Books in review

By Colleen Cook

In this issue:

My mother, my father

Cover illustration of My mother my father

Edited by Susan Wyndham
Allen & Unwin $29.99

More and more baby boomers are becoming orphans. Just because a parent dies after a long and fruitful life, it does not lessen the pain for the adult child. It was such an experience which gave editor Susan Wyndham (BA ’81) the idea for this compilation. It contains powerful and personal reflections about the complex relationship of parent and child. It looks at regret, joy, fear, guilt, rivalry, anger and mortality. It also brings sorrow right into the spotlight.

Fourteen writers, including Wyndham, relate their experiences and feelings at the most vulnerable moments of their lives. David Marr took notes while his sister, who was a doctor, had the more hands-on role. Thomas Keneally struggled with self worth and parent expectations. Nikki Barrowclough lost a mother and brother in quick succession. The Rice siblings played scrabble at their dying mother’s bedside. Kathryn Heyman flew across the world in time for the funeral of a father she barely knew. Linda Neil went to Paris where she slowly climbed back out of a long period of grief.

Each author’s style is different. There is sublime poetry, clear observation, brittle and evasive expression, unexpected humour, and throughout, a wealth of emotion which is neither mawkish nor affected. It’s a privilege to share these moments, because we’ve been there too.

Peter Hall architect

Cover image of Peter Hall architect

The Phantom of the Opera House
Peter Webber
The Watermark Press $25

It’s possible to make a single decision in one’s life that overshadows every other. Peter Hall hesitantly agreed to take on the completion of the Sydney Opera House in the wake of Joern Utzon’s departure. Never mind that he completed a huge body of work during his lifetime. His Opera House interiors are still what people talk about, and controversy abounds.

Hall transformed the Opera House from a shell into a useable space, albeit a different one. He weathered politics, financial blowouts, construction challenges, personal difficulties and more, to realise the completion of a national icon. Yet he remained virtually unknown, and was only formally acknowledged for his part in the Opera House’s construction at the RAIA 25 Year Award in 2006, a decade after his death.

Author Peter Webber (BA ’54 DipTCPlan ’59 MTCPlan ’68) was at university with Hall, and trod similar architectural paths, occasionally coming into contact with his contemporary. Webber has shown us an energetic, creative and productive man, who adored his five children from two marriages, and also had a passion for prestige cars, sport, art, music, good food and malt whiskey. As well as uncovering many of Hall’s other projects, he has clarified details surrounding the Opera House project, and not before time, has set the record straight.

Rendezvous with destiny

Cover image of Rendezvous with destiny

Michael Fullilove
Viking $29.99

Franklin D Roosevelt appointed five extraordinary men to be his eyes and ears at strategic moments in the development of World War II in Britain, and to relay first-hand accounts of Britain’s preparedness to fight against the superior German offensive.

Through author Michael Fullilove (BA ’94), we gain a new insight into the wartime Anglo-American relationship by following these American envoys on their missions.

Harry Hopkins, Wendell Willkie, Bill Donovan, Sumner Welles and Averell Harriman were very different personalities. In common, they were charismatic, highly accomplished, diplomatic and astute. From rich or poor backgrounds, they were all well connected, greatly respected and admired in Great Britain. In their separate correspondences to FDR these men all spoke highly of Winston Churchill as a most remarkable statesman and convivial host.

Their missions allowed them to mix with all the significant statesmen of the time, including Stalin and Mussolini. Their voyages were adventurous. They tell FDR of being shot at, and flying low to avoid attack. They talk of rough sea voyages in dangerous waters. Churchill was not one to run from danger, and these men were in the thick of it.

There is still much to learn about World War II and the tales of these extraordinary men are well worth the telling.