Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles
I’m an absolute sucker for anyone who can write about water – I mean really write about water (it’s a rare thing). Powles delivers. Water is the theme and it carries through her essays about earthquakes and anxiety; finding ‘home’ when you are of mixed ethnicity and have lived in multiple cities; food; heritage; family; art; gardening; cataloguing and journals. All of these themes are some how touched on in each essay, but never heavy-handedly – instead, Powles’ words are poetic, skimming across everything from mandarins and Chinese calligraphy to Kōwhai plants and the freshwater fish of Mount Kinabalu.
A place becomes home when it sustains you, feeds you in body and spirit.
The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey
Overlook one convenient aspect of the plot (the arrival of the stonemason) and Lohrey’s book is a wonderfully absorbing reflection on shame, and to what extent we carry the shame of others.
Lohrey could have tried to do more with progressing the story (there were certainly parts that I wanted to know more about), but her restraint is ultimately what elevates The Labyrinth from good to very, very good. I particularly enjoyed the theme of ‘building something in order to occupy the mind’. Equally, the motif of the labyrinth spoke to what I saw as the broader intention of the story (that our path or destination is not always clear or straightforward; that we learn from the process rather than the end point).
Incidentally, I walked my first labyrinth a few months ago – one near Merri Creek.
(Lisa recommended this book to me – check out her thorough review here).
Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski
I’m increasingly drawn to stories about the post-war period in eastern European countries and Jedrowski’s novel about first love between two young men in communist Poland has all the historical detail plus relationship complexity – the difficulties the young men have in navigating their relationship are compounded by the politics of the time. It’s an interesting look at loyalty, values and what people are prepared to sacrifice, and the dynamics between the two men and their broader circle of friends is realistic. Essentially, no decision about love is straight-forward.