Books


#942

I can highly recommend this book:

Black Snake - The Real Story of Ned Kelly
Leo Kennedy

Author Leo Kennedy is the great-grandson of Sergeant Michael Kennedy. Raised in the shadow of his great-grandfather’s murder, Leo witnessed the deep psychological wounds inflicted on successive generations of his family - and the families of other victims - as the Ned Kelly myth grew around them and the sacrifice of their loved ones was forgotten.
Black Snake challenges the legend of Ned Kelly. Instead of celebrating a heroic man of the people, it gives voice to the victims of a merciless gang of outlaws. This is a captivating true story, gleaned from meticulous research and family history of two men from similar backgrounds whose legacies were distorted by history.


#943

I’ve just listened to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris, an Australian author, on the basis of a couple of recommendations. I didn’t think it was very good; in fact I thought it was pretty poor, frankly. It’s a true story with two basic themes: the determination to survive over 2 years in Auschwitz, and a love born in a concentration camp.

They’re strong themes and could have been the basis of a very good book, but unfortunately it’s very poorly written and full of anachronistic dialogue, thoughts and events — eg in 1943 the main character manages to get hold of penicillin on the black market to save his beloved, when penicillin had not even been heard of by the general public in 1943 and was not in general use until after the war.

The audiobook is an Australian production read by Richard Armitage — not very well.


#944

Well if you are going to skip parts of a book, there is no real surprise that you will miss things.


#945

I suspect “The Book Smugglers of TImbuktu” started out as an attempt to lionise the heroic efforts of a few humble souls in Timbuktu, lead by a librarian (the humblest of humble professions), who outwit Al Qaeda oppressors and save the precious literary heritage of Timbuktu and Africa and, of course, the World, but somewhere along the way the author, Charlie English, caught the whiff of artifice and found himself faced with a dilemma. Was the public version of the story legit, or a beat-up aimed at drawing money from guilt ridden donors, or a bit of both? He basically pumps for the latter, but without certainty or outrage.
The book has two narratives which line up in the myth busting finale, the history of the European fascination with and the search for the legendary town of Timbuktu in Mali, and the account of the reputed spiriting of hundreds of thousands of historical documents from under the noses of the Al Qaeda besiegers in Timbuktu earlier this decade. Ultimately I found the historical narrative of the poorly organised and disastrous attempts to reach the fabled city more engrossing. When eventually they reached their Atlantis they were overwhelmed with indifference, for naturally it could never have lived up to the mythical preconceptions and, surprise, surprise, turned out to be a trade town with nothing much to distinguish itself, except for its prized cache of literature.
Charlie English keeps the story moving in a lively journalist manner, a sort of Peter Ackroyd in first gear, and mostly lets the twin narratives tell themselves. It certainly opened my eyes to Mali and Timbuktu, and I won’t be hopping on a flight any time soon. He admits towards the end the book has become less about history and more about historiography as he juggles multitudes of contradictory sources and very few hard facts in both of the text’s streams.
I certainly wouldn’t say it was a book I couldn’t put down, I did for extended periods of time, but I did keep picking it up again… and again.


#946

Just finished reading The Rhythm Section by Mark Burnell that they’re making into a movie. Written before 9/11 but had eerie similarities with it. I’m not sure what to think of it tbh but I will probably watch the movie.


#947

Will Eaves’ “Murmur” makes no concessions for scientific or biographical ignorance and I often found it challenging. The book imagines, rather than depicts, the final portion of the life of one of the modern era’s foremost celebrity martyr’s, namely Alan Turing. It’s short, disjointed and full of hallucinogenic dream sequences which are regularly indistinguishable from the parallel narrative, if indeed there is one, as befits the tale of a victim of chemical castration. It’s also brilliantly written, perceptive and wise. Alan Turing becomes Alec Pryor in a move I take as the author’s concession he is engaged in literary slight of hand, but there’s no doubting it’s Turing. The protagonist’s various manifestations, and there are a few, regularly insist we are on our own and can do little more than speculate about the state of consciousness of another, be it human or mechanical, and speculate Eaves does. A number of the rave reviews it has garnered insist he has cracked Turing’s code, but I’m not entirely convinced the Pryor who by book’s end appears to have emerged from chemical hell with his basic sense of self fairly intact is a candidate for the gruesome end we know Turing endured. But then perhaps Eaves is siding with those who question whether Turing’s end was self inflicted.
Is it worth the challenge? How would I know, I can’t read minds. But I enjoyed the experience, although I wouldn’t have minded a decent set of footnotes and a scientific glossary.


#948

Still getting throughPhilip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series.

Bernie is a homicide cop in Berlin in the twenties and early thirties, and being a supporter of the Weimar Republic, doesn’t survive the Nazi takeover.

But he’s still in demand as a top cop, and gets co-opted by sundry high-up Nazis during the war.

He floats around after the war and some of the books are set in Cuba, Argentina and Athens inter al. Interesting times in history.

Kerr died last year, so Metropolis, his last book, was recently released.

And they don’t really need to be read chronologically. 14 or 15 books in total, I think. The first three are released as a single book.


#949

If you like Ali Smith you’ll like Spring, the third of her planned Brexit Quartet, it’s as simple as that. It’s an incongrous modern fairy tale about various characters from across the social and political divide trying to make their way through the ethical minefield of modern Britain. Holding them together is a fey child sage who somehow manages to conjure hope in a world of abuse and conflict.
If anything it’s more accessible and less subtle than her usual fare, as befits the themes and times, and for once she actually ties up some, if not all, of the story lines. Given the current news it’s hard to imagine the flicker of hope surviving Summer but we can but wait and see.
One warning: it trains a spotlight on the modern obscenity of refugee incarceration, something I’m told is a turn off in OZ.


#950

And now I’ve started on David Young’s Stasi series with Karin Müller as a youngish police lieutenant in East Berlin in the mid 70s.

She’s not cynical about the “Democratic” Republic but I suspect in books 2-4 she will become so, like in The Lives of Others.