Down Under author produces a cli-fi novel

By Dan Bloom

Dan Bloom

Dan Bloom

CHIAYI CITY, Taiwan –If there’s one continent on Earth where the twin impacts of global warming and climate change are very much on the minds of the people who live there, it’s Australia. It’s doesn’t help that the Australian government is lagging behind on legislating progressive climate change policies, but there’s something about living on a massive island nation so much of which is desert which makes some novelists there think about climate change, too.

In recent years, a small army of novelists Down Under have taken up the topic in a variety of ways, including Jewish-Australian author Mireille Juchau, author of a cli-fi novel titled The World Without Us published in the U.S. this month.

Juchau’s novel, her third, was bought by Bloomsbury in a world rights deal and published in 2015 in Australia and the UK. It
won The Victorian Premier’s Literary Award in Australia in 2016.

Juchau’s  grandmother was born and grew up in a Jewish family in pre-war Germany. In 1939 she fled Berlin and traveled, via Britain, to Australia where she and her husband were accepted as refugees. Juchau shared with me an essay she wrote about her grandmother, noting in one anecdote: “At the back of her pocket ‘Collins German Dictionary,’ in the looping Suetterlin script once taught in German, my grandmother has written: ‘This dictionary bought with the last money exchanged into English currency and bought on departure from Europe. Liverpool 1939.’ ‘”

”The tattered relic with its broken spine and fraying, Sellotaped edges was one of the few possessions she carried when she left Europe as a German Jewish refugee. It’s become symbolic of two things about my grandmother: her determination to be identified as Australian — never speaking German outside the home even once it was safe to be German, and Jewish — and the sustaining role that writing played in her life,” Juchau added.

A deep thinker and literary artist in her mid-40s who is concerned about climate change much more than most people, Juchau says that one power that novels have is that they can ”address a hunger we might not realize we possess.”

I was curious to know if there was any link between Juchau’s Jewishness and her interest in literature and climate issues.

“I don’t know that there is an overt link between my family history and my interest in how we psychologically adjust to our denatured environments,” Juchau told San Diego Jewish World. “But my writing often circles around aftermath and repression — both common preoccupations for families who’ve experienced displacement, loss and exile. In The World Without Us I was interested in how the weather outside impacts the weather inside, how we come to terms with different kinds of loss — loss of a child, loss of once familiar environments and the loss of the idea of wilderness itself as an untouched, pristine place.”

“One of the novel’s characters, Stefan, is German and Jewish. He’s a beekeeper and deeply involved in the cycles of nature. At one point he quotes from the Midrash: ‘And everything that I created, I created for you. Be careful not to spoil or destroy my world – if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it.’ Perhaps anyone intimately connected to Holocaust history already knows what it is to confront and repair a destroyed world. Stefan sounds very sober (though he’s also a drinker) but he is also skeptical of the exulted relationship his hippie neighbours have to the land. He and his wife have a complicated history in a mountain commune and both are dealing with the legacy of that failed utopia, while they also seek solace in the rituals of beekeeping.”

“I like something the writer Sloane Crossley said about the way women write dystopian novels (although I don’t see my novel as fitting this category — it’s set in a more immediate future). Crossley says women writers are more interested in psychological than physical survival, they’re more interested in ‘memory than dismemberment.'”

The World Without Us was well-reviewed in the Australian and British press. In the Guardian newspaper in London, literary critic Alberto Manguel called it “an extraordinarily vivid novel, elegant, convincing, intelligent and profoundly moving.”

With publication of the novel in America this month, reviews should start appearing in the U.S. media soon, too. Australia may be far, far away from American shores, but the literary culture that unites the two countries is rock solid.

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Bloom, based in Taiwan, is a freelance writer and an inveterate websurfer.  He may be contacted via [email protected]. Comments intended for publication in the space below MUST be accompanied by the letter writer’s first and last name and by his/ her city and state of residence (city and country for those outside the United States.)

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