Blind Revenge on the Blameless Victim

First They Killed my Father
Loung Ung

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

Get Your Motor Runnin’

On The Move: A Life
Oliver Sacks
May 2015

OnTheMove_smThe way other people see us isn’t necessarily the way we see ourselves. This was my first impression of Oliver Sacks, eminent neurologist, when seeing the cover of his memoir On The Move. Rather than providing a photo of himself as a distinguished older gentleman at the end of a distinguished neurological career, what we get instead is Sacks, virile, young, muscular, and leather-clad, astride a motorcycle. This is the Oliver Sacks that he wants us to remember, the inner Sacks that perhaps people had began to forget but he never had. There’s a fondness for the adventure of youth before the pages even open, and I found myself needing to recalibrate to the idea that perhaps this wasn’t the story of dogged academic pursuit after all.

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Bill: The Life of William Dobell

Scott Bevan
Simon and Schuster, November 2014, RRP $35.00

This is a great biography on so many levels.  It is obviously written based years of detailed research, skill and passion by the author Scott Bevan. It has all the rigor and depth of a PhD thesis but none of the dryness. Bevan’s passion for his subject shines through. He goes always for balance and presenting both sides of the picture so readers feels an immediate trust in him.   Often he goes those extra little steps such as going to Bill’s Kings Cross flat to see what he would have actually seen out of his window.  He chooses an immensely wide range of people involved in Dobell’s life.

This is a book for lovers of Australian art.  This is also a book for anyone who has even a vague notion of Australian art in general and even minimal exposure to the institutions such as the Archibald prize. This book helps the reader explore the roles and the place of a series of Australian artists and, in particular, the birth and the place of modernism and the tensions created.  It does this in a personal, human and real way not at an art critic level. Continue reading

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      FLOOD OF FIRE Amitav Ghosh John Murray, May 2015, RRP $29.99; eBook RRP $16.99 Flood of Fire is the final book in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy and concerns the first Opium War, the eventual Chinese defeat, and the seizure of Hong Kong by English forces.  Sorry, um, spoilers I guess?  It introduces some further … Continue reading