Book of the Month
This month's book club read is The Last Sky by Alice Nelson
The Last Sky by Alice Nelson won the T.A.G. Hungerford Award and was shortlisted for The Australian/Vogel's Literary Award and the Barbara Jefferis Award. In 2009 Alice was named a Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist.
Alice works as a freelance journalist and teaches creative writing. She is currently completing her doctorate in the School of English and Cultural Studies at the University of Western Australia. Her latest book is After This: Survivors of the Holocaust speak.
In The Last Sky, British rule in Hong Kong is coming to an end and so is Maya’s marriage. She is wandering aimlessly through the crowded city streets when she becomes captivated by an elderly Chinese man and his caged nightingale, and follows him home. But Ken Tiger is a man with a past. As Maya draws out his tale of lost love in wartime Shanghai, she pieces together other stories, other histories that will help her to imagine a new life for herself.
Meet the author
I wrote The Last Sky while living away from my own country in New York and, as a result, the novel is about identity and dislocation and personal geography, which are all ongoing preoccupations of mine. And relationships – the gaps and spaces in the most intimate relationships, and the loss of love. Writing about these things is a way of making sense of them for me. Of course, there’s a lot of delving into oneself if you want to produce anything worthwhile. All the travelling and living abroad I was doing when I was writing the novel was incredibly nourishing. I don’t think I could have written a novel that is essentially about different forms of exile if I hadn’t been living away from my own country. Although, having said that, I think I set large parts of the novel in Western Australia because I was homesick. I wanted to remember the Australian light and the ocean.
People often asked me if I did a great deal of planning for the novel and I have to admit that it was a very organic process. The actual line of it didn't emerge until I was finishing. The process of writing the novel was the process of discovering the precise novel I wanted to write. Gail Jones has spoken about the emancipated feel of writing in clouds of unknowing, and that’s a beautiful way of putting it – this kind of intuitive intelligence you allow to take over as you work. It’s almost an act of faith in the unseen, if that doesn’t sound too grandiose.
I'm particularly interested in the power of storytelling in our lives – the stories we tell ourselves and others and the ones we create to make sense of our lives, so this was a theme that came up again and again in my writing. All the characters, but Maya particularly, create stories, or bury themselves in the stories of others when they cannot bear the weight or consequence of their own stories.
To celebrate July's book of the month, we're giving away five copies of The Last Sky. Just click enter giveaway below and fill in your details to go in the running!