Tuesday, August 21, 2018

ON THE JAVA RIDGE :: Jock Serong

A version of this review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness and is reprinted here with permission.

Devastatingly brilliant, Jock Serong's On the Java Ridge is an emotionally grueling mix of high-octane action, life-and-death political maneuvering and, at its heart, an anguishing portrayal of worldwide refugee crises. On the eve of federal elections, Minister for Border Integrity Cassius Calvert discloses a new policy regarding unannounced boats in Australian waters--no unidentified vessels will be offered maritime assistance.
Meanwhile, two phinisi (Indonesian-built sailboats) head toward Australia. The Takalar is packed with asylum seekers--men, women and children of varied ethnic backgrounds trying to escape the terror of their homelands. The Java Ridge, owned by a charter surfing company, is full of white Australians headed for legendary remote island waves.
The boats' trajectories result in an ill-fated meeting, and the Australian government becomes aware of a phinisi in potentially dire straits. Willing to sacrifice foreign lives to keep the favor of the electorate, officials stand behind the new policy. Even when Calvert suspects Australian lives may be at stake, he's ordered to stand down and maintain plausible deniability.
Serong (author of The Rules of Backyard Cricket and 2015 Ned Kelly Award-winning Quota) writes masterfully from varied perspectives, crafting haunting characters struggling to survive in a raging sea of human horror and callous partisanship. Life aboard each boat is depicted in detail that highlights the dichotomy like a red-hot poker to the gut--cavalier tourists relieve themselves over deck rails as refugees struggle to maintain their dignity while living in their own waste. Beautiful, mournful, infuriating and brimming with tension, On the Java Ridge is utterly incomparable. 

STREET SENSE: This book. Man, oh man. My favorite read of the year thus far, hands down. I was moved to tears multiple times, and while this erstwhile curmudgeon admits to something of a soft spot deep down, that is a rare reading occurrence for me (something I probably chalk up to my own lack of imagination). But this. Damn. As a half-Aussie, I try to read Australian authors on a regular basis Serong jumped to the top of my list when I picked up The Rules of Backyard Cricket, which I loved. Java Ridge tops that great work and leaves me all the more anxious for Preservation  (publishing in October of this year in Australia). Just go take a gander at this one and make an old crank happy.ADDED BONUS: Pet chicken. Seriously, how can you resist?

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  She thought about this as they'd traveled. So many people out there, out the windows of buses and on the streets. So many different people, fighting with each other over the complex disagreements they had. Maybe the only way it could all be sorted out was by the rise and fall of terrible things. The war was a terrible thing, so probably there were other terrible things, like maybe a great upwelling of the ocean that smothered a whole country. It would be sad for the children, because they weren't involved in the war. And it would be sad for their parents, because they would miss their children. It made her feel confused, paralyzed, to think of all this: such thinking surely wasn't the way of the Prophet.

COVER NERD SAYS: This cover is both right smack in my wheelhouse and perfect for the book--moody, beautiful and powerful. As soon as I saw the image I wanted to know what was going on inside. Perfection. 

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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