Thursday, July 28, 2011

is it a con or fair dinkum?

The Happiest Refugee

Anh Do's best selling autobiography The Happiest Refugee has won 3 Australian Book Industry Awards;  for best newcomer, best biography, and the book of the year.
Today, The Age reports claims that the book is largely the work of a ghostwriter. Well, duh!
In the preface, Do thanks the ghost writer for teaching him how to write, and how to structure the book. Generally speaking, when an editor works on a book - especially one that has been commissioned by a publisher - their job is not just to correct spelling and grammatical errors, but to make sure the structure works.
There is no way in the world this book has any voice other than Do's.

On the other hand, there have been some Australian best sellers in the past that would have been rubbish without the input of an editor.
You can tell an Australian author has been given the FIGJAM treatment if, half way through a book, you find a page of dense, unedited drivel that has "slipped through the net". Happily, this is pretty rare: I've only seen it happen three times, but as I don't read a lot of fiction it might be more common.
The Australian book industry is small, because the market for Australian titles is small. Editing is something few publishers can afford to do as thoroughly or constructively as in the USA or the UK.

The Happiest Refugee is one of the 4 best books I've read in the past 2 years. It's not just a true story, it is a classic story in every sense: Hope, fear, despair, spirit, human flaws and personal growth are all between the covers. Great guy; great book.

An online comment about the book cuts down the implied charge of cheating very nicely; someone who uses the name Pinky says "Anh, take it as a compliment, you know you are a successful Australian when you've been Tall Poppied".
One best selling Australian [fiction] writer has sold a heap of titles that are very popular. His first novel - published before he migrated to Oz, was an international best seller. It's such a fantastic book that I've given a copy of it to several teenage boys as a Christmas or birthday present. It's such a fantastic book it became a very successful movie.
The books of his that have been published since he arrived here could benefit from a great deal of re-structuring and, although the spelling is fine, the grammar frustrates me so much I find the books unreadable.
[No, in case you are wondering, Tom Keneally was born here.]
Chloe Hooper's The Tall Man - Death and Life on Palm Island is a wow of a read. It tells the story of Cameron Doomadgee who was, more or less, Australia's Rodney King. It should surprise no one to hear that an Aboriginal died mysteriously while in custody, nor to hear that there was a riot following the initial coroner's report that no one was to blame.
Although The Tall Man is a non-fiction book, it has none of the feel of a piece of reporting. It's so engaging, in fact, it has won a whole swag of awards; ironically, one of those awards was the 2009 Queensland Premier's Literary Award.
It's a lot like an episode of Law and Order really, only it's real and the writing is better.
Numerous books are published every year, in many countries, about institutional abuse of young children. Many books have already been published about the British child immigrant scheme. For the most part I tend to avoid them all, because there is only so much vicarious pain I can bear. However, one book released in 2009 is a standout.
The Bush Orphanage- Recollections of a British child migrant and the truth about Australia's human trafficking past, has a very informative section explaining what John Hawkins was able to uncover about the scheme, and  the struggle he had to uncover it.
If the title attracted my attention, the photos inside the book made me feel it would be a safe and rewarding read. Far from wallowing in self-pity, Hawkins seems to have become an adult with a reasonable level of anger about what happened to him, but who has been able to prove that sometimes "success is the best revenge".
The last book to win a place in this year's scuze i awards - and this book wins first place - is Raft.
The first good sign was a quote on the front cover which reads "A doctor in a yarmulka enters Aboriginal Australia... these are the clinical notes of a humble and compassionate man."
The second good sign was that the quote was from Martin Flanagan.
The third good sign was when I turned the book over and saw another recommendation from Arnold Zable.

This was the book which showed me that The Gap, Gangs and Golliwogs could be more than just a whinge about people who think Australians are racists: This is the book that proves most of us have no bloody idea, and that we need to.
Howard Goldenberg, in so far as I can know anyone from a book they have written, reminds me of the priest who was chaplain when I was at school. If we only get a chance to know half a dozen very special people in a life time, then now that I've read Raft, I've already met two of them.

One of Ted Baillieu's election promises was that Victoria would get tough on crime when he became Premier. [Well, if there are no boats, how else do you get votes?]
This week, as a result of that promise, the Attorney General launched a survey on sentencing. There are copies in newspapers, and the survey can also be completed online.

As surveys go, its format doesn't reveal any blatant bias. But, it's hard to imagine how much sway it will have, as there is absolutely no control to ensure the survey is representative of the population at large: Anyone from anywhere in the world could log on and complete it as many times as they like. Is this one of those "promise them anything but give them a lemon" charades governments sometimes resort to?
[If you want to join in the fun, or simply get a snapshot of how sentences compare here with where you are, you'll need a legitimate postcode beginning with Victoria's prefix, 3.]


  1. I'm trying to guess the mysterious author. Was it Bryce Courtenay? That's the only not-born-there Aussie author I can think of off the top of my head.

  2. Hi Dina, you SO know Australia. I think if you were on a local quiz show you would win enough money for a holiday to Australia to appear on a quiz show...

  3. LOL. Thank you.

    I'm very proud of myself. My mind usually goes totally blank.

  4. Like Jane Clifton did before Anh, he has so promoted the book that I don't feel the need to read it. I have heard him interviewed three or four times, read about him plus seen him on tv twice. Pity, because I am sure it would be a good read, as was Jane's but half way through her book, I just wasn't reading anything I did not know already.

  5. I know what you mean, Andrew. I hadn't seen Anh's promotions so I enjoyed the book. However, Jane had a massive spread in the Age and by the time I read that, didn't feel the need to read the book. [Besides which I HATE moving...]

  6. Oh, thought I was SO clever to think of BC - but Dina's pipped me at the post! Book publicity is a double-edged sword - too much & no one buys the book because they don't need to; too little & no one buys the book 'cos they don't know about it!! But you probably knew that ...

    Thanx so much for following my blog - look forward to reading more of your thoughts too!

  7. Thanx for your very readable blog. I'd say it has just the right amount of publicity!