The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen : Book Review

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.

Sam and Lah Lah. I had a pink dressing gown at the time so I’m sure Sam saw me as a large Galah.

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. ” Tropical Cyclone 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.

Washing Copper.

* NOTE :

Galah is also a derrogatory term that means a “loud-mouthed idiot.” Named specifically for the galah, a native Australian bird that makes a distinctive (and quite funny-sounding) call.

“Oh, Scottyya bloody galah! What are you ON ABOUT?!”

from the Urban Dictionary.

The Water Book – Review

Alok Jha is science and technology correspondent at The Economist and the author of The Water Book.

The blurb on the back cover made it sound fascinating. ” Water seems ordinary – it pours from our taps and falls from the sky. But you would be surprised at what a profoundly strange substance it is. It defies the normal rules of chemistry, it has shaped the Earth, its life and our civilisation. Without it, none of us would exist.” And ” The Water Book will change the way you look at this ordinary substance. Afterwards, you will hold a glass of water up to the light and see within it the strangest chemical, something that connects you to everything and everyone else in the universe.”

The Water Book begins with a quote from chemist Felix Franks, ” Of all known liquids water is probably the most studied and least understood.”

Page by page I started keeping notes. On his way to Antartica, the author tells us ” in those frozen lakes and rivers, the ice does more than decorate the surface; it insulates the water underneath keeping it a few degrees above freezing point – and crucially liquid – even in the harshest of winters”.

After pondering this information one night – because doesn’t that nullify what we’ve been told about the effects of climate change in respect to choral bleaching? – and having read that water comes from outer space I abandoned this book at Page 50. Not the author’s fault : Science was just never my forte and I need my 8 hours sleep.

The L.O.M.L has a brain that functions that way having worked in the field of hospital equipment. He kindly offered to review The Water Book on my behalf and said he loved it.

I know: ain’t love grand………..

The Water Book, by Alok Jha. ( Review by LOML)

The story of a voyage on Academik Shokalskiy, a 70 metre long  ice-strengthened Russian Polar vessel, on a trip to Antarctica, following in the footsteps of Douglas Mawson, a British-Australian explorer and Geologist, who went there in 1912 and 1929.  Alok was part of a private science expedition, and he tells us what happened from the time they left New Zealand on their journey south, to being stuck in ice for a fortnight, to their rescue in January 2014. 
 He treats us to descriptions of daily happenings aboard ship, then diverts to scientific observations on everything about water, really! From its occurence in the universe from molecular to galaxy size. The people who made discoveries about water, and any of its alternate states. From snowflakes to icebergs, to underground oceans, consisting of ..not only water, but other chemicals, ie, liquid ammonia, close to absolute zero in temperature terms, in our local universe. He explores the relationship between life as we know it, and water in depth..so to speak.
The subjects he discusses never ceases to amaze, and the book as a whole is at once educational and a throughly good read.

Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray by Anita Heiss – Book Review

This is the first novel that has broken through my brain fog, courtesy of Covid, for quite some time

Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (River of Dreams) is an epic story of love, loss and belonging.”

Set in 1852, the Marrambidya – what we know as the Murrumbidgee – floods through the newly established township of Gundagai, leaving death and destruction in its wake. The local indigenous had warned the colonists though this went unheeded. It is a stark reminder that while the river can give life, it can just as easily take it away.

Wagadhaany is a 13 year old Aboriginal lass and considered to be one of the lucky ones because she survives the flood and lives in a settler’s home as a domestic. When she is forced to move away from her “mob” her spirit is crushed despite forging a friendship of sorts with the new mistress of the house. Her heart slowly heals when she meets a Wiradyuri stockman and she dreams of escaping from servitude and returning to the river of her ancestors, though there is danger in escaping from the white man.

Beautifully written with a nod to indigenous language, the images of rural NSW with its flocks of noisy cockatoo and the swirling currents of the river and dry plains are almost lyrical. The ugly events of our past are covered, such as the massacres, payment to workers by way of rations, abuse and mistreatment of the women, and early days of mission life. It’s not pretty.

Wagadhaany’s partner takes their twin sons camping on their first “walkabout”
to learn many of the Indigenous ways and I felt as a reader that I too was being educated in bush craft. I will never again move a log with my hands until testing first with my feet ( in case of snakes)! I particularly enjoyed the lessons gained from looking at the night sky given my recent reading about Aboriginal Astronomy.

In Gundagai today there is a sculpture of Yarri (Wagadhaany’s father in the novel) and Jackey Jackey commemorating how many of the colonists were saved during the flood in those early days.

Though not an in-your-face, aggressive look-what-you-done look back at historical events which is so very prevalent in other recent publications, this story is no less forgiving. It in no way detracts from the appalling treatment that our Aboriginals suffered but rather confirms that you can ” catch more flys with honey than with vinegar”.

Great read!

About the Author

Anita Heiss (born 1968) is an Aboriginal Australian author, poet, cultural activist and social commentator. She is an advocate for Indigenous Australian literature and literacy, through her writing for adults and children and her membership of boards and committees.

The Light and the Dark

Starting with the Dark :

Shuggie Bain, the debut novel by Douglas Stuart, won the 2020 Booker Prize. The only time I had cause to smile over this novel was when another reader described it as “misery porn”. Sums it up perfectly.

1980’s Glasgow and the men are out of work and the women are finding solace in their addictions : gambling, drink, and tobacco.

Shuggie is the youngest of three children. His father is a philandering and abusive slug who relocates the family away from relatives to a town where the pits are closed and poverty abounds, and then does a runner leaving the kids under the total control of their alcoholic mother. The two older children make their escape though loving, effeminate Shuggie does his best to keep his mother afloat, even going without food for days because the dole money went on the drink. You just know it’s not going to end well……….

Bleak as though beautifully written. I did not have a glass of wine for three days after reading this.

WARNING : Do not read listening to Leonard Cohen or if your mental health is already a little dicey. Not one glimmer of hope within the 430 pages.

And some Light:

At only 12 years of age Luke Harper has published his very first children’s book titled, Pigeons and Popcorn

In 2018, Luke entered the (Australian) National Child Writes Competition, a competition offering school children the opportunity to write and illustrate their own children’s picture books. Introduced to the competition by his school teacher from there he worked on his concepts and illustrations with a mentor.

Released in 2020 1,000 copies of Pigeons and Popcorn have been donated to Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation with all proceeds from sales being donated to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, a place Luke has previously been a patient.

Way to go…..

Xmas Reading : Honeybee by Craig Silvey

If you’re up for one of those emotional rollercoaster reads add this one to your Must Read List.

14 year old Sam is about to commit suicide when his eyes lock with an old man smoking a cigarette contemplating the same thing. Basically, five pages in and I nearly gave this a miss. Just too bleak for Christmas reading and why I avoid watching It’s A Wonderful Life.

Sam takes us on a journey of the disenfranchised and dysfunctional. It’s raw and tragic, though despite all the ugliness Sam has been watching Julia Childs’ cooking show since a really young age and he is passionate about his love of preparing food for people.

Yep, we were due a little light at the end of the tunnel………

Despite the depressing events that occur in Sam’s life – which include but are not limited to drugs, sex, violence, firearms, robbery, animal torture and bullying – he develops a strong friendship with old Vic who advises him to “Find out who you are, and live that life”.

You see, Sam is also transgender.

This coming of age novel is written with sensitivity and tenderness. Although a topic that I would generally choose to stay away from it was both eyeopening and educational in a tender hearted way.

There has been controversy in that the Australian author, whose previously released novel Jasper Jones is considered a contemporary classic, should not have written this book on the basis that he is a *cis man. So murder mysteries should only be written by those who stab someone to death or commit a heinous crime? Lighten up people. I would think that Honeybee would be of help to those youngsters struggling with identity issues.

Made me laugh, made me a little teary, and made me wish I had watched Julia Childs.

* Had to look it up :- Cisgender is a term for people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth. For example, someone who identifies as a woman and was assigned female at birth is a cisgender woman. The term cisgender is the opposite of the word transgender. Related terms include cissexism and cisnormativity.Wikipedia

A Recipe Book For Those With Food Intolerances.

My daughters have eaten all manner of interesting food whilst travelling the world including moose, armadillo, duck tongues and sea urchins. Do you think I’ve ever been able to get either of them to eat cucumber? Not on your life ! It wasn’t until they were both in their early twenties that I could stop hiding Brussel Sprouts in their meals. How I adore the much maligned Brussel Sprout – my favourite all-time veg.

Thankfully my offspring have never suffered from any food allergies. I remember the increasing difficulty of holding celebratory Morning Teas at the Office because of the various food intolerances so many suffered. It became easier to cater for your own needs only and not to share-a-plate.

Blogger, Jillian, from FeedMyFamilyblog.com has a husband and a son who each have 8 food intolerances, 3 of which are shared.

Jillian is one of those “quiet achievers” who knuckled down during the social constraints of the Pandemic to produce a Recipe Book from her years of tweaking meals to better meet the needs of her family. Mothers’ And Others’ Recipes From the Heart has recently been published in both e-book and print format and includes recipes handed down through the generations with variations to cater for different dietary requirements.

Recipes cover Biscuits and Slices, Cakes, Desserts, Dips and Savoury Nibbles, Salads and Main Meals. They are easy to read and to follow. More importantly these are all meals that can be integrated into everyday meal times.

Under the name of each recipe is a colour coded reference to advise which intolerance the recipe caters for : Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Egg Free, Soy Free, Sulphate Free or Nut Free.

At the end of each there are notes should you wish to make further variations such as swapping one ingredient for another.

This book has been produced with much love and with contributions from Jillian’s family and friends.

One disappointment only: not one Brussel Sprout in sight!

Here’s a link for further information:

Mothers’ and Others’: Recipes From the Heart

You’ve got to respect those amongst us who have achieved something other than a batch of sour dough or brownies during ISO, don’t you?

NOTE:

Although Jillian and I both live in Brisbane we have never met, yet we have shared information about local WordPress events and Book Fairs. She asked for an honest review which I like to think I achieved by replicating one of the recipes in her book – the Roast Vegetable Couscous (with tweaks as I’m spring cleaning the pantry and defrosting the fridge in readiness for Christmas).

Delicious – even if I had to hide the pumpkin.

Around The World Reading Challenge : Turkey

Last Letter From InstanbulLucy Foley

You will guess my age group when I confess that as a child at school learning about places on the Map of the World there was no Instanbul in Turkey, just Constantinople. There was also a Burma, Persia, Ceylon and Calcutta. Closer to home many towns are changing their names on the basis of their heritage such as Gove which we now know as Nhulunbuy and Ayres Rock known as Uluru. Some other towns are looking down the barrell of a name change because of “Cancel Culture”. I tell you, it can get mighty confusing……….

Last Letter from Instanbul is set in Constantinople as it was known in 1921, three years after the occupation by allied forces following World War 1.

The story is told in chapters by five different characters with differing perspectives and roles ( and which can add to the confusion) :

  • Nur, a young woman who is the sole provider for two elderly female relatives who were all turfed out of their beautiful home to make way for a hospital for the British Army
  • A young, orphaned Armenian boy rescued by Nur whom she also takes home
  • George, an Army Doctor from Scotland
  • A Prisoner taken during the war 
  • A Traveller crossing through European countries

When the young boy falls seriously ill Nur has no choice but to take the lad to the British Army Hospital where she forms an unlikely attachment to George. We see the lines between enemy and friend grow fainter.

The positives about this novel are the wonderful descriptions of the city, from the heat of the day, to the gardens, to the architecture, and the smell of spices in the markets and in the meals that are prepared, which all make you want to learn more about Turkey. The author also tackles the changes within the city since wars end : younger women not wearing face veils and their changing roles in the workforce and the resentment amongst the young men who have been disillusioned by war.

Through the activities of all characters we are shown that it’s not as simple as ‘2 sides’ in a war, or that one can accept ‘facts’ at face value. 

The negative is that sometimes it is difficult to “join the dots”. It’s not until the end of the book that it all comes together.

Deemed a Romance, I thought it more a love letter to Turkey than something special between characters. That romance was a fizzer in my book. But hey, I’m a Ceylon and Persia girl – what would I know……

About The Author

Lucy Foley , born in 1986, studied English literature at Durham University and University College London and worked for several years as a fiction editor in the publishing industry. She is the author of The Book of Lost and Found and The Invitation . She lives in London and is mad keen on travel.

“All Our Shimmering Skies” by Trent Dalton : Book Review

Australian journalist, Trent Dalton, hit gold with his debut novel Boy Swallows Universe. Critics promptly declared the quirky novel about growing up in the suburbs of Brisbane the “ latest Australian classic”.

Big call, and although I enjoyed the read, I only connected with it after hearing that many aspects of this coming of age tale mirrored Dalton’s own life. The author did have a renowned Queensland criminal as a babysitter and his mother most certainly had an unconventional life. 

I gained an appreciation for BSU after listening to Dalton at my local Library. He was open, funny-as and a delightful raconteur, chatting to the audience as if he was simply sharing stories over cold beer at a backyard barbie. 

I’ve just finished Dalton’s follow up novel, “All Our Shimmering Skies”. 

Molly Hook is a gravedigger’s daughter whose only friend is the shovel she uses in the Darwin cemetery. Life is harsh with her alcoholic father and uncle after her mother’s death. She survives the 1942 bombing by Japanese war planes though believes her family is cursed which goes back to previous generations who were gold prospectors. Molly undertakes a long and dangerous journey deep into untamed country to find Longcoat Bob, an Aboriginal Medicine Man. With her is Greta Maze escaping an abusive relationship with Molly’s uncle, who is following them menacingly. As they travel they are joined by Yukio, a Japanese pilot, who has parachuted from his crashing plane.

There’s only people, Molly. There are good ones and there are bad ones and then there’s all of us nuts stuck in the middle.“

I loved this book and think it absolutely smashes BSU. It is storytelling full of whimsey and magic and includes the Dreamtime, history, intrigue, and maybe a few tears. I was even reminded in part of old cowboy movies. Bizarre, right ? This tale too is quirky and the critics might deem some parts “unbelievable”. Who cares?

I’m not one to “judge a book by its cover”. Indeed, with my penchant for preloved books many that I read are devoid of a cover, or in the very least are so damaged that they have their own story to tell. Shimmering Skies with its cover full of colour is just like Trent Dalton’s storytelling. 

Loved it !

The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz

The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz

    By Jeremy Dronfield

This is a true story, a story moulded from a secret diary written by Gustav Kleinmann  whilst in concentration camps during World War 2, and corroborated by his son’s Fritz’s memoirs, published in 2012 with the title Doch der Hund will nicht krepieren, (which translated means But Still The Dog Will Not Die).

The Kleinmanns are a Jewish family living in Vienna who get caught up in the events of the 1930s. In 1939 Gustav and his eldest son are arrested and imprisoned at Buchenwald Concentration Camp. When Gustav is transferred to Auschwitz  15 year old Fritz volunteers to go with his father despite it being considered a death sentence. He doesn’t want his father to be alone.

Through luck, fortitude, and a strong bond these two men go on to survive the eight day Death March through snow away from the advancing Red Army to incarceration at Mauthausen, followed by a spell at Mittelbau-Dora, and then finally Bergen- Belsen where they finally find freedom at wars end. It’s a bleak read, a dark read, as one would expect.

 The author also interviewed the younger son, Kurt, who was able to tie in the rest of the families’ circumstances during that same period.

Gustav’s wife Tini is courageous and resourceful, organising a work visa that enables the eldest daughter to go to England as a domestic, and Kurt when a young child, is sponsored and goes to America. Both end up living happy and successful lives.

Tini’s story is fascinating, scrounging for work, money and food and doing whatever it takes to keep her family together, even sending parcels of clothing to Gustav and Fritz at the camps in the early days. Sadly Tini and her youngest daughter were later amongst those executed at a death camp near Minsk.

Although Kurt was aware of these deaths it wasn’t until he met the author for research purposes that he learned how the executions took place. Seventy plus years later the information still has a gut wrenching effect.

This is a powerful and tragic read though love of family and resilience shine through. And no, there will never be enough Holocaust stories if it means preventing a repeat episode.

Around the world, people condemned the Nazis and criticized their own governments for doing too little to take in refugees. But the campaigners were outnumbered by those who did not want immigrants in their midst, taking their livelihoods and diluting their communities. The German press jeered at the hypocrisy of a world that made so much indignant noise about the supposedly pitiful plight of the Jews but did little or nothing to help.”

About The Author:
Jeremy Dronfield is a biographer, historian, novelist and former archaeologist. I look forward to chasing up his other titles.

Around The World Reading Challenge : Germany

The Giraffe’s Neck by Judith Shalansky

Inge Lohmark has been employed in the education system for thirty years and is currently employed in a school that will soon be closing.

She lives and breathes biology and treats her students as specimens. A huge follower of Charles Darwin this is how she describes the children in one of her classes.

Right at the front crouched a terrified vicar’s child who had grown up with wooden angels, wax stains and recorder lessons. In the back row sat two overdressed little tarts. One was chewing gum, the other was obsessed with her coarse black hair, which she constantly smoothed and examined, strand by strand. Next to her, a tow-headed, primary-school-sized squirt. A tragedy the way nature was presenting the uneven development of the sexes here. To the right by the big windows, a small primate rocked, back and forth, open-mouthed, waiting only to mark his territory with some vulgar comment. It was just short of drumming on its chest.”

Set in the former East Germany which is starting to adapt to new ways only heightens Inge’s inability to do the same. She presents as bitter and cold and does not have a loving relationship with either her husband or adult daughter. I don’t think the reader really cares one hoot about Inge.

The language in this book at first appears stodgy, though the author has actually been very clever and written this short novel as if it were a biology paper.

Reviews of The Giraffe’s Neck, another nod to biology in that the long neck allows these animals to eat from the tallest trees, are very mixed. East Europeans see it as the next Modern Classic of German Literature and it is listed in the Top 100 German Books Translated Into English.

I admit that I probably under valued this book because of a lack of knowledge about German history and politics. Germany was not discussed in our house, and my father ( ex Bomber Command and Pathfinder Force) actually pulled me out of German classes in high school. Having said that this is one sorry affair. Nor did it provide any incentive for me to do any follow up reading to improve my understanding.

About The Author :

Judith Schalansky was born in 1980 in Greifswald, Germany. She has degrees in both history of art and communication design and works as a freelance writer and designer in Berlin. This is her first novel.