Review ‘The Brisbane Line’ by J P Powell

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This is a book I had to read.  The name is derived from “an alleged 1942 WWII government plan to abandon Northern Australia in the event of a Japanese invasion”— there is nothing alleged about it.  My father was a young soldier in WWII based in Melbourne when his division received the command to form The Brisbane Line.  It made such an impression on him that later, when he was married, he relocated the family to Brisbane where I currently live.

I dearly wish I could discuss this novel with my late father but I do remember him reminiscing about the off-duty times and leave in tropical Far North Queensland where hi-jinks often lead to a soldier’s death.   I am sure there was tension, corruption and possibly murder among the thousands of American troops stationed in Brisbane, but on the other hand I know families of young women who married GI Joe’s and went to live in US never to return.

Enigmatic protagonist, Rose, has a boyfriend who is a prisoner-of-war and she says “It’s men who cause the trouble in the first place.  It’s just another hypocrisy.”

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Suitable for crime readers and historians, this well-researched fictionalised story is more interesting than a text book and follows Sergeant Joe Washington, a US Military Police officer and amateur photographer who joins local police in battling crime and black market corruption.  Joe also has grave suspicions of a murder cover-up.

The humid atmosphere is laced with grunge and irritability offset by guys and gals dancing the night away at the Trocadero Dance Hall.  Well-known people make an appearance, for example notorious cop Frank Bischof, author Thea Astley and General Douglas MacArthur, an American who in WWII commanded the Southwest Pacific region. 

The book is gritty and at times the inequality upset my 21st century sensibilities but it is based on true events.  Powell has recreated a vibrant town which embraced a huge influx of strangers in uniform and the repercussions this had on Brisbane society, some of which still lingers today.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Author Profile

Briobooks
http://briobooks.com.au/authors/jppowell
YouTube Avid Reader Books interview
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbE0v3Yhkx0

Brisbane Line JP Powell Author Photo 2020 (5)Judy Powell is an archaeologist and historian with a passion for bringing the past to life.  She has worked as a high school teacher, an academic, a National Parks officer, a museum administrator and has excavated in Jordan, Cyprus and Greece as well as leading historical archaeology projects in Australia.  Powell, who lives outside Brisbane, was awarded a QANZAC Fellowship by the State Library of Queensland to pursue research into, and writing of, a series of crime novels set in Brisbane during World War II.

Book Review ‘Shepherd’ by Catherine Jinks

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On my first reading attempt

I wasn’t ready for this book.  I wanted to enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Catherine Jinks other books but it didn’t work for me right from the start.  The setting was vivid but the raw, brutish behaviour and sheer masculinity of the story overwhelmed me.  Does that make me a sexist, a bigot, a wimp when it comes to macho bravado?  I don’t know.  I turned the pages with trepidation, not interest.  Maybe the colonial frontier loneliness affected me and I didn’t want to go on.

On my second reading

the story felt less crushing.  I concentrated on young English convict Tom Clay, a former poacher transported in chains to Australia, and now a shepherd.  I willed him to be okay, to learn and survive intact.  His country assignment in New South Wales works well, he didn’t steal from landowner Mr Barrett so he was never flogged and he works hard.  Through his eyes, I saw the strangeness of a harsh new land, the vast differences, and the cruel pitiless men he is forced to live and work with guarding sheep against theft and wild dogs.

Tom has a jaundiced eye

when it comes to things like Australian native wildlife and his comment on first seeing kangaroos is less than flattering.  I was disappointed with the header on the bookcover which reads “The wolf is not the only hunter”.  There are no wolves in Australia, there are dingoes (wild dogs) and that should have been apparent.

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Sheep stealing, jumbuck, billabong, Waltzing Matilda, poet Banjo Paterson

The conditions are harsh

and Tom’s fight for life against his arch nemesis Dan Carver is harsher still.  These chapters are tightly written.  The knock down drag ‘em out battles are horrific, the ghastly metal trap, the shootings, the human and animal deaths… but Tom dearly loves his sheep dogs.

I am not a fan

of an undefined location nor overused nonlinear narrative.  Tom’s past comes out in this way.  Flashback to eight year old Tom at his mother’s funeral, his former life almost as bad as his current one.  He learns “No matter what a convict’s situation might be, he’ll never persuade a trooper that he’s telling the truth.”  Flashback to when Tom first met convict Rowdy Cavanagh, a con man who joked, laughed and teased his way to success until he was caught “A single misstep and it ruined me life.”

The age rating

for this tense, chilling, thrilling story eludes me, but it is a tale I did not fully enjoy.  I do respect it wholeheartedly for the screenplay fear and fascination it instilled in me regarding the rough and thoroughly inhumane life early convicts were forced to endure.

A sequel?

Tom’s situation could lead to listening and learning from the Indigenous custodians of this ancient land, and perhaps encourage a new phase in his life.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Author info

Catherine Jinks ‘Shepherd’ interview on Paperchain Bookstore blog.

Catherine Jinks  (Australia b.1963) is a four-time winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year award, and has also won a Victorian Premier’s Literature Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Literature, the Ena Noel Award for Children’s Literature and an Aurealis Award for Science Fiction.  In 2001 she was presented with a Centenary Medal for her contribution to Australian Children’s Literature.

Catherine Jinks Author Photograph 02Catherine Jinks, author of over thirty books for children and adults, including the award-winning Pagan Chronicles series, was born in Brisbane and grew up in Sydney where she studied medieval history at the University of Sydney.

She became a writer because she loves reading, as well as history, films and television.  Catherine gets ideas for her novels from everywhere, particularly good science fiction films.  She lives in the Blue Mountains NSW with her Canadian husband and daughter Hannah.

Review ‘Red Joan’ by Jennie Rooney

It took a while to get my head around Joan Stanley’s rationale.  Growing up, I had heard about the Official Secrets Act and censored letters from my father who was in the second world war, but never about spies selling secrets: I gleaned by inference that espionage was problematic for all sides.  Red Joan knew how to keep her lips zipped.

I really enjoyed this story and I put another book on hold to finished it.  Before and after the 70th anniversary of VE-Day, there was a rash of fact and fiction war books from the UK and this is one of them.

The bombings are what I found missing in Jennie Rooney’s tale, the destruction and the precautions every citizen had to take every day to survive.  Joan Stanley appears to live a charmed life in this regard, and not much of the physical devastation seems to touch her.

Of course, this story is character-driven, an emotional account of the Cold War, an internal struggle between what is right and wrong and justifying one’s decisions, rather than air-raids and bombed out buildings.

After a sheltered schooling, Joan attends Cambridge University where she meets flamboyant student Sonya; and Joan is easily swayed by Sonya’s handsome cousin Leo Galich.  Slowly Joan is groomed to become a spy and eventually steals top secret documents.  While her resolute decision to help the war effort unfolds beautifully and logically (to Joan at least) I couldn’t help thinking “Surely she isn’t that naive?”  But she is, and this propels the story.

That, and romance.  This is where cousin Leo comes in.  What can I say about earnest socialist Leo?  He is easy to picture—any handsome, charismatic, idealistic Uni student would fit his mould.  I can excuse Joan’s love-struck crush on Leo but not her belief in her new friend Sonya, a powerful influence.

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Fur coat 1940s in New Zealand Fashion Museum http://www.nzfashionmuseum.org.nz/f/fur-jacket-with-squared-shoulders/

I thought Joan’s shared fur coat was a nice touch, it was the tenuous connection, the innocent thread throughout the story but it spoke volumes about their personalities.

Joan Stanley (loosely based on real spy Melita Norwood) specialises in theoretical physics and when she gets a job in a metals research facility, the touch-and-go desire with Professor Max Davis is well done, I could see that happening.  The cast of males are oblivious to Joan’s duplicity, and receptionist Karen is pretty much ignored.  For a laugh I pictured Karen afterwards as a retired MI5 operative.

As I said, I like this book and would recommend it, not for an in-depth look at the war effort but as a glimpse into the human side, the male/female relationships and the story behind the atomic bomb construction.  Just enough details; the lab, scientific information, the protocols.

Destructive and fascinating at the same time.

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NOT relevant to Joan but just as fictitious – American actor Steve McQueen (1930-1980) on a motorcycle used in war movie ‘The Great Escape’.

Jennie Rooney’s modern day interrogators, Ms Hart and Mr Adams, were created a bit like Scully and Mulder from the X-Files, lots of meaningful glances at Joan, but they served their purpose well.

In the end, in my opinion, the unravelling of the story was pretty low-key.  Sir William Mitchell was out of the game, so that left Leo and Sonya’s questionable career moves.  Poor Joan, there seemed no end to her emotional turmoil before and after discovery.

Lately I’ve read a couple of books with weak transitions, but I thought the past and present were well written in Rooney’s story.  She did a good job with Joan’s son Nick Stanley QC, a real fly-in-the-ointment (or our own subconscious thoughts?) and he had a Hollywood style moment at the end.

I like to pick out my favourite lines in a story and I quote:

There is a pause.
“Anyway”, Joan says, “I’d have thought the Soviets would be developing their own weapons?”
“They are.  But it’s taking too long.  They’re starting from a disadvantage.”
Leo sighs and reaches once more across the table.
“Please, Jo-jo.  Don’t you see?  You’re in a unique position here to change the history of the world.”

When VE-Day dawns on 8th May 2020 it will be 75 years since the end of the war in Europe so I guess there will be more books forthcoming.

Of course, we read in hindsight and that can be a wonderfully misleading thing.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE:

Pen Paper Clipart Boy Holding PencilJennie Rooney was born in Liverpool in 1980.  She read History at the University of Cambridge and taught English in France before moving to London to work as a solicitor.  She lives in West London, and also writes and teaches History and English.  The fictitious story of Joan Stanley, the KGB’s longest-serving British spy, is her third novel.  It was adapted for the 2018 film ‘Red Joan’ directed by Trevor Nunn, starring Dame Judi Dench as aged Joan and Sophie Cookson as young Joan.

INTERVIEW:  Read Jennie Rooney’s discussion with RadioTimes about ‘Red Joan’ her book that inspired the movie and why she made changes https://www.radiotimes.com/news/film/2019-08-28/red-joan-author-on-why-she-changed-the-true-story-for-judi-dench-movie-im-not-a-biographer/

Re-reading Old Stuff

It was a nice surprise to discover an older piece of writing I’d forgotten, particularly when it still holds up.

My overview of Fiona McIntosh’s historical fiction “Tapestry” was penned for Top 40 Book Club Reads 2015, a regular Brisbane City Council Library Service booklet written and compiled by unacknowledged library staff.

The book—billed as timeslip fiction—has a layered plot and it was hard to write a 100 word description without sounding too stilted.  McIntosh chose settings in two countries, Australia and Britain, in two different eras of history.  I particularly liked the second half in 1715 within the Tower of London.

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Synopsis by Gretchen Bernet-Ward

After visiting the Tower of London to research her book, McIntosh had “An unforgettable day and I attribute much of the story’s atmosphere to that marvellous afternoon and evening in the Tower of London with the Dannatts when the tale of Lady Nithsdale and my own Tapestry came alive in my imagination.”

Author Fiona McIntosh has written quite a stack of books set in many parts of the world, and in different genres: Non-Fiction, Historical Romantic-Adventure, Timeslip, Fantasy – Adult, Fantasy – Children, and Crime.

Check your local library catalogue in person or online.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


In order of appearance, the Brisbane Libraries Top 40 book club recommendations for 2015—I have not read Poe Ballantine’s chilling tale “Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere” and I may never read it—See how many titles you’ve read!

The Visionist;  Moriarty;  Tapestry;  The Bone Clocks;  California; Z – Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald;  The Mandarin Code;  Merciless Gods;  Upstairs at the Party;  Friendship;  Birdsong;  Heat and Light;  Time and Time Again;  What Was Promised;  The Austen Project;  The Paying Guests;  The Exile – An Outlander Graphic Novel;  Lost and Found;  Amnesia;  Cop Town;  Mr Mac and Me;  Nora Webster;  The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden;  Inspector McLean – Dead Men’s Bones;  The Soul of Discretion;  We Were Liars;  Stone Mattress – Nine Tales;  Family Secrets;  South of Darkness;  The Claimant;  This House of Grief;  She Left Me the Gun;  Mona Lisa – A Life Discovered;  The Silver Moon;  Revolution;  Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere;  What Days Are For;  Mistress;  Warning – The Story of Cyclone Tracy;  The Birth of Korean Cool.

Indrani Ganguly ‘The Rose and The Thorn’ Book Review

Author Indrani Ganguly based her historical novel in Lucknow, India, a city renowned as the most refined of the Muslim kingdoms where she, her mother and grandmother were born.  In 1857 the Siege of Lucknow was also the scene of some of the most brutal fighting during the country’s uprisings.

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Indrani Ganguly’s novel is an illuminating blend of fact and fiction.  Twins Mukti and Lila Chatterjee—the eponymous rose and thorn compared to a black rose in their garden—are the heart and soul of the story.  Ganguly’s research is comprehensive thanks to an academic background, and her foreword mentions some family memories.  She explains the book is not a personal history of her family, although I think there are insights which add to the charm of the narrative.

Two parallel movements emerged in India in the 19th and 20th centuries, the national movement of Independence and the social reform to uplift the most vulnerable sections of society.  During this time of national and social upheaval, the role of Indian women makes enlightening reading.

India Father and Children 1930sLucknow Rose and Thorn

There are six families in “The Rose and The Thorn”.  The main characters are Jai Chatterjee, history professor, his wife Shanti and their twin daughters Mukti and Lila.  Then follows The Mukherjees, The Alis, The Johnsons, The Banerjees, and The Maharajas.  It is easy to keep track as the years unfold, events develop in clear progression and the tension builds.

Young Mukti innocently reads the signs of civil unrest in a 1922 pamphlet calling for a boycott on foreign clothing, and the event is witnessed by her British friend Elizabeth and father Alan when riding in a tanga (horse-drawn transport).  Protesters burn clothes on a huge bonfire, quickly followed by police aggression.  One of the police inspectors, Anil, is a Chatterjee family member.

India horse-drawn Tanga

India Mahatma GandhiAround this time, non-violent resistance advocate Mahatma Gandhi is arrested and imprisoned for two years for publishing seditious material.

The twins Lila and Mukti grow up, marriages are arranged and their resilient personalities emerge to deal with life; the loss of loved ones, writing for radical newspaper Chandpur Barta, social work at a women’s centre, and an eventful protest march for women’s rights.

As a young woman in 1970s I was woven into the women’s liberation movement but did not realise how long Indian women had faced their own battles.  They were invisible, they survived as long as they had a man, otherwise they were classed as nothing.  From a 21st century stance, I find it difficult to comprehend the household dictates of that time and the shocking treatment of widows.

The character portrayals of the men and women in the story are strong, and they have firm opinions on the subjects of politics and political activism—handsome Rashid Ali spices things up!  His mother Ruksana is also a driving force.  Mosquito-hating Krishna Banerjee and the Maharaja are men not to be underestimated.  Societal revolutions are brewing but the big question is ‘Will Congress win?’  If women had the vote things may have been different.

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I was interested in the chapters dated March 1923 because that was the year my mother was born.  As my mother grew up, I wonder how much she and her Australian contemporaries knew of the Partition turmoil in India?  I knew India was part of the British Commonwealth but certainly didn’t learn about their struggles.  To quote the prologue “There are no martyrs’ monuments or eternal burning flames…” for the ordinary women who led extraordinary lives.

On a lighter note, Chapter 25, March 1923 “The Governor’s Ball” has an outrageous encounter with the Governor’s wife.  And during a family visit to the Taj Mahal, a wandering minstrel strolls by, strumming his ektara (traditional one-stringed musical instrument) singing a saucy song:

There was a rose and a thorn in my life
One was my lover and one was my wife.
Which was which I could not tell
It changed day-by-day and as night fell . . .

. . . I don’t want to give too much away, dear reader, but I will say there is a secret.

Author Ganguly explains that representing the dialogue in English was a challenge.  The two languages used in the book are Hindi and Bengali which have very different grammar syntax.  She overcame this and the result is flowing dialogue containing a smattering of Indian words which enhance the story.

India Food Luchi Eggplant 01The woven cloth khadi, and sweet and savoury food references enticed me to look for translations.  I found a recipe for Mukti’s favourite dish, freshly fried luchi and eggplant.

My curiosity was piqued by the influential roles of India’s royals, the Maharaja and Maharani, in the story.  I read a quote from modern-day Princess Shivranjani of Jodhpur who doesn’t have a problem with only male heirs inheriting but aptly retorts “If you say a boy is everything and a girl is nothing, well, I have a problem with that!”

Indian Goddess Maa Durga Devi 03Powerful Goddess Durga, whose name is spoken several times in the book, also got me researching.  “Durga” in Sanskrit means “invincible” and numerous Mantras are chanted for her throughout the year.

The era of Indian history from 1916 to 1947 is brought alive by Indrani Ganguly through the eyes of Mukti and Lila, and the wise and courageous women who supported them.  While I did not choose a favourite between the rose and the thorn, I enjoyed their journey and learned a lot about the faith and endurance of families in India during those turbulent times.

The epilogue narrator says “I myself travelled many different paths till I joined my father in Delhi but that is another story.”  I look forward to reading it!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward



AUTHOR PROFILE

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Author Indrani Ganguly

Indrani Ganguly was born of Bengali parents in Lucknow, India.  Her parents imbued her with a strong sense of Indian and world history and culture, and a great appreciation of  diversity in all its forms.  Indrani studied English Honours and sociology in India and did her PhD on the impact of British occupation on revolution and reform in West Bengal from the Australian National University.  In 1990, Indrani married an Australian with whom she now lives in Brisbane, Queensland.  They have a son, daughter and grandson.
Indrani’s website: https://indraniganguly139.wordpress.com/blog/

Published by Boolarong Press
https://www.boolarongpress.com.au/product/the-rose-and-the-thorn/
NOTE General photographs (above) are for illustration purposes only.

Here is the YouTube link to BBC’s Great Indian Railway Journeys video which documents the history and scenes of Lucknow, and shows the buildings which Indrani Ganguly writes about in her book.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CckjZafH0vI