Books in Print

independent Australian bookselling since 1988

27 Feb 2011

The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean


Yes, I was drawn to this book by the cover! It jolted my memory to a dress that I can remember my mother wearing when I was very young. It was a special dress - made for dancing - and it almost had its own persona. This is at the heart of The Secret Lives of Dresses.
During the course of the story, our heroine undergoes a transformation from a devotee of the cargo-pants and t-shirt wearing brigade to a vintage dresser. The turn of events leading to this involve a story of loss, obligation and love. The clothes are the magic thread binding the story which deftly contrasts the notion of just pulling on any old thing to the power of dressing. However, the novel has nothing to do with 'power dressing'
It made me reflect on the absolute joy of pulling on something that actually fits and actually suits, and how rarely this happens 'off-the-rack'. My mother made all her own clothes and knew how inspirational fabric can be. I found the ideas behind the story inspiring and it made me nostalgic for the style of the vintage era - though maybe not for corsets!

Books in Print staff review by Sue

visit Erin McKean's vintage fashion website

18 Feb 2011

The Happiest Refugee : A Memoir by Anh Do

Allen & Unwin

**Update - The Happiest Refugee is the winner of the 2011 Indie Book Of The Year

Love of family and a belief that anything is possible are two of the themes of Anh Do’s book. He learnt many positive lessons from his father, who seemed able to deal with any problem, even rescuing two of his mother’s brothers from a re-education camp by impersonating an officer and later masterminding the escape from Vietnam of 40 relatives and friends. Even when his father descends into alcoholism and violence after a catastrophic business failure and then leaves his family, Anh can still tell his father’s story with love and respect, realizing that his love for his father will outweigh his father’s faults. Anh’s dedication to his mother, brother and sister and the realization that his parents gave up everything for their children’s future is at the core of everything he does. His own hard-earned success as a comedian and actor take second place in the book to his life with his wife and children. Public response to the book was amazing. As soon as people heard Anh being interviewed on ABC radio they came rushing in to buy the book. It was the strongest response to any author’s radio interview that I have experienced. A truly inspiring read.
Books in Print staff review by Chris *****

Mezza Italiana: An Enchanting Story about Love, Family, La Dolce Vita and Finding Your Place in the World

by Zoe Boccabella
ABC Books

Zoe Boccabella grew up in Brisbane, in an Anglo-Italian family. Her father’s Italian family had strong links back to ‘home’ and Zoe was constantly being reminded of her Italian heritage. However, this was ‘Joh’s’ Queensland in the nineteen-seventies and eighties and Zoe was taunted at school as a ‘wog’ and Italian food and culture were openly derided. Consequently Zoe tried to adapt, ‘not to stand out or be different’. It is not until she is in her twenties, travelling around Europe with her boyfriend, that Zoe can bring herself to visit her family’s home village of Fossa, in the mountainous Abruzzo region. After years of denial Zoe immediately realizes her emotional link to the house, in which her family has lived for several centuries, and her Italian ancestors. What follows are wonderful descriptions of relatives and other villagers, the countryside and the food – the Abruzzo produces more superb cooks than any other part of Italy. When an earthquake strikes Zoe describes the strength of the villagers to endure yet more hardship. This is a beautifully written memoir full of characters and places which will appeal to the literary traveller, to people who already love Italy and to all those intending to visit.

Books in Print staff review by Chris *****

The Sparrows Of Edward Street by Elizabeth Street

University of Queensland Press

Elizabeth Stead takes readers into the hard, grinding world of a New South Wales Housing Commission Camp for the homeless at the end of 1948. The three remaining members of the Sparrow family, widow Hanora and her two teenage daughters Aria and Margaret Rose, have been evicted from their lodgings after Hanora’s brief career as a kept woman ended with her lover’s appearance in the divorce courts. Father Sparrow had already suffered death by feline when he was run over by a Council van full of stray cats. Hanora takes up residence in a disused military camp, at 19B Edward Street, in one of eight hundred huts made of fibro, corrugated iron and rough timber; boiling in summer and freezing in winter.
The younger sister, Margaret Rose, the ‘Colonial Royal’, is embarrassed and humiliated; in her sister’s words she has ‘never coped well with life overturned’. Hanora is overcome by events and exists in a haze induced by various pharmaceutical products. Aria, who is the narrator of the novel, is the older sister and it is she who takes on responsibility for her family. She is a fixer and is sparrow-like in her manner: she loves her namesakes as ‘brave, scavenging little creatures’ but ‘sly as crows and with the hearts of savages’. It is not long before Aria starts to organize some of the camp’s more helpless residents; she always finds time to help others regain their confidence and self-respect. She also has a habit of saying exactly what she thinks, which often gets her into trouble, but she won’t apologize: ‘I’m not sorry’ is her catchcry. A trickle of money comes from Margaret Rose, who works as an apprentice to a milliner and Aria, who gets by as a ‘bottom-of-the-ladder’ photographic model; her physical assets are employed to ‘love’ a variety of commercial products. She does not believe in lost causes; when things get desperate for the Sparrows, it is Aria who puts her pride and reputation to one side to fight for a better future for her family.
The Sparrows of Edward Street is a wonderful novel about family relationships, about overcoming hardship and the strengths that people can gain from pulling together to beat the odds. It also provides an insight into the lives of those left damaged and poor in the years after World War Two. This is a story told with great humour; you will never look at a sparrow in the same way again.

Books in Print staff review by Chris *****