Maria Katsonis is the child of Greek migrant parents. She spent her whole life being a high achiever, for herself and to make up for her parent's sacrifice in coming to Australia. At 39 she decides on a public service career and is accepted into a prestigious Masters program at Harvard University. Fast forward five years later and she is diagnosed with clinical depression and is a psychiatric patient.
Maria's story is particularly poignant as it shows everyone is vulnerable to being a victim of a mental illness. All that it takes is that the pressure of life is turned up too high, a few too many of life's curve balls, and the floodgates crumble.
i was humbled by Maria's honesty in writing about her life, her illness, and her acceptance of this new identity as a sufferer of a chronic mental illness. One in five people will be diagnosed with a mental illness in their lifetime and we need more people with Maria's bravery to share their stories and demystify this condition.
Ramona Koval always suspected that the man who raised her was not her biological father. At 45 years of age she embarks on a journey to find out the true story of her parentage, a journey that would take over a decade and many twists and turns.
Her parents are both survivors of the Holocaust. Ramona's mother died before she could share her story, and before she formulated the questions for her identity, and her relationship with her father was always fraught.
This memoir has been likened to a detective novel and I have to agree. Ramona shares her many false starts and searches for leads, and is very honest about her emotional reactions. Her acerbic wit made me laugh out loud a few times. This is a memoir about the way that the past shapes future generations, that to know who we are we need to know what came before. In her own words:
"We need our stories: they are the way we learn about the world, and the way we pass on what we learn to those who come after us. We are always looking for a plausible story, one that might fit the meagre facts, as they do in courts of law--never really able to know the whole truth but finding the most likely explanation, the most convincing thread."
This memoir shows how life is a mystery, that no matter how hard we want to search for the truth, sometimes we just have to accept that life doesn't give us a neatly packaged ending and the most important thing is for each of us to understand our own story. For Ramona to understand her parents, it means to understand what they were hewn from: the way that their survival from the Holocaust made them who they are, and how this has in turn shaped Ramona's story.
new issue of sultana's dream
The new issue of Sultana's Dream is out now. This is an on-line journal written by Muslim women presenting a different perspective to the mainstream.
This issue focusses on promoting the Faith Fashion Fusion exhibition at Immigration Museum.
There is behind the scenes insight to the exhibition with an interview with curator Tanseem Chopra.
Personal reflections from Muslim women about wearing the hijab
As well as a book review of the Faith Fashion and Fusion book.
I also found this article by Amal Awad about the Muslim world's answer to Miss world interesting and slightly disturbing.
And of course there's a column by me the strange and winding journey I undertook to become an author.
For the past two years I have been co-editing with Demet Divaroren an anthology of Muslim writers to be published by Allen and Unwin. It has been one of the most challenging and exhilarating things I have ever done and we are squeaking over the finish line. It will go to print in November and be out in February 2014.I can't believe that after all this hard work, sweat and tears it's nearly going to be over!
We're now reaching the exciting stage where we are planning the launch and publicity, and we got our first review and have had our first interview in Books + Publishing Magazine. You can read the review below and if you want to read the interview you can get a free trial and access it.
The review is so great and I can't wait for the book to be out in the world for people to read it. We have so many incredibly talented writers who have shared their stories:
Hazem El Masri
Arwa El Masri
Michael Mohammed Ahmad
It's been an honour and privilege to work with them. For now here's the review:
Books + Publishing Review of Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia
Review by Meredith Lewin
Coming of Age is the kind of book that will change how readers look at the world, at others and themselves. This anthology of real-life stories from Australian Muslim authors explores the complexities of growing up Muslim in multicultural Australia—in the 1980s and 1990s but also the post-9/11 landscape, where to be visibly Muslim was suddenly redefined. Pitched at the YA nonfiction market, its strong human interest emphasis will appeal to engaged teenagers and a broader Gen X/Y audience. Aiming to demystify Islam and challenge ‘Islamaphobia’, the contributors succeed brilliantly at highlighting the diversity of Muslim culture and identity. From ‘halal romance’ at Muslim youth camp to female kickboxing, professional football and the Miss World contest, the writers explore how family, friendship, religion, gender, sexuality and culture shaped who they became. Particularly fascinating are pieces by female contributors examining body image, faith, identity and desire that shatter the stereotypes. Together, the stories expose common threads of hope, love, belief and belonging—and the intense alienation and discrimination experienced by the authors. Their individual paths to coming of age, coloured with many shades of humour, warmth, sadness, anger, determination and honesty, will resonate with readers from all backgrounds and beliefs.
And hopefully this is one of many more exciting things to come.
What I've been reading
Cate Kennedy's memoir has been on my to read list for ages.
I haven't read a travel journal or travel memoir before so this was a new one for me. Cate brings us into her world working as a volunteer in Mexico for three years.
Usually you think a memoir as someone telling you about themselves, yet in this memoir Cate focuses her lens on Mexico and she becomes the conduit through which we learn about this amazing country and its generous people.
She shares how her experiences shaped and influenced her and what we have to learn from countries and people that we view as impoverished. In the end we have to wonder which people are the truly impoverished. Whilst we might have the material goods, there is a lot we lack such a generosity of spirit.
While I was completing my pilgrimage of Cate I found out she co-edited an anthology and had to read that. In this anthology midwives share their tales of birth. The stories shared are from war zone, third world countries, and hospitals in the suburbs.
This is a really valuable book for any woman, but especially those looking for resources as they prepare for their own birth.
By reading about other women's experiences you can prepare for your own, and most importantly learn about the reality of birth. That there are no guarantees, that you cannot predict anything, and you just have to surrender and hope for the best.
This is Cate's latest short story collection with most of the stories featured having been been published previously.
I love reading short stories by dipping into them over time and that's what I did with this collection.
My favourite is probably Seventy-Two Derwents told from the point of view of a child. There is such a sense of menace and tension in this story and I was entranced by the ending.
The second book in the Montmaray Journals trilogy sees Sophie and her ragtag family living in London in the lead up to World War II.
There is intrigue, high society, coming out and potential love interests.
Cooper examines the political events leading to World War II and captures a snapshot of the times.
The third book in the Montmaray Journals trilogy is set during World War II. I absolutely love reading books set during World War I and II (does that make me weird).
This was probably my favourite book of the series. Cooper has meticulously brought to life the reality of living in London during the Nazi bombings.
I can see this book being a real gem in the classroom and getting students to learn about history by living it through Sophie's eyes.
I've loved this whole series and it has been an absolute pleasure reading all of the books, as attested by the fact that I inhaled all three books in a couple of months.
The Fine Colour of Rust by Paddy O'Reilly writing as P.A. O'Reilly was a real gem. I absolutely loved the dry humour and observations of the main character Loretta Baskovic.
This was a story with real heart and some laugh out loud moments. Paddy beautifully captured the quirky characters of a small country town with authenticity.
Even though this is a light-hearted read, there is real depth to the story she tells and Loretta's journey.
This has been on my radar since meeting Kirstyn McDermott at an author event we were both doing at La Trobe university. One of the things she spoke about during her speech really struck a chord. She said that the scariest stuff happens in suburbia, and I agree.
Madigan Mine is a supernatural thriller. Alex Bishop is reunited with his first love Madigan Sargood and after she commits suicide he is haunted. McDermott creates a tense atmosphere as Alex and Madigan’s love affair is revealed. There is a creeping sense of dread and suspense as McDermott takes the reader through twists and turns. I loved not knowing where it was going and constantly being surprised as I turned each page.
As I was getting ready for bed one night while reading the book I stood in the darkness and felt a bit creeped out and fearful as I remembered flashes of Madigan Mine. Really liked being taken out of my comfort zone
Really enjoyed reading it and very excited to know that she has a new novel titled Perfections that’s out now.
A brief history of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper has been on my radar for a while and I had the chance to read it this weekend. I ended up reading the book from cover to cover, a luxury for me and a testament to Cooper’s storytelling skills.
The book is the diary format of 16 year old Sophie FitzOsborne who charts the adventures of her life on an island claimed by her ancestors thousands of years before. The book is divine and features all the archetypes that we love, an eccentric family living in a crumbling castle, a supernatural element, romance and intrigue, madness and ghosts.
It’s a gothic tale of suspense and gives a nod to the Bronte’s in atmosphere and brooding. The best part it’s the first in a trilogy and I’ll be following up with the other books.
what i'm reading
The Friendship Matchmaker by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Randa is on my must read list and I make sure I read everything she writes. In this new book she has written a junior fiction novel. I was really interested to read this because junior fiction is the 'it' genre at the moment.
I really enjoyed this book about Lara who's life work is to find friends for others. Lara's advice is suspect and there is quite a bit of fun to be had there. There is depth and heart in this novel as we find out what has shaped and influenced Lara and her life's ambition to be a friendship matchmaker.
I can see the appeal of junior fiction for readers. This reminded me of The Babysitter's Club which was my fiction of choice when I was an adolescent. Parents are noticeably absent, unless they are performing valet duty, and the protagonists dream big and live almost grown up lives on one level. The conflict is all related to the friendship groups and the main difference to young adult fiction is that there isn't a big coming of age turning point in the end. Whilst the protagonist has a realisation, they are still in the same mindset. Ideas are swirling.
Courting Samira by Amal Awad
This is a debut novel by Awad and it's in the chick lit genre. Awad has a great voice and has created a well-rounded character in Samira who is searching for love while coming to terms with what she wants in life.
Her novel is best described as an Austen-esque romance in the Muslim world and gives great insight into the courting rituals of an arranged marriage.
There is humour and a love triangle that kept me guessing to the end.
Her Father's Daughter by Alice Pung
I read Alice's memoir Unpolished Gem when it was published a few years ago and loved it. When I saw she had a second book out it instantly moved onto my must read list.
With this new memoir Pung is exploring her father's life in the killing fields of Cambodia and how this has shaped his over-cautious nature and influenced his children's life.
The memoir is written in third person and shifts between the two points of view of father and daughter. Pung has a beautifully lyrical style, but the real revelation was the way she was able to capture the brutality that her father lived through with a delicate hand. There is a scene where she visits the field where her father buried the dead. She reflects on the fragility of the human body and what happens when a body starves to death. She doesn't attempt to recreate the scenes her father lived through, and yet through this reflective process she makes the reader so aware of the brutality of the regime he survived.
Was very impressed with this memoir and there were some lessons for me and my writing process. Sometimes I automatically turn to shock value to make a point. But the reader doesn't need everything in their face to feel the emotion you're trying to create. Sometimes less is more.
what i'm watching
I watched this movie in the cinema and it made me laugh, cry and green with envy that I haven't written a young adult novel with such depth and beauty. It is absolutely a must watch!
I'm going to track down the book and read it because I just want to immerse myself in that world again.
American Horror Story is in its second season. I loved the first season with it's themes of ghosts and horror. It was so cool and gave me such a chill.
Somehow they have ended up making an even better second season and I am addicted. It freaks me out, yet hooks me at the same time. The best part is that the same actors who were in Season 1 are back in Season 2, but in different roles and I'm loving it. You don't have any problems believing them in their new roles and it adds great depth to the show.
Amra Pajalić is an award-winning author, an editor and teacher who draws on her Bosnian cultural heritage to write own voices stories for young people, who like her, are searching to mediate their identity and take pride in their diverse culture. She writes memoir, young adult and romance under the pen name Mae Archer.
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