Meetings are Fourth Thursday of the month from February to October inclusive from 2 pm to 4pm at 5 Wildash Street, Southport, or Bumbles Restaurant, Budds Beach

Book Club Report 2021

The Graduate Women’s Book (B.I.G.) had been functioning since 2003. AS with 2020, there have been challenges to overcome because of Covid restrictions. At the moment in Queensland we are relatively safe but caps on numbers of people allowed at one meeting are still in place, and some of our members have difficulty attending meetings. For the most part this year we have met at 5 Wildash Street, but as Clive Palmer’s building next door progresses, the parking becomes more limited. So the last two meetings have been held at “Bumbles” at Budd’s Beach which most members have enjoyed. The meetings at “Bumbles” start at 1.30p.m. and   finish at 3.30P.M. If we have a further lockdown, we may resort to Zoom meetings again.

The books chosen for this year have been well received, most of us have enjoyed the challenge of some rather deep and tricky writing, and everyone has made a good effort to delve philosophically into such books as “Drive your Plough over the Bones of the Dead,” and “The  Finkler Question”.

Our first book for 2021 was “All our Shimmering Skies” by Trent Dalton  and received mixed reviews by our members. Some were disappointed in this Trent Dalton’s second  book , which is set in the 1940s and contains very intriguing and graphic  descriptions of the bombing of Darwin. Some felt that  the beautiful  descriptions of  the tropical rainforests  and Kakadu, while admiring  Trent Dalton’s ability to create such vivid word pictures, were  over -emphasized at the expense of the plot which, at times, seem rather aimless and at times contrived. His characters were admired especially Molly and  Greta but the Japanese Fighter pilot did not seem so believable. The cover attracted much admiration as it contained symbols  of the whole story. The use of the lepers as the perpetrators of horror was questionable. Magic was quite feature of this book and the telling of myths echoed parts of aboriginal story telling.  We decided Dalton’s message was that despite all the ugliness and evil in the world, if we “Dig deep” keep our hearts from hardening and we  look up to the Shimmering skies, we will not despair but triumph. This book proved to be very popular with the general public and received great sales at  Christmas time.

Our second book was very popular and we had our best attendance for the year so far.  “Where The Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens  is her first novel. She has written several books on wildlife and nature writing.

The   story  follows  two  time lines that slowly intertwine while increasing the suspense. The first time line describes the  life  and  adventures  of  a young  girl named  Kya, as she grows up in isolation in the marshes of North Carolina. There are several universal themes:-the effects of isolation, rejection ;love and betrayal the struggle for survival ;how nature can mould our maturation and the social structure of a small, narrow minded community ;murder and a trial and a deep abiding love of nature.

The novel is exquisitely written with brilliant truthful descriptions of  the marshes  and  wildlife. It is a painful and beautiful coming of age novel as Kya learns about heart break and learns how to trust human connections Delia Owens reminds us the “we are forever shaped by the children we have been and the beautiful and violent secrets of our past. “

Our April book gave us many challenges and raised some issues for some of us.

Olga Tokarczuk’s book,”Drive Your Plough over the Bones of  the  Dead” reads at first as a clever murder mystery, but it also contained a very detailed search for a philosophy of life. The heroine of this story was most unusual and spent much time studying and interpreting the works of William Blake. The key theme is the hunting and killing of animals for any reason whatsoever and leaving meat out of our diets.

Olga Takarczuk is an outspoken feminist and public intellectual in Poland a politically conservative country. The title of the book is taken from William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.”  Quotations at the beginning of chapters are taken from this poem and also other poems written by Blake.  

“Drive “  is a subtle play on the mystery novel. We feel that Olga Tokarczuk   is giving  us ,on another  level, an urgent message about the future of the environment and nature. Her commitment  is  to animals and all nature’s useless beauty ,as she see it. The descriptions of the frozen landscape create an eerie atmosphere and the Czech Border seems to be a metaphor for the horizon and escape.

The Finkler Question is a study of what it means to be Jewish and Howard Jacobson uses the “Finkler (Jewish) question to discuss deeper questions of family, society and beliefs as well as culture and relationships. He discusses how religion can be an important and consoling way of understanding our lives, our circumstances and our random deaths. “The Finkler Question” discusses the pomposity of religion, of any and every sort and Jacobson uses Jewishness as a metaphor for human culture.

There is an element of  comedy in this novel and no small amount of witty comment. The writer’s style is easy and fluent and he  portrays  several different Jewish types . He reveals to us that, through their different experiences ,each Jewish character comes to realise the no matter where they  live or at what level of society, the outward civility with which the Jews are treated is just an illusion and beneath this facade there is an enduring dislike of Jewish culture and resentment of their ingrained Jewishness.

The June novel “The Winter Soldier” by Daniel Mason, is a beautifully written and carefully  plotted book , written over ten years. Mason shows us a less recognised aspect of warfare . This story really deals with the mental effects of all -out warfare, first experienced in World war One, and begins in a field hospital in a place called Lemnowicwe in the Carpthian Mountains.It is told through the eyes of a twenty two year old medical student Lucius. It is also a recreation  of  the  gradual  collapse and decay of the Hapsburg Empire. There is  also  an  element of  the role of winter and the terrible conditions which the characters endure.

We are also made aware of the haphazard nature of war and how arbitrarily people involved in war, can be separated. The horror of the medical conditions which  Lucius encounters and his own limited ability to deal with  the  unexpected tragedies he encounters, are  emphasized . It is in dealing with “the winter soldier” Horvath, Lucius makes a mistake which impacts the lives of the main protagonists in this story. He fails by keeping Horvath at the field hospital and Horvath’s consequent brutal treatment by the German conscription officer.  Lucius  sees  this as his “crime” against his medical oath “To Do No Harm”. It is also a portrait of the break- down of Austrian society at the end of World War One. An anti war story of great impact. It is a study of individuals in the practice of healing who are caught up in War’s impossible circumstances.

      Our July Book, ”The White Tiger”, gave us an intelligent and ruthless portrait of India in the making circa 2008 This story was told with black humour and almost no sentimentality. Aravda Adige reveals the realities of the two Indias:- those still caught in the injustices and grinding poverty of the caste system and the burgeoning class of “entrepreneurs” of the new global India and the new “morality”  at the heart of this emerging new India.

        Adige says “my book will cause widespread  offence . Balram is my invisible man made visible”. Adiga’s thematic intention is to expose corruption in India. In the story of Balram, he describes the prevalence of fraud, bribery and immorality in Indian society. Bagalore, the city to which Balrum escapes after the murder of his employer, represents modern India experiencing the technological and incredible social change that globalisation demands and often its dire consequences. Balrum, analyses and adapts , confronting the demands  while transitioning to a new future. He, “the white tiger” (or rare beast) has the courage to adapt and so leave the “chicken coop” of ancient feudal traditions to which his family clings. They will not survive. Adiga points out the huge ethical and moral compromises necessary to succeed in this “new” India.

         Isabel Allende’s “A Long Petal of the Sea”  was  not popular with our members. Her story of two young people who experience defeat in the Spanish civil war and escape to France where they are badly treated in internments camps . The theme is displacement and survival in the face of all that history and politics can throw at them. Allende’s  belief in the “magic” of love are essential to this story.

      This story is based on the real life story of Victor, a Spaniard, who made his home in Chile after The Spanish Civil war. The title of the book is taken from a poem by Pablo Neruda a poet of note in Chile . Neruda was responsible for organising the voyage of “The Winnipeg”,to  transport numerous fugitives  from  Franco’s regime  to Chile where  Salvador Allende, a relative of Isabel Allende,  was elected to form a left wing government.  Chile, twenty years later, is a society divided between a rich, conservative, devoutly Catholic  upper class ,a liberal or Communist intelligentsia, an impoverished peasantry and an urban working class. Allende gives us a picture of the brutality of Pinochet’s military coup and another exodus to Venezuela.

             The first section of the book is quite absorbing  in describing the conditions the refugees had to survive, but we felt Allende’s political bias and her left wing sympathies took over the story at this stage. Her characters  did not engage our sympathies as they were modelled on real people and these do not always translate into believable characters. In this story, the characters are the main emphasis of the story. Allende’s attempt to bring “the magic of love” to the four main characters also, was not convincing. In historical fiction writing it is important to  balance historical  facts with creativity  (in fashioning characters that engage the reader’s sympathy).

      The book does give a picture of a part of the world and a society very different from our own. We felt we did learn about events not well known to us. The descriptions of the harrowing conditions endured by the refugees added to our understanding of circumstances that are engaging our interest in our own country at the moment.

            ‘A Room Made of Leaves” by Kate Grenville  was well known to many of our members. The author pointed out that the book was fiction and “a playfull dance  of possibilities between the real and the invented. A the centre of the book is one of the most  toxic  issues  of our own age: the seductive appeal of false stories. Her subjects revolve around the dark legacy of colonial rule and especially of its impact on Australia’s aborigines. She also explores the role of colonial women in that society Where “women had no choice but to be bland Without any power over any aspects of their lives , they were obliged to go along with a social and legal system that equated them with children “.

BIG members commented upon the short chapters and journalistic style of her writing. Members felt she skirted around some of the ugly truths of that colonial era including the massacres, the conflict with the Rum Corps and the Governors and little mention of the convicts, on whose labour, much of the colony was built.

     Our final book for 2021 was “Patchinko “ by Min Jin Lee.   The book takes us through the lives of four generations and eight decades of a Korean family who migrated to Japan . From 1910 to 1989/90s, the Koreans in Japan were scarcely tolerated by the Japanese. They were forced to take Japanese names and the threat of being deported hung over their heads.”  “Patchinko “ is a book about outsiders, minorities and people who were politically disenfranchised.

   There is a particularly Christian message in “Patchinko”   with the character of  Baek Isak, from North Korea,who rescues Sunji from the disgrace of pregnancy out of wedlock.  Hansu’s son with Sandji, Noa,  models himself on Isak and is devastated to learn that his father was the Jakuzi , Koh Hansu.  Sunja , at the conclusion of the book, is relieved to know that Noa, Mozasu and Solomon have all visited the grave of Baek Isak  and honoured his memory.

  The resilience of the female characters in this novel  is an essential part of this story . Koh Hansu helps Suji and her family during the Second World War, driven by love of his only son Noa.

The motif of the Patchinko machines which are basically unpredictable and uncontrollable, is a metaphor for the lives of the characters in this story.

Some criticism of the inclusion of the activities of same sex couples was seen as a nod to inclusiveness in Book Three (1962 to 1989).  Min Jin Lee’s careful research is shown in her descriptions of the lives of Koreans in Japan in that period.” Patchinko” ‘s episodic style in the manner of Dickens or Galsworthy, has  made this novel  very adaptable for a television series. There is an eight part series due next year.

        Our Christmas Party is booked at Bumbles for Thursday 25th November  at 12 noon. We are booked into the outdoor room at the back of “Bumbles”, which will give us some more room.

The book list for 2022 will be handed out at the Christmas party in November.  Looking forward to seeing everyone on 25th of this month

Margaret Hamilton (Convenor).

Book List for 2021 Graduate Women Gold Coast is below:

Margaret Hamilton, convenor
07 55312884