Sunday, February 07, 2010

TSS: Do you like your fiction political?

I started a new book this week. Actually I started a few, but there's one that I specifically wanted to talk about in my (unofficial) Sunday Salon post for this week.

A couple of years ago, I read and really enjoyed a book called Barbed Wire and Roses by Australian author Peter Yeldham. Since then, I have been meaning to read more of his books, but despite the fact that I had borrowed one a couple of times, I never actually managed to read it. This book, A Distant Shore, is his latest book, and once again I find myself wondering why I haven't read more. It is a problem I intend to address.

Here's the blurb:

The moving story of a young girl's journey from Greece to Australia, and the life she builds – and love she finds – in a sometimes unwelcoming land

Katerina arrives in Sydney by ship as a six-year-old in the 1950s, a bewildered newcomer met by her father, whom she barely remembers, and abandoned by her impulsive and flighty mother.  She faces a strange and often hostile new country as she and her father struggle to be accepted.

Growing into a beautiful and intelligent young woman, Katerina renames herself Kate and makes the Northern Beaches of Sydney home.  At the age of seventeen, while the Vietnam War rages and protest marches fill Australian streets, she is swept into a passionate love affair.

Life for Kate brings joy and tragedy.  Inspired by her own experience as a child, she becomes a legal advocate for displaced persons and is forced to confront questions of life and death, freedom and captivity – choices that will change her life forever . . .

A Distant Shore is a poignant and stirring story of our times about courage, justice and enduring love.

Yeldham has chosen to look at the Australian immigrant experience from the 1950's through to the early 2000s, also touching base on some of the other major issues that faced Australia during this period like the public protests against our involvement in Vietnam.  Our main character, Kate, is a young girl when she comes to Australia from Cyprus in the 1950s. Abandoned by her mother, she comes to live with her dour father in one of what was then one of the less glamourous parts of Sydney. She faces ostracism during her school days, subject to racist taunts and vilification throughout her childhood years and into her teens.

Through a series of events, Kate finds herself involved as an advocate for immigrants, many of whom have come to Australia through illegal ports of entry and therefore find themselves in detention centres for many years, and specifically involved with advocacy for the women and children who find themselves in that situation.

From this blurb, there is little to indicate that one of the main subjects in this book is about the political and society reaction to the illegal boat people who attempt to gain access to Australia, and to be honest, that doesn't surprise me. The subject of illegal immigration is a very emotive one still, but it was especially so in the early years of the 2000s. Australian's pride themselves on being a multi cultural society and very welcoming, and yet, you don't have to dig too far to find people who are vehemently opposed to many of the refugees who try to find their way here, no matter how desperate the situation they are fleeing from, or how dangerous the journey is for them and their families. Even in my small office environment, there are very different views in relation to this issue and we work in an organisation with a strong focus on social welfare.

When I was reading the very early parts of this novel, I did wonder how many readers would realise the subject and the author's views on the issue and not be able to read more. Which lead me to wonder about my question for today. If you start to read a book where the topic is quite political in nature, does it put you off, especially if you disagree with the author's views? Can you keep reading if the writing is good enough, and would this kind of issue affect how you grade a book?


  1. First of all that's a stunning cover.

    I generally have a hard time with books that preach a politic different than my own especially if the opposing viewpoint is presented as very one dimensional. If the view is super strong, I think it weakens the book overall.

    However, if the writing is still fantastic I might stick with it. And I suppose it also depends on the issue. :)

  2. Deep question! Well, it always depends on the book. But generally I can tell before reading a book if that sort of thing is going to come up and decide then and there whether I want to read it but, yeah, it has occasionally snuck up on me in the middle of the book. And if I find I'm reading something very blatantly pro something that I'm very much against, I've been known to close the book and move onto better pastures.

    If I enjoyed the book enough to finish reading it, it may affect my rating if the author was ignorant (showed disrespect for others on the other side of the fence) or if they used the medium of their book to get up on a soapbox and preach for a couple of pages. I have run across this from one of my favourite authors and some of her later books get 4/5's from me because of it.

  3. I try to stay away from political books. They often give me that beaten over the head feel that turns me off faster than just about anything else. I suppose I'm more likely to stomach a political novel when my views are front and center. Still, I'd rather avoid modern politics altogether. Sometimes fiction is the only place to escape from it.

    That was from my 38 yr old self. I used to read a lot of political fiction when I was in my early 20s. I remember reading a lot of modern political fiction and non-fiction set mainly in Northern Ireland. So, like everything else, reading tastes change over time.

  4. Well, I guess that would depend on the politics involved. If they were too extremely opposed to my own, I might have trouble finishing...

    This sounds like a book I might like!

    My Sunday Salon is here:

  5. It depends on the book and the author. I don't mind politics in my reading as long as the story is about the people and how he/she/they are being affected and not just a rant about why something is or shouldn't be. An example that comes to mind is Snow by Orhan Pamuk. Very political and in some ways frustrating because I didn't agree with what was happening. I finished because he's an amazing writer and I needed to know what would happen. I got past the politics thanks to his writing.

  6. This book definitely sounded engrossing to me! I wouldn't have guessed its political theme either. I usually don't like my books political, unless I know it in advance and willingly chose to read it. There are a few political topics I might read of, but I don't want a thoughtful book I am reading to turn overnight into a political theme.

  7. Brim over I acquiesce in but I think the post should acquire more info then it has.

  8. Ooh, this sounds like a great book! (Weird anonymous comment above.) I don't know how I feel about politically charged books. I guess I don't read many of them, to be honest. I would have a lot of trouble reading a pro-life book on the abortion debate, and one that was anti-gay marriage, I think. But immigration is, to me, not so polarizing as those two are, so I'd like to think I'd be open to it.

  9. I really enjoyed this one Aarti. It is a very weird comment isn't it. There;s been a few that you would think might be spam but then there's no links or anything!

  10. I don't generally gravitate towards books with a political message, but if I come across those messages in a book that I've picked up for some other reason, I wouldn't back away. I think it might be a bit hard to read a whole book filled with a political message that I don't agree with, but I still think I would be able to try to understand where the author is coming from and why he or she feels the way they do. I also don't think that I would let a political message change the rating I would give a book, unless it was a really repugnant message or done with little skill. Great food for thought with this topic! I'll be interested in hearing what others think.

  11. I was recently given 'Barbed Wire and Roses' by my mother-in-law (age 83) and her 84 year-old 'boyfriend' (I don't even know if that's the right word for someone that age!). They raved about the book and said that they'd both read it a number of times.

    I haven't read the book yet, but seeing this review of Yeldham's newest release, I'm reminded to put it on the TBR shelf in my room.

    His new book sounds like the kind of book I'd really enjoy. I've just finished Winter Journey ' by Diane Armstrong which dealt with related themes in WWII -the massacre of Polish Jews by Polish Catholics. So I'm sure that I would relate well and enjoy A Distant Shore.

  12. I have nver heard of that book but now I really want to read it. I am a lawyer and a long time ago studied immigration law and worked in an immigration law firm. I also did not some activism around refugees in my uni days (when I was crazy lefty :-)) so this seems up my alley.

    I actually wrote about something similar on my blog last week.

    I was listening to a radio piece entitled "Novels in a time of Change" and was essentially a group of asutralian authors discussing this same issue - how political can/should a book be and can fiction play a role in a time of change.

    THe link to the radio show is on my blog if you are interested.

    Heres the link to what I wrote

    I generally dont mind a political book, so long as I dont feel like I am being preached to. But I think its good that something like fiction can contain issues that make you think.

  13. Becky, I really like the two books of Yeldham's that I have read so far, so would be interested in hearing what you think about it if you do decide to read it.

    Desert Book Chick, thanks for the rec. I will add it to my list.

    Zibilee, I am not sure how uncomfortable I would be either, but it's certainly somethig worth thinking about.

  14. Am doing a quickie review of this book soon. To be honest, it was disappointing. I think the writing style just didn't work for me. A shame because I was very interested in some of the issues it raises.

  15. Oh, that's too bad. I have read a couple of books of his now, and I really like them.



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