About Cecilia Quirk

Cecilia Quirk's ultimate goal in life is to become 'Avatar: The Last Airbender's' Uncle Iroh, or as close a proximation as possible for a redhaired white woman. Or Granny Weatherwax. Or hell, both. She enjoys green tea, long walks, manipulating causality and afternoons at home. She lives in the Magical Kingdom of the Roundabouts and works as a wild gnome herder.

Let Peace Be. Let Life Be

Under the Udala Trees
Chinelo Okparanta
fiction
Granta, Allen & Unwin
24 February 2016
323
$ 27.99

under_the_udala_treesAs a woman who likes women*, I can’t tell you how often I’ve set myself up for disappointment in novels.  So many times I’ve read protagonists meeting other girls who they immediately like because of their spunk, their beauty, their grace or whatever else.  I think, “Ooh, maybe they fall in love!” And they never, never do.  Imagine my delight when, in Under the Udala Trees, which has not been marketed at all as a lesbian novel in Australia, our protagonist Ijeoma meets and falls in love with another girl, Amina.  My worries about the book, mainly inflicted by the cover marketing, were instantly erased. Continue reading

If the Answer isn’t Violence, Neither is Your Silence

Panic
David Marr
Politics and journalism
Black Inc
2011

panicDavid Marr was, for a little while there, what I wanted to be when I grew up.  We’re talking high school here, which I started in 2001, deep in the Howard era and quite shortly before the terror panic gripped much of the “western” world.  For extra context, the first political protest I ever remember going to was one against the incarceration of refugees in the Woomera Detention Centre in 1999.  David Marr was one of an assortment of public figures who espoused opinions aligned with my own, one who was just as angry as I was about everything Wrong with Australia.

This book is a collection of edited pieces by Marr in his capacity as a journalist, tracking the bloom and boom of several panics that have gripped the Australian public, focusing especially on the time since 1997.  Even more especially, it focuses on the extremely vexed question of race as it pertains to immigration, in the wake of backlash against the revocation of the White Australia Policy, and to Australia opening its doors (kinda) to (hold onto your hats) refugees who are not white.  But there are other scandals thrown into the mix too; Jim Henson’s naked children, drugs, hommus-ectuality and that kind of thing.  The point Marr wants to make is that as a people Australians are pretty partial to getting in a flap about things.  Unfortunately, we see as a consequence such draconian and often poorly drafted laws as 2006’s anti terror legislation, or anti bikie laws introduced in various states in the last few years*. Continue reading

I Felt You in my Arms Before I Even Met You

Carol
Patricia Highsmith
as The Price of Salt 1951; as Carol 2016

carolAt least in my circles, Todd Haynes’ new film Carol created quite a buzz.  After all, it’s still quite a rarity to see a movie about a same sex relationship that doesn’t end in tears.  In 1951, when The Price of Salt was first published, it was unheard of, not just in movies but also in books.  Censorship, both official and soft, meant publishers were unwilling to produce books about same sex relationships.  Pulp lesbian fiction, which because of said censorship ended in death or in the blessed powers of the healing cock, was pretty much it for the ladies.  In terms of fiction, men had even less to turn to. Continue reading

I Will Face God and Walk Backwards Into Hell

Notes on the Death of Culture
Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. John King
Essay
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
2015
Hardback
227
AU $35.00

notes_on_the_death_of_cultureI don’t mean to be alarmist or anything, but I have some terrible news.  Culture.  It’s… dead.  It’s dead, Jim!

How do I know?  Well, Mario Vargas Llosa told me so, and as the bastion of all that is Good and Right and Noble in this world, he should know.  Oh, how he laments the loss of glorious enlightemnent ideals, aesthetic art and literature.  A time when intellectuals were given their proper value, listened to and affecting the way society operated.  A time, you see, that only exists in the misted eyes and rose-tinted glasses of the privileged few.  Because apparently any kind of mass culture, any non-western-based culture, is just not worth your time.  And forget about the devilish Internet or about any kind of Islamic culture.  I mean really.  Really. Continue reading

Supposedly Human, the World’s Shame

Between Enemies
Andrea Molesini, trans. Antony Shugaar and Patrick Creagh
Allen & Unwin
November 2015
AU $29.99

between_enemiesAndrea Molesini’s Between Enemies is an eloquent tale of occupation, collaboration and resistance set in WWI.  Based on true events, it follows the aristocratic Spada household as their property is requisitioned by German soldiers, then Austrians.  Their village is occupied.  Eventually the whole household as well as several villagers are drawn to resist the occupiers.

Told from the perspective of 17-year-old Paolo, writing as an adult some ten years later, the story is full of high drama, but also nostalgia and melancholy.  Because the narrator is a teenage boy during the events, the story is also sadly filled with the objectification of Paolo’s crush Giulia.  While this is probably realistic, it’s a little tiresome to read, especially when the novel purports to say something about the natures of men and women and their relationships*.  This is usually by way of commentary delivered by Paolo’s eccentric but wise grandfather, and manages to be the same sort of thing supposedly wise men always say about women in stories of this kind.  If authors** could stop doing that, that would be swell. Continue reading

A Better Life Imagined in his Eyes

The Belly of the Atlantic
Fatou Diome, trans. Lulu Norman and Ros Schwartz
Serpent's Tail
2006

the_belly_of_the_atlanticFatou Diome’s The Belly of the Atlantic is a passionate story about the dream of migration and its harsh reality.  Told from the point of view of Strasbourg resident Salie, the novel nonetheless focuses mostly on her brother Madické.  Madické lives on  the Senegalese island Niodior and dreams of being headhunted to join a big European soccer team.  This dream is shared by many of his friends, persisting despite the warnings of Salie and the teacher Ndétare that neither the road to nor the life in Europe is as good as they believe. Continue reading

You’ll be Given Love

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
Sun-Mi Hwang, trans. Chi-Young Kim
Oneworld

the_hen_who_dreamed_she_could_flyThe Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a beloved story in South Korea*, appearing for the first time in English after its initial release in 2000. It follows the chicken Sprout, who has lived her life inside a battery farm and dreams of one day hatching an egg of her very own. She is given up for dead and thrown out. This is when Sprout finally gets the opportunity to fulfil her dream.

Targetted at both adult and child readers, at least in English translation, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a simple tale with a complex message.  The writing is enchanting, evoking the seasonal changes and the dangers of living in the wilds.  The story is concisely told, with drama and adventure in measured doses.

With easy comparisons to Charlotte’s Web and similar such tales, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a gentle and enjoyable read.

*According to the author information anyway. Since I don’t speak Korean, know any South Koreans, and have never been to South Korea, I cannot verify this first-hand.

Blind Revenge on the Blameless Victim

First They Killed my Father
Loung Ung
Non-fiction
HarperCollins
2000

first_they_killed_my_fatherI didn’t much like being in Cambodia the first time I went there in early 2014.  Led by the most unbearable tour guide imaginable* in a small group made up mostly of middle-aged Australian couples with whom the only thing I had in common was a nationality, I experienced what in retrospect was most likely culture shock. And for a time I wondered if it was because of the effects of the Khmer Rouge genocide on the country. Such a savage and profound event leaves scars on people who endure it, and on the nation itself.

Nonetheless, even though my mother gave me First They Killed My Father to read before we left on this trip, I resisted it.  I didn’t want to read misery porn, which any biography about the Khmer Rouge must surely be.  It took these last few years for me to finally work up to reading it.  Along with a little assistance from a Dateline special and Sue Perkins travelling along the Mekong. Continue reading

Find Your Measure, Do What You Will

the_dark_towerIn a not especially festive turn of events, I am undertaking, slowly, the task of rereading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.  I first read it in my early days at university, I can’t remember exactly when.  I wasn’t quite sure if I liked them at first, but I couldn’t stop reading them, so I guess I did.  I certainly liked the genre mash.  The series, as best as I can describe it, is a post-Apocalyptic fantasy western. Continue reading

Deceived, Distressed by the Truth They’ve Been Withholding

Nothing to Envy Book Cover Nothing to Envy
Barbara Demick
Non-fiction
Fourth Estate
2010

nothing_to_envyNothing to Envy is Barbara Demick’s rightly praised history of North Korea in the early to late 1990s, as experienced by North Koreans.  Demick spent years interviewing North Korean defectors living in China and South Korea to compile the book.  Through their stories, Demick follows the crises in the isolated state that started developing with the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Many political commentators assumed this would lead to the collapse of North Korea as well.  As of time of writing, this has clearly not yet happened.

Continue reading

World Monkey Day

monkey-before-skeleton-1900.jpg!LargeIn celebration of World Monkey Day, I shall share a horrifying monkey-related story.

My grandmother had a monkey-skin rug.  Made from the skin of a black-and-white colobus, then purchased in Kenya in the early 1960s, it was as morally questionable as it was beautiful.  As someone who prefers monkey skins on living monkeys, I’m somewhat glad I never actually saw it.

One day, while grandma was cleaning out her cupboards, she came across the rug in its bag.  Morbidly curious, we asked her to bring it out and show us.  So grandma brought the bag over and opened it up.  All that remained of the monkey-skin rug was a pile of dust.

Did I Choose Something I Should Regret?

The Little Red Chairs
Edna O'Brien
Literary fiction
Allen & Unwin
December 2015

9780571316281Firstly allow me to apologise for being spotty this past month.  NaNo, family engagements and now illness have quashed my ability to write all that much of anything that was not my current novel project, or indeed anything at all since the start of December.  Distressing.  But let us set that aside, because the novel I’m reviewing this week, The Little Red Chairs is a fair bit more distressing, since it deals with the aftermath of the Bosnian War and genocide.

Continue reading

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