The Line Becomes a River

Francesco Cantú     Recommended by Anne    


I stayed up late reading Francisco Cantú’s book. Its one of these non-fiction titles which are beautiful books about horrible things, in the manner of The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein. Mr. Cantú was a border patrol agent between 2008 and 2012, policing the border between Mexico and the USA in the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Its confronting reading. Although he does his best to retain a sense of empathy, Cantú describes destroying supply caches (to discourage crossers so they give up) booking small children, and finding dead bodies. A descendant of immigrants, he reflects on the toll that border enforcement policies enact on people all the way from the governmental decision makers to the people attempting a dangerous desert crossing in hope of a better life. There are descriptions of the natural landscapes Cantú loves, and historical insights into the nature of borders and boundaries. Its a flowing, disparate, subtle book.

The brutality of a system which will separate families and incarcerate undocumented immigrants compares uncomfortably closely with Australian policies on asylum seekers – its just an ocean they cross to reach us, instead of a desert. Vital, timely, lovely.


The Trauma Cleaner

Sarah Krasnostein     Recommended by Anne    


This book was one of my top five reads for 2017, one I’ve often since recommended, gifted, loaned and praised. The life story of Sandra Pankhurst is one which could easily be sensationalized, but instead it is a sensitive, thoughtful and deeply engrossing book which touches on the legacies of difficult childhood, Melbourne’s queer history, and the sheer world-building will of a woman’s shifting identity.

Before she was the successful founder of Specialized Trauma Cleaning Service Pty Ltd, Sandra grew up in a violent home. Assigned male at birth, her sex-reassignment surgery was one of the first performed in Australia. The years that followed in the nightclubs and brothels and cabaret venues could have left her burned out and embittered, but instead deepened her convictions that we all deserve to be listened to.
The chapters delving into Sandra’s present day job, cleaning up after nightmare domestic situations like hoarding, crime scenes and catastrophic squalor, are fascinating without being ghoulish. A many-dimensioned, skillfully constructed, compassionate memoir and a book deserving all its accolades.

The Trauma Cleaner was published by Text Publishing in October 2017. It won the Victorian Premier’s Literary award for Non-fiction 2018 and the Victorian Prize for Literature 2018, and was longlisted for the Indie Book Award for Non-fiction 2018.


Cigarette Girl

Masahiko Matsumoto     Recommended by Alan    


Welcome to the quiet, evocative urban dramas of Masahiko Matsumoto, one of the leading lights of the Japanese alternative-comics movement known as “gekiga.” Originally published in 1974, these eleven stories now form the first English-language collection of Matsumoto’s mature work. His shy, uncertain heroes face broken hearts, changing families, money troubles, sexual anxiety, and the pressures of tradition, but with a whimsy and lightness of touch that is Matsumoto’s trademark.
Beautifully published collection. No big eyes, big boobs, robots or action.


The Shepherd’s Hut

Tim Winton     Recommended by Alan    


Loved it. Brutal and lyrical. Read it in two sittings and am about to go again.

In The Shepherd’s Hut, Winton crafts the story of Jaxie Clackton, a brutalized rural youth who flees from the scene of his father’s violent death and strikes out north through the wheatbelt. All he carries with him is a rifle and a waterbottle. All he wants is peace and freedom. But surviving in the harsh saltlands alone is a savage business. And once he discovers he’s not alone out there, all Jaxie’s plans go awry. He meets a fellow exile, the ruined priest Fintan MacGillis, a man he’s never certain he can trust, but on whom his life will soon depend. The Shepherd’s Hut is a thrilling tale of unlikely friendship and yearning, at once brutal and lyrical, from one of our finest storytellers.


The Only Story

Julian Barnes     Recommended by Alan    


The Only Story is a piercing account of helpless devotion, and of how memory can confound us and fail us and surprise us (sometimes all at once), of how “first love fixes a life forever.”

One summer in the sixties, in a staid suburb south of London, Paul comes home from university, aged nineteen, and is urged by his mother to join the tennis club. In the mixed-doubles tournament he’s partnered with Susan Macleod, a fine player who’s forty-eight, confident, ironic, and married, with two nearly adult daughters. She is also a warm companion, their bond immediate. And they soon, inevitably, are lovers. Clinging to each other as though their lives depend on it, they then set up house in London to escape his parents and the abusive Mr. Mcleod.

Decades later, with Susan now dead, Paul looks back at how they fell in love, how he freed her from a sterile marriage, and how – gradually, relentlessly – everything fell apart, as she succumbed to depression and worse while he struggled to understand the intricacy and depth of the human heart.

‘Most of us have only one story to tell. I don’t mean that only one thing happens to us in our lives: there are countless events, which we turn into countless stories. But there’s only one that matters, only one finally worth telling. This is mine.’

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