There is a fine art to gripping the reader by the collar while pulling the rug out from under their feet. This neat trick is achieved by many of the contributions in this anthology about what it means to be regarded as different. El Gibbs felt broken until she realised that what disabled her was not her severe psoriasis but “the barriers of an ableist world”. When Andy Jackson’s spine began to bend in his teenage years as a result of Marfan syndrome every stare felt like a burning spark. Then, at a poetry reading, he discovered that to be seen could also “warm and sustain”. Yvonne Fein knows well the ironies inherent in the notion of luck. She is “lucky” because her parents survived the Nazi death camps, “lucky” because lithium saved her life. Like all good writing, these pieces not only put us in the writers’ shoes but up-end our ideas about where the disability lies.
One Bright Moon
Every letter from his mother, after Andrew Kwong fled Mao’s China to Macau, Hong Kong, and finally to study in Australia, ended with the same words: Don’t look back. It would be 15 years before he would see her again. Although his mother and father had supported the Communist revolution, they were denounced as intellectuals. As the family said their farewells to Kwong’s father when he was sentenced to a re-education camp, the eight-year-old Kwong experienced “the most powerful feeling of love and belonging, a moment of inexplicable magic and pain.” It was this feeling that carried Kwong through the many trials he and his family endured – famine, persecution and separation – and that permeates this moving family saga, shot through with yearning and hard-won joy.
The Language of Butterflies
Black Inc, $29.99
They are the loud dressers of the insect world. Fluent in the language of colour, butterflies communicate through the dazzle of their wings, says Wendy Williams. For all her enthusiasm for this language, the stars of her book are the not-so-flashy orange and black monarchs whose ‘Methuselah generation’ migrate thousands of kilometres from the north of the US to Mexico. The stars, however, are almost upstaged by the supporting role played by the 17th-century teenager, Maria Merian, whose keen study of the insect revealed its life cycle at a time when the connection between butterflies and caterpillars was not understood. Although little known now, she was famous in her day for her discoveries and her watercolours, which were bought by Peter the Great. Despite Williams’s mannered style, there’s much to relish in this flashy tale.