It is natural to want to forget, Anna, when everyday is a brimful of sadness. But those souls also forgot those that they had loved. You do not want that, surely? I have heard some preach that God wants us to forget the dead, but I cannot believe so. I think He gives us precious recollections so that we may not be parted entirely from those He has given us to love. You must cherish your memories of your babes, Anna, until you see them again in Heaven.
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I was really interested in how marriages work, how you can, you know, be in love with somebody and spend many years with your lives intertwined, but in the end another soul can be fundamentally unknowable. And I think that the stress of war, when one party goes away and the other has to deal at home, is a really testing time in a lot of marriages.
Write what you know. Every guide for the aspiring author advises this. Because I live in a long-settled rural place, I know certain things. I know the feel of a newborn lamb's damp, tight-curled fleece and the sharp sound a well-bucket chain makes as it scrapes on stone. But more than these material things, I know the feelings that flourish in small communities. And I know other kinds of emotional truths that I believe apply across the centuries.
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And at this moment in history, our core value happens to be the raw, aching truth of the human predicament. It may also be the only belief that can save us as a species. A species that will continue to find comfort and delight in the companionship of animals, the miracle of birds, the colours of the corals and the majesty of the forests. We are in it together, on this blue spinning marble in the cold and silent void. And we must act on that belief, if we are going to be able to continue to live a good life here, in this beautiful and fragile country, on this lovely planet, our only home.
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And one of the things that I learned was you can't generalise at all about a woman in a veil. You can't think you know her story, because she will confound you over and over again. She may be an engineer or a diplomat or a doctor. Or she may be an unbelievable babe with bleached hair down to her waist.
[The haggadah] was made to teach, and it will continue to teach. And it might teach a lot more than just the Exodus story." What do you mean?" Well, from what you've told me, the book has survived the same human disaster over and over again. Think about it. You've got a society where people tolerate difference, like Spain in the Convivencia, and everything's humming along: creative, prosperous. Then somehow this fear, this hate, this need to demonize 'the other' - it just sort of rears up and smashes the whole society. Inquisition, Nazis, extremist Serb nationalists... same old, same old. It seems to me that the book, at this point, bears witness to all that.
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Are there any two words in all of the English language more closely twinned than courage and cowardice? I do not think there is a man alive who will not yearn to possess the former and dread to be accused of the latter. One is held to be the apogee of man's character, the other its nadir. An yet, to me the two sit side by side on the circle of life, removed from each other by the merest degree of arc. (MARCH - Chapter 11 - page 168)
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I reached for her, pushing back the fall of hair-it was heavy and thick and smooth to the touch-and tilted her chin so that the moonlight shone on her wet face. We married each other that night, there on a bed of fallen pine needles-even today, the scent of pitch-pine stirs me-with Henry's distant flute for a wedding march and the arching white birch boughs for our basilica. At first, she quivered like an aspen, and I was ashamed at my lack of continence, yet I could not let go of her. I felt like Peleus on the beach, clinging to Thetis, only to find that, suddenly, it was she who held me; that same furnace in her nature that had flared up in anger blazed again, in passion.
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He walked through the woods like a young Adam, naming creation. I learned to shape my mouth to the words-sasumuneash for cranberry, tunockuquas for frog. So many things grew and lived here that were strange to us, because they had not been in England. We named the things of this place in reference to things that were not of this place-cat briar for the thickets of vine whose thorns were narrow and claw-like; lambskill for the low-growing laurel that had proved poisonous to some of our hard-got tegs. But there had been no cats or lambs here until we brought them. So when he named a plant or a creature, I felt that I heard the true name of the thing for the first time.
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Raz was one of those vanguard human beings of indeterminate ethnicity, the magnificent mutts that I hope we are all destined to become given another millennium of intermixing. His skin was a rich pecan color from his dad, who was part African American and part native Hawaiian. His hair, straight and glossy black, and the almond shape of his eyes came from his Japanese grandmother. But their color was the cool blue he'd inherited from his mum, a Swedish windsurfing champion.
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It didn't take me long out there, in the landscapes my father had painted, to realize that as much as I loved my country [Australia], I barely knew it. I'd spent so many years studying the art of our immigrant cultures, and barely any time at all on the one that had been here all along... So I set myself a crash course and became a pioneer in a new field: desperation conservation. My job became the documentation and preservation of ancient Aboriginal rock art, before the uranium and bauxite companies had a chance to blast it into rubble" (pp. 345-346)
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I wonder where he lies. Wedged under a rock, with a thousand small mouths already sucking on his spongy flesh. Or floating still, on and down, on and down, to wider, calmer reaches of the river. I see them gathering: the drowned, the shot. Their hands float out to touch each other, fingertip to fingertip. In a day, two days, they will glide on, a funeral flotilla, past the unfinished white dome rising out of its scaffolds on a muddy hill in Washington. Will the citizens recognize them, the brave fallen, and uncover in a gesture of respect? Or will they turn away, disgusted by the bloated mass of human rot?
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All the times, all the very many times, I had been forced to thwart and stifle my own nature seemed to gather together then, in that hot and dismal corridor. I heard a rushing sound in my head and felt a pressure in my breast, like floodwaters rising behind a flimsy dike. Before I knew I did it, the soup bowl was rising in my hand as if elevated by some supernatural force. Then, its yellow-gray contents were running down the nurse's pudgy face.
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Strip by strip the lash carved into Grace's shuddering flesh. My tears were falling by then, heavy drops, joining in the leaf dust with the blood that had begun to trickle from the table. My limbs were so weak that I could not even raise a hand to wipe the mucus that dripped from my nose. She had been lying with her head faced away from me. She lifted it then, and turned, so that we looked at one another. If an anvil had fallen from the sky at that moment and landed upon me, I could not have felt more crushed. (pg 39)
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I was a news reporter for 16 years, seven of them a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. Perhaps the most useful equipment I acquired in that time is a lack of preciousness about the act of writing. A reporter must write. There must be a story. The mot juste unarriving? Tell that to your desk.
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Men can absent themselves from real life for their art more easily. Women are anchored into the quotidian business of getting food on the table, making sure everybody's socks match, the soccer gear is ready. I admire idealists, but they're usually enabled by someone who holds the tether on their balloon, who pays the bills and sweeps up after them.
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But that Franklin trip changed me profoundly. As I believe wilderness experience changes everyone. Because it puts us in our place. The human place, which our species inhabited for most of its evolutionary life. That place that shaped our psyches and made us who we are. The place where nature is big and we are small.
What's wrong with leading the way? We've played that role before, after all. We gave the world the secret ballot... that did so much to raise living standards and improve conditions for workers worldwide. We were a leader in extending to women the right to vote. We were barely a nation when we set the bar for bravery and sacrifice by common soldiers in foreign wars. We grew up out of racism and misogyny and homophobia to become a mostly tolerant, successful multicultural society. We did these great things because we know we are in it together. It is our core value as Australians.
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How strange it is, Anna. Yesterday, I have filed in my mind as a good day, notwithstanding it was filled with mortal illness and the grieving of the recently bereft. Yet it is a good day, for the simple fact that no one died upon it. We are brought to a sorry state, that we measure what is good by such a shortened yardstick.
Sydney in the 1960s wasn't the exuberant multicultural metropolis it is today. Out in the city's western reaches, days passed in a sun-struck stupor. In the evenings, families gathered on their verandas waiting for the 'southerly buster' - the thunderstorm that would break the heat and leave the air cool enough to allow sleep.
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Even the classics that we read to our young children are full of wolves' fangs and burning ovens and bloody feet and ice shards piercing hearts. Even the New Testament climaxes with an act of unspeakable torture. Might as well just read to our kids from the Amnesty Annual Report and be done with it.
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And when I'd be reporting in Israel, Palestinians would say, the Jews they're not like us, and the Jews would say the same things about the Palestinians, they don't want what we want. And I never bought it as a reporter and I don't buy it as a novelist. I think, you know, the sound of somebody crying for their lost child sounds the same.
I think I'm still chewing on my years as a foreign correspondent. I found myself covering catastrophes - war, uprising, famine, refugee crises - and witnessing how people were affected by dire situations. When I find a story from the past, I bring some of those lessons to bear on the narrative.
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I think probably the scaredest I've ever been was in Somalia. I arrived there when the episode that became known as 'Black Hawk Down' was still taking place. The Americans were still pinned down under fire. And everybody else was basically going the other way, and I was the only one putting my hand up for a flight in.
Yes, it seems we've got this mutant gene in our human personality that makes us susceptible to this same kind of mistake over and over again. It's really uncanny how we build these beautiful multicultural edifices and then allow this switch to be flipped and everybody goes, 'Oh, the other, get them out of here.'
I write while my son is at school. At about 7:45 A.M., I walk him there, with the dogs, then walk them for another forty minutes or so, go home and chain myself to the desk a little before 9 A.M., and try not to be distracted until I hear my son plunge through the front door at about 3 P.M.
While I love to read contemporary fiction, I'm not drawn to writing it. Perhaps it's because the former journalist in me is too inhibited by the press of reality; when I think about writing of my own time I always think about nonfiction narratives. Or perhaps it's just that I find the present too confounding.