A Pale View of Hills 

Dulwich Hill branch manager, radio personality, and book selling superstar, Morgan Smith tells us how it is.

May 2019

Gleebooks Bookshop - Thursday, May 09, 2019
Having promised in the past to read more books by men, yet again, I’ve been sucked in by women writers. I really don’t mean to be so biased—it just seems to happen that they’re the books which attract me.

I was hugely impressed with Miriam Sved’s A Universe of Sufficient Size which is partly based on Sved’s grandmother. It is the story of a group of young Jewish mathematicians in Hungary before the war who would meet at a park to discuss their latest work—now that they are banned from attending the University. The story is told as Eszter’s daughter, Illy in Sydney in 2007, reads her mother’s diaries and begins to understand what a brilliant and complex woman she really is. The narrative jumps between contemporary Sydney and pre-war Hungary and post-war Brooklyn and ends with a fantastic twist. A fascinating story beautifully told.

A similar story, but not nearly so well-written is The Only Woman in the Room by American historical novelist Marie Benedict. I rarely recommend books which I don’t think are brilliantly written but this one is such a good story I couldn’t put it down. In it, we are introduced to Hedy, a beautiful young actress in pre-war Austria who marries an arms dealer in the hope she and her Jewish parents will be protected by his power and wealth. When she realises that her husband is now supporting Hitler, she flees Europe and ends up in Hollywood, becoming Hedy Lamarr. However, this isn’t about her life in Hollywood—it’s  about her amazing scientific brain and her passion to invent a frequency-hopping device that will stop the enemy from being able to thwart torpedoes—(which will later lay the base for our wifi). Despite it’s clear superiority, the Navy refuses to develop the invention because it’s by a woman. Talk about beauty and brains. Who knew? 

One could say Melina Marchetta’s novel The Place on Dalhousie is also about displaced people—in this case the Italians and other European immigrants living in Haberfield, and on Dalhousie Street in particular. I have two friends who live on that lovely heritage street and was put up by one of them some years ago, so it’s lovely to read a book about an area you know so well. You could put the book in the ‘uplift’ genre people talk about these days—because it is as feelgood a book as Marchetta’s debut, Looking for Alibrandi. Marchetta celebrates the lives of Italian women, the importance of community and everyone’s need to belong. Her characters are entirely believable, her ear for dialogue excellent and her understanding of what makes us tick, invariably wise. Yes, definitely a book to pick up if you’re feeling down. See you on D’Hill, Morgan

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