Venero Armanno, UQP, $29.95
Armanno does good volcano. This is the second of his novels to have Mount Etna dominate. Here the narrative features a boy sold into Sicilian slavery. He labours in the sulphur mines, with death an approaching certainty. But he is not what he seems and escapes to a new identity. The novel strays into the speculative fiction genre but seems strongest when grounded at Etna.
THE SOURCE OF THE SOUND
Patrick Holland, Hunter, $19.95
This book won the international Scott Prize for debut short fiction. Now in its first Australian edition, it showcases the varied abilities of Holland, a Queensland writer. The settings range from mediaeval monasteries to Bosnia and China. They are linked by music, the silences and resonances of the composer Arvo Part. Birds migrate huge distances; a man mourns a lost friend; Homer meets the prophet Isaiah. The stories do not waste words. Stark and striking; into the mystic.
CONVICTS: NEW ZEALAND'S HIDDEN CRIMINAL PAST
Matthew Wright, Penguin, $29.95
New Zealanders have long been proud of their ancestry, untainted by the convict stain. They should think again. Given the short distance, several thousand felons, ex or not, simply hopped over the ditch. They found jobs in sealing, or trading with the canny Maori. Some even became Pakeha-Maori. The Treaty of Waitangi would obscure these early settlers and few of their stories survived. Fascinating.
BOOK THAT CHANGED ME: Ross Fitzgerald
Jack London was a British socialist who suffered dreadfully from booze. After reading his harrowing descriptions of alcohol's effects, I became aware I had a problem with it.
Ross Fitzgerald is the emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University. His most recent book is Fools' Paradise: Life in an Altered State (Australian Scholarly Publishing, $24.95).