Books read May 2017

BOOKS READ MAY 2017

1. William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Ed. Jonathan Bate & Eric Rasmussen, Macmillan, The RHC Shakespeare, 2010 (1604)

Interesting morality play and comedy based around the antics of the easy going and rather weak Duke; the apparently highly moral but in reality hypocritical and rapacious Angelo, Deputy Duke; the devout Isabella; and the impatient but deeply in love Claudio and Juliet. The comedy is supplied by Elbow the simple policeman, Froth, a foolish gentleman, Pompey the clown, and Lucio the fool/fantastic.  I had forgotten how much sexual innuendo controls the language of Shakespearian comedy!  As a moral piece this play leaves a sour taste as just about everyone involved has to be tricked into doing the right thing! A rather whimsical overview of the Elizabethan world and playhouse with few redeeming characters.  3 stars

2.  Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Translation with an introduction and notes, Maxwell Staniforth, Preface by  A C Graying, The Folio Society, London, 1964 (c late C2 AD)

Serious thoughts from a serious man, Roman emperor and military leader. Profoundly influenced by the writings of Epictetus’ Stoic philosophy but also quotes frequently from Plato and Euripides. Surprising views about suicide and of course a rather cold approach to emotion in general and passion in particular. Mostly very wise advice from a very wise man. The Meditations is not a continuous argument but a series of observations and rumination about life, morality and ideal human behaviour. Much of it was written during the emperor’s hard fought military battles with the “barbarian” hordes laying siege to the Danubian border of the Empire in middle Europe. It is a serious but engaging read and provides food for a thousand discussions. 5 stars

3. William Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Penguin Books, Ringwood, 1999. (C17th)

Pithy, complex poetry addressed to both sexes and to the bard himself all about love, lost love, love gained, love stolen; love uncertain, love at great cost, ridiculous love, forlorn love, love from afar, trusting love, longing heart broken love, love for men and love for women. Few words are wasted here and the contracted and sometimes obscure meanings often take some digging out. In spite of all this ingenuity there is still nothing better than:

Shall I compare thee

to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely

and more temperate…. 4 Stars.

4. Daryl Tonkin & Carolyn Landon, Jackson’s Track, Viking, Ringwood,1999

Extraordinary historical account of the life of Daryl Tonkin and an indigenous community living in West Gippsland along Jackson’s Track in the temperate mountain ash forests between Drouin and Jindivick in the middle years of the C20th. The community was built around white man Daryl Tonkin and his brother Harry who ran a timber cutting business near Jackson’s Creek. They were Melbourne born but former Queensland cattle drovers who settled at Jackson’s Track and employed many indigenous workers to help with the business. Daryl Tonkin eventually scandalised the local community by setting up a bush home with Euphemia Mullins, an Aboriginal girl and they had nine children. Many other families came to live in the area including the Rose and Hood families and others from the Lake Tyer’s mission in East Gippsland, from related families in Dimboola and from the Walaga Lake area in southern NSW and from elsewhere.  Daryl was self-educated and was encouraged to write his memoir by American  school teacher Carolyn Landon who had come to work at Warragul High School in the late 1990’s and was teaching Pauline Mullins children, the grandchildren of Daryl Tonkin and Euphemia Mullins. When I was principal of St Paul’s Anglican Grammar School in Warragul in the 1990s I met Carolyn and was amazed to learn of a thriving indigenous community living and raising families in the forest area as late as 1962. Pauline herself became an indigenous educator assisting staff at Warragul High School to communicate with indigenous students and is now an oral historian writing especially about indigenous and white Australian relationships. Many of the Mullins/Tonkin children became Australian badminton superstars, winning State and National championships between 1967 and 1986. Lionel Rose of course was to become World bantamweight boxing champion.

The book has many highlights including the story of the Tonkin brothers’ amazing business know-how and successes and the tension with their city based, racist but highly skilled and driven sister Mavis who lived with them for a time. The family almost imploded after Daryl’s decision to live with Euphemia but brotherly loyalty and hard won values won through. In the end, however, it was the combination of four factors that destroyed the thriving 150+  Jackson’s Creek  indigenous community. First the post-war rural drive for farming land and the subsequent need for roads and fences encroached on the size and health of the forest, impacting also on wild-life, the basis of indigenous hunting and food gathering. Secondly an emerging Middle class white community, scandalised by what they saw as primitive indigenous living conditions, combined with ready access to alcohol in Drouin and significant pressure from the local constabulary led to constant political pressure to have the community removed. Thirdly, a conservative Christian evangelistic movement, critical of native beliefs and values  persuaded some families to give up their old ways. Finally a misplaced assimilation theory, forced education pressure in inappropriate schools and forcible resettlement of families into initially inappropriate and inadequately prepared “white” housing in Drouin was followed by the wholesale destruction and bulldozing of the community.

In many ways this story is a tiny microcosm of white/indigenous relationships across Australia in the middle years of the twentieth century. Daryl Tonkin lived happily in Jackson’s Creek for 22 years and in his final years drifted back to bush living in the Jackson’s Creek area although maintaining his love and care for Euphemia and their children. Daryl died, age 90 in 2008. Carolyn Landon went on to do extensive research about the whole Jackson’s Creek community and her results and further information about this story can be found in Jackson’s Track Revisited: History, Remembrance and Reconciliation: Brabulwoolong Woman, published by Monash University.  Jackson’s Track is a truly unforgettable story! 5 stars.

5. Gabriel Garcia Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude, translated from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa, Ringwood, Penguin Books, 2009 (1967, 1970-English).

This is Colombian born Marquez’s passionate, energetic and enthralling novel about one hundred years in the life of a mythical, isolated  South American village, Macondo in a mythical Columbia. He is still probably the most read Latin American novelist today and Marquez won the Nobel Prize for his efforts over two years which nearly beggared his family.   The story follows four generations of the family of one José Arcadio Buendía and his formidable wife Úrsula Iguarán. In each generation one of the sons is named José Arcadio so the family tree in the Penguin edition and hopefully in others, is necessary for a constant reminder of who was who and when. Like many Latin American writers, Marquez demonstrates a significant debt to Argentinian poet, philosopher and short story writer Jorge Borges, with its combination of the literary style of magic realism with historical elements. One example is the account of the1928 banana war massacre in Ciénaga, near Santa Marta in Columbia allegedly backed by US marines.

This is a wild, haunting, sad, funny, erotic, at times frustrating and always challenging read!  The narrative operates at many levels and can be read as:a commentary on the fragility, “thinness” and trauma of human civilisation; on the erotic power of true love and passion versus the drivenness of lust; on the impact of European hegemony over South American politics and life; on the ultimately ridiculous divisions between “left” and “right” in politics and the horrific lies and pointlessness of war; on the complexity and perhaps ultimate futility of the search for the world’s knowledge, especially perhaps its failure to overcome passion; on the power of nature to reclaim lost human worlds; on the depth of the spiritual life-force which can survive the worst of human nature,  shallow moral rules, and religious invention. This is not a book to pick up and put down. It needs to be read with attention and at say three sittings but it repays with a thousand ideas that will remain in the mind of the reader for a long time.

The link between the four generations of Buendias is the mysterious Gypsy philosopher Melquiades who lives throughout the 100 years and keeps re-appearing to the four José Arcadios and who has written the meaning of the lives of the Buendia family and much else on parchments written in code…in Sanskrit , which was his mother tongue, and he had encoded the even lines in the private cipher of the Emperor Augustus and the odd ones in a Lacedemonian military code!  (Shades of Leonardo Da Vinci!) The attempt by each José Arcadio to decipher these documents is a thread that unites the novel although its power and interest lie elsewhere.    Five stars and counting.

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