Her Father’s Daughter by Alice Pung

First Published 2011 by Black Inc.

her father's daughter

I was dazzled by her first book, the memoir Unpolished Gem. The line that stuck in my head was the part where she had “a funeral in my brain and we hadn’t even studied Emily Dickinson yet.” I was also dazzled by her bio – her being a writer and lawyer, yet to see her on the telly speaking at some writer’s festival, I was struck by what a nice down to earth person she seemed to be.

Despite all that, I must have borrowed Her Father’s Daughter five or six times before I finally read it. There were little things that put me off starting, such as her use of the third person, I mean who writes about themself as if they were someone else – except when preparing a bio of course! Another thing that made me bump the book in favour of others was the alternating perspectives, daughter-, father-, daughter- etc.

However the real reason if I look a little deeper, was that one of the settings was Cambodia, a place I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, after what I had heard.

But Cambodia lurks all through Unpolished Gem, although it is carefully stepped around. As the story progresses it is the elephant in the room, the why of half of the odd quirks of Pung’s family.

Her Father’s Daughter begins with a few introductory chapters, in which the overprotective behaviour of Pung’s parents continues well into adulthood. This part where she tries to break away is easy and pleasant reading. Then finally, we must bite the bullet and face the horrors of the killing fields, and her father’s story of the suffering that went on is one the reader must grit their teeth to get through. No wonder her father didn’t ever speak of it. But it seems that only after Pung delves into this history and visits the country is she finally allowed to grow up.

Having now read both books I find that neither of them can really exist without the other. You could read Unpolished Gem as a standalone book, but more depth is obtained through reading Her Father’s Daughter. Her Father’s Daughter is not a book that can be just read either, it needs the scene setting of Unpolished Gem.

The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement by Virginia Lloyd

First published 2008 by University of Queensland Press.

the young widow's book of home improvement

I had been meaning to reread this book for quite a while, as I had not looked at it for almost five years.

I originally bought it seven months after becoming a young widow myself, and what a happy day that was. I stumbled upon it in a bookshop in Mount Gambier, where I had gone for my first child-free break, and the title leapt right out at me. I had been 37 years old when my husband died. I wasn’t old. He had left me with four children and an unfinished house which we had been owner-building, so I also liked the sound of the home improvement aspect.

Right next to this book was another widow book, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, so I bought both and was absurdly happy for the rest of the day. In fact that moment still stands in my memory as a high point during those early months.

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Me of the Never Never by Fiona O’Loughlin

First published 2011 by Hachette Australia.

me of the never never

Ah the celebrity memoir. I do not read a lot of these because all too often they are ghosted by someone whose name never sees light of day.

I’m not sure why I picked this one up, except for the Alice Springs connection, because I was living in Alice Springs in 1998-2004 when O’Loughlin’s career took off. Even though I didn’t go to her big show at Araluen, I remember it being advertised everywhere and in a way I feel like I was there. I like the clever title too, heh heh, Me of the Never Never.

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Choosing to SEE by Mary Beth Chapman

First Published 2010 by Revell.

choosing to SEE

This book sat in my TBR shelf for six months after my friend Jacqueline lent to me when we were in the middle of a rather rough time.

It is the autobiography of the wife of a prominent Christian singer, Steven Curtis Chapman, whom I had not yet heard of.

Now prominent Christians come in many varieties, but what a lot have in common is the good Christian bio, which for a widow like me who may or may not be a little bit bitter, can sometimes have me gagging on my wormwood-and-gall.

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Am I black enough for you? by Anita Heiss

First published 2012 by Bantam.

am i black enough for you

I wasn’t going to review this book. Mainly because almost everyone already did when it came out and I didn’t expect to have anything new to say about it. But I knew I wanted to read it, and once I got started I began reflecting on the subject of racism, and how I have tried to keep it out of my life. Sort of.

When I was a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s, the same era that Heiss grew up in, I was blessed with a few teachers who taught me to respect the ways of the original inhabitants of this wide brown land, but at the same time, Aboriginal jokes were still told (as were Irish jokes etc, although we didn’t touch Jewish jokes after what they’d been through) and names such as abo, coon and boong were also in use. Another word I heard was nunga, which I assumed was another of these derogatory words – it was years before I worked out it was a word Nungas (from southern SA) like to call themselves. I also lived in a very white part of Adelaide, and the only Aboriginal people I came across were the ones who liked to sit drinking in Victoria Square.

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Wednesdays were pretty normal by Michael Kelley

First published 2012 by B&H Publishing Group

Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal

What drew my attention to this book as it sat there in the library was the peanut butter on the front cover, as I have been a peanut butter girl since early childhood. At first glance I thought I was looking at two slices of toast, one with peanut butter and one with vegemite, still a breakfast I enjoy, but on closer inspection found it was jam or ‘jelly’, not vegemite, and I was looking at bread, two halves of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in actual fact. But I took it home anyway because it dealt with the crap that life throws at you from a Christian perspective. Michael Kelley’s crap was the three years he and his wife dealt with their first born son’s leukaemia, which he thankfully survived.

As soon as I read the first chapter I loved the book, especially the reference to “those people”, people with big problems, because for many years I have been one of those people. First I was ‘the lady with all those kids whose husband has the brain tumour’, then I was a widow. I thought this an extremely ugly word until my stepson committed those murders, and at that time decided that being a mere widow wasn’t so bad after all. Anyway you get the picture.

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After Cleo: Came Jonah by Helen Brown

First Published 2012 by Allen & Unwin

after cleo came jonah

Before I start: yes I am aware that the author is a New Zealander, but I am overlooking it because this book was set in Australia, and we Australians love to claim the best kiwi stuff anyway!

Ever since I chanced upon A Cat Affair by Derek Tangye 21 years ago, I have been a sucker for a book starring a cat. I loved it so much I spent the next 19 years collecting the entire collection (the Minack Chronicles). I have also passed a season reading Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who series, until I got sick of the annoying main character with his mellifluous voice.

Then two years ago I pounced Helen Brown’s book, Cleo: The Cat Who Mended a Family. I came to love Cleo; her presence not only soothed Brown’s family after her son Sam was run over, but also soothed me, and partly because we have our own cat story.

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