Ramona Koval has been such a part of the literary firmament that her silence last year when the ABC did some “schedule changes” came as something of a shock.
But all is not lost. Kavol is back with us again and in the milieu she so loves – the written word.
By the Book is an excursion into her private world of reading. This is not so much Koval’s public response to an author but a considered personal account of how books have affected her at various stages of her life.
And because Koval was the daughter of Jewish-Polish Holocaust survivors, much of her reading has been skewered towards a European perspective. She introduces us to authors who we may not have encountered before, here in the sunny climes of the antipodes.
One particular writer she introduces us to is Joseph Roth. Born in 1894 in the Ukrainian city of Brody, he is renowned for his novel, Radetzky March as well as his journalism. Intensely interested in politics, Koval says Roth approached it from the sidelines and she describes his prescience when writing of the Third Reich, as “heartbreaking.”
Another writer of particular appeak to Kavol is the Jewish-American short story writer Grace Paley whose family arrived from the Ukraine in the early 20th century.
“Her voice, formed in a family that spoke Russian and Yiddish, immediately resonated with me, making me laugh and cry.” Paley’s other appeal to Koval is her “genius for containing a world within a sentence.”
Koval’s identity does not totally dictate her reading; many of her preferred authors have relevance simply because they reflect her interests.
A science graduate, Koval is a huge fan of Oliver Sacks whose medical writing embraces human perception, illness and the way we live with our illnesses.
Koval is enamoured of the oeuvre of the Antarctic explorers and the writings of Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton. While the writing of both men is moving and the dangers they encountered palpable, she rates Shackelton as the superior writer.
In all her comments on her favoured authors, the observation which resonated with this reviewer was that not only does art imitate life, but life imitates art.
We not only learn from reading, says Koval but “we make our lives through the stories we tell ourselves about the things that happen to us”.
In other words, the words make us, not we make the words. Now that’s something to ponder next time you cuddle up with a nice cup of tea and a good book.
– Dianne Dempsey