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Discovering the real down under
by Lucy Scholes February 09, 2018
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“Two hundred lunatics circumnavigating the continent of Australia, more than ten thousand miles over outback roads so rough they might crack your chassis clean in half.” Little Irene Bobs isn’t at all convinced when her equally diminutive husband ‘Titch’ proposes they enter the famous Redux Reliability Trial in an effort to garner publicity for the car dealership they want to open in Bacchus Marsh, a small town 53 kilometres outside Melbourne. Titch may be the best car salesman in rural South-eastern Australia, but Irene is the better driver, and he needs her. It’s “the Bobbseys” or nothing.

The twice Man Booker Prize-winning Australian novelist Peter Carey’s evocative and exciting fourteenth novel, A Long Way Home, is set in the forward-looking, optimistic 1950s. The Bobbseys (along with their two children) hurtle into Bacchus Marsh, barging straight into Willie Bachbuber, a well-read if rather melancholic young schoolteacher with a penchant for maps and a few skeletons in his closet. The Bobbseys convince Willie to join them as their navigator. Irene is many brilliant things, but she’s hopeless at map reading, and in this race a good map reader is the difference between success and failure, perhaps even life and death.

The Redux Trial is the lynchpin that tethers Carey’s characters and various plot lines together — and it provides some rip-roaring colour and action, harking back to the picaresque style of Carey’s earlier novels Illywhacker and Oscar and Lucinda — but the real heart of the novel is an exploration of Australia’s brutal, bloody past and the atrocities and injustices endured by its indigenous population. As the Holden races along the dusty roads, the reader ricochets between the two distinct dramas that begin to unfold. Firstly there’s the domestic one as the Bobbseys previously watertight marriage starts to show serious signs of wear and tear. But more significantly, Willie’s story takes centre stage as he finds himself having to confront both his own past and that of the “murderous continent” he’s traversing.

This isn’t Carey’s first foray into the past, but this is the first time he’s directly dealt with Aboriginal history, and A Long Way From Home is all the more powerful for it. He’s long been concerned with illegitimacy in the form of (white) confidence tricksters and outlaws, but here it’s culturally appropriated falsehoods that are called into question, and “horrendous” deeds brought to light. “It was said the real Australia is beautiful,” thinks Irene at one point during the race, “but not by me.”

The Independent

by Rose McGowan

There is a moment in Rose McGowan’s new documentary series when she learns that Harvey Weinstein has allegedly stolen the first half of her memoir, Brave, months in advance of its publication. Readers of Brave will understand why the revelation so enraged McGowan. She does not hold back when writing about Weinstein, whom she refers to only as “The Monster.” Long before the Weinstein scandal broke, McGowan publicly alleged that she had been raped by a Hollywood producer. After other women came forward with allegations of abuse, McGowan named Weinstein. But Brave is the first time she has described the alleged attack. Midway through the memoir, the incident occupies an entire chapter called Death of Self. Brave is in part an exploration and explanation of the rage constantly leaking out of McGowan’s pores. But her aim is not to engender sympathy — rather it’s to encourage those feeling disempowered to channel some of her plentiful anger.

by Dave Eggers

When Mokhtar Alkhanshali first dreamed of reviving the glorious coffee heritage of Yemen, he had never sipped a cup of the fancy joe that baristas pour. There’s a long list of people for whom I would enthusiastically recommend Dave Eggers’ The Monk of Mokha, his nonfiction chronicle of Mokhtar’s success: people who love coffee, because the book is filled with fascinating details on the subject; people from Yemen; fans of Eggers’ writing, of course; and in particular, anyone who has ever dreamed of starting a business, especially an international one. While this may not be how they teach it at Harvard Business School, The Monk of Mokha is one of the most exciting business case studies I have ever read. Mokhtar draws on every bit of past experience, including lessons learned and people met in his teen years, in his pursuit of serving Yemeni coffee to American sippers.

by Laurie Gwen Shapiro

The Stowaway is the true story of Billy Gawronski, a 17-year-old from Queens who, in 1928, stowed away on a ship bound for Antarctica. The mysterious continent was the perfect destination for aviator and adventurer Richard Byrd to reclaim the world stage after doubts arose about whether he was the first person to reach the North Pole by air. If Byrd could be the first to fly over the South Pole, the feat could restore his lustre. If Billy could be with Byrd, it would get him out of Queens and a career as an upholsterer. That Billy goes to Antarctica, that he returns a hero and that the spotlight inevitably moves on make up the entire dramatic arc of this book. Its charm is in how the irresistibly plucky Billy becomes a metaphor for America on the cusp of an amazing spurt of progress.
The Stowaway is a charming book, a glimpse of history that, by definition, fascinates and delights.

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