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January 2015 book reviews

It’s been a year since I started reviewing the books I was reading every month and I’m enjoying it so much I’m going to keep going, for the time being at least.

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (Tribe Book 1): Ambelin Kwaymullina

In this post-apocalypic world, nature revolted when misused by humans whose faith was in technology. Now the leaders are obsessed with Balance, tightly controlling use of natural resources and limiting technology. At the end of the apocalypse, people with special powers started popping up and today they are termed ‘illegals’ because their powers are not controlled by the state. Ashala is one of these illegals, living rough with ‘The Tribe’ she leads. The novel opens with Ashala’s capture by the government. You could say this book is just another in the spate of young adult dystopian novels with a female protagonist, but something that sets this one apart is the focus on spirituality, drawn from the author’s background as a Palyku woman from the Pilbara region in Western Australia. This is a smart, savvy read, asking some wonderful questions about who we are individuals, as a community, and as part of a greater ecology. At least one other book has already been written in this series, and I’ll be downloading it.

The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henriquez

The unknown Americans in this novel are immigrants, of varying legal statuses, who have come to Delaware from parts of Latin America. Though they know their own ethnic backgrounds, to Americans they are merely a conglomerate of Spanish speakers. The story follows Alma and Arturo who have come seeking schooling options for their daughter Maribel who is brain-damaged following an accident. Interspersed with their story are chapters which give the background on others in their apartment building, forming a rich tapestry of histories and presents of people who may very well be invisible to the government and citizens of the country they live in.  I found it particularly interesting to read because I identified quite strongly with the sense of vulnerability that comes from living away from home, even though the culture these people are in is closer to my own passport culture.

The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult

This was my first Jodi Picoult book and I became interested in reading her after I read an article where she highlighted the double standard between male and female novellists. In it she cites The Storyteller in particular as not chick-lit because of its serious and somewhat depressing theme: the Holocaust, and whether former Nazis can or should be forgiven. I found it a fairly easy book to read, despite the subject matter and I enjoyed the way she wove three different narratives together. The disappointment for me was that I anticipated the ending, so I felt it didn’t have the cleverness of a book like Ben Elton’s Two Brothers which also deals with some of the tensions and betrayals of characters in that period.

Escape From North Korea, Melanie Kirkpatrick

I read this thinking it would be a biography of escapees from North Korea, but it was more like a journalistic book with some biographical stories included. It’s a bit repetitive and has more than a hint of  American imperialism, but it also really shines a light on some of the realities of the North Korean regime as well as the extraordinary risks of leaving or aiding those escaping. China is especially condemned for its refusal to recognise those escaping North Korea as refugees, instead returning them for repatriation. Particularly startling to me was that China justifies this policy by classifying said refugees as ‘economic migrants’ which is also language that has been used in Australia in recent times to describe asylum seekers.

Categories: Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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