Another day at the Sydney Writers’ Festival and the serious topics dominated – until the end of the day, anyway. Thinking furiously…
Coffee & the Papers this morning featured a panel of female foreign correspondents: Anne Davies, who was based in Washington, Connie Levett who was in South East Asia, and Zoe Daniel who has just come back from Bangkok, where she not only worked as an FC but raised two toddlers. Hey. When asked why she became a foreign correspondent, she answered: “Well, I grew up in Launceston, Tasmania. I think most young people in Tasmania believe they should get out…” Speaking as a born and bred Tasmanian (I went to school in Launceston), I can only comment that she is…both right and wrong…She has a book out called “Storyteller”.
‘Australia and the World’ featured the very interesting and erudite combination of ex-PM Malcolm Fraser and ex-Premier (and federal Foreign Minister) Bob Carr talking over Australia’s foreign alliances, particularly that with the USA. Although from opposite sides of politics (originally, anyway) they agreed on much.
Reza Aslan, from Wednesday’s panel, had a session of his own to discuss his book ‘Zealot’, on the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Very articulate and erudite, and gave some fascinating insights into the historical Jesus – whom he was careful to separate from what he called “the Jesus of faith.” This session had some very good audience questions (rather unusually – there’s a serial pest who likes to interrupt).
A session with Gary Shteyngart, who immigrated as a child from Leningrad in Russia to the USA, with his parents. His latest book is a memoir called “Little Failure” – a ‘term of endearment’ which his Russian parents used. He was wry and funny, a little poignant, but also perhaps a little smug. Could be that he’s from New York!
Then a heavy-weight session with Ari Shavit, a respected Israeli political thinker with a book called “My Promised Land”. He steered a difficult line between pride and belief in the Zionist achievements and shame at the treatment of Palestinians and the mistakes made. A review of history included – of course – and some comments about the future. I bought the book.
Over to Wharf Theatre 2 for a session with Jeremy Scahill, author of ‘Dirty Wars’, who was on a panel on Wednesday. He took us through his book, his investigative journalism around the once-secret Joint Special Operations Command (J-SOC) – secret renditions, night-killings, drones, in countries not officially at war, against non-combatants, even against its own citizens (and those of Australia). It was horribly shocking, and I stayed on to watch his documentary which left me feeling quite afraid. I bought this book too.
Recovering from this double-whammy of serious thinking, the last session for the evening was called “5 x 15” and featured five people given 15 minutes each to talk amusingly on a chosen topic. Probably my most disappointing session so far — though it was at least a bit more cheerful! The speakers were each introduced by a rather long-winded female who didn’t introduce herself. Anna Bligh was advertised, but was a no-show. We heard from a Nigerian-British poet, Inua Ellams; a part-aboriginal theatre director from Queensland (Wesley Enoch); a British person said to be in fashion; a local actor, Richard Roxburgh (clearly the best delivery – a professional actor has quite an advantage in this set-up); and our only “real” author, Emma Donoghue, who was amusing. Her latest book is “The Frog Catcher.”