This month in Encounters we’re featuring The Stamp of Australia by Kelly Burke. Coinciding with the 200th anniversary of postal services in Australia, this social history of our country is filled with interesting facts and fascinating characters. Did you know, for instance, that Australia was moving to a system of uniform postal rates before the Penny Black did the same for Victorian England, that Japanese airmen agreed to drop letters from prisoners on a bombing raid on Port Moresby, and that the Birdsville Track is still the longest mail run in the world? It’s good to be reminded, in the age of twitter, that until the clipper ships of the 1840s, the time between a letter to ‘the old country’ and its reply could be a couple of years.
Read an extract from our edition of The Stamp of Australia
The New Books on the Table
I’M LOVING …
Sunshine on Sugar Hill. Reader Annabel Duncan is thoroughly entertained by Angela Gilltrap’s story about what life is really like in the heart of African-American Harlem, where she is the only white girl on the block. Angela has followed her boyfriend here from her home in Bondi and, amidst her culture shock, is struck by the wonderful sense of community. She learns to live in a six-floor walk-up which didn’t even have a lock on the door until she moved in, how to get rid of vermin, and how to take drive-bys and shoot-outs in her stride.
I’M NOT SURE ABOUT …
In the Blink of an Eye, says Annie of Epping. Hasso and Catherine von Bredlow detail Hasso’s survival following a massive stroke, one that leaves him unable to move any part of his body except his eyes. His mental faculties remain intact, however, and his wife is able to concoct a method of communication that allows him to describe the experience of what is medically, and aptly, termed ‘locked-in syndrome’. While my sympathy for Hasso and Catherine is immense, I am finding reading about it rather traumatic and unrelenting.
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Our Secret Files:
Since the 1950s we at Reader’s Digest have been reviewing non-fiction books for our files. Both these true-life books feature stories about amazing animals, and the connections formed between people and animals, butonly one of them appealed to our reviewers. If you can name just one book, email us and we’ll send the first three correct responders a free gift copy of Encounters.
This book has been compared to Marley and Me, and for good reason. It focuses on the relationship between a person and a remarkable animal. The animal, Alex, was an African Grey parrot that died in September 2007 of unknown causes. The author had a long working relationship with Alex, whom she studied for clues about animal intelligence. He could count, knew more than 100 words, and had a forceful, playful personality. He knew what he wanted and was not shy to tell the author (or the many lab assistants he befriended). It is more than competently told by the author who, perhaps unfortunately, does not talk a lot about her own life. It’s mostly the story of the bird, and there are not a lot of those out there. Many readers will have heard of this famous bird, which lived to age 31. Moreover, it has some cachet or prestige. It was a New York Times best seller and was rated as one of the newspaper’s ‘top 10 books of the year’.
By the end of World War II, only sixteen Akita dogs remain in Japan. The story follows Morie Sawataishi through his years as an Akita dog breeder, against the backdrop of post-war Japan. While the rest of the dog breeders in the snow country become rich as the popularity and price of Akitas soars, Morie is only happy if he gives his puppies away. He increasingly gravitates to the elemental challenges of the woods, hunting with his dogs, while his wife, Tokyo-born Kitako, struggles to put food on the table. The constant disagreements between husband and wife form a recurrent theme. In spite of well-drawn characters and informative historical detail, I am unable to recommend the story. I simply could not to warm to Morie, despite his many admirable traits. His attitude to his wife and children may have been typical of the era, but I found his Spartan approach less than endearing, and his blatant disinterest in anything other than his dogs off-putting.
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