Book review: Wanderers No More by Michelle Saftich

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Port of No Return by Michelle Saftich, I am delighted to share my review of its sequel, Wanderers No More.

“The war may be over, but the fight to belong is just beginning.

Left homeless, starving, and almost killed by the Second World War, the Saforo family are refugees fleeing Italy for a better life. The shores of Australia are calling to them and they head off, packing dreams of jobs, a home and … soccer.

But from the moment they get off the boat, adapting to the Australian way of life is harder than

it seems. Their family doesn’t speak right, eat right or even look right. As they struggle to build a simple life against the backdrop of 1950s racism, they start to wonder if they will be outsiders forever.

A true family affair, Wanderers No More will make you laugh, remind you of your family, and warm your heart.”

My thoughts:

Stories of migrant refugees form an important part of the fabric of Australian, and indeed global society, as many many millions of us have been or are refugees, refugees of war, oppression, famine or environmental catastrophe. Port of No Return describes how a small group of families from northern Italy become refugees in World War II, and in Wanderers No More, Saftich portrays the everyday life for these families from the moment they set foot in Australia. The novels fall into the genre of family history memoir, as they are based on true events and real people.

Wanderers No More is an endearing coming of age story sure to put a smile on every reader’s face. Told mostly through the eyes of young Martino Saforo, who arrives with his family in Newcastle after spending four years in various refugee camps in Europe, the novel engages from the first page. The early part of the novel describes the harsh life for European migrants sent to government-run labour camps where they are bonded for two years, the men working on infrastructure projects, including the Snowy River hydro-electricity scheme, mining and roadbuilding. Or on farms slashing sugar cane and the lucky ones in factories. Accommodation was Nissan hut style.

Wanderers No More centres on the trials and tribulations of Martino, his brothers and their friends. The women in the story, the sisters and the mothers, have lesser roles which are not developed but provide texture nevertheless. The cameo role of Martino’s ever-present Nonna represents not only the female element, but Italy itself, with all of its traditions. Through Nonna and Martino, Saftich depicts the homesickness, the coping skills, the resilience and the determination to learn Australian ways and language with enormous sensitivity and insight. Simple acts of kindness are juxtaposed with relentless ethnocentric bullying, mostly in the schoolyard. For Martino, Australia seems a harsh and unforgiving land filled with harsh and unforgiving people. Yet hope is ever present, as is Martino’s passion for soccer, which consumes much of the narrative as the novel progresses. Tragedy is ever present, a ghost at first haunting between the lines, and when it finally manifests, it strikes hard.

Throughout the novel which spans two decades, Saftich deploys emotional restraint, the narrative voice commensurate with the heart and mind of a young boy finding his way, a boy who grows up lost, confused, alienated and hurting in so many ways. Anyone familiar with This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff will understand the narrative approach. With its easy, engaging style, and themes of migration, alienation and belonging, this novel belongs on the set text lists in Australian schools.

Buy this book

Catch up with the author here

Featuring Michelle Saftich

Today I’m in conversation with Michelle Saftich, author of the acclaimed novel Port of No Return (Odyssey Books, 2015), a work of historical fiction I reviewed earlier this year.

 

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Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in Brisbane, Australia. I have also spent time living in Sydney and Osaka, Japan. What I love most about each city – I love Brisbane’s warm weather, Sydney’s harbour and Osaka’s food!

So, where are you now?

I am still in Brisbane, living with my husband, who is an accomplished musician and singer/songwriter and who helped to edit the first drafts of my book, and my two school-aged sons; not to mention my demanding black cat!

When you you decide you wanted to be a writer?

By the age of six, I knew I wanted to be a published author and that dream never wavered. As soon as I could read, I fell in love with books and wanted to write them.

My grandmother is a playwright and I have always felt a connection with her. As a young girl, I would sneak into her writing area, ogling her huge, heavy typewriter, scanning all her press clippings about her plays and I longed to have such a space of my own. I can recall sitting on her lap at age nine, reading to her an eight-page story I had written, just for fun.

Authors love books. What are some of your favourites?

I have read broadly, exploring a range of genres and authors. As a younger reader, I loved historical fiction and romance. I treasure such books as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Jane Austen novels and I loved Wild Swans by Jung Chang. I have enjoyed biographical novels about Marie Antoinette and early writers such as Mary Shelley. I like stories about strong, inspiring women and works that inform and educate as well as entertain.

What inspired you to write port of no return?

I was greatly moved my grandparents’ true story of having to flee their Italian town, with their children, at the end of World War II. At that time, their city, Fiume, a beautiful portside city, was taken and absorbed into Yugoslavia – lost to Italy forever.

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In May, 1945, Yugoslav Partisans came down the hills into the city of Fiume and began rounding up those Italians, known to have worked with the Germans during the war, and executing them.

My father, a great oral storyteller, had told my sister and I a few snippets of his parents’ plight. He was fond of telling how his mother had stood up to the Yugoslav Partisans when they had come knocking on their door, seeking to arrest and kill her husband. She had shown great bravery in telling them that her husband had left her for another woman, and was not at home.

Inspired by these family tales, I decided to do some research about the city and came across a startling post-World War II conflict. Hundreds of thousands of Italians fled the region as the Yugoslav Army moved in, leaving behind their homes, their livelihoods, their friends.

I decided to write about their experiences.

How long did it take you to write?

It took two years to write. I talked to other Italians who had fled Fiume – ones who could remember being shot at trying to cross the town border to escape, ones who could recall the Partisans coming down the hills.

I have tried to capture their fear, their loss, their desperation – while informing readers of this little known conflict that affected so many.

Personally, it has been wonderful to write about and record my family heritage, while giving the people of this region a voice. I have felt honoured to tell their story and have loved every word of it.

There’s a whisper of a sequel. To find out why, read Port of No Return, and, like me, you’ll be left wanting more.

You can find Port of No Return at Odyssey Books

at Amazon and all good booksellers.

Meanwhile, here’s how you can connect with Michelle:

Website https://michellesaftich.com/

Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/msaftich/?fref=ts

Twitter  @MichelleSaftich

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26102499-port-of-no-return

The relentless march of Empire

So the sugar cane roots that decimated the land of Central and South America, were taken there by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage from a source on the Canary Islands. Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano.

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That source was in large part Tenerife, where native forests had been clear felled to make way for sugar plantations.

It seems timely to remember what Empire did to hundreds of millions of people, in Africa, and in the Americas, and the world over. How it was the short-sightedness and avarice of the Spanish and Portuguese, and the calculated and shrewd opportunism of the Dutch and the British, that created a situation of unimaginable cruelty in the name of gain.

Lanzarote, the setting for The Drago Tree, was squarely in the path of this massive expansion of Empire. The island effectively linked the African slave trade to the South American silver and gold and cash crop exports.

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Something about the exodus today of millions of people from war ravaged lands makes me thing of our recent human history (of, say, the last 600 years). Of the arrogant way the major powers choose to treat other nations and their peoples as if the mantle of Empire were still wrapped around their necks.

The Drago Tree is out now at Odyssey Books and through all good booksellers

Open Vein’s still bleed

Who has read Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano?
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To my mind no book could be more timely or more apt. For what occurs now in Syria, in the Middle East, and the ensuing exodus of a traumatised people, is merely a repetition, possibly the culmination, of what went on in the 70s in South America, not only upon the pretext of, ‘Kissinger would not tolerate another Cuba in America’s own backyard,’ but because back then, behind the scenes, the neoliberal model of governance was poised to be implemented, and who better to do that than Pinochet, who rolled in his tanks on the 11th of September 1973. 
Now neoliberalism has grown into the Beast it was always destined to become, and the ugly mess it creates is evident in ‘its own other,’ Daesh.
(I coin the phrase ‘a thing is its own other,’ to point the finger back to the source, the one doing all the complaining and accusing, being the exemplar of those very qualities. It’s also to be found in the verbal abuser’s handbook, as any victim of domestic violence will attest)
Reading Open Veins on the back of The Men who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson seems fortuitous, as the latter portrays the sorts of crazy sinister goings on behind the scenes of the military and of course of our beloved CIA, which leaves the reader thinking they wouldn’t put anything past that lot.
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Open Veins, depicts the consequences of such shenanigans.
We are currently witnessing a human tragedy on a scale not seen since WWII, as the media perpetually reminds us. And this tragedy invokes in many of us a sort of paralysis. Our response is both humanitarian, whether born out in protest, in donation, in actual physical help, and at the same time, befuddlement that such events could be occurring.
And of course many of us are horrified by Daesh. We sense that Daesh is to blame and must be stopped. We have a sense that we should never have invaded Iraq. We are troubled by all the troubles that won’t go away, in Palestine, in Afghanistan, in Lebanon, in the Kurdish lands.
Life likes irony, I’d say it was born to it, and there is no greater irony than the current influx of refugees into Europe, as many tens of thousands of innocents seek sanctuary in the very nations complicit in the downfall of the Middle East.
Much the same took place in South America, as vast numbers of asylum seekers sought sanctuary in Spain, its old Colonial oppressor.
The difference between then and now is the methods of the ‘conspirators’ have changed. In the 70s in South America, military dictators were installed in nation upon nation, with the covert assistance of the American military and the CIA.
Whereas now, military dictators are being toppled in favour of, ‘the completely failed state.’ A much better situation as it allows for far more $$ to be made and one doesn’t have to deal with a belligerent tinpot junta, a little despot with his own ideas.
Better to have no ideas. Better to have absolute mayhem and quite a lot of carnage. Blow the cities and the towns to smithereens and then we’ll have plenty to rebuild. Yahoo! That’ll keep us busy for decades.
If I were a European citizen, I’d be pissed off with America for cultivating the conditions which have led to the current social cataclysm as Syria implodes. And of course America is not alone on the geopolitical stage. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, France, Britain, Germany et al, all have a vested interest in the catastrophe that spans from Libya through to Afghanistan.
Really, what we are witnessing isn’t a pot pourri of national interests playing geopolitical chess, but a single, unified interest, and that interest is disaster capital. While nations posture and threaten and invade, vast corporations are adding the dollars to their tills. Which is why, after I have finished reading Open Veins, I shall be turning to, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe, by Antony Loewenstein.

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So now, as I contemplate the current exodus from war-ravaged lands, and as I delve into the recent past of the 70s and trace the roots of that wave of Empiric atrocity, I do so knowing that the War on Terror and the Cold War before it, are veils, excuses. The root causes of both lie in the deep plans of neoliberalism and the ruthless reckless manner in which those plans are imposed on humanity.

Don’t stop the boats, stop the injustice

I tried to watch Go Back to Where You Came From on SBS last night, but when they got to the border camp in Jordan, where 200 of the 4 million-and-rising refugees fleeing Syria arrive by the day, I welled up. Every time I picture the camps I cry.
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Appearing in my newsfeed a little later was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about how the free trade agreement would push up the price of medicines in Australia, posing a threat to our pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS).
What have refugees got to do with the PBS and the free trade agreements (TPPs)? Everything.
In my view, the TPP is a global campaign designed to challenge sovereignty, designed to worsen the wellbeing of all, designed to benefit only the huge corporations. That the Australian government is currently footing a $50 million bill for court costs defending a case brought about by Phillip Morris over plain cigarette packaging should raise the alarm.
Another campaign designed to worsen wellbeing is the cultivated destabilisation of the Middle East. Cultivated through arms supplies, favouring sides, funding, training and general politicking, the result, a series of failed states. It seems a new twist on the Cold War proxy war strategy rolled out the world over wherever a chance presented itself, one that left and continues to leave unimaginable devastation in its wake.
Refugees are expendable. Just as we are expendable.
The global elite really doesn’t care. To the elite, we are less than scum in a bathtub. It’s always been this way.
For my doctoral thesis I studied the works of Theosophist (esotericist) Alice Bailey. 100,000 words and I’m the world’s leading academic authority on her work, for what it’s worth.
I woke this morning thinking about what she has to say about consciousness and how it expands and transforms. Thousands and thousands of words that can be summed up in two – Wake Up!
What she says about Power is more striking. She talks about the way power focuses to a single point. Power centralises itself and thus self-perpetuates, gaining in strength as it advances. Power is the arrow, the finger of an outstretched hand, a gun. Power has no regard for anything except power.
Thus power in human form needs an expanding evolving consciousness that embraces ideas with an open heart. Power in human form needs compassion.
Alice Bailey witnessed both World Wars. She decried the bickering and the squabbles and the infighting and divisions amongst all those who are waking up. She saw the necessity of unity in diversity (her phrase) and she knew that unless we achieve unity, we will never address the problem of power on our planet, power that has always been fundamentally evil (anti-life) – selfish, greedy, corrupt, abusive, destructive and so on.
As the veil lifts and one by one we see this power for what it is, then we must also realise the other sort of power and help it manifest – the power of unity in diversity.
That’s why the sight of refugees in border camps makes me cry.

Colonisation in Reverse

bennett_louiseLouise Bennett (1919-2006)

I’m sharing a poem I first came across in the 80s when I was studying a course with the Open University, UK, called, ‘Third World Studies.’ It was a brilliant multidisciplinary introduction to the North South divide. Hats off to the OU for that seminal moment in my life.

The 80s seem a distant memory but so much of what we see happening and complain about today has its roots in that time of transition, from widespread social democracy in the North, with  Keynesian influenced economies holding Capital in check, to Neoliberalised economies in Northern nations, whose citizenry find themselves going through the same sorts of austerity strictures imposed decades earlier by the IMF on the South. The South could have told us what would happen and how it would feel.

Savvy Southerners have devised all sorts of strategies to survive. Colonisation in reverse is one of them. The logic of it goes something like this: “Since you invaded our lands, took us over, came in your thousands and squeezed yourselves in, stole our resources and rendered us destitute, we will do the same to you.”

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I’ve reposted the poem from where it appeared in New Black Magazine, May 6, 2007. It is written in Patois. It’s hilarious, and I think we could do with a little laughter right now.

Colonisation in Reverse

(You can hear Louise Bennett tell her poem here – go to 4.48mins

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hmi-UXZ_tN8&list=PLpzTAawpibjVb2t-TIITadcGM1OsDk8c-)

Wat a joyful news, Miss Mattie,

I feel like me heart gwine burs

Jamaica people colonizin

Englan in Reverse

 

Be the hundred, be de tousan

Fro country and from town,

By de ship-load, be the plane load

Jamaica is Englan boun.

 

Dem pour out a Jamaica,

Everybody future plan

Is fe get a big-time job

An settle in de mother lan.

 

What an islan! What a people!

Man an woman, old an young

Jus a pack dem bag an baggage

An turn history upside dung!

 

Some people doan like travel,

But fe show dem loyalty

Dem all a open up cheap-fare-

To-England agency.

 

An week by week dem shipping off

Dem countryman like fire,

Fe immigrate an populate

De seat a de Empire.

 

Oonoo see how life is funny,

Oonoo see da turnabout?

Jamaica live fe box bread

Out a English people mout’.

 

For wen dem ketch a Englan,

An start play dem different role,

Some will settle down to work

An some will settle fe de dole.

 

Jane says de dole is not too bad

Because dey paying she

Two pounds a week fe seek a job

dat suit her dignity

 

me say Jane will never fine work

At de rate how she dah look,

For all day she stay popn Aunt Fan couch

An read love-story book.

 

Wat a devilment a Englan!

Dem face war an brave de worse,

But me wondering how dem gwine stan

Colonizin in reverse.

——————————–

 

Isobel’s first novel Asylum Asylum Cover 2is available in paperback at Odyssey Books, Angus and RobertsonAmazon and the Book Depository. Ebook available through all major outlets.

Silencing the lambs: Asylum seekers are a metaphor for our times

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On Line Opinion have just published my latest piece on asylum seekers, for which I am very grateful. The photo here sums up my belief in what Australians are capable of. If this many can gather behind a banner in a tiny village in the middle of a wilderness, then we can only imagine the swell of people standing up, standing for, standing behind this one banner, a banner that represents solidarity with those at the pinnacle of all that is wrong with the world today – asylum seekers.

Here’s the article –

Silencing the lambs: Asylum seekers are a metaphor for our times

 

Isobel’s first novel Asylum Asylum Cover 2is available in paperback at Odyssey Books, Angus and RobertsonAmazon and the Book Depository. Ebook available through all major outlets.

Launching Asylum on World Refugee Day

Just got home from the launch of my novel, Asylum, at Well Thumbed Books, Cobargo NSW, as part of local activities for World Refugee Day. We raised $1,000!!! Big thank you to all who came and made it happen. I’m so proud to live in this warm-hearted and generous community.

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We showed the world that refugees matter!

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Standing room only!!! What a turnout!

 

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Asylum is a rewarding read, rather like a meal when you savour every mouthful instead of gulping it down because there are better things to be done!” – book critic Ann Creber.

Read more about Asylum here

Are we a world at war?

head-with-broken-potHead with broken pot, Georgia O’Keeffe

Are we a world at war?

Surely for a world to be at war there should be some cohesion behind geographical lines. There should be advancing fronts. There should be a war office and sirens in the streets.

‘Where are the bomb shelters?’ we in Western nations cry. Go away and leave us be! We are at peace, not war!

But that doesn’t account for all of us. Maybe less than 1% is small, too small to care about, but not when it translates into 60 million.

60 million refugees. That’s according to the UNHCR; nearly 60 million people forcibly displaced in 2014.

One person in every 122 on the planet is either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum.
These are the highest levels since 1945.
So is the world at war? I think it is. I think that we are in the midst of a monumental crisis and we are for the most part blind to it.

Saying that world war exists starts the search for causes and solutions.

It could be argued that the main cause lies in history: in peoples lumped together with other peoples whom they may never have much liked or got along with as the globe was carved up under the auspices of Empire. It could be argued that each situation has its own unique history: The Rohingyas of Burma, the Kurds of Turkey, Iraq and Iran, the Darfuri of Sudan, the Hazara of Afghanistan to name some on a long list.

And what of the African migrants in South Africa? That’s a different sort of ethnic cleansing. Workers pitted against workers.

What of the Haitian descendants in the Dominican Republic, who face expulsion back to Haiti? All 250,000 of them. Different again. This time it’s been legislated.

The victimisation of minority ethnicities has a long long history. It could be said that these examples show a world not at war but disunited.

But what of the cleaving in the Middle East between Sunni and Shia? A faith dispute between two versions of Islam? Or a manufactured cleaving feeding off the schism. A cleaving cultivated, funded, sought. To answer that we need to examine America’s interests. And Saudi Arabia’s. And Britain’s. In fact, the entire military complex that seeks war, especially when times are austere.

As they are now.

As they are now thanks to the biggest sting against the 99% the world has ever seen: the GFC.

Is it the case that, done with the casino, war is now sought by the banksters, by elements of big business, by the 1%ers whose ambition is only to acquire more wealth?

Or is it simply the case that the cankers of hatred festering in the body of many nations, cankers that have fed on fear and on poverty for decades, are bursting all at once?

Maybe it’s all these things.

My little blog post seeks only to ask questions. The answers would fill bookshelves.

It is my impression that a world at war is what we have. War invisible to those of us who deem ourselves unaffected by it. What a privilege that is! What a convenience! It gives us the power to thumb our noses at asylum seekers. To regard refugees as the scum of the earth.

This is Refugee Week. It’s about time we told ourselves over and again that those 60 million refugees on the planet are the casualties of various forms of ethnic cleansing in countries involved in some sort of war.

It’s about time we tell ourselves that just because the tanks are not rolling down our streets, doesn’t mean we are a world at peace.

It’s about time we tell ourselves that casualties of war are not collateral, are not so much garbage, are not takers and chancers.

They are people, people who bleed just like us.

 

Isobel Blackthorn’s first novel, ASYLUM, has been released by Odyssey Books and is available through all major booksellers.

Asylum Reviews

Asylum Cover

 

Today I found two reviews of Asylum on NetGalley which I just had to share!

The first is by Tanya Brough – “Have you ever felt like just dropping everything and running far, far away? To perhaps an island? That is what Yvette Grimm did. She ran from her life in Malta and her boyfriend Carlos (what an oaf!) and met up with her mother, Leah, in Australia. She wants to stay and her mom wants her to stay. There might even be a man on the horizon, but that will always be a complicated situation with Yvette, a romantic at heart. I thoroughly enjoyed Asylum. Yvette is such a lovable, but emotional human. You can even feel her hurt when her mother is a little cold towards her, always talking about her sister. Asylum is just the right book at the right time for me. Yvette, we sistas in arms.” Tanya gives Asylum 5 Stars.

Then Rachel Bustin wrote,” My initial thoughts were that the cover seemed a little bland, but I always go by the saying, ‘Never judge a book by it’s cover’. I did like the thought of reading a very strong character driven book, and this is what the book is. The story starts off with Yvette Grimm finding herself back in her childhood bedroom at her mother’s Leah’s house in Australia. She is on a holiday visa at the moment, but Leah has sent off her permanent residency forms. Yvette had to leave her old life in Malta. As you read through the book, you discover what Yvette’s life was like with her boyfriend Carlos through little snippets, and why she had to leave. I love this little quote. The author uses a fantastic style of writing throughout, to the point and very clear. ‘Yvette was seeking refuge from the wreckage of her life’ Yvette’s mother tells her that she must get married to stay in Australia, but Yvette is a sort of a hopeless romantic and believes that you marry for love not convenience. The story follows Yvette through her struggles of belonging nowhere. Yvette takes you to a cockroach infested flat, to a cute little house to singing in a choir and a life changing event. It was a beautiful journey that the author took me on. Laughing in places, crying the next. I loved the character of Yvette, she never let anything get her down, she was always expecting the worst, and this made her a much stronger person. I didn’t like her mum Leah, she seemed very cold towards Yvette, and always going on about her sister Debbie, which made Yvette feel alone at times. I think the main idea of the book is to inform you about the difficulties that people have in gaining residencies. Even though Yvette’s mum and sister live in Australia it doesn’t make her a definite case to live there permanently, just because she stayed with her dad in England when her mother and sister moved back when they were children. I find the topic on political asylum quite fascinating and this book does question that. I would love to read other books with a similar topic to this one, it was a fascinating read. I would recommend to anyone looking for a strong female character lead. I gave Asylum by Isobel Blackthorn 4 out of 5 stars.”

Many thanks Tanya and Rachel. I’m enormously chuffed and grateful. Cheers!