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THE HOUSE BEFORE THE WORLD

NOVEL IN PROGRESS

 

I carry with me, across the planet, a folding map of the world.

         It’s oddly made, as if the world itself could be turned into a book and from a book back into a sphere, yet it’s not quite an atlas or map. There’s no beginning and no end. It’s a book whose semicircular pages of the nations and oceans open like an accordion, so you can fan out the pages to form a globe, and stand it up and see the entire world.

         Every nation is named in Greek and given a color set against deep blue seas, so the world appears more like 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 book stall, an act less of theft than defiance: that I would never be held back, that the entire world could be mine to conquer. That Turkey, torn between Asia and Europe, between East and West, and Greece, the so-called cradle of civilization, almost dead, 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 round paper world, the world beyond Greece in full color, dotted with the names of the principal cities, so many to choose from but New York and Berlin and Paris dominant, I would lie on my bunk, in my tent cluttered with English and French and Russian novels, and pull out the strange circular map and turn its 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 trilogy, 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 tent camps in Athens, searching for love and pounding hot metal in a foundry, determined to become an architect and city planner. 

Cruising around the edges of the tavernas close to the League camp, with no more than a breeze of guilt I steal the wallet of a drunken English traveler, a fat man rising from a fat lunch. In it I discover two hundred drachmas. My fingers have found their métier. I doubted they would, but they did. In a blink I’d jumped into a world of almost endless opportunities and risk, my moral and criminal sides merging into one, born of the same code: survival at all costs. And oddly, I felt more human than before. By stealing the foreigner’s money, I’d connected with the real world in all its crudity. The wallet I quickly threw away but, holding those crisp banknotes, I had acquired my own small place on 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 Europe plunges into nationalism and militarism, Yianis spies on his fellow architecture students for money and better grades, is dazzled by and expelled from Nazi Germany, marries into tragedy, fumbles a bank robbery , and - on the eve of World War Two - flees to the Greek community in colonial British Kenya, to a world of even deeper intrigue...

In the second novel, The Sun in That Atmosphere, Yianis 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 with a corrupt Italian-American army major running blackmarket operations, with sinister consequences. Once again he's forced to flee.

In the third novel, Like the Jungle Misses the Rain, it's New York in the early '60s - 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 successful city planner on the world stage, joining the international Jet Set in the glittering Kennedy era, rubbing shoulders with power and then plunging into the biggest challenge of his life: the redevelopment of the favelas, the sprawling, lethal slums of Rio de Janeiro...

 
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SHOOTING BALIBO

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). 

'A memoir with a journalistic eye, journalism with cinematic vision, history uninhibited by very personal speculations... (Maniaty's) commitment to the imaginative power of the ordinary and his ability to layer history with the force of honest emotion is what makes this narrative an engaging, important and original achievement.' Marcus O'Donnell, Pacific Journalism Review

Shooting Balibo is published by Penguin Australia. IBSN 978174335018. Buy Kindle edition online at Amazon:

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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, mid-century 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

All Over the Shop is a sociological landscape where the truth, lies, songs, quotes, quips and legends of the intensely personal resonate in the shared experience of post-war Australian growing up…’ Sarah Rossetti, The Western Review

All Over the Shop is published by Penguin Australia. IBSN 014 014627 X

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SMYRNA

AUTO/BIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL

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. 

'Smyrna is a finely written, impressive and very moving novel.' Brian Matthews, Weekend Australian

Vivid descriptions of places and people, memorable images, fresh insights, vigorous writing...' Judges report, Miles Franklin Award

'A great book about the migrant experience...' Dinny O'Hearn, SBS Book Show

Smyrna is published by Penguin Australia. IBSN 014 012436 5

Greek translation by John Vassilakakos, published by Odisseas Publications, Athens. ISBN 9789602104569

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THE CHILDREN MUST DANCE

NOVEL

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... fair and square in the tradition of Conrad and Greene.' Geoffrey Hutchinson, National Times

The Children Must Dance is published by Penguin Australia. IBSN 0 14 007089 3