Archive for October, 2012


bookgroup decided to do the happiest refugee by anh do because it was looking for something funny and every report i heard from people said this was the book – the comments by readers attached to this review were typical of what i’d heard. their rating of the book is off the scale as you can see

the book is also very timely in that it tells the story of an asylum seeker coming bere by boat, and becoming a successful well loved australian. not only does it tell that story but it has become a very popular book and seems to have received nothing but praise. this review is yet another example. given current political attitudes that seems surprising

the story is amazing – i thought he was a comedian but he has a commerce/law degree as well, and it seems his brother and sister have also done well. its a great tribute to them but also to the way this country used to treat boat people, which makes it even more puzzling as to why we dont do the same now

so with all this build up and expectation did the book deliver for bookgroupers? – well i think you can guess the answer


October 7, 2012 at 7:09 am Leave a comment


other colors by renowned turkish author Orhan Pamuk is a collection of essays from the last 3 decades encompassing the history and politics of istanbul as seen through the eyes of the city’s most famous writer

Winner of the 2006 nobel prize, pamuk reveals himself in these essays to be extremely well read, obsevant and reflective, as you might expect for a nobel winning author, but also very hard working and perhaps obsessive.

One dissappointment of the book is that being non-fiction i dont think you get exposure to his full capacities as a writer. only occasionally, as on page 25 where he says ‘The inside of the refrigerator is as bright and crowded as the boulevard of a distant happy city’, do you get a real feel for his creativity.

However, there are lots of consolations, for example he talks with great sensitivity about relationships, about istanbul, in particular its ferries, and about reading.

Its this last one, where he is at his best. he is able to discuss the task of reading in general, and the experience of reading specific books or authors very articulately. so much so the middle third of the book is really literature 101, or a cheats guide to being well read, because you can read these chapters so you dont have to read the classics he discusses.

a good example is his discussion of tolstoy. as with several of the other authors he discusses, he describes for the reader how he reacted to tolstoy as a young man, middle aged and slightly older. how he has the time to read everything three times one can only guess. very interestingly for Australians he sees the connection between himself and tolstoy as being people outside europe, familiar with european literature and traditions, looking at europe and their own culture and trying determine something about their identity and the way forward.

For bookgrouper peter this was pamuk’s discussion of a big contemporary issue – authenticity. Is pamuk an authentic turkish voice or is he ‘too’ european, is he an authentic european or ‘too’ turkish? These are familiar questions for australians and the answers as always are complicated, nuanced, combinations of yes and no. i get the feeling pamuk ended up where a lot of australians end up. We are not sure why but we know when we go to europe, or other countries in asia, or america, or anywhere else that we are not european, etc, we are from here but with varying degrees of influence from europe, asia and america depending how much, as individuals, we’ve read, travelled etc from and in those places.

Some other issues the book sheds light on, particularly its stories from his childhood, include

– turkeys bid for eu membership, both why they want it and don’t want it
– the long tail of empires, in that the islands of Istanbul were used by the ottomans, the Brits and more recently the westernised turkish middle class, and bear the imprint of all those groups

finally pamuk it seems is an interesting, if somewhat obsessive guy. for example he has turned one of his novels, the ‘museum of innocence’ into a real museum, which is a pretty strange but impressive achievement

October 6, 2012 at 7:34 am Leave a comment


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