Book reviews

Who did this to our Bali?
Dewi Anggraeni. Indra, 2003. isbn 1 920 78708 9, rrp $24.95

In the wake of October 12 2002, little has changed in my little corner. I get an extra going over by security at Canberra airport and the temporary white fence girding Parliament House remains. We were called urgently to ‘be alert, not alarmed’. In the wake of the bombing the cries from Bali differed greatly from those in Canberra. Anggraeni notes at the scene of the bombing, amid the flowers, a poem that reads:

‘…God are you angry with us?
We know we have been made a lot of mistakes (sic),
We know we are often misguided,


God please forgive us…’

Anggraeni’s book is largely one of perspective. Where Australia saw the bombing as an event of diplomatic and political significance, for the Balinese the incident became a focus for mourning and symbolic of some spiritual retribution. The significant contribution by the international community to assisting Bali  is also put into perspective. Whilst Australia helped bring to justice the perpetrators, the AU$4000 granted to Endang Isanik, whose husband Aris was killed in the blast, won’t go far in a home with no income earner and three young children. The second half of the book tracks the investigation and incarceration of the bombers, and differs significantly from the initial accounts, if not from the title.

Nathan Kensey

A History of the Devil: From the Middle Ages to the Present
Robert Muchembled. Blackwell Publishing Asia, 2003. isbn 0 745 62816 8, rrp $27.95

A History of the Devil dissects the popular image of the devil in Western culture over the last thousand years. This is the devil revealed in jokes and tales, in literature and art, in judicial proceedings and medical instruction, and, more recently, in comic strips and advertising. Robert Muchembled, Professor of History at the University of Paris XIII, uses these entrails to argue for a transformation in the European image of the devil in the Middle Ages. The image changes from Old Nick, a trickster, to the cloven hoofed Lord of the Sabbath who rules over the torment of sinners in hell. This latter devil was a force in the ‘civilising’ of Europe. Since the Enlightenment, however, there has been a trend to internalise the devil. The devil has become synonymous with desires that sometimes rule human beings. This is not necessarily the death knell for the devil’s influence on society. Contrary to the internalisation of the devil, the latter half of the 20th century has seen a resurgence of conservative beliefs stressing the devil’s reality, particularly in the US. Muchembled’s reading of the devil’s intestines does not attempt to predict the future of Western imagination and the subsequent influence on society of the devil. He contents himself with presenting the devil’s past in detail, making this a fitting book for those interested in the blood and guts preceding the devil selling ice-cream.

Daniel Marti

Off Course: From Public Place to Marketplace at Melbourne University
John Cain and John Hewitt. Scribe, 2004. isbn 1 920 76909 9, rrp $29.95

With issues of national security dominating the political landscape, higher education is unlikely to get much of an airing in this election year. One hopes that Off Course will do  a little to redress this. Written in an engaging style—more journalistic than academic—Off Course is a welcome antidote to the usual array of literature on the subject.

Part One of the book concerns Melbourne University’s transition from ‘academic institution to corporation’. Cain and Hewitt argue that the university, with its connections and influence, could have resisted the move to reduce public funding of Australian universities. Hoping to be an early winner and establish itself as another Harvard or Oxford, it openly embraced the corporate-management model—particularly regarding staff and student morale.

Part Two, ‘The Commercial Experiment’, examines various commercial projects the university has engaged in, namely Melbourne University Private and Melbourne IT. Cain and Hewitt argue that Melbourne’s step into the brave new world of private higher education funding was ill-considered. The failings of Melbourne University Private and Melbourne IT have tarnished the university’s proud history.

Off Course is not a call for a return to the golden age of education. The authors deny such an age ever existed. Rather, it is a look at the state of higher education and an examination of what happens when a university undertakes risky commercial ventures at the expense of its role as a public institution.

Aaron Martin

Dark Dreams, Australian Refugee Stories by Young Writers
Edited by Sonja Dechian, Heather Millar and Eva Sallis. Wakefield Press, 2004.
isbn 1 86254 629 0, rrp $19.95

Young people are honest. They carry a sincerity which allows them to tell the truth. Dark Dreams: Australian Refugee Stories are such anecdotes about arrival to Australia—a balanced collection, documenting 60 years of migration. From stories of Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s Europe,  to Vietnamese and Cambodian ‘boat-people’. More recent accounts include stories from the Kosovo conflict, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. One story is of a girl who watched her entire family drown at sea, and others tell of times in German labour camps. A young woman tells of being tortured for seven months in Iraq after speaking Kurdish—a language that was forbidden under Saddam’s regime. The book is likely to renew the enthusiasm of those advocating on behalf of refugees, and perhaps persuade those not so prepared to welcome them.

The depth and simplicity of style in this book has much to recommend it. It casts a human face on the refugee issue that more analytical texts cannot. The stories of extraordinary courage and humanity are profoundly moving.

Beth Doherty

 

 

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