Reading About Australia: Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

WOW.

I don’t know where, or how, to start the conversation about this book. Life-changing, maybe? I didn’t want it to end, and I gave it a big hug before I turned it back into the library.

Some basics, before I get all emotional…

The book I chose for Australia is Carpentaria, by Alexis Wright, a member of the Waanyi nation. The broad outlines: a story of the inhabitants of a small, isolated town in Northwest Queensland, on the Gulf of Carpentaria. Race relations, generational conflicts, religious disagreements, greedy multinational mining companies doing their level best to get all of the best bits out of the ground and damn everything else…that’s just the start.

Gulf of Carpentaria
Gulf of Carpentaria
(image by Norman Einstein (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons)

By the end of the first chapter, I was all the way in with this book. I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything like it. Just flow of the narrative, the voices of the characters, the stories that get told in between all of that. So many new thoughts and ways of seeing the world. I won’t spoil it for you, but the Dreaming story of how rivers are formed…maybe the coolest idea I’ve ever heard.

Aboriginal Australians (and Torres Strait Islanders) possibly represent one of the oldest continuous cultural groups on the planet. Colonization, industrialization, and now globalization have had an enormous, and often brutal, impact on their lives over the last few centuries, but they aren’t museum pieces; these are communities and cultures that are still here, right now, playing a part in modern Australia. I feel like this book is a gift: we can begin to see value in so much of what has been devalued.

This is what literature is all about. Giving a voice and shape to other life experiences that you would otherwise have no access to. You get to inhabit the skin of someone else: see what they see, think what they think. It’s a miracle, really – and so few books ever manage to take you that far. This one does.

Morning Glory Clouds over the Gulf of Carpentaria (
Morning Glory Clouds over the Gulf of Carpentaria (image by By Mick Petroff (http://apod.nasa.gov/via Wikimedia Commons)

(And they have these clouds…Morning Glory clouds, or kangólgi to the local Garrawa people. I’ll let you look it up, but they are super cool and are the largest waves in the world. AWESOME!)

Reading about: The Sahara

The Sahara is a big deal. Geographically, environmentally, psychically; it’s a pivot point that life on this planet revolves around. Huge in scale, it’s the largest hot desert in the world (Antarctica wins the big prize, but that’s all cold, all of the time). If it were its own country, it would be between Brazil and China in size. People have lived there for millennia, but have never conquered it; it’s almost always the other way around. It will absorb you, cover you up, obliterating your presence. Lovely at times, but truly deadly.

Sahara by satellite
Sahara by satellite
(image via NASA)

I think I’ve daydreamed about it my whole life. It’s also been a persistent character in my literary travels. So, with Mali a few stops back, and Niger and Djibouti on the horizon, I figured it was a good time to try to get a sense of place. I couldn’t have picked a better book: Sahara Unveiled by William Langewiesche. Satisfyingly spare prose, and even more sparse emotions. He doesn’t view the desert or the people that live there as enemies, through a prism of exoticism, or as some sort of harsh mystery to figure out; he states what he finds, and is very succinct in expressing his sometimes mixed emotions. I came away still wanting to see it with my own eyes, but with a better sense of what is really there.

Tadrart Acacus, a desert area in south western Libya
Tadrart Acacus, a desert area in south western Libya
(image by Luca Galuzzi, via Wikimedia Commons)

A funny, but telling moment in the book…

The author:”I want to see the desert”.

A local in a desert town: “Why?”

A New Country – unofficially at least

So. There’s a new country in the world:  Azawad.

Azawad in Context (and in French)
(image from Wikimedia Commons)

A breakaway republic from Mali with undefined borders and no international recognition, there’s still a pretty good chance that Azawad will have an big impact on the African, and probably global, stage.

More reading here:

http://www.gadling.com/2012/04/12/azawad-africas-newest-nation/

http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/04/05/can_azawad_win_international_recognition

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/04/20124149184982408.html

Transdniestr

I am a terrible blogger. I’ve had a hell of a day and honestly cannot string more than a few sentences together…
Therefore, I’ll go with one of my slacker-type posts and let a professional journalist explain Transnistria (or Transdniestr, if you prefer).

Transdniestr
(image from Bogdangiusca at the English language Wikipedia , from Wikimedia Commons)