When you walk into a book store or your local library, it can be easy to feel overcome by the variety and sheer number of books available. The Book Reviewers group are hoping to make choices easier for you by recommending what they are reading/rereading at present.
First to share his current reading is John Reid.
My first choice is the seminal Mike Dash work, Batavia’s Graveyard. There are books written before and since to do with the intended mutiny on the Dutch East Indiaman, Batavia. Much of the story has to do with her foundering on the Houtman Abrolhos (nowadays the Abrolhos Islands) in 1629, and the evil events that occurred among those marooned on a series of coral islets often little more than a metre above the Indian Ocean tideline.
While the captain took a small crew in the ship’s lifeboat on a fraught 1500km journey north to Indonesia, the 250 remaining survivors were left to face the psychopathic despot, Jeronimus Corneliszoon, leader of the mutiny. Many, dependent on their belief, purpose or allegiance, were murdered in cold blood, all for the sake of the treasures in the sunken ship’s holds. The mutineers were intent on overpowering whoever might return to save them, taking their new and ill-gained ship to sail off on a pirating career.
It’s all part of Australia’s history, even if before white settlement.
I feel comfortable in elevating Dash’s book to the top of the pile for a number of reasons. An early researcher and writer was journalist/author Henrietta Drake-Brockman. She wrote factual and fictional accounts of the disaster, and her writing is excellent in both spheres, although later research alters a number of details. I cannot say the same of the more recent effort by a well-known Australian author (who’d better remain anonymous). His writing, albeit thoroughly researched, is perhaps best described as condescending. Dash is Cambridge educated and this shows through in the quality of his language. As ever a great pleasure to read.
Batavia’s Graveyard was published in 2002 but remains readily available.
A spy thriller with a difference, In The Dark, by Andreas Pfluger, is a blinder of a work – in more ways than one. It tells of the dark world experience of German agent, Jenny Aaron, who was permanently blinded in a botched raid a year ago in Barcelona.
A spy whose eyes no longer function, not even enough to make out dim shapes? You’d better believe it, and you’d better believe, too, that Pfluger – a scriptwriter of some note in his home country – has researched the world of the unsighted down to the nth degree. He had me so convinced in the reading I imagined I could see what was happening through the vivid descriptions of situations and actions. Or was I, indeed, only imagining…?
I’m not going to tell you much more, because I hope it’s enough to get your thought processes underway. Suffice to say the story starts off at a great rate of knots as it explains the operation in which Aaron is blinded, and never lets up to any real extent.
I’ve had this for over a year and only just got around to reading it. More fool me.
Glasgow by Michael Fry might sound a dreary old read, but believe me, it’s far from that. In fact, dreary is an epithet that might be applied to Edinburgh, his earlier book about the Scottish capital. Why that should be I have no idea, but there are some differences between the two, and not only due to geography or populace.
Perhaps it’s an attempt to reverse an aphorism that my Edinburgh family was once said to quote, “Ne’er trust a Glaswegian.” I’m pleased to say that goes back some five or six generations, to when my lot landed 200 years ago in Tasmania and has been subsequently lost. Anyway, Fry, who is both a Tory and from the Athens of the North, is more than happy to treat his history of Glasgow, a Labour stronghold, better than he did that of his own city.
His book, Glasgow, is written thematically rather than in the chronological form he used with Edinburgh. He separates the story into subject headings to cover industry, trade, unions, womanhood, patricians and plebeians and many more, so there’s something for everyone. Doing it like that also provides a bonus to the reader: Chapters can be read at will.
I enjoyed Glasgow and am happy to recommend it to anyone with even the barest interest in history and people.