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Bookworm In Your Ear: Occupied Territory

Two novels that deal with violence and hard-scrabble lives; one set in 19th century Australia, and the other in today’s Iraq.

 

Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth 

This novel reads like a companion piece to the recent film, Sweet Country, in that it examines the late 19th century to early 20th century history of Australia; in particular, its colonial policy towards the Aborigines. Here, we see the story through the eyes of the younger brother of a family of homestead farmers in the Queensland territory. The two brothers return from an excursion to the local watering hole to find both parents and younger sister brutally attacked, the sister barely clinging to life. When they turn to the local land baron for help, a posse is immediately mustered to hunt down the Aborigine migrant worker who had deserted the farm a week ago. About race relations, about greed and commerce, and about systematic murder, this is a gripping eye-opener of a story.

 

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi

 

Winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and on the Man Booker International long-list, this fantasy novel of Saadawi combines dark gallows humour with political satire and scathing social commentary. It starts off with a wizened junk dealer, who in his forays to bombed out city locations, picks up body parts as well as actual junk. Despondent over the fact that these victims of collateral damage will never be mourned properly or laid to rest, he starts stitching the parts together until a facsimile of one person is created. To discover said ‘body’ has come to life and each body part now seeks vengeance becomes the premise of this wonderful novel. The absurdity of Iraq, of religions taking on political hues, they’re all refracted through this contemporary fable.