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Alexander Maksik's 'A Marker to Measure Drift': a poetically powerful novel.

Alexander Maksik’s ‘A Marker to Measure Drift’: a poetically powerful novel.

There are people amongst us, it’s true, who are forced to experience such unimaginable horror.  Even though Australia isn’t completely free of horror, there are nations on the other side of the globe that have imploded – or that have been allowed to implode by a morally ineffective international community – and what these nations have had to endure is beyond the reach of our rational minds.

Enter Alexander Maksik.

A New Yorker, though clearly well-travelled, Maksik’s novel A Marker to Measure Drift is a poetic, often mesmerising creation that carries the reader all the way to its horrific though inevitable conclusion.  Some may ask questions about a Caucasian man telling an African woman’s story – and there is worth in asking these questions – but this novel is eminently readable, and should in fact be read by many, including those of us here who are able to live in blissful comfort at the bottom of the world.

A Marker to Measure Drift concerns Jacqueline, a young Liberian woman who finds herself (loses herself?) on Santorini, the popular holiday island on the Aegean Sea.  It is summer and the towns and villages are alive with tourists sunning themselves on idyllic beaches, swimming lazily in hotel pools, and enjoying sumptuous lunches and dinners.  For those who can afford these luxuries it is paradise on Earth.  Fittingly, cleverly, Maksik has chosen this place as Jacqueline’s refuge from her broken homeland – the island is highly volcanic and has tried to destroy itself more than once in the past.  This used to be the centre of Minoan civilisation, now well and truly ancient history.

Nations come and go, Maksik may be suggesting, and their going tends to be unintelligibly violent…

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Keep reading over at the Sydney Morning Herald. Originally commissioned by the Canberra Times and published on 12 October 2013.

Some novels do amazing things.  This is one of those novels. Do seek it out.

Some novels do amazing things. This is one of those novels.

Violence is never far beneath the surface, it’s always just over the horizon, it rarely leaves us alone.  Surely one of the best means we have of examining our innate capacity for violence, to survey its insidious possibilities, is the novel.  And surely one of the most astute English-language novelists whose primary focus is violence, particularly the lingering impacts of civil war, is Aminatta Forna.

Born in Glasgow and raised in Sierra Leone and Britain as well as in Iran, Thailand and Zambia, Forna’s previous novel was The Memory of Love, an awful though not inappropriate title for an astonishing work.  This was a complex and multi-dimensional examination of the consequences of war in Sierra Leone, a country with which Forna clearly has a profound affinity.  The novel was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2011 and won that year’s Commonwealth Writers Prize.  The Hired Man, despite again delving into war, is a lighter, simpler work, and, due to a miracle of literary achievement, is an even more potent piece of story-telling.

Set in Croatia, and spanning the shaky decades leading up to 2007, The Hired Man has as its central protagonist a forty-six-year-old man called Duro Kolak.  Duro lives alone, enjoys the company of his two dogs, and gets by doing odd jobs around his small hometown of Gost.  A sometimes reticent soul, he is an adept observer of human relationships, but his real passion is hunting.  Indeed, it is telling that on the first page of the novel there is Duro seeing a new arrival in town:

I trailed the bird lazily through my rifle sights and that was when I noticed the car.  A large, newish four-wheel drive, being driven very slowly down an entirely empty road as though the driver was searching for a concealed entrance.  I lowered the gun so that I had the vehicle fully in my sights but the angle and reflection of the sun made it impossible to see who was driving.

The woman who is driving is Laura…

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Keep reading over at the Sydney Morning Herald.  Originally commissioned by the Canberra Times and published on 3 August 2013; thanks to Rod Quinn.

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