What we’re reading: Bennett, Honey & Que Mai

Each week we bring you a sample of the books we’re reading, the films we’re watching, the television shows we’re hooked on, or the music we’re loving.


Chris Gordon is reading The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

This week I have been transported to jungles, to muddy fields, to bomb shelters, and to straw bedding. I’ve been led by grandmother Hương’s hand through the recent history of Vietnam, through four generations of grief, and I’m finding the imagery simply won’t leave me. Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s The Mountains Sing is an extraordinary story, written by a writer whose poetic background allows the narrative to ripple along, weaving its magic so that you fully surrender to the Vietnam seasons and notice the love a family shares, despite being torn apart over and over again.

This story is an opportunity to learn about the impact so much violence has had on everyday Vietnamese people and to admire the prose of Que Mai. The novel took her years to write because she travelled into the villages to gather the memories of those in her country, and because it is her first book to be written in English as she wanted to be sure she would not lose the harmony of her words in translation. The final work is an incredible feat. I can’t recommend it enough. The Mountains Sing will make you reconsider your own meaning of resilience – and it will take you well away from your 5km radius.


Megan Wood is reading The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

I’m reading Brit Bennett’s second novel and absolutely loving it. It’s the story about twin sisters who run away from their small Southern town as teens, and the different paths their lives take as light-skinned Black women in America. It’s a fascinating story of race and identity and while I’m only halfway through it, I already feel confident recommending to anyone who needs a book suggestion.


Tye Cattanach is reading From Stella Street to Amsterdam by Elizabeth Honey (available September)

This thought-provoking novel that deftly explores an array of issues without presenting as an ‘issues’ read. Skilfully utilising multiple text types, From Stella Street to Amsterdam is narrated by Henni and tells the story of Willa, Henni’s elderly neighbour, who wishes to return home to visit with family and attend a wedding. Henni accompanies Willa on her journey. Willa has not returned home since arriving in Australia in her early 20’s, after WW2.

Elizabeth Honey has woven an intricate narrative that touches on everything from family conflict, various societal prejudices, both past and present, WW2 survival stories and also happens to be a fascinating historical look into what life was like for the Dutch, the hardships endured by the Dutch people and the Jews living in Amsterdam in the lead up to and for the duration of WW2. Set against the backdrop of present Amsterdam, Honey has cleverly constructed a narrative around how WW2 shaped modern Dutch society, its economy, its way of life and its current lifestyle. A thoroughly informative and entertaining read!


Fiona Hardy is recommending The First Time Podcast

I don’t know about all of you readers, but I’m really struggling to read at the moment. My concentration is at an all-time low, and I find myself reading a chapter or two of something then drifting off to do something else and forgetting everything I’ve read. That said, I’ve just started Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight on the recommendation of my colleagues Julia and Tristen, and the writing is so original and enthralling that I’ve managed maybe five or six chapters before drifting away to sulk in a corner.

The one thing I’ve been really enjoying these past few months has been The First Time Podcast’s series Conversations with Friends. It’s a series exclusively released due to lockdown, where authors who are buddies call each other and record their discussions about their craft, and how they’re dealing with everything, and their general writerly lives. I’ve been enjoying this podcast for a while – I remember having a public weep over an interview with Alice Robinson about her book The Glad Shout – and I was especially thrilled when listening to a recent one with Emily Gale, Nina Kenwood and Bronte Coates. I know all these women, and hearing their conversation about their writing group and how they keep each other in check was enlightening, delightful and comforting. Emily’s and Nina’s books are wonderful, and I absolutely can’t wait to read what Bronte creates as well.

Other writers on Conversations with Friends have included RWR McDonald and Katherine Kovacic, Sean O'Beirne and Wayne Marshall, Shivaun Plozza and Wai Chim – and so many more.

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The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half

Brit Bennett

$32.99Buy now

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