The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith by Peter Carey (Australian)

If you are looking for creative story telling coupled with a political message and a strange and dark energy, then The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith is for you.

The book is set in the fictional country of Efica, and island country greatly under the thumb of Voorstand, a neighbouring country with significant cultural and technological interest in and influence over it's small neighbour.

The story itself is a first person narrative from the perspective of Tristan Smith, a young man who was born significantly deformed. He barely stands about 3 foot tall, has no lips and cannot walk because of his deformed limbs. He is born to Felicity Smith, an actor and Efican political activist who runs her own left-wing and subversive theatre company. Tristan is raised by his mother and three father figures and the story recounts his early years growing up amoungst the strange theatre company which is mother leads.

There are two halves to the story. The first half covers Tristan's childhood in Efica, growing up as a deformed young child, challenging himself and his family with his difficult behaviour and attempting to become an actor despite his deformities. He particularly causes difficulties for his caring but sometimes self involved mother who denies him his dream of becoming an actor by moving him away from his home at the theatre and eventually running for government. The second half of the book covers Tristan's travel into Voorstand as an illegal immigrant, despite having followed in his mothers footsteps and become an anti-Voorstand campaigner.

The alternative reality and history that Carey has created in this book are extremely detailed and complex.  

He has created two unique cultures (Efica and Voorstand), complete with their own languages, customs, religions and social and political systems. His account of these countries and their cultures comes complete with footnotes which the narrator (Tristan) uses to make sure that we (the reader) fully understand what he is talking about.

The book is undoubtedly a political comment on imperialism and it's effects on minority cultures. 

Carey illustrates the effect of the clash of cultures between Efica and Voorstand extremely accurately. You can't but give consideration to your own culture's values and customs, and wonder to what extent they have been eclipsed by international influences, or eclipsed those of other countries. I was reminded vaguely of what happened to the indigenous Australian's when the British invaded.A more contemporary example came to mind though. I was reminded of the influence that America has over Australia and the effect that it has on our language and behaviours (the increasing celebration of Halloween in Australia being one such adoption of American custom that comes to mind). The book questioned people's complacency in the face of cultural destruction, and I admired Carey for tackling these issues head on in such a creative way. The book covered many other themes as well; family, love, honour and duty, but it was this particular political theme that was the most prominent.

As interesting and creative as the background to the story was, ultimately this book fell a little flat for me.

Tristan Smith is your ultimate anti-hero. I just couldn't like him. He is an ugly, deformed, horrible, selfish and defiant character full of his own self importance and who creates as much of his own problems as the problems he creates for others. He repulsed me, which limited my enjoyment of the story.

Furthermore, the book is full of incident, most of which revolves around Tristan. This does at times seem a little forced, but if you take it as it comes then you can overcome this problem and just go along for the ride.

My final complaint is this; Carey creates this real sense of anticipation throughout the book, which was never realised. With a title like The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, you can't help but expect that something really significant is going to happen. Whilst the book is full of incident, it still felt as if you waiting for it to start somehow, and it never quite gets there.

Carey is one of Australia's most well known and talented writers.

I do plan to read more of his works for this reason: his writing is amazing. This book is so well written that it is breath taking (despite my misgivings about the actual story) and I feel like a better reader for having finished this book.


What kind of read is this?
A challenging read, with a strange energy and excellent writing.

Do I recommend this book?
I want to, but I honestly couldn't. Not unless you really want to read something very different, for which I would admite you if you did.

Do I recommend that you buy this book?
No, if the Carey mood takes you, then I think that you could borrow this one from the library without any regrets.

Star Rating

4.5 / 8
Good writing and worth reading if you get the opportunity, but there is no need to prioritise it. 

Have you read this book? I would be interested in reading your review if you have. What do you think of books with a political message? Is that ok so long as the story carries it through effectively? How important do you think it is for fiction to have something important to say about political and social issues?

Weekly Wrap Up


Not much of a week here at Page Turners after my surgery last week. This recovery is going a lot slower than last time, but I am slowly getting back into reading and today has been the first day I have been able to use the computer without lots of pain which I am very excited about. Please bear with me still though, I won't be visiting as many blogs as usual for which I apologise.

Make sure you check out my weekly friday meme BOOK BEGINNINGS ON FRIDAY.

A wonderful friend of mine offered to help me out while I was out of action by allowing me to publish one of her own reviews of Voices of Resistance by Sarah Husain. It sounds like a very interesting book, and not one that you might normally find reviewed on Page Turners so take some time to have a read of it if you can.

Who is my favourite new to me author this year? Good question. I can't choose one, so I am going to choose two:
Have a look at the reviews of their books if you get a chance :-)

I hope that next week my posting and reviews will increase so make sure you come back!


It is hosted at Crazy for Books. In the spirit of the Twitter Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and find new book-related blogs that we may be missing out on! This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books! It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs that they may not know existed!

Book Beginnings on Friday

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading. If you like, share with everyone why you do, or do not, like the sentence. (Thanks to Rose City Reader for inspiring this meme)

Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of Miguel Littin by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I have been able to read over the last few days, so long as I take it slowly, although using the computer is still very challenging. I borrowed this from the library. It appealed to me for two reasons. Firstly, it is written by one of my favourite authors, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He has an amazing writing style and I can't get enough of his works. Secondly, it is about a film director who was exiled from Chile during Pinochet's military dictatorship. Later, he re-enters Chile disguised as a Paraguayan businessman with the intent of filming a documentary about Pinochet's cruel regime. My family-in-law are from Chile and so although I wouldn't normally read non-fiction, this is an issue that I find interesting from a personal and a political perspective. The opening sentence is:
"Ladeco flight 115 from Asuncion, Paraguay, was about to land an hour late at Santiago's Pantahual airport."
Nothing particularly exciting there at all, I have to admit that it doesn't do much for me, but the rest of the book has been pretty good so far.

What about you? Leave a link to your BookBeginnings on Friday post in the Mr Linky below.

Lights, Camera, Blog Action!

This is a special feature dedicated to spreading the word about the other great blogs that are out there! I have found a lot of great blogs through such features and I want to be able to share some book blog joy too!

If anyone would like to participate email me at pageturnersbooks(at)

                                            *           *          *

Today I am featuring Mayowa from Pens with Cojones. I only discovered this blog very recently but already I am enjoying it a lot. The content is so well written and on a real variety of issues in the publishing and writers world. I highly recommend this blog to people not only after good book reviews, but quality discussion on other literary related issues.

Q: Tell us something about yourself:

A: I love Bacon. Besides that inescapable truth, I write literary fiction and I'm busy slacking away on novel number two. I am Nigerian although I live in the States now.

Q: What was your favourite book as a child or young adult, and why?

A: I loved Enid Blyton books as a kid, my friends and I devoured everything she wrote. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (there goes the gangsta reputation) were a close second. I am not sure why I loved these books, but when I look back now I realize there's something just a little bit twisted about all these Nigerian kids obsessed with the imaginary lives of kids in the West.

Q: Why do you love to read?

A: I've tried to remember the exact moment when I became "a reader" but even my earliest memories involve books (ask my folks what happened whenever I lost the book I was reading for a moment, a tsunami of tears I tell you). It's hard to say why I love reading, when I've always read. Maybe my love for reading mirrors my love for bacon; it's inexplicable and unending.

Q: How do you choose your books?

A: I get most of my recommendations from the blogosphere. There's something raw and instinctual about a bloggers reaction to a novel, something unsullied by the excessively highfalutin analysis you can find at the highest levels of literary criticism. I still read reviews in the NYT, Harpers, Granta and the rest, I just trust bloggers more. You and other great book bloggers get the credit for this one.

Q: If you had to narrow it down - who would be your 3 favourite authors and what would be your 3 favourite books?

A: This is always a tough question for me and if you asked me tomorrow, i'd give you a different answer. Today though, I'll say Vladimir Nabokov, Toni Morrison and Sidney Sheldon.

Q: When and why did you start your blog?

A: I started blogging at the end of March this year. I wrote my first novel in total isolation from the blogosphere and book world and when I emerged (bruised and joyful), I decided to find out everything I could about publishing and literary culture. It was rather shocking to discover how things really work in the industry and I felt (and still feel) that the status quo was unhealthy for authors and readers. The blog is an attempt to connect with other writers, readers and industry professionals to share what I've learned, learn what they have shared and to shake things up a bit.

Q: How did you choose your blog's name?

A: I was talking (read ranting) to a friend who worked in publishing for many years about authors getting shafted and I said something about authors needing cojones to tackle these issues. When I decided to start the blog, Pens With Cojones felt natural. Also it cracks me up because I have the brain of fourteen year old.

Q: What do you love about book blogging?

A: The people I meet for sure. I can't tell you how great it feels to walk the writing walk, the reading walk with other writers/bloggers/readers. There are endless articles out there proclaiming the death of letter writing between members of the literati. but I think these blog posts are our letters to each other and to the world, they are our confessions, our rants, our opinions laid bare for anyone to examine and be amazed.

Q: What tips do you have to offer to other book bloggers?

A: Don't stop trying to get better at it. Also make sure that you're not in an echo chamber, if you're a literary blogger, check out genre blogs, same goes the other way. There's a real danger to hanging out with the same folks all the time (see highfalutin tendencies in the academic/literary establishment).

                                                           *                  *               *

Some of my earliest memories involve books too. I remember every night one of my parents would read a chapter of this beautiful illustrated version of The Magical Faraway Tree by Enid Blighton. They are really lovely memories and I am sure are what motivated me to becmoe a reader.

Thank you for participating and I hope that people take the time to check out this blog.

Guest Review: Voices of Resistance: Muslim Women on War, Faith and Sexuality by Sarah Husain

The following guest review is written by a wonderful friend of mine who has given me permission to publish her review of Voices of Resistence: Muslim Women on War, Faith and Sexuality ed. by Sarah Husain.  

This is not the usual sort of book that you would find reviewed on Page Turners. It is non-fiction and it is political and I hope that you enjoy something different.

 *          *           *

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve read a blurb on the back of a book where a reviewer says the book is ‘life changing… a book everyone should read’. More often that not what they mean is, ‘this is a really great book’. However, Sarah Husain’s, Voices of Resistance really is one of those books that everyone should read.

In this collection of short essays, poetry, letters and art works, Muslim women make their voices heard – shouting their stories of resistance from ‘battle fields’ across the globe. These ‘battle fields’ include the home, the body and faith; schools, war zones and oneself; making the book both a exploration of the diversity of Muslim women’s experiences and identities and a powerful statement of defiance.

The Collection is introduced by Sarah Husain and structured into four chapters – (Un)naming Wars, Witnessing Acts, (Un)claiming Faiths/Unclaiming Nations, Reclaiming our Bodies/Reclaiming our Sexualities. While Husain’s introduction is at times a touch polemic, it puts the collection into context a passionate statement about why a collection of this nature is so necessary.

The opening chapter includes pieces from the occupation of Iraq and Palestine to racial profiling and personalised accounts of prejudice, opening up the notion that ‘war zones’ extend far beyond where bombs are dropped. The theme of this chapter was well conveyed in Dhikr, Afghanistan who have “no names and no faces”; the opening borders for capital and their violent protection from the movement of people. The author also raised the difficulties of being critical of her own communities at a time when they are under attack from the outside. which deals with contradictions of war and ‘modernity’ – the individuals who died on September 11 and the dead in

Among the poetry, art and personal stories is a more academic piece on the meanings of violence and terrorism, Violence, Revolution and Terrorism: A Legal and Historical Perspective. This unique piece provides a really useful framework to analyse the rest of the collection, drawing a distinction between violence as a means of terror and violence as a means of resisting oppression.

Chapter Three opens with a lengthy, personal correspondence between three Muslim women discussing faith, identity, culture, family, war and resistance – a piece that really draws the reader into the minds and hearts of the writers – and continues to explore the complexity of what faith means to different Muslim women across communities. The book concludes with powerful statements of women who claim their bodies and the right to define them as they wish, dealing with homosexuality, female circumcision, stereotypes of the ‘erotic’ Arab woman, and the power of sisterly solidarity.

The collection is perhaps most aptly illustrated by the image When Alone by Samira
Abbassy, depicting the many faces, overlapped and interwoven, individual, yet inextricably linked. This was what I gained most out of this book – an understanding of the diversity of Muslim women and their communities, and an incredible feeling of the strength of the voices and resistance.

Many collections are able to be picked up and put down between pieces. While each piece in Voices of Resistance is powerful in itself, they are even stronger as a collection. The reader feels as though the contributors are speaking to you personally. You live their experiences. Feel their emotions. Have an insight into their identities and struggles.

I write this review from the perspective of a white, straight, middle class feminist who has limited experience struggling in solidarity with Muslim women. It is with this background I say that Voices of Resistance should be read by all, or at least anyone who thinks Muslim women need a knight in shining armor to liberate them.

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Unfortunately as I said yesterday my eyes are in too much pain to read, the movement is what hurts. It's hard enough to type these posts on my phone.

I did finish Jurassic Park which was very exciting and I have been re-listening to Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone on audiobook. I listened to it so recently it's a little boring sadly. I had ordered The Prisoner of Azkaban on audiobook from the library but they tell me it's gone missing :-(

I hope everyone else is reading a great book at the moment!

Out of hospital at last

Just a quick update: I am out of hospital after my eye surgery but can't use the computer or read yet, still too painful in large doses. I have been accessing the Internet on my phone which is a lot easier for me at the moment. So I won't be doing any big posts because my phone isn't that advanced, but I will try and keep up my commenting over the next few days. Thanks for your patience, I am very thankful I have such wonderful followers!