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Three books we've read recently and what we thought about them

Three books we've read recently and what we thought about them

Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward has a big reputation, with some calling her one of the greatest writers of her generation. Let Us Descend is her latest release, showcasing her signature rich storytelling that transports you from the very first breathtaking line: “The first weapon I ever held was my mother’s hand”. 

The novel follows Annis as she’s sold by the white enslaver who fathered her and sent on a journey from the rice fields of the Carolinas, to the slave markets of New Orleans and into the fearsome heart of a Louisiana sugar plantation. 

If you’re looking for an easy read, this is not it. Through the harrowing tale, Ward asks you to take it slowly, to sit with the horrors of slavery and the worst of humanity. Still, she invites you to see beauty too, to experience Annis’ journey with all of your senses and open yourself up to a world of spirits as magical realism is effortlessly interwoven with stark reality. 

Women & Children by Tony Birch 

In an interview with the ABC in 2022, Tony Birch noted the new focus of his recent work: 

"More of my writing now is focused on the strength of women, Aboriginal women in particular. I want to write characters where women are very strong and are given the authority and autonomy they're entitled to.” 

In Women & Children, he does just this. Joe Cluny sits at the centre of the story as he struggles to avoid run-ins with the nuns at his local Catholic school. When his sister heads off on an extended stay with a rural family, Joe’s just getting used to life without her when his Aunty Oona arrives on the doorstep, distressed and needing a safe refuge. 

With the wide eyes of childhood, Joe watches on as his mum and aunty work out what to do next and has his innocence peeled away as he realises that his family is full of secrets and his community is full of people willing to turn away from those who need help. 

In many ways, the story of secrecy, pride, innocence, abuse and sisterly bonds, is one that will be familiar to readers. But, through Joe’s eyes, we’re invited to put aside despondence and cut through the excuses spouted by systems and those who perpetuate them, to find hope once more. 

The Conversion by Amanda Lohrey

The Conversion is a startling novel about the homes we live in: how we shape them, and how they shape us. 

In a regional Australian town, Zoe, alone and troubled by her husband Nick’s ghost, sets about converting a deconsecrated church – a project that was his idea in the first place, and one that she feels she needs to press on with, even though the church seems empty of the possibilities Nick once envisaged for it. It’s not until a determined young teacher pushes her way into Zoe’s life, convinced of her own peculiar mission for the building, that it comes to life. 

Lohrey’s writing pulls you along gently, as though you’re floating down a river – a balm as we enter the busy season. If you were a fan of Lohrey’s Miles Franklin Award-winning The Labyrinth, then you’ll love The Conversion, where her voice shines through as she explores what it takes to rebuild and reshape after grief shakes the foundations of your life.

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