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The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop is prefaced with a quote – “Nostalgia is a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed. Nostalgia is a sentiment of loss and displacement, but it is also a romance with one’s own fantasy……”. I think we can all understand this – that the childhood we might remember as being idyllic was probably not really so perfect – that first love affair is only wonderful in retrospect – if it had really been so wonderful it would not have ended. But, the cold light of reality does not completely erase the feeling of yearning for that time or place. For someone who has been moved from the place they feel most at home the feeling of nostalgia and the sense of loss is more profound, and that is certainly the case for both Charlotte and Henry – the protagonists in this novel.

Henry grew up in India, in Delhi. Sent to England, to school, at the age of 11 in 1945 there was later nothing to return to in India. He is a citizen of the British Empire, and chooses to stay in England and marry Charlotte. They are very much in love, they have dreams. Charlotte studied art, she is a painter. Henry an academic. It is the early 1960s - they have one child, Lucie, and soon another, May. They live in a damp little cottage. Henry goes to work, and Charlotte stays at home with the children.

Henry misses the warmth of the weather in India and applies to emigrate from England to Australia with his young family. When their application is accepted Henry is happy to think of a new start in a warm climate – but Charlotte has no desire to leave England – it is her home and she is deeply attached to the landscape and the place where she was born and grew up. But, unable to convince Henry she submits and they leave.

Australia is indeed a new life – a very different landscape, new people, all strangers. Henry enthusiastically starts a new job as a lecturer at the University. But, it is more difficult than he expected. He finds that he is considered “coloured” here. In England many East Indians emigrated from the colonies for education and opportunity – but here in Australia it is different.

Charlotte at home with the children – children who demand care and attention – struggles to get through the day. Charlotte loves her children but she is floundering – she cannot paint – she feels she has completely lost her own identity. Her one attempt at a portrait of her husband is not entirely successful.

As I read about this time in a young woman’s life – from the perspective of someone so much older – I recognized that for young parents it is often a time when many find themselves overwhelmed with the care of children. The months, or years, of sleepless nights, the childhood illnesses that sometimes feel unrelenting – the loss of any time for oneself and ones own needs and desires that must take second place to the needs of children. Most of us survive that time – we may look back and wonder how on earth we managed – but we did manage. We counsel our own children to take care, to understand that this time will pass – to hang in there. To get help if they need it physically or emotionally. Henry and Charlotte did not have parents there to help in Australia – nor did they have friends they felt they could confide in.

Charlotte knows that she has a “burning love” for her children; she is “made whole” by this love. She is torn by her “great need for them, the great love. Then the swift feeling of being overcome, smothered”. She very clearly sees her choices, and knows no matter what her choice is, “ she will not be forgiven”.

Stephanie Bishop has written an exceptional novel about love – between husband and wife, parent and child. She tells a story based in large part on the life of her grandparents who did in fact emigrate from England to Australia at this time.  I will attach an article Stephanie Bishop wrote for the Guardian newspaper to the Parry Sound Books website with this review. The Other Side of the World is a terrific novel – one I bet you’ll be up late at night to finish. 

FYI The Other Side of the World has won the following awards

 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction 2015 & Literary Fiction Book of the Year ABIA's 2016, and Shortlisted for  The Victorian Premier’s Literary Award 2016, Indie Book Awards 2016 & NSW Premier's Literary Awards 2016 and Longlisted for The Stella Prize 2016

The Following is an article published in the Guardian 17 Sept 2016

My grandmother’s £10 ‘exile’ returned to haunt me

Stephanie Bishop’s grandmother reluctantly emigrated to Australia in the 60s and never let the family forget it. Now Stephanie knows exactly how she felt.

Among my papers is a yellowing pamphlet calling on Britons to migrate to Australia. It is dated from the early 1960s and depicts a version of the happy life: in one photograph a nuclear family is playing on a beach, in another they are strolling down a suburban footpath. There is a photo of a wife doing the shopping and one of a well-dressed man going off to work, smiling and swinging his briefcase.

The captions promise everlasting sunshine and a “British way of life” in a country populated by “British stock” – for only £10 (about £150 today) with children travelling free. It was a seductive vision of the migrant’s life and my grandfather fell for it. He was one of many: the Assisted Passage Scheme was one of the 20th century’s largest planned migrations. Those who participated are commonly known as ten pound poms.

My maternal grandparents migrated to Sydney in 1965, but it was not an easy decision, as far as the story of their marriage goes. It was something my grandfather wanted very much, and which my grandmother wanted not at all. This rift was complicated by their different backgrounds: my grandfather was part of the Anglo-Indian diaspora. Born in Calcutta in 1926, he was sent to England as a boy in the lead up to Indian independence but he never felt wholly at home here and the claim that Australia would be just like Britain, only sunnier, appealed.

My grandmother, on the other hand, had never lived anywhere other than England and identified intensely with the landscape and its people. When they left, they had four young children, and my grandmother discovered she was pregnant with a fifth on the voyage. She did not want to move, and has resented this, to varying degrees, ever since.

Growing up in Australia, what I heard again and again was my grandmother complaining about this ill-fated event. Her longing for England never lessened.

I can’t remember a time when I was in her company and she did not say something about the great pleasures and beauty of England and compare Australia unfavourably. Yet in our family it was part of our routine entertainment to quietly mock my grandmother’s grief. All the while my grandfather silently bore her criticism, aware that his wife thought he had done her some great wrong. As a child, and young woman, I accepted the wider family’s take: my grandmother was simply a whingeing pom.

In my mid-20s I moved to the UK to undertake a PhD. Towards the end of my studies, my grandparents came to visit: they stayed nearby and I invited them for dinner.

What surprised me most about that visit was the joy my grandmother seemed to feel simply by seeing me going about my days in England. It was as if by my moving here I had fulfilled something in my life that she couldn’t achieve in her own. If she couldn’t return, then at least I could. She spoke, that night, of England being my spiritual homeland because it was, so to speak, in the family. It was the first time we had really met alone, as two adults, and during the meal my grandmother confessed things that I didn’t know of.

She wondered why she had agreed to move to Australia when she hadn’t wanted to. If it hadn’t been for the children, she said, she might have left her husband. Until this point I’d always viewed her as the archetypal stay-at-home mother: a strong feminist, but a feminism in which maternal experience stood at the apex of a woman’s life. With this new knowledge – with the recognition of her own doubt and uncertainty – she seemed both more fierce and more injured.

I started to understand the grief she had lived with for more than 40 years. This was partly because I, too, had come to feel attached to this place and could comprehend something of what she had lost. I then saw her in a completely different way: riven by opposing impulses, unsure of her own actions.

I came to realise that my tendency to dismiss and overlook what, for my grandmother, amounted to an experience of exile, was part of a broader and persistent attitude towards this migrant group. The trials specific to British women migrants at that time were easily deemed insignificant. We generally resist describing migrants as exiles because it’s assumed that the migrant is free to return. But after this conversation with my grandmother such a position seemed inaccurate, especially for this group of women, often with young children, and without independent means of their own that would allow them to choose otherwise.

Not long after this visit, I discovered I was pregnant. Out of the blue, my husband and I found ourselves having conversations that seemed to replicate those my grandparents must have had 50 years before: where was the best place to raise a child? What experiences did we want our children to have? What did home mean to us, now that we’d been away for so long?

While we were trying to make a decision about our own lives, I began to feel that my experiences and my grandmother’s were overlapping to an uncanny degree. It seemed as though my life were directly replicating that of my grandparents’. And it was against my grandmother’s life that, at the time, I often found myself trying to understand my own.

While my mother thought I should come “home” to have the baby, my grandmother thought I should stay put. Even childbirth was better in England, she said. So I sided with her and we remained, our daughter born on a frosty night in December. Eventually, though, my husband and I returned to Australia with our child in tow. It was a decision that only further strengthened the strange overlap and subsequent bond between my grandmother and me.

 

News week of 16 June 2017

Here we are half way through the month of June!

On my days off I’m waging war with a beaver who spent the winter in my back dock. Pulling the dock out of the water, with the assistance of a young neighbour, as the poor beaver swam along behind, was a hard afternoon’s work.

At the bookstore, the shelves are filling up with stock for the summer as we look forward to the return of the summer residents and tourists.

The summer newsletter is being printed and we look forward to sharing with you all of the books we most enjoyed reading this past year.

School is about to end for the year and the kids will be let loose – some of them landing on grandparents for a good time to be had by all. We know we need to keep them busy and to help you we have a few suggestions. There are a couple of good books of indoor and outdoor activities, for all ages.

To encourage the little ones to become keen birders we have a book, binoculars, a bird ID list and activity poster all for $22.99 from PBS Kids.

There are several lovely new picture books about the wonders of the great outdoors including the beautifully illustrated All Ears, All Eyes for even the youngest little ones. An Author’s Odyssey is the most recent in Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories series for young teen readers.

Let us help you choose just the right books for the kids to keep them happily making discoveries and reading all summer long.

 

Reykjavik Murder Mystery series by Arnaldur Indridason

 

I started reading this series of books last fall – liked them but put them aside after the first few. I picked up again this spring with Voices, the third in the series, and carried on with the next couple, The Draining Lake and Arctic Chill.

Detective Erlendur is a man who lives alone, divorced for many years, but he has recently been in touch with his daughter Eva Lind, a confused young woman with a drug addiction. Voices takes place in the days just before Christmas – when everyone should be busy preparing for time spent with family and friends and enjoying only good things and fun. But, into this comes murder. Santa is murdered in the basement room where he lives beneath a busy hotel. Murdered in his bed – with his drawers at his feet. Santa is identified as Gudlauger, a long time doorman at the hotel. As the investigation progresses it becomes increasingly clear that Gudlauger had a past he’d concealed from everyone at the hotel. He seems to have had no real friends though everyone knew he was the doorman who dressed up as Santa each Christmas. Even his family has not seen him for years and they are not about to reveal to Erlendur anything about the past. Of course, it all comes out eventually and the case is solved.

As with any series, there is not only the investigation of a particular case, but with each book we come to know more about the main character, and in this case we learn much more about Erlendur and his daughter.

I went right on to read The Draining Lake. This time it is summer and the humour is more evident, albeit a little dark. A body is discovered in a shallow lake, anchored by a Cold War era Soviet radio transmitter. The investigation leads to a group of students from Iceland who studied in East Germany, some of whom became disillusioned with the Socialist movement and others who are still involved in espionage of one sort or another.

Arctic Chill takes place in another Reykjavik winter, and there is a more brutal death. This is a case that, even more than usual, has Erlendur thinking about his own childhood and the death of his younger brother. We also see more of Erlanger’s adult children, and the personal lives of his colleagues lives are revealed more than in the past.

Reading about Iceland is quite fascinating – a country that from a distance seems to be a place of beauty – but these novels paint it as a country where there is a high rate of alcoholism, missing persons cases, and suicide. Many readers speak of Nordic novels as being dark - glum - but for me it is no more so than reading about Eeyore – and, it is fiction after all!

THE LOTTERYS PLUS ONE BY EMMA DONOGHUE

Review by Sarah Cassidy, a book for young adults by the author of ROOM.

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If you asked me why youth should read The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue, I’d steal a line from our Prime Minister: because it’s 2017. The Lottery family has two fathers, two mothers, and seven children—all from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

            The youngest, Oak, hasn’t uttered his first word even at age two—his development having been blunted by negligent biological parents. Brian was born Briar, but has decided that she is not a girl. She shaves her head and most enjoys wearing a fire engine costume everywhere she goes. Aspen is spunky, outspoken, and devoted to her pet rat. Sumac, aged 9 but often mistaken for a more-mature 11, is the main character. She is an average girl who loves learning and her family. Wood is the nature-lover of the family, Sic is the reader-cum-hipster, and eldest Catalpa is a brooding musical-type. The parents are CardaMom, MaxiMum, PapaDum, and PopCorn—peacekeepers, loving parents, and fun in their own unique ways.

I was surprised at how easy it was to keep the characters apart. They are well-developed with distinct personalities. If you’re having trouble, the illustration of the family in the first few pages certainly helps as a reference! 

The Lotterys could not be more close-knit. They spend their days together rather than at school, learning from each other, the natural world, and educational excursions. Just one member of the extended Lottery clan is estranged: a cantankerous grandfather whose age prevents him from now taking care of himself. When “Grumps” inadvertently sets a fire in his home, he moves in to the Lottery homestead (affectionately called Camelottery, after the Arthurian legend).

Sumac has the hardest time adjusting to Grumps’ arrival. She’s displaced from her room, excursions are disrupted, and—worst of all—Grumps seems intolerant of the Lottery’s diversity.

Sumac means well when she tries to find Grumps permanent lodging outside of Camelottery. Between “introducing” Grumps to Aspen’s pet rat and an informed presentation on seniors’ homes, all of Sumac’s plans to rid Camelottery of Grumps backfire. So begins her transition from conniving to accepting Grumps’ disagreeable quirks.

The Lotterys Plus One is simple in plot but full with teachable moments, interesting did-you-knows, cultural references, and word play. Ultimately it is a story of familial love, understanding, and acceptance. Parents might be interested to know that Emma Donoghue, of Room fame, is the author. Certainly she writes with grace but this being tailored to younger readers, the tone is whimsical and humourous. A sequel to the Lotterys is in the works, and in my opinion this is a series that young readers will love to follow.

Galore by Michael Crummey – and ruminations on the passage of time.

 

I’ve just spent three weeks in a small square house – they call it a biscuit box in Newfoundland. At the very end of the road overlooking the sea. No Internet or cell phone reception unless we go about 20 minutes up the road. It is silent except for the radio turned on the listen to the news, but mostly we forget to do so. We can get the Clarenville Packet on Thursday. If we do go all the way to Clarenville on a Saturday we can also get the St. John’s Telegram. Between them they have enough crossword puzzles to get my husband through the week. (This review appeared in the North Star while we were away - but due to being on "down time" and lack of internet I neglected to put it online - so here goes a few weeks late.)

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What we noticed most here last fall, apart from the beauty of the place and the absence of distraction, is that the few people who still live in this harbour work hard to cobble together a living. It is even more noticeable this spring. The last week of April and the first week of May were warm(ish) and amazingly sunny – the brightness here is extreme. The fishermen were out to their crab pots and lobster traps. Then the pack ice came in – the harbour is white. A dead whale against the shore a feeding frenzy for the gulls – and the bald eagles that arrived one day. The ice moved out, some small icebergs went by, and the ice came back in again. One day I watched some men race down to the shore, launch a boat, and standing up, without lifejackets, they worked their way out through the ice, into what seemed impenetrable whiteness before they disappeared. I can only assume they saw something we could not – perhaps seals. They returned many hours later and what they did out there all that time I do not know, but I was glad to know they were safely home.

I’d wanted to re-read Michael Crummey’s novel Galore and now seemed exactly the right time, and here the right place.

Galore was published in 2009 to great acclaim and it is still, I think, a truly great novel. I wrote a much longer review all those years ago that you can find on our website. This time it is enough to say that you’ll follow the lives of individuals and families who live on a stretch of shore in Newfoundland from the 1800’s to the end of the First World War.

There are wonderful and strange stories of a man who climbed out of the belly of a whale, and a woman who could make warts disappear overnight. There is a doctor from Boston who finds a life here he could never have imagined. There is the merchant who makes his money from the labour of the fishermen, buying low and selling high until even he can only sell low and looses most of what he made. There are love affairs and babies born. So many do not survive. There are years of plenty and years of starvation, and life moves relentlessly on.

There are scenes that stay with me. One is of Callum mourning, years later, the death of his young daughter. “he walked down to the Rooms to be alone for awhile. He opened the doors onto the water and sat looking out at the still pool of the cove… He could barely picture her now, a little redheaded girl climbing into his lap, insisting he pay attention to some childish picture…and he was ambushed by a crying jag, sobs tearing through him as ragged and relentless as a seizure.” His wife finds him there, and puts her hand on his head “Beloved”.

So much loss, and so much love. To the doctor, “Mary Tryphena said, It’s the only thing the world give us, you know. The right to say yes or no to love”. I thought, as I read this book, about the past and the people who lived it. We think also of our own ancestors who lived so long ago, and though we may know some of their history we do not know the intimacies of their lives. We can only guess about their loves, and regrets.  In Galore Michael Crummey has taken a period of time now gone, and created characters who become real to the reader though they live such different lives than we do now. A fabulous book by a great writer.

 

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