Three Recent BooksTuesday, 5 November 2013
Three recent books I’ve read, all with some travel connection.
Transatlantic – Colum McCann – was a long-list contender for this year’s Booker Prize. The first flight across the Atlantic in 1919 plays a key role in the book from start to finish. I’ve always been fascinated by those pioneering aviators Alcock and Brown. I visited their aircraft in London’s Science Museum earlier this year in the course of making a video with KLM’s iFly Magazine.
Mateship with Birds – Carrie Tiffany – was the winner of the inaugural Stella Prize this year. It’s a new Australian literary award for women writers although coincidentally the Miles Franklin, Australia’s premier literary award, also went to a woman this year. In fact Mateship with Birds doesn’t travel particularly far from its country town centre, but along the way you certainly learn something about Australian birdlife, particularly the raucous kookaburra. Along with cows and perhaps more than you want to know about sheep.
I finally got around to reading Stasiland – Anna Funder – which was originally published in Australia in 2003 by Text Publishing, of which I’m part owner. I found this account of the old East Germany and the horrors of life under the Stasi, the spy agency which pried into every aspect of everyday East Germans’ lives, extraordinarily hard reading. Not because of the writing, simply because I was so angry at the way the Stasi screwed up peoples’ lives. Of course there are many places in the world where bad government, civil wars or other events caused far more damage, I’ve certainly run into some of those places in my new book Dark Lands, but it’s the sheer mundanity of much of the damage the Stasi caused which I found heartbreaking: breaking up relationships, separating people, making you unemployable, imprisoning you or your partner for essentially nothing.
For more on the Stasi see the excellent 2006 film The Lives of Others. For a glimpse of the Berlins before the wall came down read Ian Walker’s Zoo Station: Adventures in East & West Berlin. There are several Zoo Station books, this one captures the crazy atmosphere of the two closely related and forcibly separated cities in the tumultuous period before Communism collapsed. Borders have been on my mind recently, Walls is one of the most interesting books I’ve read on these crazy separations.