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Dear Fellow Book Lovers,

I receive a great many requests from publishers and writers to interview them or write reviews of their latest releases. There are very limited opportunities for exposure via interview through Melbourne Jewish Book Week, but this review newsletter, which will appear periodically, not only highlights major releases but also provides an opportunity for some of the exposure that lesser known writers want and need. 
 
Warm regards,
 

Nicolas Brasch

Festival Director, MJBW

BIOGRAPHY


Max

by Alex Miller (Allen & Unwin)

Alex Miller claims this is the most important book he has written. That’s quite a claim from a writer who has won the Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s most prestigious literary award for fiction, on two occasions. This is his first work of non-fiction, though pushing the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction has been one of Miller’s fortes.

Max is Max Blatt, Miller’s best friend, long since passed. A solitary, reflective man, Blatt appears to have provided Miller with more encouragement, emotional and intellectual nourishment, and enduring memories, than anyone has the right to expect in a friend. No doubt the friendship worked both ways, though we only get Miller’s modest perspective.

In Max, Miller travels to Germany, Poland and Israel, and trawls through records and his memory, trying to discover the truth about his friend’s past. Max had revealed little about his membership of German Socialist and Polish resistance movements, and only fleetingly mentioned being tortured, but we share Miller’s yearning to learn more and more. And we’re not disappointed.

At its core, this is a book about extraordinary friendship, though Max’s life story adds a great deal to the narrative. It also reveals as much, if not more, about Miller as does Blatt.
 

HISTORY 


The SS Officer’s Armchair

by Daniel Lee (Penguin Random House)

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of interviewing Bart van Es for a MJBW event. We spoke about his award-winning book, The Cut Out Girl. I thought a great deal about Bart and his story as I read Daniel Lee’s The SS Officer’s Armchair. Whilst the minds and actions of the relative protagonists are vastly different, both books are as much, if not more, about each author’s road to discovery, than the lives of those they are pursuing.

Daniel Lee came upon the subject of his book quite by accident. He had never heard of Robert Griesinger, an SS officer, but then nor had almost anyone else, other than his family. And that’s the point of the story; in tracking down what he could about Griesinger and his pre-war and wartime activities, Lee became obsessed with the role of ‘ordinary’ Nazis during this time. As he states, ‘most of us know the names of only a handful of Nazis who formed part of Hitler’s inner circle. What about men like … Griesinger, who have so far escaped the attention of films, documentaries and history books.’

We follow Lee’s trail of detection over several years and come to meet and become familiar with Griesinger’s descendants, as Lee does. We learn about the minutiae of an ordinary Nazi officer’s life, both at work and at home. Yet the scale of what was happening outside the windows is never far from our minds.

This is a story that had to wait; in post-war Germany, few were willing to talk about the actions of pliant, ordinary citizens participating in a holocaust.  The wait has been worthwhile. Lee’s persistence, extensive research and master storytelling make The SS Officer’s Armchair a standout read. If you liked The Cut Out Girl, you’ll love this just as much. If you haven’t read The Cut Out Girl, read both – I’ll leave it up to you to decide in what order.

MEMOIR


The Freedom Circus

by Sue Smethurst (Penguin Random House)

Sue Smethurst is nothing if not persistent. The award-winning author and journalist knew her grandmother-in-law had a tale to tell but was reluctant to do so. But bribed with her favourite cake and bright nail polish, Mindla started to open up. And what a story it is. Starting in Poland, and traversing much of the globe, this story is a gem within a well-worn genre. The title refers to the Staniewski Brothers, for whom Mindla’s husband, Michael, performed. The story flows, descriptions are sparse but effective, little is wasted.
 

HISTORY


Patterson of Israel

by Henry R Lew (Hybrid) 
 

We can be thankful Henry Lew decided to dig a bit further after first hearing about Gallipoli veteran, John Henry Patterson. While some of us would move on, Lew started researching Patterson, and eventually wrote this book.

According to Lew, ‘There was no other officer in the British Army during World War I, who so abhorred and more openly attacked the anti-Semitic behaviour displayed by his superiors in the field, and he did so with a complete lack of concern as to how his actions might compromise his advancement.’

Lew outlines the case for this statement and takes us through Patterson’s military history, not only in Lew’s words, but also in Patterson’s. This is a comprehensive telling of one of Israel’s great friends.

HISTORY


A Networked Community

by Sue Silberberg

The story of Jewish Melbourne begins with Joseph Solomon, transported from London to Van Diemen’s Land for inciting the theft of goods from a pawnbroker. After serving his sentence, he became a wealthy businessman and landowner, and was among the first group of investors in the colony of Victoria, principally the city of Melbourne. From that point, Jewish influence in every aspect of Melbourne life, has been enormous, and well reported down the years.

Sue Silberberg has left no stone unturned, or rather, no periodical, book or paper unscrutinised, in chronicling the lives, activities and influence of Jews in Melbourne throughout the nineteenth century. She brings to the task, the forensic eye and mind of an academic. This is a reference work — full of facts and details of Melbourne’s networked community of Jews.

SOCIOLOGY & HISTORY


Holding On and Holding Out

by Anne Freadman (University of Toronto Press)

Holding On and Holding Out is subtitled Jewish Diaries from Wartime France, and it provides intimate accounts from the diaries of two men, Raymond-Raoul Lambert and Benjamin Schatzman, from their time under the rule of Vichy France to the end of their lives at Auschwitz. It will appeal, though, not so much to those who enjoy personal reflections, but to those with a more academic bent, particularly with an interest in the diary form.

Early on, Freadman makes a great case for the diary as presenting completely different insights than autobiography or memoir: ‘it is written from day to day … rarely completed … [and] written sporadically’ Perhaps most importantly, a diarist does not know the outcomes of whatever they are writing about; while a memoirist looks back, in anger or sorry or delight.

MEMOIR


The Happiest Man on Earth

by Eddie Jaku (Pan Macmillan)

There are optimists, and then there is Eddie Jaku. Having survived Buchenwald, Auschwitz, and a Nazi death march, and lost family and friends, Eddie makes himself smile every day. And at 100 years of age, when Eddie smiles, so does everyone he comes in contact with.

Eddie recounts the atrocities of the concentration camps and post-war Europe in a simple, gentle manner, recalling the kindness of others. He is doing in book form what he does most of his waking time, talking to young people (and let’s face it, just about everyone’s younger than Eddie), recounting history so it’s never repeated, but ensuring everyone leaves with a smile and a sense of hope.

The Happiest Man on Earth is an easy, infectious read. Eddie refers to the reader as a friend, and it’s impossible not to warm to him and his positive messages. 

BIOGRAPHY


The Miracle Typist

by Leon Silver (Simon & Schuster)

Silver’s admiration and affection for his father-in-law, Tolek (Ted) Klings permeates The Miracle Typist; and it’s clear Tolek would not have entrusted his remarkable life story to anyone else. Klings joins the Polish Army to fight the Nazis, then traverses much of Europe and The Middle East. We share Tolek’s curiosity (and ignorance) about the political and military events of the time, and as Tolek wonders about the fate of his family, so do we.

FICTION


Righteous Kill

by Ted Lapkin (Silvertail Books)

Who doesn’t love the concept of time travel? It’s a common literary trope that has passed the test of time. In Righteous Kill, Ted Larkin helps us live out a fantasy – going back in time to kill Adolf Hitler and change the course of history. As one would expect, it’s a fast-paced thrilled, once you get past the detail and discussion near the beginning where concepts such as Novikov self-consistency conjecture are dealt with so we can get on with the story. And that story involves Israeli soldiers from today going back to 1940 to take out Hitler and his commanders using twenty-first century tactics and weaponry.

This book has the feel of authenticity, having been written by someone with experience in Israel’s armed forces. It’s escapism that will appeal to many.

MEMOIR


The Girl in the Lion's Mouth

by Dita Goud, as told to Anna Gould (Hybrid)

Dita Gould is a well-known figure in Melbourne’s Jewish community, through activities, memberships, philanthropic work, and Gould Galleries, which she established with her son, Rob. In The Girl in the Lion's Mouth, it is her granddaughter, Anna, who she has teamed with, to tell her story, from birth in Vienna, hiding in Budapest during Nazi occupation, through to her rich and fulfilling life in Australia. One senses that the pace of the story, through short chapters, matches the pace with which Dita lives life. Here is an opportunity to walk (or rather, run) beside her.

MEMOIR


The Strength Within

by Annie Pateman (Austin Macauley)

Inspirational memoir is a genre loved by many. Annie Pateman certainly has a story to tell – battling cancer three times from the age of 26; the first time when pregnant with her second child. To find the strength to fight, to continue to live, and to continue to provide love to others is worth writing and shouting about. The Strength Within will appeal to those who love stories of people triumphing over adversity. 

SUPPORT MELBOURNE JEWISH BOOK WEEK


MJBW has planned and presented free live-streaming events to its audience of the highest literary standard and is largely maintained by a small group of volunteers.

In order to continue the quality of MJBW events, we are asking you to help us support our literary community of writers, moderators and keynote speakers, local and international, which will assist us to keep everyone connected in the Melbourne Jewish Book World. We wish to say a big THANK YOU to each and everyone who has financially supported our literary community to this stage. 
Donate to MJBW
Melbourne Jewish Book Week is a not-for-profit organisation with registered charitable and Deductible Gift Recipient status. All donations over $2 are tax deductible. We appreciate your support and welcome all contributions.
Melbourne Jewish Book Week would like to express its gratitude to the continued support of the following sponsors:

Stay safe, stay well and keep reading everyone


If you wish to contact us, please email
info@melbournejewishbookweek.com.au

Melbourne Jewish Book Week takes place on the land of the Kulin nation. We pay our respects to their elders, past, present and future.
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