THE HOUSE BEFORE THE WORLD
NOVEL IN PROGRESS
I carry with me, everywhere I go, a folding map of the world.
It’s oddly made, as if the world itself could be turned from a sphere into a book, from a book into a sphere, yet it's not an atlas, and not really a map, since there’s no beginning and no end. It’s a round book whose pages of the nations and oceans have feet, forming a paper stand, so that you can open it anywhere, fan out the pages, stand it up and see the entire globe.
Every nation is named in Greek and given a colour set against rich blue seas, so that the world appears more a floating circus balloon than the harsh, cruel place known to astronomers and peasants as Earth. The map has been mine since I stole it from a neighbourhood bookstall, an act less of theft than of defiance: that I would never be held back, that the entire world could be mine to conquer. That messy and unstable Turkey, torn between Asia and Europe, East and West, or puny little Greece, the so-called cradle of civilisation, almost dead now, would not hold me back.
Stuffing the stolen map into my shirt gave me the sensation that my chest had expanded, that my lungs carried all the possibilities of the planet. And hugging this paper world, the world beyond Greece in full colour, dotted with the names of the major cities, so many to choose from but New York and Berlin and Paris dominant, I would often lay on my bunk, in my tent cluttered with English and French and Russian novels, and pull out the strange circular map and turn its semi-circular pages over and over, trying to decide where to spend my life. My brain was soft, had not yet hardened completely into adulthood, and it was vulnerable too.
And into that softness I pressed new ideas.
* * *
First in a planned cycle of three novels, The House Before the World tells the story of Yianis Liakos - born in 1910 in the rugged hinterlands of Turkey, raised in the cosmopolitan Great War years of Istanbul, expelled as a Greek from Asia Minor, growing up alone in League of Nations ten camps in Athens, searching for love and pounding hot metal as a blacksmith, determined to become an architect and city planner.
Remaining human was the hardest thing. Hopelessness was glued to my shoes and it stopped me running, and expanding my hopes. My only chance was to cross into crime, to cheat and lie and steal; to survive not like a normal human but like an animal with no sense of fear, fearless to the point of stupidity, a paradoxical stupidity than might ensure my survival. (It could hardly be called success.) And outside the League camp one hot August day, cruising the edges of the better tavernas, with no more than a breeze of guilt I lifted the wallet of a drunk British tourist, a fat man rising from a fat lunch. In it I discovered two pound notes, a fortune; my fingers had found their métier and I moved forward. My moral side and criminal side became one. And strangely, I felt more human than before; by stealing the foreigner's money, I had connected with the real world in all its crudity. The wallet I threw away, but - holding those two crisp English banknotes - I had acquired my own small place in the planet.
For a refugee in the tumultuous 1930s, survival means not only edging into crime but also joining up with one side or another: Communism or fascism. As all of Europe plunges into nationalism and militarism, Yanis spies on his fellow architecture students for money and better grades, is dazzled by and expelled from Nazi Germany, and - bereft, losing his wife and child in a blotched delivery - fumbles a bank robbery, and flees on the eve of World War Two to colonial British Kenya, to a world of even deeper intrigue.
In the second novel, The Sun in That Atmosphere, Yanis joins his Greek uncle in Australia a week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, adopts a new persona - Nick Andrews - and finds work in cafe kitchens as American troops arrive for redeployment to the Pacific campaign. Nick encounters his life's great love, a nurse from California, but teams up too with a corrupt Italian-American major running blackmarket operations, with sinister consequences. He's forced to flee again. In the third novel, The Fish Will Swim in Thy Dark Streets, it's New York in the early 1960s - and Nick Andrews has morphed into his ultimate persona: Damascus, naming himself after the oldest inhabited city on earth. He's risen to become a hugely successful planner striding the world stage, rubbing shoulders with power, and about to take on the greatest challenge of his life: the redevelopment of the favelas, the sprawling, lethal slums of Rio de Janeiro...
REPORTAGE / MEMOIR
They say we've only got one war in us. My difficult days in East Timor in 1975 were enough to teach me many things, not least that experience in the house of conflict is expanded, and that the exhilaration of war, once felt, can never be replicated in everyday life; that risk goes hand in hand with raw beauty; that life is never so intense as it is, or was, in that compression of life called war...
* * *
Tony Maniaty's vivid account of his twin journeys to East Timor - in 1975, as an ABC News television journalist, and in 2008 as a consultant to the feature film Balibo - brings to life the excitement, anxiety and tragedy of young reporters encountering the dangers and brutality of warfare for the first time.
In the Portuguese colony north of Australia, Maniaty's crew went looking for a war to film, and found it at a dusty outpost called Balibo. They were shelled, and five other TV newsmen who followed were murdered by Indonesian-led troops. Maniaty fled before Indonesian forces invaded. The only foreign journalist left in the territory was executed in cold blood. The generation-long nightmare of the East Timorese had begun.
Three decades later Maniaty returned to the independent nation of Timor-Leste, to help make a movie - and face his demons. Shooting Balibo was hailed by leading writers and reviewers alike as 'a real coup' (Helen Garner), 'a brave and complex achievement' (David Malouf), 'gripping' (Lucy Clark, Sunday-Mail), 'the best book yet on East Timor' (John Birmingham), 'brilliant, a recommended read' (ArtsHub), and 'compelling' (Peter Rodgers, Weekend Australian).
Shooting Balibo is published by Penguin Australia. IBSN 978174335018. Buy Kindle edition online at Amazon:
ALL OVER THE SHOP
memoir of a greek-australian boyhood
How am I supposed to sleep when my brother's setting fire to my cousin?
* * *
Welcome to the sub-tropical, midcentury world of Australian corner stores - and Greek-Australian family life!
In his acclaimed best-selling memoir, Tony Maniaty relives his crazy boyhood as a half-Greek, half-Australian growing up in 1950s and early 60s corner shops, a world of endless sweets and soft drinks - and decked with the incessant joys, passions and savage cruelty of little boys. It's also Dad's draughts and Grecian fields of figs; sawing his Teddy bear in half in 'magic' shows and ironing Lynette's bottom; Uncle Frankie the yodelling pineapple farmer; and dreams of escaping the fish-and-chip frying vats using only a tin toy typewriter. All Over the Shop is the sub-tropical Cold War, the Havana Flowers face cream and old love letters in Mum's secret drawer, drooling over Kim Novak in Picnic, and being the boy at school for every job going: bin boy, flag boy, bell boy, bank boy, pool boy.
And always, the future for the nomadic Maniatys is what? Another corner shop, of course.
'Charming, universal and celebratory...' Hugh Lunn, best-selling author of Over the Top With Jim
She assessed that I was a builder, with words, a reformed architect who should have chosen literature, words being bricks. You're at ease with your architectural spirit, she said, and journalism makes you nervous and restless. It makes me nervous too, she'd added. And I'm writing secretly, in my head: 'Now I must finish my coffee and gather more bits and pieces for my nest of words.' But I am not a writer, he told himself. As they say, I am a reporter. I deal in undeniable facts. And high overhead, I look up and see a jet streaking miles above the city of learning. A golden dome was built here by the gods, a library of truths. And now the twin white jet trails appear to be splitting the dome above Athens in half. All the time my head is like this. Bound, unbound. Learning.
He cupped his hand around the flame, and set off. Nobody knew what he was doing, or why; among the hundreds with lit candles who were spilling from the cathedral, making Easter resolutions they already knew they wouldn't keep, Harry Tekaros was setting off. He stumbled over the cobblestones, ignoring the ships and pushed along the docks to the largest building on his right. He stood there, before the old facade. It was the Customs House, where Theo was cleared for departure, and had crossed this line and taken the blighted ship to the other side of the world. It was nothing special, in one sense. Thousands had done it, from this wharf alone. But it was a remarkable journey too. Harry turned, he could just make out the sea. A light drizzle had begun. But impossible to say where the sea and sky merged at this hour. He'd slept earlier; now it was as though he was the first person awake in all the city. He set off and was moving down the side of the Customs House, and then he stopped. He could see a figure, a form standing there. He took a step, and another. Suddenly there was a flash. A bright, very intense flash of blue. And he saw the children running away, and fireworks smouldering in the rain.
* * *
1922: The great eastern Mediterranean seaport of Smyrna is ablaze, the Greek army is forced from Asia Minor in defeat. Among the thousands of refugees is a boy, Theo Tekaros, whose long exile ends in Australia fourteen years later, as the world again heads towards war. 'I was a lost soul,' Theo tells anyone who'll listen, 'you'd better believe it.' At a wartime dance he meets Trixie, and falls in love.
1982: Sixty years later their son Harry, a journalist abandoned by his wife, heads back to Greece and Turkey in search of his father's beginnings, the past. A perpetual beginner, a risk taker and romantic, he's captivated by two women: an elderly bookseller in Istanbul and a theatre actress in Athens. Like a latter-day Ulysses blown miles off course, Harry falls in love. 'You stop where you find love,' Theo had said. But the fabric of truth is delicate, his son discovers, and mysteries abound on the planet of possibilities.
Smyrna was shortlisted for Australia's premier literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award. ISBN 9780670073580.
Greek translation by John Vassilakakos, published by Odisseas Publications, Athens. ISBN 9789602104569
'Vivid descriptions of places and people, memorable images, fresh insights, vigorous writing...' Judges report, Miles Franklin Award
'Smyrna is a finely written, impressive and very moving novel.' Brian Matthews, Weekend Australian
'A great book about the migrant experience...' Dinny O'Hearn, SBS Book Show
THE CHILDREN MUST DANCE
Of course you wouldn't need privacy up here; there was enough of it to drive you mad, passionately so. All he could see were dark, poisonous stalks and blooms of oleanders rising from the surrounds and swaying above the latrine, the dead ground alive at the edges. In that labyrinth by the River it wasn't possible to get lost, only pleasantly confused. By contrast, the simplicity here was overwhelming. He went inside, feeling the heat above; but whether to escape the sun or to explore the deeper recesses of his heart, he couldn't tell.
* * *
The year is 1975, the place is Inhumas, a tropical isle floating off Australia's north. The Portuguese colonial masters have fled. The revolutionary Fragas forces cling to power while their enemy regroups. At the Hotel Tropicala, weary expats claim to understand what's going on, but they're all outsiders in the new world order. Nicholas Ranse arrives to collect the papers of his late uncle, the internationally acclaimed botanist Sam Goddard. The great naturalist's death - suicido, they say - is already blurred by shifting politics and the fighting in the mountains. For Ranse, the journey is a confusing return to their mutual past, to a blood relationship he's long sought to escape. But the forces of power, love and madness can't be avoided, even as they threaten his own survival.
'Maniaty is a talented and creative writer who can only get better and better...' Kate Ahearn, Australian Book Review
'Maniaty's style is masterful; his language is powerful and poetic, filled with striking images...' US Publishers' Weekly
'A pretty impressive debut...' Geoffrey Hutchinson, National Times