The Narrative and Socio-political Treatise in The People Smuggler

Salim Al Tuwaiya

In this essay I will try to analyse the book, The People Smuggler discussing it in terms of being a narrative of an ordinary person and the circumstances of his life that led him to fight difficulties and take epic risks. On the other hand, I will shed light on the book as a study of socio-political interactions that appear directly sometimes, while at others hide between the lines.

While the narrative is the main thrust of the book, the socio-political analysis it represents an implicit background that often appears on the surface, directing clear convictions towards some institutions and organisations, such as the United Nations and the Australian Federal Police. The central persona, Ali Al Jenabi, describes these organisations as complicating the refugee problem and not seeing human side of refugees. I will approach these two obvious themes in the book along with a focus on some of the narrative techniques that define the form and content of the story. Then I will conclude my reading by conducting a quick comparison between the book and other non-fiction books.

The title and beginning

the-people-smuggler-the-true-story-of-ali-al-jenabi-the-oskar-schindler-of-asiaIf the most important writing principles of telling a story to the public are ‘Simplifying the complex, knowing your subject, using plain English, taking one step at a time, making the central point clear, explaining the unfamiliar with the familiar, and making the message accessible’ (Newsom & Haynes, 2013 p180-120), then Robin de Crespigny succeeded brilliantly in attracting her audience. She not only applied those elements but also employed them throughout the main narrative factor; suspense. From this standpoint, the book is in reality a story of an ordinary person, however, the high level of technical skill the book demonstrates in presenting the life of Ali Al Jenabi, highlighted the profound humanitarian aspects of his situation: a unique life fluctuating between hope and pain.

The suspense begins from the first. The title, ‘The True Story of Ali Al Jenabi, The ‘Oscar Schindler of Asia’, The People Smuggler’, points the reader’s attention to the smuggling, in particular, namely the issue raised at the level of public opinion. This is addressed in relation to the government in Australia. We find the narrator, which is the smuggler himself, brings the reader back to his childhood, in Baghdad in the early seventies, ‘I am the oldest son, which meant my parents gave me everything. I was lavished with attention, but that was not what inspired my affection for my father. He was a man with an indomitable spirit (de Crespigny, 2012 p3). Thus the book begins. It is most likely a disappointment for any politician, when a writer so apparently mobilises the sympathy of the reader around the smuggler. It is the central narrative task of this work; converting marginal and forgotten and distant into exactly the opposite.

The Value of Courage

The principles of writing the above-mentioned subjects, is the nature of the long narrative text that takes advantage of the novel and cinematic technique. For instance, the first chapters may seem far removed from the basic principles of writing, such as ‘make the central points clear’ or ‘know your subject’, because the ‘smuggling’ subject does not appear yet, instead, the narrator is busy talking about his childhood and his family. Why should the reader read several pages about the courage of the Hassan Pilot (Ali’s father)? The answer is unfolding successively whenever events pass and the reader is spared the temporal and spatial phases with Ali Al Jenabi. On this basis, the adventure of Al Jenabi, his boldness and courage in people smuggling from Indonesia to Australia in particular, will be fully understood. The reader in turn has become informed enough about the history of the characters, the times and places.

Courage as a value hovers over the pages of the book. The importance of the first chapter and the talk about the father’s courage that the son, Ali inherited, established an indispensable grounding in understanding the course of the life of Ali Al Jenabi. In Indonesia, while Ali was waiting for a bus carrying 12 Iraqis who arrived in Sumatra by fishing boat, who he was supposed to smuggle to Australia, was suddenly thwarted when he received a phone call from one of those 12 informing him that the Indonesian police had arrested them and they were now on their way to Jakarta accompanied by the police. The intuition of Ali is present and quick. He gained information from the caller, and then upon the arrival of the bus to Jakarta, unexpectedly found his sense of courage: ‘… I say, ‘I know you are tired and scared but I’m going to ask you to challenge yourselves. Are there women and children?’

‘All men, except for one family.’

‘Okay, I need you to really have courage.’

‘What do we have to do?’

‘Can you all run?’

‘Yes, it’s easy to run’ (de Crespigny, 2012, p 203). In short, it is the desperate desire to cling to life with the exception of the family that others had already escaped from the hands of the police.

In this context, there are those who were inspired by the courage and the qualities of Ali Al Jenabi had greater consideration for him: ‘His bravery, endurance, commitment and sheer entrepreneurial skills are just what Australia needs, but in Indonesia they were also just what his fellow Iraqis fleeing the horrors of Saddam needed (Haines, 2012).’ The irony should be noted here, that this courage stems largely from a position of weakness. People fleeing from one country to another and another and so on to become refugees and settle eventually in Australia. During the horrors of this journey, courage and risk are the transit key. Maybe that is why, The People Smuggler has received a strong echo and sympathy with Ali Al Jenabi and the likes, who are looking for a life free from fear and danger.

Criticism of the decisions and official reactions

According to the nature of the political reaction from the Australian government especially, critical attack was not limited to Ali Al Jenabi alone, but there were many who stood on his side criticising the attitudes of successive Australian governments and the issue of refugees in general. Bruce Douglas Haigh, the Australian political commentator and former diplomat says, ‘Weak people make tough decisions, usually to protect themselves. Without fear of contradiction, none of the current political leadership has ever been faced with, or been in a position where terrified and pleading individuals sought assistance, protection and succour. They have never seen people released from prison beaten black and blue and reeking of fear. Yet they act as if they have. They crave respect; an impossibility, except from sycophants and rent seekers’ (Haigh, 2012).

In fact, attention should be paid to that part of the book’s title, involving value judgments and does not assess any consideration of the political, through Ali Al Jenabi’s description. Beginning on the cover page, as an exceptional figure, he is ‘Oskar Schindler of Asia’. In other words, this is an explicit declaration by the writer that she is standing on the side of the smuggler. The similarity between the two is about rescue, where ‘Oscar Schindler rose to the highest level of humanity, walked through the bloody mud of the Holocaust without soiling his soul, his compassion, his respect for human life and gave his Jews a second chance at life. He miraculously managed to do it…’ (Bülow, 2011-13).

When it comes to criticism, Ali Al Jenabi, the narrator analyses the political and human data, linking events by their context and sequence, comments on them from his point of view as a human being, subjected to arrest and imprisonment for long periods, as well as the refusal of access to permanent residency. From this perspective she spares no effort in directing sharp criticism at those factors that led to his fate. There is more than one such incident that occurs during the course of the events of Al Jenabi’s story, he mentions and scrutinizes them, such as the invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s fall, the bombing of the Twin Towers (World Trade Centre in New York. ‘It seems that the Australian Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, who was in America at the time of this disaster, is using it to further demonise asylum seekers. He appears to be trying to persuade his public, that terrorist are disguising themselves as refugees and being brought in on boats by people smugglers, and that this attack on New York somehow verifies his fear’ (de Crespigny, 2012, p 271).

For Ali, ‘It is unclear why Australians are so strangely unconcerned about asylum seekers arriving by airplane; maybe because there’re no pictures in the paper or on the TV. But they are so afraid of the two percent who come by boat that they lock them up like criminals’ (de Crespigny, 2012). This is certainly the viewpoint of a people smuggler, but at the same time we never cannot ignore that it is a point of view of a human running away because they fear death and are in search of a safe haven to live with his family. Nor can we turn a blind eye that for him the smuggling of people was not the result of planning, as it was purely compelling because of the difficult circumstances he faced.

From his miserable position, Ali Al Jenabi ceases his criticism of the Australian authorities, which were tracking his movements for so long through the Australian Federal Police and followed him with spies until they managed, in partnership with the Thai police, to arrest him at Bangkok airport. In a Thai prison, Ali Al Jenabi was surrounded by loneliness, obsessions and anxiety. He realised that he was no longer free. He lost his wife, his infant daughter, his family, his dreams, and became a prisoner in every sense of the word. More than that, his future was mysterious and unknown. By this time, the invasion of Iraq had taken its course. In that juncture, the prisoner was wondering and criticising the Australian Prime Minister, ‘If I got arrested because I did something wrong then John Howard should get caught too. He sent his troops into my country without UN approval. If I broke someone’s law it was for something good. I provided a path to safety for people who had few other options. Maybe Mr. Howard thought what he did was good too, but the majority of Australians and millions of people around the world didn’t think so. And who is going to take the wave of refugees the war in Iraq will create? Not Australia, according to him’ (de Crespigny, 2012, p 298).

The language

The language is smooth, intense, and chunky with emotion, carrying the climate’s features in which the events revolve according to its time and place. The rhythm of language supports the psychological conditions of the narrator, speeds up or slows down as the context requires, once locked into a lot of details, and once again shortens events and moves to others.

In the chapter titled ‘Asylum’, Ali lives devastatingly waiting. Waiting for the court’s decision to approve his asylum but also he is threatened with deportation to Iraq. Time goes slowly without any reassuring news. He cannot leave, and although he was in prison and is supposed to now be in a better place, the wait fills his time with concern. He was trying to make fun of the brunt of waiting, one way or another, but there is no hope on the horizon. ‘Every time the loudspeaker begins to blast a name it goes through my body like a bullet… Two more months slip by and still nothing happens… but to no avail’ (de Crespigny, R. 2012, p 325). ‘They don’t say anything, but I see the sorrow in their eyes… I lie awake at night asking myself, Where is the end of this?’ (de Crespigny, 2012, p 326). ‘This is more terrible than jail’ (de Crespigny, 2012, p 327). ‘The months go by… There is nothing to fight against and the boredom is insufferable; they kill you not by torture or execution, but by hopelessness and despair’ (de Crespigny, 2012, p 328).

The rhythm of the waiting is in line with the events, and circumstances experienced by Ali. The reader in turn waits for that decision. Psychologically and mentally the reader also becomes in waiting, but the irony is that the narrative employs language in his favour. The atmosphere is dominated by boredom. In return, the language and other elements of writing are accomplishing that through suspense. The reader wants to complete the chapter to know what will result from that long, waiting without end.

The first person

This book is certainly a story of an everyday man looking for a safe place for life, but it also serves as a document of conviction against a political decision, which denied the human right to live in peace and they want to expel him, claiming that he is a people smuggler facing serious acts.

For the purpose of promoting the right of Ali Al Jenabi in obtaining permanent residence with his family in Australia, the book lists the details of the smuggling operations, a collection of people, buying ships, hiring captains, the distribution of bribes to the Indonesian’s police and marines, since its early stages in Indonesia or Malaysia, until the arrival of ships to Australia. In order to achieve the maximum feasibility of the narrative, the writer used the first person where Ali Al Jenabi himself does the narrative. He comes and goes, remembering and thinking of his unhappy present and dreaming of the future and its worth of a human life.

The use of the first person grants the narrator a stronger presence. Perhaps the writer realises that using the third person will restrict her, as a narrator, and expose her to criticism. In this case, the narrative will preclude her from commenting on the events freely, and critics may accuse her of not being neutral. The importance of the first person in particular lies, in the criticism, commenting and adopting attitudes. Page after page, the reader approaches Ali Al Jenabi, and sees him clearly. Thus, the narrative creates a fascinating, intimate atmosphere where the reader triumphs for this man and his ilk, and in turn criticises governments and institutions that contribute to the separation of refugee families, making their lives vulnerable due to policies, routine and painful waiting. Ali Al Jenabi says, ‘Millions of people drift into shambolic UN camps all over the world, and only about two percent are ever settled. For some it takes a few years, for others decades, with many eventually giving up on the UN and finding a smuggler to take them on a boat’ (de Crespigny, 2012, p 312).

This book can be considered a novel; it discloses its content through the remarkable narrative techniques, as accurate descriptions of places and personalities and emotions, suspense, flashbacks, imagination, the multiplicity of characters and events, and the dependence of a central event linking the chapters of the book.

Other narrative writing techniques, such as monologue, dialogue, cutting and completing the events, keep the reader connected with reading and positive participation by information provided by the narrator who through which paints a large, clear picture. It is a breathtaking genuine novel and does not shy from surprising the reader but, contrary to fiction, the use of the first person has enabled it to employ criticism positively in its creative framework. It is a struggler’s novel, depicting courage, despair, hope, anger and love because it is a real person’s story, the rigors of circumstances that made him a people smuggler, and undoubtedly he embodies the tragedy of his people. Ali Al Jenabi, the narrator, finally sums up the whole matter, ‘If you want to stop people smugglers you have to do something about what causes people to flee their own countries in the first place’ (de Crespigny, 2012, p 350).

Although this story is true, it falls under non-fiction, the first person is used in its structure in a creative way just as it is for fiction. ‘In particular, first person fiction, in which the narrator self-narrates about his or her own experiences and perceptions, is thought to invite an especially close relationship between reader and narrative voice’ (Keen, 2006). This literally applies to the story of The People Smuggler. Though the narrative constantly surprises the reader, and to a remarkable extent benefits from the cinematic techniques, the writer succeeds in delivering the voice of Ali Al Jenabi deeply and captivating his intimacy. In fact, from the first pages the relationship between the narrator and the reader becomes strong. Credit for this goes primarily due to the first person.

Robin De Crespigny is aware of the vital role of the first person. She knows exactly its strength and flowing presence in the story of Ali Al Jenabi. Likewise she announces her high appreciation for Ali Al Jenabi. In the ‘Author’s Note’ says Crespigny, ‘This is a story not so much about people smuggling, as about a man who happened to become one’ (de Crespigny, 2012, p ix). After several lines she adds, ‘I made the decision to write this book in the first person to enable the reader to experience Ali’s life at first hand by being placed in his shoes. Until Ali reached Australia he spoke Arabic, Kurdish, Farsi and Indonesian, but very little English. So the voice is essentially a construct of him and me, in the English language as he might have used it. As all the events are through his eyes, the view of those events reflect Ali’s recollections’ (de Crespigny, 2012).


Talk about employing fiction techniques in this true story and mastering it in terms of outstanding novels, brings me to remembering one of the most important books in this regard. It is The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. In 1955 a Colombian navy ship sailed from Alabama towards Colombia. On board were eight sailors, but it also was loaded with smuggled goods that exceeded its absorption’s capacity, which caused its sinking and the drowning of its sailors, but one of them miraculously survived after cutting the Caribbean into a raft, for a period of 10 days. He withstood hunger, thirst and the heat of the sun, and was about to be devoured by whales.

In 2008 Robin De Crespigny had begun working on her book. In this context she says: ‘Thus began an expedition of more than three years working intensively with Ali… We met every few weeks… I recorded all our conversations, then spent long hours meticulously transcribing them….’ (de Crespigny, 2012, p viii). Whereas Marquez had spent 120 hours with the only sailor who survived from the sinking. Under the title ‘The Story of this Story’ says Marquez, ‘His name was Luis Alejandro Velasco. This book is a journalistic reconstruction of what he told me, as it was published one month after the disaster in Bogota daily El Espectador… In twenty daily sessions, each lasting six hours, during which I took notes and sprang trick questions on him to expose contradictions, we put together an accurate and concise account of his ten days at sea. It was so detailed and so exciting that my only concern was finding readers who would believe it. Not solely for that reason but also because it seemed fitting, we agreed that the story would be written in the first person and signed by him’ (Garcia Marquez, 1986).

Conducting a quick comparison between the two books delivered the following results:

  1. Both are true stories.
  2. Their backgrounds sparked controversy on the political and social level and drove public opinion.
  3. Both criticised, condemned and exposed one way or another, government practices in relation to the rationale, reasons and results.
  4. Both list the suffering of ordinary persons faced with difficulties and dangers in order to survive.
  5. Both are listed by the first person, where The People Smuggler, Ali Al Jenabi, tells his story, and Luis Alejandro Velasco also lists his story by himself. Needless to say, the writing process and technics are subject to the creativity of both Marquez and Crespigny.

At the same time, the comparison reveals, of course, many differences between the two workers. For instance, The People Smuggler lists not only the people smuggling but also details the life of Ali Al Jenabi, from his upbringing in Iraq until his arrival in Australia. In contrast, The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor, focuses moment by moment on the ten days that Luis Alejandro Velasco spent facing death in the midst of the horrors of the sea, whales, and thirst, and hunger, factors of horrific nature and despair.

The present sentence

It should be noted that Crespigny also used verbs in a manner with no lesser skill than with her dealing with other writing techniques. In the first chapters Ali often uses past verbs when retelling about his childhood and Iraq at that time: ‘When I was a little older my four brothers and I would wait in the afternoon for my father’s return from his shop….’ (de Crespigny, 2012, p 4), ‘… Saddam invaded Kuwait. When the Americans drove him out, offering the Shiites support if we rose up against them, we believed them. But as soon as the uprising started, the US left us to our fate, and the full weight of Saddam’s army was turned on us’ (de Crespigny, 2012, p 23). This is understandable on the basis that it all happened in the past. Even if the present tense was used here, it is accidental, especially phrases like ‘that night’, ‘after’, ‘next’ remind the reader that the events are in the past yet its importance makes it happen now, ‘That nights are the worst. Any sound or voice I hear outside ramps up my anxiety’ (de Crespigny, 2012, p 93), ‘That night I lie in bed listening to them sleeping, and pray that something will happen before the morning to cancel my trip’ (de Crespigny, 2012, p 146).

Whenever the reader continued reading, they discovered that the narrator uses present tense more than past tense, perhaps because he became confident that he had already attracted the reader’s attention. The formula of the present tense also enhances the narrative’s building, as well as opening the eyes of the reader and putting him in the heart of the event. ‘Even when writing about the past, writers may place scenes in [the] present tense, giving the reader the feeling of being an eyewitness to the action’ (Caulley, 2008).

The book is divided into three parts according to the countries (Iraq, Indonesia, and Australia) and years (1970-2012). Beginning the second part sees the present tense dominate the prose, it is time to Ali to turn from a person looking for a people smuggler to a person smuggler himself. The past is over, and this is the present, the people smuggling, as the book’s title and its central issue.



In this essay I analysed the principles and elements of writing used in The People Smuggler, across two key points that are the narrative and issues raised. The narrative and socio-political elements in the book work together.

There is no doubt that the narrative tells the story of an ordinary person struggling to find a decent life for himself and his family, but this struggle is closely related to social and political conditions that the narrator does not hesitate to explore, analyse, criticise and condemn clearly and boldly. In order to deepen my view, I have made comparison between this book and a book that has won worldwide attention for decades.



Bülow, L. (2011-13) Oscar Schindler, His List of Life, (accessed 7 April 2015).

Caulley, D. N. (2008), ‘Making Qualitative Research Reports Less Boring, The Techniques of Writing Creative Nonfiction’. (accessed 6 April 2015).

de Crespigny, R. (2012) The true story of Ali Al Jenabi, The ‘Oskar Schindler of Asia’, The People Smuggler. Penguin Books, Australia.

Garcia Marquez, G. (1986) The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor, translated by Randolph Hogan. (accessed 8 April 2015).

Haigh, B. (2012) ABC, The Drum Home, ‘People Smuggler or the Schindler of Asia?’ (accessed 7 April 2015).

Haines, J. (2012) Ozleft, An Independent Voice on the Left, The People Smuggler: A review, (accessed 7 April 2015).

Keen, S. A. (2006) Theory of Narrative Empathy, Muse Scholarly Journal Online. Volume 14, Number 3, October 2006. (accessed 8 April 2015).

Newsom, D., Haynes. J. (2013) Public Relations Writing, Form & Style. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.


J.M. Coetzee’s Life and its Influence on his Writing

Salim Al Tuwaiya

If the literary works of a writer are a portrait of his life, the works of the novelist J.M. Coetzee capture a living mirror image. From this life he derives the essence of his ideas and questions related to the universe, existence and humans. The purpose of this paper is not so much to investigate how much Coetzee and his characters matched, but to try to read his influences and the light they bring to his works.

Photo: Jerry Bauer
Photo: Jerry Bauer,59205.php

During concurrent periods Coetzee studied English and Mathematics at the University of Cape Town. In 1960 and 1961 he graduated with honours in both majors. After that he spent three years in Britain (1962- 1965) working as a computer programmer. Meanwhile, he completed research on the English novelist Ford Madox Ford. In 1968, at the age of twenty-eight, he received a PhD in English, Linguistics and Germanic languages at the graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin. His in-depth, ongoing academic and practical experience did not prevent him from pursuing writing.

J.M. Coetzee worked very hard to break into the world of literature. He was thirty-four years old when he published his first book in 1974. In 1977 he published his second novel In the Heart of the Country. Quickly he gained attention in his own country, South Africa, and also abroad. The novel was published in Britain and the U.S.A.

Coetzee was born in Cape Town, South Africa, on 9 February 1940. His father was a lawyer and his mother a primary school teacher. In 1963 he married Philippa Jubber and fathered her two sons, Nicholas in 1966 and Gisela in 1968. In 1980 Coetzee divorced his wife. She died in 1991, two years after Nicholas passed away in an accident at twenty-three.

Coetzee completed his primary, secondary and university education in Cape Town. He traveled to Britain and America to pursue his higher education and became a professor occupying several positions from the beginning of 1968 until now. He lives with his partner Dorothy Driver in the Australian city of Adelaide, which he migrated to in 2002. He holds an honorary position at its university. In 2006 he obtained Australian citizenship. He is a writer and an intellectual who is engaged with local and global issues. In 1972 he returned to South Africa after the United States refused to grant him permanent residence because of his involvement in the anti-Vietnam War activities, even though he was an assistant professor of English at New York University in Buffalo.

Coetzee has published 16 novels, including Dusklands (1974), In the Heart of the Country (1977), Life and Times of Michael K (1983), Age of Iron (1990), Disgrace (1999), Elizabeth Costello (2003), Slow Man (2005), The Childhood of Jesus (2013), and other works ranging between biography, literary criticism and essays.Disegrace

In 1984, his novel Life and Times of Michael K won the British Booker Prize. Later in 1999 he won the Booker Prize again for his novel Disgrace, which received international acclaim. He was the first writer to win the Booker Prize twice. After a year of living in Australia, Coetzee won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.

In recognition of the importance of his works, the Harry Ransom Centre at the University of Texas library bought Coetzee’s archive for $ US 1.5 million in 2011. The archive includes 155 boxes of articles and manuscripts, notes, letters and lectures by Coetzee since 1965. The archive also contains nine drafts of the novel The Life and Times of Michael K, which revolves around a simple gardener and his wife living in Cape Town when violent events break out.

What gives Coetzee’s novels momentum and suspense? He usually tends to address events in short sentences, unlike the long sentences full of details in the novels of Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Perhaps one of the most important features of Coetzee’s writing lies in short sentences that build a house, so to speak, brick by brick. He digs for deep meaning in a leisurely fashion. His style is very difficult to describe. Probably for this reason, some critics say that his novels lack excitement and thrills even though the opposite is true. The simple sentences disguise the fact that he is far from direct, and the reader has to work to find clarity.

Places, life experiences and ideas are an integral part of the writer’s career. Through one form or another the writer makes use of raw materials in the literary work he creates for his characters, and gives free rein to them to go toward their unexpected destinies. Coetzee’s life is eventful privately and publicly. Being a South African has shaped very rich material for his themes and ideas. He saw and lived the history of the apartheid closely. His novel Disgrace, for example, addresses and condemns this issue without falling into the trap of didacticism. He has mastered the narrative construction by economising his writing style, which supports the flow of events and paints characters spontaneously in complex human situations. In this novel, David Lurie, the professor of Modern Languages, loses his job at the university after seducing and molesting one of his students. He then leaves the city and goes to visit his daughter living in the countryside. While he is there, three Africans attack his daughter’s house, assault him, rape his daughter and set the house on fire. Contrary to what he expects, his daughter refuses to demand punishment of the aggressors, but rather she seeks to cut her relationship with her father and continues to live as if nothing has happened!

Coetzee wrote Disgrace in 1994, in the wake of the collapse of the apartheid rule in South Africa. There are those who interpret the daughter’s acceptance of what has happened to her as an acknowledgment of the change of the situation in South Africa. Is the daughter’s rape objectively equivalent to her father’s violating the sanctity of education and attempting to seduce his pupil? Again, Coetzee’s novels seem vague and need more than one reading. Time has changed and this novel confirms that the situation in South Africa is no longer as it used to be. Racism is indirectly condemned as events develop.

There are not many characters in Disgrace, which is not a bad thing. Too many characters could have intruded on the novel’s sense of isolation Perhaps this is another restriction imposed by the reclusive nature of Coetzee himself. Of course no one has the right to judge the writer’s life and assume his creative work corresponds to his experiences. However, one cannot ignore the fact that there are always some personal traits incorporated in one’s writing. Coetzee is well known for his love of isolation. To avoid any confusion it must be said that the deep roots of a genuine writer are creatively manifested in his writing as the result of relentless digging into the depths of the inner self. Literature, isolation, introversion and distance are a set of factors representing attributes that cannot be ignored in many of Coetzee’s novels such as Disgrace, Slow Man, and Elizabeth Costello.elisabeth costello

In 1984 and 1999, the years when Coetzee won the British Booker Prize twice, he did not go to receive the two awards! He himself is as ambiguous as his novels’ characters. He is frequently described as an introvert, recluse, loner and unwilling to attend public events. These qualities do apply to most of his characters distinctively. Even at the level of literary events, Coetzee rarely mixes with communities of writers and does not seek to get closer to critics, but his works have ultimately stood on their own merits and become highly celebrated. He does not drink, smoke or eat meat and he maintains his fitness by bike riding every day in the city of Adelaide. One cannot overlook the fact that Paul Rayment, the solitary protagonist in Slow Man, lives in Adelaide, too.

The main event in this novel is a bicycle accident, which suddenly happens to Paul Rayment and leads to the amputation of his leg. In this story, Coetzee draws on his own experience as a cyclist to make the character of Paul Rayment more believable. The character of the cyclist is the essence and foundation of the novel. From that point on, Coetzee used his imagination to turn Paul Rayment into an independent character with his own distinctive traits. Paul Rayment left Coetzee and developed his own life.

The Czech writer Milan Kundera says: “The characters in my novel are my own unrealised possibilities… the novel is not the author’s confession; it is an investigation of human life in the trap the world has become.” Coetzee says: “Our lies reveal as much about us as our truths.” The relationship between the two quotes is strong, although it may be hard to realise that at first. In the history of world literature and poetry in particular, the element of lying is considered to involve a creative value. In this context Lying is associated with broad imagination deviating from rigid reality and the banality of daily life that does not necessarily represent objectivity, namely honesty or truth. The phrase is also open to another interpretation, in the sense that human souls tend to exaggerate and colour facts. So they wear masks to hide their reality, which results in the transformation and distortion of the human essence, which in turn leads to the ultimate existential puzzle: human’s constant search of truth through the creation of another reality. This philosophical and existential conflict is a prominent theme in the works of Coetzee.

Slow-ManTherefore, the secrecy of the characters’ behaviours is a dominant psychological component in some of Coetzee’s novels. Uncertainty, confusion and introversion are defensive mechanisms sought by characters to live their lives. Thus, we find that Paul Rayment in Slow Man is anti-social and does not allow his friends to get closer to him, especially after suffering a traumatic experience that changes his life and forces him to review his past. He is in an untold misery: emptiness, wilt and indifference. In short, he slowly dies.

Tracking down Coetzee’s characters draws the reader’s attention to how they intersect with his own life experiences. Meanwhile, it certainly sheds light on the unique ability of the writer to separate his characters from himself and give them freewill and their own human qualities. Coetzee is able to inspect the innermost thoughts of an unhappy solitary human who suffers from the meaninglessness and absurdity of life.

Coetzee’s works present literature as an indispensable component of his life. Regarding Milan Kundera’s statement above, it is noted that although Coetzee is a university professor, he does not lecture! But he makes Elizabeth Costello, his novel’s eponymous heroine, travel around the world, lecturing and lecturing nonsense to the point of nausea.

Elizabeth Costello is almost devoid of events and focuses on the internal conflict going on in the depths of its characters: a male novelest and Costello, a critic. It is about the conflict of the thoughts and the endless confusion that arises from contradictions and lack of faith in anything. This novel is a good example of the intersection of the life of the writer and his characters, because one of its main heroes is a novelist, whom Elizabeth Costello attacks and strongly criticizes for writing about human evil, tyranny and oppression.

Sometimes it is hard to separate Coetzee’s characters from his reality. His life and literature are a bright testimony of the rejection of tyranny, injustice and repressive regimes. His novels reveal human bewilderment, weakness, evil and contradictions and have enabled him to take a prominent place in literature and become one of the greatest novelists in the world.

Brisbane: The City of Nature, Monuments and Walking

Salim Al Tuwaiya

The source of picture:
The source of picture:

For someone like me, who comes from a country with a high temperature most of the year, it seems like there are only two seasons in Brisbane: scorching summer and dry, moderate winter. It is not Copenhagen with its snowy gloomy mood, nor London with its extremely cold weather. Perhaps not even any other Australian city is like Brisbane. It is a small city, but it has some of the qualities of a large one as it provides a good life for a student and plenty of recreational activities for weekends and short holidays. Brisbane is an ideal city to live in because of its mild, subtropical climate throughout the year and the many events and leisure facilities available. It is a mixture of natural beauty and modern life where you can find beaches, rivers, mountains and forests, as well as commercial complexes, galleries, museums and festivals.

Because it is further to the east than any other Australian city, Brisbane is the first Australian city to see the sunrise. It is no exaggeration to say that this is a poetic symbol of the city itself, linking it to energy, hope and optimism on the reception of a new day. The city’s climate throughout the year makes it a suitable destination for those who suffer from early nightfall in winter. There is no frost in winter and no intense heat in summer, although its strong sun may not appeal to others who come from cooler climes. Beware, summer in the city is sometimes certainly hot, and one cannot walk comfortably or avoid the hot sun while waiting for public transport. Strangely enough, the effect of the sun disappears in the shade, unlike the sun’s heat in other countries. Fortunately, Brisbane has an abundance of forests and trees, even within inner-city neighborhoods, and that relieves the heat a great deal. Summer storms also cool the air, washing the whole scene and relaxing the vision. The city becomes truly amazing after rain, when the smell of the earth is fresh, the colours of trees are vivid and the horizon is pure and clear.

Calmness, peacefulness and friendliness are distinguished features of Brisbane and its inhabitants. Wherever you go, people welcome you with a smile and willingly help you to find your way. Perhaps one of the most interesting nearby sites that one can go to is the City Botanic Gardens, which are located downtown close to the Brisbane River. Here you can enjoy the weather amid indescribably fascinating nature, rich in water, trees and birds. You can hardly tell that you are in the heart of the city when you are overwhelmed by such lavish nature. The surroundings bring tranquility and relieve visitors of their daily concerns. Pleasant views fill your eyes and make you feel grateful. The charming beauty captivates you and takes you away from the noise of the city and to the sounds of birds, the scent of fresh air and the sight of endless greenery. It may remind you of Lonely Beach on Thai Chang Island for there are three common characteristics between the two places: greenery, water and calm. The City Botanic Gardens are nature created amidst the urban. As for Brisbane itself, the reverse is also true: picture the whole city of Brisbane established in the middle of an enormous forest.

The City Botanic Gardens maintain wealthy historical attractions such as Jemmy Morrill and the Brolgas sculpture, and the Bamboo Grove, which was planted in memory of the bamboo collection, which stopped in 1937. You might see other attractive milestones in the park, including ornamental ponds and the Walter Hill Fountain. The latter was established in 1867 as a source of drinking water for the public. It passed through several historic stages before it ceased as a drinking water supply and then was converted into a fountain for the purpose of adornment. The other remaining milestones each have an interesting story rooted in the near and distant past.

The aesthetics of the City Botanic Gardens are not limited to a few landmarks. Everything in it highlights the creative, artistic spirit of both humans and nature. The forms of the interior walkways and perennial giant trees are both stunningly unique. Bicycles also can be ridden on some walkways. Moreover, those who are interested in jogging can find their way across high and low walkways. Everything is organized in a way that does not disturb the calm and serenity of the surroundings. Instead, it adds a meditative dimension to the scene.

On the other side of the City Botanic Gardens, there is a walkway, which extends along the river and another scene is created, crowded with boats, yachts, ships and houses built on the top of the cliffs overlooking the other bank of the river. Wherever you direct your gaze, you will find something that fills you with deep passion and love for life.

According to the official website of the Brisbane City Council, the city has more than 100 walkways. Among the most notable differences between Australian cities and other western cities are spaciousness and breadth. The majority of European cities are packed with people and buildings, while Brisbane’s population does not exceed 2.2 million despite the fact that it is the third largest Australian city, after Sydney and Melbourne. Furthermore, places in Brisbane diverge and their height above sea level differs, which in turn affects the hiking trails whether you are in the bush, hills, suburbs or the city. When it comes to walking, all of this provides multiple options. Whoever is interested in walking in company can join the walking groups in the area where he or she lives. These groups organize tours for both slow and rapid walking for periods ranging between half an hour and an hour. In addition, they organize walking with dogs, families and fitness exercises while people enjoy talking during the promenade. Members usually begin to walk in the early morning, often several times a week, and call their groups by names closely related to health or place.

The city has great surprises in store for lovers of long walks in the open air. Even when the CBD flourishes with movement and people, there are still plenty of options for walking in the heart of it. When leaving the City Botanic Gardens, hiking trails branch off between the CBD streets and the restaurants overlooking the river. The walkway expands to become separated from the City Botanic Gardens and leads you to a series of equally attractive fine restaurants. It can be difficult to choose one if you decide to dine. In fact, a variety of delicious international food is developing here with many irresistible dishes. Nothing is tastier than a cup of coffee or a glass of red wine with at least a few appetisers in order to instill the whole generous scene into your memory forever. There are cities one loves passionately, and Brisbane is one of them. The experience will satisfy you immediately and touch your skin, your senses and your soul. Nothing can equal the positive impact of the air, walking, water and greenery. In case you decide to leave, you will make your way again through those intersecting streets that lead to one another without interruption.

Wherever a walker steps, the city offers him or her a priceless visual gifts. Brisbane CBD is not without historical significance. The Albert St. church is an architectural masterpiece, which never fails to draw attention. Constructed in 1889, it is the most beautiful church in Brisbane. The red clay brick exterior attracts visitors, and it is no less impressive inside as well, which makes it a popular choice for marriage ceremonies. During World War II the church witnessed 16 marriages there in one day. The church overlooks the King George Square, a place where the walker can take a break. Here there is ceaseless movement as people of all ages come for a walk or watch the ongoing activities of the square throughout the year. Culture, art, festivals, sports, families’ events, food markets and countless activities are held here.

Close to the square and around it, there are many outstanding sights for one to explore. Brisbane’s high-rises are stationed in this region, but they are still not extreme in height. Some time in the past, I spent several years in cities, which were almost purely concrete and did not have the spirituality needed to ease the stress of their unreasonably high skyscrapers. I think it is such a shame to live in a city where you cannot see the horizon unless you raise your head, as if you were living in the bottom of a well! Fortunately, Brisbane includes only a small number of skyscrapers and so lacks the density of bigger cities.

However, modernity and nature are in harmony. In the midst of the high buildings and busy streets full of workers, shoppers and tourists, a walker captures his breath to sit on a bench in the Brisbane Arcade, Queens Gardens, City Hall or Anzac Square. There you can see shrines, statues, burners and memorials which commemorate Australians who took part in campaigns and were killed in several wars, such as World War I and II, the Vietnam War, Korea and New Guinea.

This is the tip of the iceberg. Patient lovers of walking will find more surprises waiting for them here and there, inside and outside the city. Crossing the Victoria Bridge is an opportunity you should not miss, especially as the scene of the Brisbane River from here seems panoramic and exceptional when you lay your sight on all four sides and on the vast horizon. Moreover, the reflection of the colours on the river during sunrise, sunset, and even at night is splendid especially when the lights of tall buildings are on. At this moment, a beautiful painting drawn by nature appears right before your eyes. It is creative and contemplative as well as a relief from the psychological pressure and physical stress. I must not forget the Brisbane Riverwalk, which was recently re-built after the floods that swept Brisbane in 2011. It is very close and dedicated to walking and cycling. For a distance of 870 meters, views of wharfs, Brisbane CBD and the boats that sail on the river are a great reward, but in order to fully enjoy the scene, you should avoid the midday sun because the Riverwalk, just like the bridges, is not covered.

Eventually, you feel deep satisfaction. Should you continue walking, looking and listening to the sounds of nature? The sun may be somewhat scorching, but it is the sun of Brisbane. You only need shade, a cool drink and sober thoughts. Last but not least, your desire is met by a cafe in Southbank. The time has come. You sip your drink, extend your eyes and see pedestrians, a section of the river, lush gardens and the girl playing harp who has just commenced a new tune.

Brisbane Writers’ Group

Story By Salim Al Tuwaiya

Edited by Nick Feldon

Writers Groups

Salim Al Tuwaiya


Are groups, federations, associations or links good for writers?

There are a lot of writers belonging to groups and others not; is there any difference between the two in terms of production, publishing and creating new ideas?

Bloomsbury Group
Bloomsbury Group

No doubt that the answer depends on the writer himself/herself. What is suitable for one writer might not be for another. After all, conditions and opinions of writer play a major role in his/her affiliation or non-affiliation to any group. Experiences in this sphere are varying from writer to writer so results are varying accordingly. Continue reading