A novel of the moment, and terrorism in Australia: what to read next
This beginning is presented as a queer When Harry Met Sally for the Sally Rooney set, but it lacks the nuance or insight of that movie or that author. From the start, 28 Questions lets readers know this is a heartbreak story, inviting a look back at how things happened at the time. The novel follows music student Amalia, a young Australian woman studying in Britain. She develops a quick friendship with fellow expat Alex, and over the course of four years their relationship evolves, often in toxic ways. There are moments of creative flair – the use of sheet music and chords denoting different kinds of love is a nice nod to Amalia’s (and Indyana Schneider’s) musical studies – but overall the novel is overdone: jam-packed with clunky literary references, bizarrely scripted unrealistic dialogues, and the pseudo-intellectual philosophical conversations typical of freshman college students.
NON FICTION CHOICE OF THE WEEK
Kristy Campion, Allen and Unwin, $32.99
Many Australians still believe that terrorism originated there, beyond our sovereign borders, but Kristy Campion, an expert on right-wing extremism, explodes that myth in this embracing story of extremism in Australia. It starts with the local Australian terrorist who carried out the Christchurch Massacre in 2019, then back to the Irish Fenian who shot dead the Duke of Edinburgh on tour in 1868, through the fascist organizations of the 1930s, the extremes of the student movement 1960s and contemporary bands. It not only sheds light on the dark world of terrorism, but also analyzes their unifying motivations, the religious and ideological factors, and the misguided utopian visions that sanction violence and mass murder. It is a lucid and reasoned examination of dramatic material.
Leo and Mina Fink
Margaret Taft, Monash University Publishing, $34.95
It is indeed sobering to learn that in 1947, after the Holocaust, 58% of Australians were against the resettlement of Jewish refugees in Australia and that newspapers were warning of an “influx of Jews”. So when a Dutch ship with over 700 Jewish refugees docked in Sydney, exceeding immigration guidelines, it was deeply controversial. The organizing force behind the refugees was Leo and Mina Fink, a Polish-born couple from Melbourne who emigrated to Australia in 1932, remained committed to their Jewish background, the resettlement of Jewish survivors and community work in general. Margaret Taft’s engaging biography of the couple also creates a clear, synoptic picture of the era (particularly pre-war Poland) that created them, as well as places such as their hometown Bialystok and the first community Jewess from Melbourne.
For the good of the world
AC Grayling, Oneworld, $34.99
Some may find AC Grayling’s argument chimerical that we need to find some form of global ethical agreement to deal with the pressing problems currently facing humanity – but, as he puts it in this calm assessment, demanding but accessible of the current situation, “it is appropriate to contemplate the ideal, because it fixes a horizon towards which to strive”. There are three major problems: climate change; galloping technology (in particular the potential uses of AI) and social justice (encompassing contemporary feminism and gender politics) In a globalized world, a global solution is needed, but can humans agree on a broad set of values to deal with these problems? Incorporating concepts such as cultural relativism, among others, Grayling explores ways to achieve this. And, as he points out, if we don’t work together, reality imp will dare its own solutions.
Courses in Australia
Eds., Steven Threadgold and Jessica Gerrard, Monash University Publishing, $39.95
For decades, the neo-conservative line has been that “class” is dead – particularly, in an age of aspirations, the idea of a working class. This collection of essays demonstrates that the classroom in all its complexity is very much alive and has played a crucial role in shaping Australian history. Even as the right tries to appropriate ‘beaters’ and ‘silent Australians’, the inequality, as the editors claim, has rarely been so glaring. Contrary to those simplistic labels, this is a nuanced examination that stretches back to colonial times and the rise of classes, to the rise of populism and the problematic bogan. The language may be jargon – though the game opens with Larissa Behrendt discussing, among other things, the rise of the Indigenous middle class – but this is an important and timely study.