What We're Reading / May 2021

Take a look at the great things we’ve read in May — literary journals, anthologies, creative nonfiction and more!

The Believer by Sarah Krasnostein

Julia Tsalis, Program Manager

Sarah Krasnostein, author of the award-winning and brilliant The Trauma Cleaner, has released her new book The Believer. As with The Trauma Cleaner, her new work is deeply compassionate while still retaining an observational and, at times, critical eye.

While The Trauma Cleaner followed the life of the remarkable Sandra Pankhurst, The Believer is a very different work in terms of its structure. It weaves together the stories of six different forms of belief from UFOs to creationism, Mennonites to ghosts, radical forgiveness and the afterlife. The structure of short, interspersed chapters is a challenging way to maintain a narrative, but I think it is part of the book’s strength, it forces you to pause and consider what you’re reading. This is a collection of unconnected people and belief systems, all unalike, but linked by the fact that they hold deeply held views that shape their experience of the world. As Krasnostein said recently at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, she wanted to create a ‘house of unlikeness’.

Krasnostein approaches all those she interviews with compassion and respect, even while acknowledging her own discomfort or dismay. She captures this with brilliant dry wit when she first visits a Mennonite family,  ‘But such a conversation will not be possible. Because they believe I am going to Hell and I believe they may already be living in one…’

Even while harbouring her doubts, she still keeps open to those she is interviewing, maintaining her genuine, and generous, curiousity. Later she is deeply moved by the Mennonite families’ communal singing, not by the lyrics and noting the imperfect voices, ‘But each time it causes within me a certain pool of feeling –a tenderness. A vulnerability which, strangely, gives me energy, bends towards strength. Something I have not found words for, and perhaps that is the point.’

Krasnostein is a fine, thoughtful writer and it is a pleasure to follow her into the consideration of these strongly held, at times odd, even objectionable, belief systems which can only provoke you to consider your own view of the world and those around us.

HEAT 1. New Series – Fire & shadow edited by Ivor Indyk

Martyn Reyes, Project and Communications Officer

After hearing about the revival of Australia’s iconic literary journal HEAT, I decided to dig through the archives and familiarise myself with the publication. Already acquainted with the work of Giramondo Press and editor Ivor Indyk, I knew my expectations of innovative and daring publishing would be met. I decided to read the first issue of HEAT’s second series, Fire & Shadow which came out when I was six years old. I was delighted to find the writing of some of my favourite Australian authors – Alexis Wright and David Malouf. I discovered the understated poetry of Antigone Kefala, the melancholic early work of Suneeta Peres da Costa and an interview with literary god-mother, Susan Sontag. I can’t wait to see what’s to come with the new series of HEAT, along with the new generation of talent that will contribute to its legacy.

Racism: Stories on fear, hate & bigotry edited by Winnie Dunn, Stephen Pham and Phoebe Grainer

Anita Matthews, Administration Officer

The irony is not lost on me that the title of this book did not make me want to read it. RACISM; Stories on fear, hate and bigotry doesn’t mince words. It is in fact, a perfect title for a subject that will not be sugar-coated. 

Reading the introduction alone made me appreciate that I had stepped up. “Since 1991, at least four hundred and seventy four Indigenous people have been murdered in custody” editors Dunn, Pham and Grainer point out. The collection of stories, poetry and essays in this book – which I am now one third of the way through – are penned by thirty nine writers with a different point of view to our Prime Minister or NSW Premier, who think Australia is not racist. From my white, middle class capsule I can understand. But if you’re not looking for something, you won’t see it. 

Smokehouse by Melissa Manning

Ashley Kalagian Blunt, Senior Program Officer

Smokehouse should come with a warning to, at the very least, have tissues on hand. Australian author Melissa Manning’s debut book is a collection of stories, bookended by two connected novellas, titled ‘Smokehouse’ parts one and two. Set in Tasmania, where Manning grew up, her stories interrogate the places and decisions that shape the everyday lives. Full of poignant moments and small, sharp details, Smokehouse is a skilful debut.    


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