Quick review

Troubled Waters: Borders, Boundaries and Possession in the Timor Sea
Ruth Balint. Allen & Unwin, 2005. isbn 1 741 14361 6, rrp $24.95

Ruth Balint’s Troubled Waters demonstrates the power of well-written history. Her exploration of the impact that Australia’s zealous safeguarding of its Timor Sea borders has had on traditional Indonesian fishermen is absorbing reading.

As the first non-fiction recipient of The Australian/Vogel Literary award, Balint proves history can be as engaging as fiction. For me, a history student battling to produce my own thesis, Balint’s crafting of history is inspiring. She masterfully captures the anguish and tragedy of the Indonesian fishermen as they struggle to maintain a traditional livelihood in conflict with an unsympathetic modern world of unseen borders and inflexible bureaucracy.

Combining this emotional aspect with lucid and logical argument, Balint shows the inability of ‘progress’ to accommodate those who struggle to adapt. She is perhaps unfair, however, in her portrayal of Australian border-patrol personnel. The important service they provide is downplayed and they are often treated as policy creators, not just enforcers. Like the fishermen, they too are just trying to make a livelihood.
Balint also spends a disproportionate time rebuking Australian insensitivity to the Indonesian fishermen but neglects examining the role of wealthy Indonesians exploiting their own countrymen’s tragic situation. Nevertheless, Troubled Waters’s eloquent exploration of an often-ignored issue is outstanding. It is interesting, informative and passionate. This is how history should be written.

John James

Blush: Faces of Shame
Elspeth Probyn. University of New South Wales, 2005. isbn 0 868 40896 4, rrp $32.95

In Blush, academic Elspeth Probyn explores the essence of shame in human life—for individuals, societies and countries. Probyn looks beyond blushing, the undeniable physical evidence of shame (caused by embarrassment, shyness or humiliation) to reflect on being shamed, being a shamer, doing shame, writing shame and ancestral shame.

It is essential not to skip Probyn’s introduction, in which she acknowledges, ‘I want you to see shame from different perspectives.’ That was reassuring, as I found my simple understanding of shame (as feeling guilt or remorse for doing something wrong) challenged. Probyn shows that shame is much more than that. Emotionally, she explains, shame is a sensitive, intimate exposure of oneself in society; socially, it enables us to consider how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves; culturally, our ignorance of others’ history and ways of life can make us feel out of place; physically, the body shows its relationship to itself and the mind via blushing, which cannot be brought on or faked.

Probyn endorses shame as a way for humans to reflect upon their relationships, actions and reactions to the world and others in it, and as a path to self-evaluation and transformation. The book is beautifully written, with informative, personal stories and an appreciation of human nature.

Kathryn Page

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
J. K. Rowling. Bloomsbury, 2005. ISBN 0 747 58108 8, RRP $39.95

The wizarding world is at war, there is a new Minister of Magic, and the Muggle Prime Minister has been told the real reason behind various deaths, disappearances, and destruction. Yes, Harry Potter is back.
Harry is now 16. Fortunately for readers’ patience, he has got over his habit of SHOUTING ALL THE TIME, although since Book Six begins only two weeks after Book Five ends, Harry’s recovery from the anger phase of his grief at his godfather’s death was remarkably rapid. Instead, Harry is experiencing somewhat embarrassing feelings for a fellow student (this time, the right one). He is not alone; there is a lot of ‘snogging’ among the students at Hogwarts, with an engagement and a tale of unrequited love within the Order of the Phoenix.

There is less sheer Hogwartiness in the Half-Blood Prince; Book Six is more plot-driven than the previous five. Much time is taken up with the tale of how a handsome orphan became Lord Voldemort; thanks to the magic of Dumbledore’s Pensieve, readers are able to experience this transformation through Harry’s eyes rather than merely being told about it.

Favourite characters return. Hermione remains a role model for smart girls everywhere, Draco becomes more human, and we learn more about Lily Potter. But the horrifying ending will shock Potter-lovers everywhere and raise a dreadful question: will Book Seven see Harry return to Hogwarts?

Avril Hannah-Jones

Moments of Truth
Bill Leak. Scribe, 2005. ISBN 1 920 76953 6, RRP $39.95

In my family there are those who refuse to read or watch reports about disturbing events. Top of the list is any story involving cruelty to children or animals.  I’ve never understood this. Ignoring the story doesn’t change the reality, nor assist the poor blighters involved.

Yet, reading Bill Leak’s Moments of Truth, I think I understand. His illustrations of political life in Australia in the past five years make for disturbing reading. In his own words, it is the work of the political cartoonist to ‘sift through the daily barrage of lies and obfuscations that are the tools in trade of the successful politician, and present the nuggets of truth ...’

Yet, his view of politicians (and his fellow Australians) is so dim it’s surprising he gets out of bed in the morning. Singly, Leak’s cartoons are amusing, wry and bitingly sharp. Collectively, they make for depressing reading. Yes, Leak presents a disturbing picture of consistent abuse of political power, but, to paraphrase Mel Brooks, if you can’t laugh at your oppressors then you are forever in their sway.

It also helps to take the long view. And five years, even in Australian political life, is not a long time. Leak’s use of quotes from political history are apposite in this respect. History is the best determinant of the proper place for political leaders, whatever spin they might have us believe.

Moments of Truth is a welcome chronicle of recent Australian political life, even if it does help to have a brandy nearby.

Marcelle Mogg



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