In our summer bumper issue, we asked five literary types to talk us through their top titles of 2019. Take a peek at a couple of their book lists below and get your holiday reading sorted.
All art by Anna Hoyle
MICHAELA MCGUIRE – AUTHOR AND ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, SYDNEY WRITERS’ FESTIVAL
THE DUTCH HOUSE by Ann Patchett Twisting back and forth across five decades, Ann Patchett’s eighth novel concerns two siblings, Danny and Maeve; their mother’s abrupt departure from their lives; and the arrival of an evil stepmother. Opening a new Ann Patchett novel is one of the greatest pleasures of my reading life, and The Dutch House doesn’t disappoint. It’s simultaneously dark and tender, wry and devastating – a fairytale about the unique bond between siblings.
DISAPPEARING EARTH by Julia Phillips One summer afternoon on the shoreline of the Kamchatka Peninsula at the north-eastern edge of Russia, two sisters go missing. Cleverly dismantling the structure of traditional crime fiction, this accomplished debut novel shifts its focus away from the missing girls, illuminating the shockwaves of their disappearance on the women in the small community. Phillips’ accounts of reindeer herders, ballerinas, avalanches and volcanoes at the farthest edge of the world are spellbinding.
ACT OF GRACE by Anna Krien For the past decade, Anna Krien has been cementing her reputation as one of Australia’s best journalists, and now she’s turned her unsparing, incisive gaze onto the Iraq war and its legacy of trauma. Her first novel follows three central characters, using their stories to examine the cost of war and the possibility of reconciliation.
GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER by Bernardine Evaristo This impressive novel is told through the distinct perspectives of 12 very different characters – mostly black, British women. Evaristo’s unique blend of prose and poetry explores how they navigate politics, sex, gender, race and identity in their respective lives.
THE YIELD by Tara June Winch Tara June Winch is a writer of quiet, profound power, and The Yield is an elegant examination of homecoming, grief, intergenerational trauma and the reclaiming of Wiradjuri language. This tender exploration of land, language and memory had me spellbound.
ALICE PUNG – WRITER AND JOURNALIST
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF DIRT by Rick Morton This little gem is the Australian Hillbilly Elegy, but better. Rick Morton details generations of family violence, disability, addiction and life in poverty. Never mawkish or gawkish, Morton’s writing is energised with such anger and love and humour.
THE SURPRISING POWER OF A GOOD DUMPLING by Wai Chim This young adult novel is about Anna, a teenage girl dealing with her mother’s mental illness, navigating schooling and the family restaurant, and caring for her younger siblings. Anna is feisty, searching and highly believable and I love how tenderly she’s portrayed.
WHITE TEARS/BROWN SCARS by Ruby Hamad This book made me angry in a powerful, positive way. A generation of young women will be very moved – finally, an Australian commentator doing what Audre Lorde did for me, shaking me out of complacency and helping me understand the limitations of white feminism.
THINGS NOBODY KNOWS BUT ME by Amra Pajalic My friend Amra has had the sort of life that would traumatise most people, but not only is she a survivor, but a damn fine and funny writer, too. This moving memoir deals with her Bosnian mother’s severe mental illness, and Amra’s stints in foster care.
THE DEAD EYE AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA by Vannak Anan Prum This memoir is told all in pictures by a man with no formal art training or education, who was tricked into modern-day slavery on a Thai fishing vessel. On the boat, Vannak became a tattooist, but when he came home his wife didn’t believe him until he drew her his experiences. The third-world fishermen were catching the food for first-world pets. An incredible read that will change the way you look at global inequality – is a man’s life worth less than a tin of cat food?