Reading Challenge was The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary, considered ” the first identifiably ecological novel in the literature of France, and perhapsthe world.”- David Bellos
I had watched the movie of the same name earlier in the year featuring Errol Flynn, of course playing the town drunk. Sadly, I doubt any acting skills were required and released only twelve months before his death should be enough to paint the picture. Poor ol’ Errol.
It’s not a good movie, prone to preaching, being over wordy, and all the big name actors try to outshine each other which grates: Trevor Howard, Eddie Albert, Orson Wells, and Juliette Greco’s bosoms. However, the storyline about a wildlife enthusiast who attempts to protect African elephants from being hunted for their ivory was interesting enough to encourage my pursuit for more information which surely says something positive for the movie. (As does the cinematography featuring jumbos in all their magnificence in French Equatorial Africa.)
The book, written between 1953-54, received the Prix Goncourt for fiction ( “for the best and most imaginative prose work of the year”) and was translated into English in 1957. It too is wordy though beautifully written, and a great deal of effort goes into explaining the motivations of each of the characters’ stance on the killing of elephants.
In begins with Morel, played by Trevor Howard in the movie, seeking signatures on a petition to cease the hunting. In all, he obtains only two names. Even the local Priest refuses to sign as he has enough misery in solving the issues of the Africans with their leprosy, poverty, illness and starvation. Morel bellows, “thisis nothing to do with politics – it’s a matter of humanity“. All the misfits come together – the nightclub hostess (Greco), the American outcast dishonourably discharged from the Army ( Flynn), the journalist (Albert) – after much navel-gazing in an attempt to thwart an attack on a large herd.
Of course, the novel isn’t that simple with a cast of characters with different viewpoints; the “environmentalist” capturing elephants as zoo specimens, the commandant in charge of the territory with political aspirations, the Jesuit priest, the politician using the demise of the elephants to promote the view that Africa’s natural resources are being “stolen” promoting Africa’s stance that it should become an independent country.
” There’s a law which allows you to kill as many elephants as you like when they are trampling down your fields and threatening your crops. It’s a wonderful excuse for the good shots among us. All you have to prove is that an elephant has crossed your plantation and has trampled a field of squash, and there you are, free to decimate a herd, to indulge in reprisals, with the government’s blessing.”
Honestly, it all becomes too complex especially when you realise the elephants become a symbol for human life.
John Huston, the Director of the movie, said he was “completely responsible… for the badness of The Roots of Heaven. I really wanted to make that one and Daryl Zanuck got me everything and everybody I wanted. But I had the screenplay done by someone who had never done one before, and it was bad. By then the cast, crew and me were in Africa; it was too late to turn back, we would have spent a fortune for nothing, so we went ahead and did the best we could.”
Producer, Zanuck (and sheet warmer for Greco) said “This picture is really great for us – intellectually great. Whether it’s commercially great, whether people will grab on to it, we must wait and see. If they grab on to a man in love with a bridge, then why shouldn’t they grab on to a man in love with an elephant?”
Answer : Because there comes a point when a line is drawn between being lectured and being entertained.
This novel is an unexpected entry in the Gaia Reading Challenge and is most definitely on the quirky side. You see, the narrator is a female Galah by the name of Lucky who translates from “screech to English” the events in a remote coastal village on the north coast of Western Australia in the 1960’s, just prior to the moon landing.
Admittedly, I’m a sucker for Galahs. I had my first as a pet when I was 10, Andrew, followed by Sam, playmate Lah Lah , and then Lenny who replaced Sam when he died. Lenny was a hormonal teenager so I had to rehome the latter two birds when I downsized. Neighbours were unimpressed with the noise : Lenny was like a recalcitrant teenager and squawked whenever anything that moved came into sight.
The fictional town of Port Badminton is on the open mouth of the real Shark Bay which Charles Darwin noted on his first visit to Australia as having “excessively beautiful parrots“.
Lucky introduces herself before she begins to tell the story of Port Badminton’s role in the 1969 moon landing :
“I’m in my cage on the Kelly’s back verandah. I sit here, unheard, underestimated, biscuit crumbs on my beak. But fate is a curious thing. For just as Evan Johnson’s story is about to end (and perhaps with a giant leap), my story prepares to take flight…”
Lucky shares her journey, “nestling with her siblings in our hole in our gum tree “ on the riverbank, feeling “a human hand reach in, making exploratory movements” , to finding herself in a cage on a back verandah of one of the locals.
Her position on the verandah provides a view of the happenings within Port Badminton as well as all the characters ; the prawn fishermen, the dingo shooter, the town drunk, the aboriginals, as well as all the newer families to town who are connected to the Dish, instrumental in keeping communication lines open to the astronauts.
Lucky focuses on the arrival of Evan Johnson, radio technician, and wife Linda who is keen to start a new life away from the Big Smoke. Of course, although Evan is distracted by his work, Linda is like a fish out of water and doesn’t cope.
The small town of Port Badminton becomes every small town, and the dynamics of its inhabitants are both familiar and the perfect combination of nostalgia and brutality. We feel the excitement for the scientists achieving their goals, and pity for the women who are simply making do.
The author includes authentic trivia from the 1960’s including pre dinner snacks of curly celery, feathered carrots, and radish flowers, cereal boxes containing collectable toys, home made Grappa at barbeques, Brownies raising funds ( Bob-A-Job), and washing the sheets in a copper each week. Who remembers those? *
The Galah is an intelligent animal, despite its reputation as a clown and a lightweight. A captive Galah needs constant activity if it is not to decline into depression. Tearing up books, page by page, is a mental, physical, and spiritual workout for me; as good as any gym, yogaclass or university”. Lucky’s most recent book is Donald Horne’s “The Lucky Country”.
Then there are the wonderful descriptions of the environment and landscape. ” TropicalCyclone Steve, a male cyclone with a beer belly and long, grey, windswept hair, thongs flapping at his feet, formed out of the ether somewhere in the Pacific” and “she watches the water suck back, back and then hears the flute-like sound, a roar, as the water comes crashing in again, sending a giant white fountain into the air. It drops and chases itself back down its lair in streaming white foam rivulets. The gurgling, sucking noises are thrilling.”
This read is a gem. It is not as simple as it seems with layers of storytelling including the frailty of relationships, expectations, and our interconnectedness with the environment as well as with animals. The descriptions of both the natural environment and the wildlife that live within it are totally authentic. Loved it!
*We used the copper for cooking freshly caught sand crabs and prawns. Must have been worth a few bob as it was the only item stolen from the family home after my father passed.
* NOTE :
Galah is also a derrogatory term that means a “loud-mouthed idiot.” Named specifically for the galah, a nativeAustralian bird that makes a distinctive (and quite funny-sounding) call.
May proved an unpleasant conclusion to Autumn with another “weather event ” along the east coast causing more property damage and loss of life. Anyway, it’s been raining cats and dogs and though no damage I can’t walk in my back garden without flippers. Literally.
This means that way too much of May has been spent sitting on my tail. I confess to a dose of cabin fever and an overdose of caffeine hearing the news out of Uvalde followed by the unexpected passing of Ray Liotta. Forever Shoeless Joe. ❤️
Read two books from The Books That Made Us List including Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet. Still not a big fan; some brutal editing may have endeared me.
Next month’s Bookclub read is Chasing The McCubbin by Sandi Scaunich which I devoured in one sitting, totally amazed that an author could write 60,000 plus words about garage sales. Yep, garage sales. Frederick McCubbin was an early Australian impressionist painter and it is an urban myth that stored in someone’s garage in suburban Australia is a McCubbin just waiting to be discovered and sold for absolute megabucks.
The best read for May – and probably the year – was Infidel, My Life by Ahyaan Hirsi Ali, for the Around The World Reading Challenge. Born in Somalia Ali also lived in Ethiopia, Kenya and Saudi Arabia as a child experiencing political upheaval, war, starvation and the degradation of women in muslim communities. She is now a political activist living in the USA.
Infidel, My Life is one powerful read and what she shares about female genital mutilation will have you absolutely squirming and fuming! For a list of her Awards go here :
Watched way too many DVDs but Movie of the Month goes to The Proposition, a 2005 Australian flick filmed in Winton, far west Queensland, which I visited last year in between Lockdowns and this country’s first Dark Sky Sanctuary. Worth watching for the scenery alone it is an Aussie version of a Western. Intense, brutal, harsh, gritty – kinda John Wayne on Methamphetamines – and I had to close my eyes a couple of times.
Also attended Opening night of a local community theatrical production and celebrated my birthday in the swankiest restaurant at the Casino in Townsville escorted by the Love Of My Life. Pity he’s 19 months old.
No projects completed which is distressing and blaming lethargy caused by the constant rain. Starting the new month whipping up a batch of Tangelo Marmalade so, June, watch out. These little legs are on the move…..
The fridge contains several chilled Sav Blancs which I’ll be downing with Mr Liotta, who will be Forever Shoeless Joe ❤️
Reading Challenges are funny things. They can make you look at books differently.
For example, last week I watched an old Errol Flynn movie. Nothing unusual about that: Errol is “my guy”. The Roots Of Heaven was released in 1958, a year before Flynn departed this world for the next, and though at 49 years of age he was heavier than when he was wearing Lincoln Green and wielding a sword he was still a good sort in a favourite uncle kind of way. In the movie he played the town drunk though I’m not convinced any acting was involved.
Not a great movie ( about the hunting of elephants for ivory) but I was interested enough to investigate further and discovered that the concept came from a 1956 book written by Romain Gary, which was described as the ” first environmentalist novel“. This led me to locating a copy which I intend to include in the Gaia Reading Challenge. It may take months as it is coming from a library on the other side of the country, and that’s okay – I’ll be reading a book that I never knew existed because I watched a movie I had never previously heard of and a genre I would not normally read all because of a reading challenge.
Talking of books to movies I recently read Rosalie Ham’s debut novel from 2000, TheDressmaker. Described as a Gothic Novel – whatever that means- the story is set in a 1950s fictional Australian country town, Dungatar, and “explores love, hate and haute couture“. In 2015 it became the basis of an Australian movie of the same name starring Kate Winslet and a host of local actors including the prettiest Hemsworth: Liam.
Not straying far from the book the movie is much more fun in an over the top kind of way. All the characters are eccentric including a cross dressing cop (Hugo Weaving) and I found myself laughing out loud with this one. Winslet is even more beautiful than when she survived the sinking of the Titanic twenty plus years ago, and the costumes are just stunning. As a girl who was very comfortable slopping around in pjs for the last three rain sodden days and has no fashion sense whatsoever that is a big call.
Were the critics impressed? Who cares! A fun story line, OTT characters, with a decent dash of secrets, dirt, crime and mayhem. IMDB describes it thus :”Tilly, a beautiful dressmaker, returns to her hometown in Australia to care for her ill mother, Molly. Armed with her sewing machine, she sets out to take revenge on the people who had wronged her.”
Viewing this movie came at the perfect time for me. The L.O.M.L has a hankering for his old home town, a pretty little place on the east coast of Tassie, which is slightly bigger than the mythical Dungatar but with more than its fair share of eccentrics. Quirks are mandatory to be accepted as part of the community. Every time he mentions relocating I remind him of what happened in The Dressmaker……….
I will do an official review of The Roots Of Heaven, both the book and the movie, once I’ve read the story. Just saying upfront that Juliet Greco was not awarded the role because of her acting abilities or her enunciation of vocabulary.
“Australia’s 2019 – 2020 Black Summer bush fires burnt an estimated 18 million hectares. Thirty three people died, 5,900 buildings were destroyed, including 3,000 homes. At least one billion animals lost their lives and some endangered species have been driven to the brink of extinction.”
This is the premise of Black Summer, a collection of short stories written by ABC journalists about the things they witnessed on the ground in almost all the fire sites and communities across the nation. It covers “the stories of loss, courage and community” and was compiled as an acknowledgement of the devastation and destruction of that period as well as the strength and resilience of the people. A portion of proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund.
Black Summer is an entry into the Gaia Reading Challenge promoted by Sharon at Galaxies and Gum Trees in that it covers both Nature and the Environment. The book does not pretend to offer any solutions, merely sharing what those in the affected areas experienced ; the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
” There are horrific stories of cars with aluminium features melted into a puddle. Many tell of the horrifying roar of the fires. Louise Brown lost her home, but not her Cobargo bookshop which survived the fire that ripped through the town’s main street. She announced the reopening of the shop with a sign in the window :” Post-apocalyptic fiction now moved to current affairs”. Pretty much sums up the situation and the Aussie spirit, I’d say.
In all of the stories Nature played a massive part in the devastation. Fighting the fires in Stanthorpe, QLD, on the border of NSW, was hampered by the 7 year long drought which saw the town’s dam virtually empty and the Council having to truck drinking water in for the locals. Changing winds also saw flare ups across many sites across the country and it was gentle yet continual rainfall which finally helped put the fires out some three months after the devastation started.
Have we learnt any lessons from these out-of-control bush fires?
I could respond though my reply would be considered way too political for general consumption. Next time you are driving past stop by and I’ll share my thoughts over a bottle of chardy and a cheese platter.
Late last year Australian actor, Claudia Karvan, hosted a three part television documentary that explored the stories that have shaped our nation’s identity in Books That Made Us.
Claudia met with some of our most beloved and brilliant writers, including Booker Prize winners and best-selling authors and writers who have penned seminal stories, such as Richard Flanagan, Alexis Wright, Helen Garner, Tim Winton, David Malouf, Kate Grenville, Christos Tsiolkas, Thomas Keneally, Liane Moriarty, Trent Dalton, Kim Scott, and Melissa Lucashenko.
Did anyone watch this series?
I had read a handful of the books listed over the years though my Zoom Book Club have determined that we will read from the Books That Made Us List over the coming months starting with Kate Grenville’s “The Secret River.” I’m loving it!
A fellow Little Community Librarian in Western Australia – Leah’s Little Library – has massaged a Reading Challenge to better reflect Australian culture. I’ve attached if you are looking for direction in your reading this year.
With a house full of people and dogs my holiday reading has been pathetic with the TBR once again out of control. I had a date to visit the Lifeline Bookfest in the city later in the month. Maybe it’s just as well it has been cancelled because of you-know-what ( which we refuse to give a name in an endeavour to reduce its power).
And the really good news?
The Christmas Ham made it through to January 10th. So two things : 1) I never want to see ham again and 2) let the ham and vege soup making process begin.
Frank Sinatra popularised a song in the late 60’s that contained the lyrics “Regrets, I’ve had a few But then again, too few to mention”. My Way – can you hear it playing in your head now? – has recently been knocked off the top of the charts as the most popular song to have played at a funeral. As at last October the perennial favourite dropped to number two in the annual rankings, being replaced by Gerry & The Pacemakers’ You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Anyway, I totally get the sentiment. Even with Covid my life has been blessed. My only personal regret is not having made it to the Northern Territory to visit my daughter due to border closures, especially following the arrival of the country’s finest project, young Harry Kilom.
Kakadu National Park is in the Northern Territory, roughly 180 south east of Darwin, the capital city. It covers an area of 19,804 km2 making it the second largest national park in Australia. It is the size of Wales and nearly half the size of Switzerland to give you some perspective.
Our First Nations people have occupied the Kakadu area continuously for at least 40,000 years. Kakadu National Park is renowned for the richness of its Aboriginal cultural sites as well as the diversity of the fauna and flora. Its cultural and natural values were recognised internationally when the park was World Heritage Listed.
Dry To Dry : The Seasons Of Kakadu won an award in the 2021 Children’s Book Council Of Australia for “books which have the prime intention of documenting factual material with consideration given to imaginative presentation, interpretation and variation of style.“
Written by Pamela Freeman this book explores the changing seasons of Kakadu – the Dry and the Wet, then back to Dry – and how this impacts on the animals and plants that live in the region. Liz Anelli’s illustrations are simple though easily recognisable even by younger readers.
Each page includes a simple storyline about the environment in its various stages and in a different font at the bottom of each page is a paragraph of factual information, though still in language for younger readers to understand.
Interestingly, although we label the seasons of Kakadu the Dry and the Wet our Indigenous people believe that there are indeed six seasons. This is important because following the seasons is vital for their food supply.
One of the greatest dangers to the natural environment of Kakadu is the Cane Toad, imported in the early 1900’s to combat beetles hurting our sugar cane industry and which are poisonous to our native birdlife and marsupials. A note at the end of the book gives thanks to “the native water rats who have figured out how to safely eat cane toads”.
This is one beautiful children’s book and if you are unable to visit the NT it isn’t a bad substitute. Young Harry Kilom just loves the baru – crocodiles.
( For Gum Trees And Galaxies Gaia/ Nature Reading Challenge ).