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Monday, 23 March 2009

the I that is I

I'm not so interested in 'I' - the 'I' that is 'I', though I know its strength as a narrative device. However, I am very interested in other "I's". During the two weeks I spent in Perth, I read about 14 books, a good percentage autobiography. A few fiction were in there too, but all told from first person perspective. That's not to say it is the only perspective. I still love Underworld, by De Lillo, which I think is mostly third person, but opens in second person: "He speaks in your voice, American, and there’s a shine in his eye that’s halfway hopeful."
And the beginning of Jazz by Toni Morrison: "Sth, I know that woman. She used to live with a flock of birds on Lenox Avenue. Know her husband, too". Come in and share my story, maybe it is your story, too.

Below are some of the books I read. Some of them might only be available in Australia, and not all of them are new books by any means. But I think you'd enjoy them if you delved into them, or if not, just enjoy the cover art.

unimagined. I saw Imran speak twice at the Perth Writers' Festival, the first time with Alice Pung and James McBride, whose books are below. He was hilarious. His book is also funny, but poignant in a way that his performance was not. He is also on the board of British Muslims for Secular Democracy whose tagline is: 'No individual, group or gender should have any theological or regressive cultural values imposed upon them.'. He has a blog, here. I haven't looked through it yet, but the few bits and pieces I have read are interesting.

unpolished gem. Alice Pung is an Asian-Australian, or Australian-Asian whose family came from Cambodia. She was hilarious, too. This autobiography and the collection she edited, Growing up Asian in Australia (directly below) are important for sharing different points of view, to the mainstream Australian image. Plus, they tell damn good stories.

growing up Asian in Australia.

James McBride was the third of the three to present, and was also sharp, funny and caustic (Ahmad and Pung were not so caustic). I haven't included any links to his book, because it is very well known, and was released more than ten years ago. It's a great read, though: an African-American writer talking about growing up with his white, converted to Christianity, Jewish mother. Both her story, and his own, are fascinating, sad and heartening.

the rugmaker of mazar-e-sharif. I also saw this guy, Najaf Mazari speak at the festival. Talk about walking humanity. With him was Robert Hillman, who cowrote the book with him. Hillman has his own autobiography below. Mazari was a Hazara who had to flee Afghanistan. He was in detention in Australia for some time, as was the immigration policy at the time. He was one of two people in Australia with a working knowledge of how to make, repair, dye, and so on, Afghan carpets and rugs. He worked hard, and has a store in Phrahran, now. A very heartening story, and beautifully told.

the boy in the green suit.
Robert Hillman, who is the writer who Najaf above told his story to, has his own book. At 16 in 1965, with only two pounds and a one way ticket, he decided to embark on a journey to the Seychelles. He never made it, but he did wander through Greece, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Kuwait, Iran and Pakistan. It is an amazing read that reflects on the incredible naivety, and therefore ability to undertake and do many things, that we have when we are young.

where the streets had a name - review. Randa Abdel-Fattah is Australian born of an Egyptian mother and a Palestinian father. She was not at the festival, but the topics of her books seem to tie into a recurring theme of the festival, which seemed to deal with a lot of issues revolving around religion, culture and the concepts, perceptions and history of the Middle East. She is a teen writer, but also a lawyer (as is Alice Pung), and a mother of two. I think she is only 30, so, of course I feel terribly inadequate, but, good luck to her.

I was, and am, as you can probably tell from my blog, interested in stories about people rather than the demonisation of them. All three of her books deal with being Muslim, the first two below, with being Muslim in Australia, and the one above of living in the occupied territories in Palestine. They are aimed at a teen audience. The writer seems to be religious, and is part of inter-faith groups in Australia. The discussion of religion seems to be a necessary part of describing the day to day that her characters face, though. The books are humourous and human. Lots of fun, particularly if you have kids, and want to present them with a more balanced view of the diversity that exists within multi-cultural societies, and in the world as a whole.

overview of Abdel-Fattah and book summary

White Tiger. Apart from the young adult reads above, this was the only fiction I read. White Tiger won the Booker, and is perhaps a good companion piece to Slumdog Millionaire detailing the underbelly of the emerging slick, fast and modern India. Easy to read. The writer did a fair part of his schooling in Australia.

my invented country. by Isabel Allende. I read this in Malaysia, actually. I really enjoy Allende's early work: House of Spirits and Eva Luna. This is enjoyable, too. She is a political beast, though maybe not enough for some. She covered far more of the time when she had to flee Chile in Paula, but there are still accounts within this. Paula is maybe the better book, but I still enjoyed learning more about her family, her country, and the sad history of Chile. This book is far from new, too.


meanderingmelbourne said...

Ooh, a book a day! Must chase some of them up, particularly the Alice Pung titles. Sounds intriguing.

Jay McInerney's "Brightness Falls" is famed for being written in unobtrustive second person (not that that's the point of your post).

To the library!:-)

lizardrinking said...

I've never read Jay McInerney. Tried. Guess I should. I think the two best written, and most gripping stories, are probably the Hillman ones, aside from White Tiger, which is fiction, of course.

this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr