Sex and politics don't mix in this melancholy tale of gay love in Communist Poland.
It's 1980, Poland. The country is fracturing under corrupt Communist rule. Protest movements are gaining ground, even as they are brutally put down. Amidst this political turmoil, eighteen-year-old Ludwik attends an agricultural camp and is soon besotted with Janusz. The two youths go hiking by some idyllic lakes and enjoy the waters, starting a secret affair. While homosexuality is not illegal in Poland at the time, it is still a fast route to social ostracism and shame. For Ludwik, this is a major concern, as he is haunted by an early episode in his life when he made advances to a boy he liked, but was found out and humiliated.
The affair between the two boys is passionate, almost idyllic, but as they get to know each other better, cracks start to appear. Ludwik is critical of the Communist regime and believes the system can be overcome. It's better to live the truth than a lie. Janusz has different ideas. He's about to start work for the regime and has a more pragmatic view. He prefers to work every advantage you can and get ahead. Why suffer? Accordingly, he flirts with Hania, the daughter of a party official. His relationship with Hania means he can live the good life and get special requests fast-tracked. When Ludwik needs some intervention to get a doctoral thesis study approved, Janusz suggests asking Hania. Faced with such an agonising choice, one that also risks his relationship with Janusz, Ludwik finds there is no easy way out.
Swimming in the Dark is the debut novel from Tomasz Jedrowski, a German-born Polish author now living in France. It's written in a simple, elegant style that is engaging and evocative. The plot, one that travels from innocence to experience, is heartbreakingly believable.
A tragic tale that highlights a time when gay lives were filled with shame, secrets and persecution, with an interesting historical backdrop of Communist Poland.
Swimming in the Dark, by Tomasz Jedrowski. Published by Bloomsbury. $29.99
Staff review by Chris Saliba
An entertaining memoir from Liberal Party insider Christopher Pyne.
Christopher Pyne entered the Australian parliament at age twenty-five with high hopes of becoming prime minister. He traveled a long road to finally become a minister in the Howard government, and then in the Abbott and Turnbull governments. But he never reached the top job. Rather than indulge in bitterness and self-pity, he accepted his limits and graciously retired. His memoir, The Insider, covers the later years of the Howard government, when he was appointed Minister for Ageing, the opposition years and finally, the tumultuous Abbott and Turnbull years.
Don’t expect much in the way of political philosophy or policy interest in these pages. Pyne espouses an amorphous Liberal party philosophy of the individual rather than the collective, coupled with a blunt opposition to anything Labor. It’s all a case of Liberal equals good, Labor equals bad. Having said that, Pyne is a cheery fellow who relishes the work of parliament, its dynamic personalities and power plays, and all of its attendant bustle and energy. Despite his professed antipathy to Labor policy, he has cultivated many friendships with the non-liberal side of politics. Like a character out of P.G. Wodehouse, Pyne doesn’t hold grudges and sees parliament as ripping good fun.
The Insider is an enjoyable and engaging read. Pyne takes us on a grand tour of the political life, introducing the reader to a large cast of the most important political players from the last twenty years. If anything, his book gives a good idea of how the machinery of politics works, how elections are fought and won, and how reputations are made and lost.
An intriguing and candid look into how parliaments work from an affable guide.
The Insider: The Scoops, the Scandals and the Serious Business within the Canberra Bubble, by Christopher Pyne. Hachette. $34.99
Academics Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg examine how the Chinese Communist Party influences world affairs by stealth.
Following on from Clive Hamilton's Silent Invasion (2018), which investigated the influence of the Chinese Communist Party on Australia's politics and culture, comes Hidden Hand. This new book is written with Mareike Ohlberg and takes a global perspective, examining in granular detail how the CCP has slowly and quietly made its influence felt in business, politics and academia. In short, it uses money as leverage. Fear of having markets cut off or finance denied makes business leaders and politicians toe the China line, often parroting Xi Jinping's talking points. It's a creeping and insidious infiltration of Western democracy and business. Many of the guilty Western parties (economist Jeffrey Sachs is highlighted in the book) should really know better.
Hidden Hand makes for depressing reading. Its detail and exhaustive research, with its endless listing of names, government bodies and institutions, is often quite dizzying. That said, it's an important book that raises a lot of important questions. For several decades, we in the West have courted China, thinking of it as a capitalist democracy in the making. Instead, it has become increasingly autocratic.
Essential reading for the informed citizen.
Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World, by Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg. Published by Hardie Grant. $32.99
North Melbourne Books