Monday, 18 August 2014

DEMOKRASI: Indonesia in the 21st Century by Hamish McDonald ~ ABBEY'S BOOKSELLER PICK

Demokrasi: Indonesia in the 21st Century by Hamish McDonald at Abbey's Bookshop, 131 York Street, Sydney

Hamish McDonald

ABBEY'S BOOKSELLER PICK ----- Like many Australians, my knowledge of Indonesia was next to nil. When it did cross my mind, the picture ranged from that of a mythical tropical land of exotic and mystical delights, to a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism. With the recent elections in one of the largest democracies in the world, my interest was piqued with this book by Hamish McDonald, a Walkley Award-winning journalist who has a long association with Asia.

McDonald takes us on a sweep across the history of the archipelago as the ebb and flow of colonial and military power and cronyism are revealed. The structure is well thought-out as each chapter focuses on a key facet of the society or history. The 'disguised coup' from which Major-General Suharto assumed power from Sukarno is the subject of The Crocodile Hole. The embedded nature of the military within the fabric of civil, economic and political life is covered in Beyond Dwifungsi (Dual Function). Capital takes us through the development of the economy and the strained relations with non-indigenous tycoons and nepotism. Moving through history, later chapters deal with Papua (their claim for independence from Indonesia is a sore that won't heal), and the battle against pollution and environmental plundering.

The peppering of Indonesian words throughout also provides a strong sense of the culture. We learn of 'preman' (gangster-thug-enforcers for hire) and 'cukong' (roughly meaning 'boss' but which evolved to also imply a Chinese businessman who had thrived under military patronage).

All-in-all we get a strong picture of emergence. Indonesia is on the rise but it is certainly not a straight line. Key reforms in education, welfare, anti-corruption and democracy run alongside brutal suppressions and corruption. The pattern identified by McDonald is of good intentions, policy and reforms at the top level being watered down or simply ignored by entrenched corruption and poor administration, combined with inadequate resources for enforcement.

The dust is still settling on the Presidential election and it appears that the triumph of Joko Widodo is a lucky escape for the nation, with his defeat of the Suharto-era former general Prabowo Subianto representing a further break from the military regimes of the past.

Craig Kirchner 


1 September 2014

Indonesia Update Conference 2014
The Yudhoyono years: An assessment
19 – 20 September 2014

More reading: An excellent article on a new paradigm for leadership
Soft power, the bazaar and voting for Indonesia's future

INTERVIEW Margaret Throsby speaks with Hamish McDonald on ABC Classic FM

Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Lindy Jones has been reading...

Lindy Jones ~ Australian Bookseller's Association Inaugural Bookseller of the Year 2011

When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett at Abbey's Bookshop, 131 York Street, Sydney

Favel Parrett

ABBEY'S CHOICE SEPTEMBER 2014 ----- Set in the 1980s in Hobart and on the southern oceans, this finely crafted novel is as deceptively simple as Parrett's first, award-winning Past the Shallows.

Isla and her brother have been taken to Hobart by their mother who is escaping an unhappy marriage. It is a grey sort of life for all of them, until her mother befriends some Danish sailors who are crew on the Nella Dan which supplies the Australian Antarctic bases under contract. One sailor in particular, Bo, brings a different way of seeing the world to Isla, and for a few weeks each summer, his kindness and quiet practicality brighten her life.

The chapters are interspersed with Bo's point-of-view as he works as a steward on the Nella Dan (a ship that engenders strong ties and affection in all who serve on her) and these sections are highly evocative of shipboard life and the wonders of the icy south. This is a quiet and reflective novel, pared down but beautifully formed. It is a story of small actions that generate great significance, of the helplessness of children who can only work things out in an incomplete manner, and of how adults bumble their way through life, not having all the answers themselves.

Deeply moving, and highly recommended.


Nest by Inga Simpson at Abbey's Bookshop, 131 York Street, Sydney

Inga Simpson

ABBEY'S CHOICE AUGUST 2014 ----- From the author of Mr Wigg comes this beautifully crafted novel of an artist re-finding her purpose and place in life. Jen is licking her wounds after the dissolution of her long term relationship with a man she has never gotten over, nor seems to want to recover from, and her mother’s death has given her the chance to buy a house and piece of bush near her childhood town. Jen left many years ago, but having nowhere else to go, has returned in order to resume her painting and her life. She tutors a promising young boy, Henry, works on her house and block, and observes the birds around her.

When a young girl who is Henry’s close friend goes missing, Jen’s past rears up to confront her, because when she was Henry’s age, her best friend went missing, never to be seen again. And so too, did her father, at the same time – and the town has never been convinced of his innocence. When the town starts remembering, Jen has to accept that her life will change yet again... An outstanding novel with a finely worked narrative line and fully realised characters.

Find this at

Wayne Macauley

Seven old friends decide to spend the weekend in a house perched above the Great Ocean Road. It is to be a total escape from the pressures of their various professional and domestic situations, with good food, good wine and stories. No papers, no television, no mobile phones or computers and no children - it should be a restorative break from modern life. Waiting for the last couple to arrive, they decide to take turns telling stories - true or invented? - as the weather starts to close in.

When Marshall does finally turn up, it's not with his wife but with his daughter, and the dynamics of the group shift into uncertainty - and recriminations. And the stories being told are less innocent, and when the house is cut off by a huge storm, their old friendships are called into question…

A sly social commentary, a thoughtful examination of tale-telling and its forms, and a cleverly constructed novel with unexpected flashes of cutting humour.

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Britta Bolt

I don't usually read a lot of crime novels, and the ones I do should provide me with interesting characterisations and situations rather than gory details! This one is set in Amsterdam, and the main character, Pieter Posthumus, works for the Department of Emergencies and Internment in the section known as the Lonely Funeral team. They provide dignified funerals for the unclaimed, anonymous and forgotten.

When one of the bodies belongs to a Moroccan immigrant, Posthumus feels there is something that needs explaining about the situation, and he starts to look for clues. Meanwhile, an elite police squad is hunting for terrorists but one of the detectives starts to suspect all is not above board in their investigation…

Twists and turns, and a portrait of contemporary Dutch life to boot!

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Darren Groth

Justine and Perry are twins. Their Dad died just before their 18th birthday, their Mum is long gone, and Justine has deferred university (and her slightly overbearing-in-a-nice-way boyfriend) to take care of Perry, who has a brain condition that causes him to react differently to situations he finds stressful. The two of them are off on an overseas holiday care of insurance, and Justine wants it to be memorable for Perry, as he is moving into assisted accommodation when they return to Australia. And it will be, if not for all the reasons she thought before the trip started…

Told in alternating voices of both Justine and Perry, this is a sensitively told story of what matters most, whatever your age or however others see you. Ages 14+ 

E. Lockhart

Cadence Sinclair is the eldest granddaughter of a patrician old-money family. Each summer they holiday on their private island off Marthas Vineyard - grandparents, aunts and cousins. The aunts are all vying for favour from their bigoted father, the littles and the golden retrievers are tolerated with amusement, and the older grandchildren - Cady, Mirren and Johnny form their own clique. Gat is an addition to their circle, a brown-skinned politically aware boy who Cady falls deeply in love with from the very beginning.

But something unspeakably horrible happened to Cady on the island of her fifteenth summer - and no-one speaks of it. She is continually plagued by debilitating headaches, has missed a lot of school and her cousins don't return her emails.

After missing one summer on the island, she returns the next, only to find there is a lot more she hasn't been told about - her grandfather's senility, her aunts' deterioration, her cousins refusing to stay in their allocated family homes. Spiky and energetic writing carries along a clever, gripping and twisty story. 14+

Claire Saxby & Graham Byrne (Illustrator)

Following on from their successful book Big Red Kangaroo, the creators turn to the other symbol on our coat-of-arms. A father emu gathers up a clutch of blue-green eggs, and incubates his brood. Non-fiction blended with a simple story and accurate and artistically rendered illustrations, so that young readers learn interesting facts wrapped up in the narrative.

John Corey Whaley

Travis has woken up after what feels like a nap to him. He had terminal leukemia and volunteered to undergo a procedure where his head was cryogenically preserved until the time a suitable donor body could be found. At the time of his death, he thought that would be a long time in the future, but it turns out to be only five years - just long enough for people to have come to terms with losing him and picking up the pieces of their lives. Including his girlfriend Cate and best friend Kyle.

It's hard enough dealing with adolescence but dealing with the fact your birth certificate says you're 21 when you're still 16 and the people you relied on have grown up and you haven't, let alone the associated publicity that comes from being grafted onto someone else's body and considered a miracle - well Travis has a lot of catching up to do. And it won't be easy…

This was brilliant! A fascinating concept handled deftly, with a lot of interesting questions and thought-provoking scenarios, but also with humour and insight. Ages 13+ 

Bob Graham

Somewhere in an Asian country, a young sparrow flits about finding food where he can. One day he discovers a sack of grain, and before he knows it, he is transported by truck and ship to a strange land, where he eventually finds a new home. Then he comes into contact with Elsie, who is in a stroller pushed by her loving grandparents, and by chance and the actions of a dog, Elsie discovers one of the greatest pleasures in life…

As always with Bob Graham's books, this one has a quiet message and delicately expressive illustrations that capture both the freedom of the bird and the wonderment of the child.

Another beautiful book, sweet without sentimentality, that will appeal to anyone who loves picture books!

Find this at

Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Friday, 1 August 2014

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ August 2014

I suspect you might have to be of “a certain age” in order to fully appreciate the new novel from Linda Grant, Upstairs at the Party.

It concerns the lives of a group of young people in the Seventies attending a new university just built in York, in England. A friend asked me what I meant by a “red brick university”. Has that term gone out of use? Not everyone will recognise the significance of a new shop opening selling sprouts and lentils! She goes on to describe how their lives were changed by this new-found opportunity to attend University. Linda Grant is an especially entertaining writer who has an ability to evoke a time and place while describing the clothes people wore at that time. Her book The Clothes on Their Backs, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, is a favourite of mine and she has also written The Thoughtful Dresser which examines fashion, from a social aspect not from design. How our clothes reflect who we are. You might have to special order this. It came out in 2009. Linda Grant was born in Liverpool with Russian-Polish refugee parents and she says much of this book if autobiographical. If you like Margaret Drabble’s stories you’ll enjoy this although she is a bit tougher.

I recently watched a DVD of The Monuments Men - the film George Clooney made about the art historians who helped rescue important works during the final days of the Second World War. The film was disappointing so I got a copy of the book from Abbey’s. The book, by Robert M Edsel with Bret Witter, is much better. Such a good story needed to be told.

The mass market edition of Jung Chang’s terrific book Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China is now out. This is a huge turnaround – Jung Chang has been able to read the originals of historical documents recently released and shows Cixi to be the driving force opening Ancient China to the west – to railways, telegraph, electricity and an army and navy with modern weapons, not the cruel despot we imagined as we looked at the Summer Palace and the giant floating marble boat in Beijing. It is very readable. I’m going to give a copy to grandson Will who studies Chinese at High School.

There is a good Chinese History section at Abbey’s but I also want to recommend a book in biography about an Australian who was important in Chinese history at the end of Cixi’s reign. It is about Morrison of Peking as he became known, the Australian journalist for The Times of London, whose life is truly fascinating. I think the latest edition of this book by Peter Thompson and Robert Macklin is called The Life and Adventures of Morrison of China. It seems to have a lot less pages so perhaps it doesn’t talk about his adventure as a young man walking from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Melbourne only twenty one years after Burke and Wills perished trying to do the same thing. It was first called The Man Who Died Twice.

I’ve just been across to Western Australia on the Indian Pacific train. I had planned to take the Miles Franklin Prize winning novel All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld with me but, horror of horrors, I left my books at home. Daughter Jane, escorting me to the train, lent me her latest crime novel – she is an addict. It was one of Lee Child’s called A Wanted Man and kept me well entertained. I didn’t fall for famous hero Jack Reacher, for whom women lust and who men want to be. I didn’t approve of his system of never washing any clothes – he just gets new ones every four or five days! Good story though. [ Some have had fun costing out Jack Reacher's drifter lifestyle - view article. Ed. ]

Son Donald, now working in Perth for Woodside, is a mentor for several young men in the company. When asked by them if he was a mentor what were they? He hesitated. I think it should be mentoree but apparently it is mentee! When told this the young men protested that they were not lollies! Mentees not Minties says Donald. We looked it up on Google and apparently mentee is the word although certain bloggers say it is an ugly little word in danger of being misunderstood. Rush to your dictionaries now. I’ve discovered Abbey’s doesn’t have a Dictionary of New Words now. No doubt people look words up on Google but still word addicts like a printed copy and Abbeys does always have a decent Linguistics section. Susan Butler, Editor of Macquarie Dictionary has a book coming out this month. It is called The Aitch Factor: Adventures in Australian English. I haven’t seen it yet but I shall certainly have a copy.

As a previous Judge I was invited to the Miles Franklin Award announcement held in a beautiful room upstairs at the Museum of Contemporary Art and like many people there I was surprised at winning choice, although now that I am reading it I do approve. All the Birds, Singing is a pretty tough book. An awful lot about sheep so there’s no doubt about it being Australian.

Keep well.


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers