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.

Politician’s Funeral Pyre

The Sympathizer
Viet Thanh Nguyen
Grove Press
November 2015

the_sympathizerThe Vietnam War, it will be no news to anyone, has had considerable impact on world history, both as a national tragedy for Vietnam and in its global cultural impacts.  It sparked a mass movement of people around and out of Vietnam and the rest of Indochina.  The song I’ve posted above is apparently about this migration.  I couldn’t find any English translation of the lyrics and sadly do not know any useful Vietnamese.  The Sympathiser follows the story of a migrant, the Captain, who journeys to the US as a refugee and sleeper agent for the Viet Cong.

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The Silence is Illusion

Without You, There is No Us
Suki Kim
Memoir, politics
Crown
October 2014

without_you_there_is_no_usI first came across Suki Kim as a panellist at the exceedingly awkward “Inside North Korea” talk at this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival.  I have written about this panel in more detail before, but Kim’s frustration at her co-panellists, and at the situation in and around North Korea generally, was as palpable there as it is in this book.  Without You, There is No Us is a memoir of her time as a missionary English teacher at an elite university outside of Pyongyang.  It is an incisive and self-reflective memoir.

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Her Young Smile is Radiant in the Spotlight

Only Ever Yours
Louse O'Neill
Quercus
2015

only_ever_yoursImagine a world where women are pitted against each other, forced to comply with nigh unattainable standards of beauty and behaviour, and live their lives entirely according to the whims of men who treat them with nothing but contempt. Oh sorry, you don’t need to imagine. That’s our reality*. Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours** is our reality up to eleven.  I’ll say it now: massive trigger warnings for eating disorders, shaming of women’s sexuality, rape culture, misogyny, domestic violence and toxic masculinity.  As someone who, like most women, has struggled with body image (etc.), I was not terribly affected, but I cannot speak for other readers and potential readers.

freida is entering the final year of School.  She is 16, and with her 29 classmates she has spent the last twelve years of her life in a routine of maintaining stringent beauty standards, learning proper feminine behaviours, and being rated weekly on her appearance by her peers as well as total strangers.  In the future earth of freida’s birth, sex-selective abortion almost led to the extinction of the human race.  It was decided that women must be designed and educated to become the mothers of future generations.  But, since men need more than just wifely companionship, a large number of concubines are also required.  freida’s destiny is to become either one of ten companions, a concubine, or a chastity–a celibate teacher for girls at the School. Continue reading

The Face of Jesus in my Soup

The Book of Memory
Petina Gappah
Faber & Faber
September 2015

the_book_of_memoryThe Book of Memory is Petina Gappah’s first novel, a tightly woven tale of privilege and prison, of Zimbabwe, and of course memory.  It is the fictional memoir of the convicted murderer, Memory.  She has been asked to write in service of a potential appeal against her death sentence.

Memory is an albino woman.  Sent away as a child from her home in one of Harare’s townships to live with a white man, Lloyd, she struggles to find a sense of belonging and of self.  She feels neither black nor white; her birth family has rejected her; and with her Cambridge education she is at great odds with her fellows in the Chikurubi Prison.  We see as she pieces together clues from her life, trying to work out how it arrived at this ugly point.  Of course she professes her innocence of the murder. Continue reading

Didn’t Mean to Make You Cry

Early One Morning
Virginia Baily
Virago
September 2015

early_one_morningEarly One Morning, Virginia Baily’s second novel, is a powerful tale of loss and love in Rome.  Always a little leery of books about Italy in general, and somewhat underwhelmed by the title, I was pleasantly surprised by the book.  It is a beautifully written and poignant story.

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Close Your Eyes, Pay the Price for Your Paradise

The Heart Goes Last
Margaret Atwood
Bloomsbury
24 September 2015
hardcover

the_heart_goes_lastMargaret Atwood’s latest novel is an incisive critique of our current society.  Neoliberalism and the prison industrial complex, as well as nostalgia for a non-existent, rosy mid-20th century, all cop a wry humoured nudging.  Not a bashing; Atwood would never be so unsubtle.

Charmaine and Stan are at their wits’ end.  Struggling to get by in the depths of an economic depression and a society barely holding itself together, they live in their car and can see no way out of their deepening poverty.  Fortunately, they are eligible to participate in a well funded social experiment, the Positron Project.  They will be provided with a house, with employment, and with the safety of a gated community, in return for spending every second month as prisoners in the Positron Prison. Continue reading

Imagine All the People

Arcadia
Iain Pears
Allen & Unwin
August 2015

arcadiaIain Pears’ latest novel, Arcadia is not one story but many.  Taking place over several different timelines, with multiple interlocking characters and plots, it is an ambitious and wide-scoped piece.  Pears has also worked to create a complementary app to assist readers in their journey through the book.  Unfortunately, I was unable to access this app on my Android phone for whatever reason, so instead of taking the option of choosing my own adventure through the story, I was more or less forced to read it straight through as it appears in the book.  A perfectly fine way to read any novel, but one that did not take full advantage of Arcadia’s possibilities.

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Behold the Deluge as the Levees Break

The Water Knife
Paolo Bacigalupi
Science Fiction
Hachette
June 2015
Paperback

the_water_knifeFor someone who quite enjoys science fiction movies, I sure don’t like thinking about the future. It’s scary, it’s worrying, and in order to live my life without being cripplingly depressed I do have to become one of those head-in-sand people about some things. This is especially the case when it comes to near future climate change fiction, a genre I pointedly avoid. But it’s not just earth futures; it’s space as well, that unfathomably huge universe. Nothing against space personally, I just don’t need an existential crisis right now. Thanks.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife, then, was a book I took up hesitantly for fear it would just upset me. Set in water-starved Arizona in a future where the United States has all but dissolved and swathes of people are fleeing death by dehydration, it is a grim view of the future indeed. The powers of Nevada, California and Arizona vie for drips of the Colorado river. Ruthless Angel, employed by Nevada, arrives in Arizona to chase up rumours that a new water source has been found. Lucy, a journalist, is chasing similar leads in her quest to uncover the truth behind Phoenix’s ever-increasing bodycount. Maria, a Texan refugee, tries to eke out a living selling water, fighting to survive Phoenix’s dangerous underworld. The plots of these three characters intertwine as they are all embroiled in the desparation and violence of a city in its death throes.

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You are My Moon in My Night

1Q84
Haruki Murakami. trans. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel
Vintage
2011

1Q84At the great risk of sounding insufferably pretentious, I am a fan of Haruki Murakami. I first received Kafka on the Shore for Christmas in 2005, when I had just recently returned from my first trip to Japan as part of a high school study tour. My mind thoroughly blown, I searched for other Murakami books and have enjoyed most of them. It must be confessed, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle sits half finished on my shelf. But I loved A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance and Sputnik Sweetheart. And I read Norwegian Wood at precisely the right time of my life, in my early 20s and on holiday. Though it remains one of my favourite books, I’m afraid to reread it and lose the magic of that first emotional sweep. So with all that said, of course I wanted to melt similarly into 1Q84 in all its expected weirdness, letting the musical references sail over my head like I usually do.

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They Smoke Cigarettes and Play with Bombs

THE TRAGEDY OF FIDEL CASTRO
João Cerqueira, trans. Karen Bennett and Chris Mingay
River Grove Books
2015

the-tragedy-of-fidel-castro_joc3a3o-cerqueira1The Tragedy of Fidel Castro is an entertaining jaunt into political and religious irreverence.  Communism, capitalism and Catholicism all get a heart lashing as God intervenes, at the beck of Fàtima, in a war between Fidel Castro and JFK.  In the meanwhile, the nature of politics, humanity and religion are also given for the reader to consider.

I’m sad to confess that I did not really get a lot of the humour in the book.  I’m not sure if this is because the nature of humour I enjoy is just different to that present in this book; whether it’s a difference in Portuguese and Spanish humour as compared to humour in the Anglosphere.  Or perhaps it’s just a few of the references I miss, with my relative ignorance of matters concerning post-Bay of Bigs relations between Cuba and the United States.

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You Won’t Have to Follow Me

The Origins of Political Order
Francis Fukuyama
Politics
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
2011

the_origins_of_political_orderWhen contemplating books on politics to read which I knew I would disagree with, international studies heavyweight Francis Fukuyama was someone I considered but briefly.  Somewhere along the way I’d received the impression that Fukuyama had softened in his views and become somewhat more leftist later in life.  Having read the first of this recently completed mammoth duology, I’m left wondering if perhaps the centre has just gravitated right and left him behind.

The Origins of Political Order is an ambitious attempt at understanding how and why human societies have developed such diverse political structures.  The question Fukuyama seeks to answer over all is, why do some societies form state-bound structures, particularly democratic ones, and why do others remain tribal?  It’s a question that many historians, philosophers and various other theorists have attempted to tackle in the past and there is a proliferation of theory on the matter; Fukuyama’s take combines a number of those approaches with his own views.

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The Walking Men of Melbourne

I grew up in Melbourne’s inner west in the 1990s, back when it was still a hotbed of heroin addiction and burglaries.  Before it was cool.  I’ve gotten a bit defensive about this since the area started becoming über trendy, because once upon a time no one knew where Yarraville was and I always had to define it by its proximity to Footscray.

“Oh,” people would say.  “Oh.

Now it’s all, “Yarraville’s so lovely!  That must have been so great!”  And I have to remind them that back in those days, Yarraville was basically the same thing as the rest of the west.  Think Sunshine, think Braybrook.  Explaining it all to people from the other side of the river, who just don’t understand, is the burden I bear for existing in an area before it started gentrifying.

But this isn’t a piece about the east/west divide or the development of my class consciousness, or even about that time in my creative writing class (at the University of Melbourne, for added context) our tutor asked, “Raise your hand if you’re from the eastern suburbs”, and I was the only person who didn’t.  No, this piece is about a unifying oddity I have noticed in the various locales around Melbourne, not one specific to the west.  From what I can tell, anyway.  I lived in Heidelberg for a total of 6 months and found it weird.  There were too many white people*, it was too far from the city, and it was just weird, okay? You can take a girl out of the west …

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      An occasional viewer of ABC’s First Tuesday Bookclub, I tuned in the other month to see the “classic” up for review was Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.  Having nursed a fierce loathing for that novel since studying it for English in year 10, I watched, somewhat in the hope of … Continue reading