Sunday, June 18, 2017

Exit West

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid was recently reviewed on the Book Club and after watching this program I immediately reserved the book from the library.
In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her. For many days.
The opening sentences in the book set the scene for the beginning of the relationship between Nadia and Saeed who live in an unnamed city under the threat of civil war. The relationship between the two young people escalates as the dangers around them increase. Eventually they decide to escape from this land through a door which will take them to who knows where. This is the first of a number of escapes through the doors as the young couple look for a permanent home.

As the novel progresses we become aware of the predicament and challenges faced by refugees. Some people welcome the new comers while others see them as a threat. On arrival at a new destination they must find a new place to live as well as work out how to survive in a new environment. New dangers are often encountered. Food, accommodation and the necessities for living must be sourced.

This novel provides the reader with an insight into what motivates refugees to leave their home. The doors provide the opportunity for escape, but some are safer than others, and they serve as a metaphor for journeys undertaken by refugees throughout the world.

This is a beautifully written, thought provoking, book.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Swing Time

Swing Time as the title of this book by Zodie Smith, suggests is full of allusions to music. The opening chapters tell the story of two schoolgirls living in a poorer part of London who both attend the same dancing class. They both want to be dancers but the narrator has to come to terms with the fact that her friend Tracey is the better dancer. The girls frequently watch videos of old musicals and practise the dance moves that they admire. This allusion to music occurs in many sections of the book as the story unfolds. Eventually the friendship between the girls fades as they choose different career paths. From time to time, however, events from the past emerge and affect the life of the narrator who never forgets her early relationship with Tracey.

Most of the book deals with the life of the narrator as she works as an assistant to Aimee, a popular singer. Aimee also decides to sponsor a school in Africa and part of the book is set in this location. The many themes canvassed in the book include friendship, class, relationships, race relations and lifestyle. Intertwined are the constant references to music.

As the story progresses the plot can be difficult to follow with the regular flashbacks to events that occurred at different times. On one hand this method of story telling gradually reveals the main threads of the story but it can also be seen as providing a disjointed account of events. Although I started to lose interest in the story after a while I can see this book being popular with book clubs as the issues presented in this book would provide many opportunities for discussion.

Some reviews of Swing Time
The Guardian 13 November 2016
Sydney Morning Herald 17 December 2016
Good Reads - variety of reviews by readers

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The First Fleet

In this sequel to Botany Bay: the real story, Alan Frost continues the story by examining the establishment of the First Fleet to Australia in 1788. Frost argues that many writers of Australian history have neglected to study the original records recording the developments prior to the initial convict settlement at Sydney Cove. The author therefore spent many years in England going through eighteenth century archives before writing these two books.

Part of the conclusion p 214:
The First Fleet was a very expensive venture. ... the Pitt administration spend largely to make the New South Wales colony succees.
It did so because it saw that a colony in the southwest Pacific Ocean would be clearly in the nation's interest, not only because it would provide a solution to a troubling penal problem, but also because it would acieve other objects - most immediately a base and a source of naval materails, and more generally as a point of interchange for an intended vast marketing network.
The five sections of the book cover Planning a Convict Colony, Assembling the Fleet, Preparing to Sail, The Voyage and The Cost. This book is definitely worth reading by anyone interested in Australian history, but especially if you have convict ancestors.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Nursing in World War I

While writing an assignment on a World War I nurse I borrowed a number of books from the public library relating to this topic.

More than bombs and bandages: Australian Army Nurses in World War I by Kirsty Harris (published in 2011) provides a detailed and readable study of this topic. The book looks at the roles of nurses in the AANS particularly as to how the work in a military environment different from the work in a civilian hospital. The detailed appendices provide additional information.

Guns and brooches: Australian Army Nursing Nursing from the Boer War to the Gulf War by Jan Bassett (published 1992) provides a great introduction to the history of Australian military nursing. Three of the chapters over the challengers faced by World War I nurses and often contain quotations taken from interviews or written papers. A good starting point.

 Australian heroines of World War One: Gallipoli, Lemos and the Western Front by Susanna De Vries (published 2013) provides a history of the First World War through the diaries and writings of a selection of nurses who served overseas.

The other Anzacs: Nurses at war, 1914-1918 by Peter Rees (published 2008) tells the stories of a group of nurses who served overseas during World War I. This book was later the basis of the television mini-series The Anzac Girls (2014).

Stories of devotion: stories of Australia's wartime nurses by Robyn Siers (2013) is based on an exhibition at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It is therefore a pictorial account of the history of Australian military nursing that provides a brief overview of the topic. 

Veiled warriors: Allied nurses of the First World War by Christine Hallett (published 2014) examines the contribution of allied nurses to the war effort in World War I.The author writes about the work of the nurses close to the major battlefields providing the history of the war with the emphasis on nursing.

Another book often referred to is Scarlet Poppies: the army experiences of Australian nurses during World War One by Ruth Rae (available in the State Library of Victoria).This book includes a chapter on 'Transport Nursing'.

In November 2012 the Victorian Historical Journal (volume 83 no. 2) published an article by Kirsty Harris entitled 'Two heads are better than one' Melbourne as the hub of Australian Army Administration in World War I. The article discussed the role of the Australian Army Nursing Service largely based in Melbourne and the two women responsible for the operation of this organisation during the war.

There is also lots of useful material online.

Official history of the Australian Army Medical Services, 1914-1918 was written by A G Butler and is available online on the Australian War Memorial website. This work was published in three volumes. Volume 3 was published in 1943 and chapter 11 is on the Australian Army Nursing Service. Chapter XIII is the The Australian Invalid in England while chapter XIV is Sea Transport of Australian Soldiers. This title is also available in the State Library of Victoria collection.

The research that I am currently doing is about the experiences of a nurse who served in the Sea Transport Service. The Australian National Maritime Museum provides the book, Sea Transport of the AIF by Greville Tregarthen online which has useful information.

The Looking for Evidence website includes a section on the Sea Transport Service listing the Australian women who served.

This website also has a section on AANS uniforms.

The Australian War Memorial website includes an information sheet on researching Australian First World War troop ships.

Desert Column website includes a section with information and images of Australian First World War troop ships.

There are also booklets online about the various hospitals where the nurse worked.

Three copies of No 5 AGH magazine (published 1918) are available on the National Library of Australia website. The first issue produced by staff and patients includes a history of the hospital.

No 2 Australian Auxiliary Hospital Southall Middlesex is a booklet available on the National Library website. This hospital specialised in treating amputees.

No 2 Australian Auxiliary Hospital Southall war diaries from August 1917 to April 1919 are available one on the Australian War Memorial website.

No 3 Australian War Memorial Hospital Dartford war diaries are also available online on the Australian War Memorial website. The diaries cover the period June 1917 to September 1919.
A description of the hospital at Dartford was provided in the war diary for February 1918.

Other websites relating to Dartford include:
Dartford Hospital Histories

Dartford Hospital - Kent history

The diary of Mary Ann Pocock who was matron at Dartford during 1917 is also available online on the National Library website.

There were also hospitals or convalescent homes specifically for Australian nurses.
One of these was Southwell Gardens

There is also material online specifically about Australian Nurses in World War Iincluding:
Great War Nurses - Australian War Memorial website
Researching Australian Military Nurses - Australian War Memorial information sheet 
Australian Nurses in World War I - website
Researching Australian Nurses - State Library of Victoria - guide

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Restorer

Michael Sala has written a novel about a dysfunctional family who move to Newcastle to restore not only a house but also a broken relationship. Maryanne  had left her husband, Roy, and taken the children to live with her mother in Sydney. However when twelve months later Roy arrived to ask Maryanne to join him in Newcastle Maryanne tentatively agreed. Teenage daughter, Freyer, and eight year old Daniel were not happy about this relocation but Maryanne thought that she needed to try and restore her relationship with Roy and bring the family back together.

The story is primarily told through the eyes of Maryanne and Freyer with Roy ever present in the background. Newcastle also plays a major factor in the novel as the author provides descriptions of the streets, beaches, cliffs and general landscape in which the characters go about their lives in this city. The novel is set in the year 1989 and the author uses world and local events of the time such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Tianamen Square Massacre and the murder of a fourteen year old girl in Newcastle as discussion points within the novel. This was also the year of the Newcastle earthquake with the destruction of parts of the city providing an analogy with the deterioration and destruction of a relationship.

Not only does the relationship between Maryanne and Roy deteriorate but the impact of this relationship causes Freyer to experiment with outside, and often dangerous, influences to try to achieve independence from her the family.

As the story unfolds we discover why Maryanne initially left Roy and watch as aspects of Roy's character are revealed. This is a well written novel that kept me wanting to keep reading to discover more about the characters and the inevitable outcome. I suspect that it will become a very popular book with book clubs.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Soldier's Curse

A series of crime novels set in 1820s New South Wales has been written by Meg Kenealy with her father, Tom Kenealy. The first book in the Monsarrat Series is The Soldier's Curse, published in 2016.

Set in the convict settlement at Port Macquarie the novel provides detailed description of life in a convict settlement including the demarcation between convicts, former convicts and the free (usually soldiers).This convict settlement is for those who have been convicted twice for offences. Hugh Monsarrat has been assigned as a clerk in the office of the Commandant of the settlement while he awaits his ticket of leave and transcribes the many documents relating to the management of the settlement. Working at Government House he befriends the house keeper, Mrs Mulrooney, as well a a young soldier who regularly visits the house.

The plot centres around the gradual decline in health and eventual death of the Commandant's wife, Honora. When the housekeeper is accused of murdering her mistress Monsarrat is left with the task of exposing the killer.

At times I suspected that the authors were not sure whether they were writing primarily about life in the convict system or writing a crime novel as the plot is intertwined with detailed descriptions of convict life. Being the first book in a series it also contains copious back stories providing information about the main characters which slow down the unravelling of the story. Hopefully other titles in the series will concentrate a little more on the plot if they are meant to be crime novels.

The book does provide an interesting fictional account of convict life in New South Wales. The second book in the series, The Unmourned, published earlier this year is set in the Parramatta Female Factory. Hopefully the storyline will move a little faster than in The Soldier's Curse. It will be interesting to watch the development of this series.

Review in The Australian 27 February 2016

Saturday, March 18, 2017

True Girt: the unauthorised history of Australia - volume 2

The sequel to Girt: the unauthorised history of Australia by David Hunt has arrived providing readers with another chance to explore the alternative history of our country. This time topics examined include the European settlement of Tasmania, New South Wales after Macquarie (briefly), European settlement of Victoria, gold, bushrangers, explorers and the treatment of Aborigines.

David Hunt continues his irreverent investigation of events in Australian history with copious footnotes often referring to possibly parallel recent events. Like the first volume the book provides a usually humorous interpretation of history though some of the incidents described, particularly the treatment of indigenous Australians, may make the reader feel uncomfortable. However other sections make entertaining reading and may encourage readers to explore Australian history more thoroughly.

The Australian reviewed this book in November.