If This Is a Man (Italian: Se questo è un uomo [se kˈkwesto ˌɛ un ˈwɔːmo]; United States title: Survival in Auschwitz) is a memoir by Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi, first published in 1947. It describes his arrest as a member of the Italian anti-fascist resistance during the Second World War, and his incarceration in the Auschwitz concentration camp (Monowitz) from February 1944 until the camp was liberated on 27 January 1945.

If This Is a Man is Primo Levi’s memoir of how he survived the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. A trained chemist, Levi approaches the recount in a very factual manner. This methodical nature reads something like an absurd Choose Your Own Adventure novel. Whether it be only being transported later in the war, having the right skills required for work in the laboratory or falling sick at the right time, as Primo states at the beginning, chance played a significant part in Levi’s survival.

One of the strange things about the text is the trick of language that makes you feel that you could actually imagine what it was actually like. It has me wanting to go back to Inga Clendinnen’s Reading the Holocaust.


It is man who kills, man who creates or suffers injustice; it is no longer man who, having lost all restraint, shares his bed with a corpse. Whoever waits for his neighbour to die in order to take his piece of bread is, albeit guiltless, further from the model of thinking man than the most primitive pigmy or the most vicious sadist.

Read Speaking in Tongues (Tom Tilley) by SupaduDevSupaduDev

From the outside, Tom Tilley’s childhood seemed ordinary. The first son of a pastor, he grew up in a beautiful country town where life revolved around football, his loving family and their Pentecostal faith. But behind church doors, a strictly enforced set of rules included a looming ultimatum: if Tom didn’t speak in tongues, he’d go to hell and be outcast from his close-knit, devout community.

The older Tom became, the more he questioned the teachings of the church, especially around speaking in tongues. And the more he heard about his parents’ adventurous lives before they found God, the more he wanted the freedom to make those ‘mistakes’ that the church forbade. Eventually, after years of suppressing his doubts in silence, Tom spoke up. Having the courage to do so came at a huge personal cost, leading to a decision that would take his family to breaking point. What happened next is surprising, and Tom’s journey to independence will inspire readers to ask what’s true in their own lives and who they really are.

Told with empathy and searing honesty, Speaking in Tongues is a powerful coming-of-age story about questioning the life created for you and building your true self, one recycled brick at a time.

This is one of those times when you know a name, only to realise that there is a whole backstory that you are unaware of. In Speaking with Tongues, Tilley recounts his experience in the Revival Centres International and his subsequent life afterwards following his passions by going into media.

What I found interesting is the discussion of connection and community throughout. Although his church connections seem to shrivel up instantly when he was asked to leave the church, his connection to Mudgee is something that seems to stay constant throughout. This is as much to do with place as it is to the people he grew up with.

Overall, what I enjoyed the most about Tilley’s memoir is how honest it is throughout.

Bridget Delaney provides a useful summary of the book in her piece for The Guardian, while Tilley also spoke about the book with Sarah Kanowski on ABC’s Conversations podcast.

Read Flesh Wounds

Flesh Wounds My Books Flesh Wounds Publisher: HarperCollins Fancy a game of Who’s Got the Weirdest Parents? Sit back as Richard Glover describes his mother’s Tolkein-inspired nudist colony, her invented past as a British aristocrat and her insistence that Richard was Australia’s first child bo…

Flesh Wounds is Richard Glover’s memoir of the weirdest family. This covers his immaculate conception, his alcoholic father, his mother’s false past and his Tolkien loving step-father. Although weird, I think that the success of these stories are in the humorous manner in which they are conveyed. I like how Mandy Sayer captures this.

In the hands of a lesser writer these scenes could have descended into caricature or, even worse, self-pity, but Glover maintains a tone so tragicomic that the effect is both poignant and wildly entertaining.

This tone reminded me in part of Tony Martin’s Lolly Scramble.

This was also another book I stumbled upon via the ABC Listen app.

Read Alice Pung’s Books

This story does not begin on a boat. Nor does it contain any wild swans or falling leaves.

In a wonderland called Footscray, a girl named Alice and her Chinese-Cambodian family pursue the Australian Dream – Asian style. Armed with an ocker accent, Alice dives head- first into schooling, romance and the getting of wisdom. Her mother becomes an Aussie battler – an outworker, that is. Her father embraces the miracle of franchising and opens an electrical-appliance store. And every day her grandmother blesses Father Government for giving old people money.

Unpolished Gem is a book rich in comedy, a loving and irreverent portrait of a family, its everyday struggles and bittersweet triumphs. With it, Australian writing gains an unforgettable new voice.

I came upon Alice Pung’s book Unpolished Gem via the ABC Listen app. I was interested in Pung’s work after hearing her episode of the Earshot podcast, Greetings from Footscray.

Although there are books, such as First They Killed My Father, which address life in Cambodia under Pol Pot, Pung’s book shares of life after Cambodia. It provides great insight into the clash of cultures and the challenges faced by refugees. What I enjoyed most was honest self-deprecating humour which carried throughout.

Replied to Writing Myself Into Existence | Dr. Ian O’Byrne (Dr. Ian O’Byrne | Literacy, technology, and education)

In her book, The Art of Memoir, Karr shares “an incomplete checklist to stave off dread” as a way that she approaches the process. From this, I culled the following guidance.

  • Find your voice – Write what you know. Be yourself. This is a challenge and one that I struggle with up to this day. Hence the point of this post, even with the amount that I’ve already written.
  • Inner conflict drives the story – We often struggle with two opposing motivations in our heads. These may be based on beliefs, needs, or the viewpoints of others. Try to unpack that in your writing.
  • Use the tools of the trade – Show as opposed to telling as you fill your writing with sensory language, metaphors, images, and details. From a blogging perspective, embed multimodal content (links, images, figures, GIFs, video).
  • Go meta – Meta means about the thing itself. Seeing the situation from a higher perspective instead of from within the situation, like being self-aware. Consider the impact of your actions and writing, as opposed to simply acting it out.
  • Tell all parts of the story – Find the beginning, middle, and end of your story. Readers expect to find each of these pieces as they engage and connect. From a blogging perspective, this will mean that you may need to chunk content.
  • Revise, revise, revise – The first draft is almost always crap. Commit yourself to constantly improving your writing to make every word count.
  • Strive for honesty, not truth – Don’t lie to your audience. Don’t lie to yourself. Dishonesty and performative actions will stick out for all to see. If you have trauma, neglect, or sorrow to contend with, be a human and reckon with it.
Ian, I really enjoyed this reflection. I really enjoy writing my short reflections associated with my newsletter, however I usually struggle with the balance of what to share. I particularly like Mary Karr’s message to ‘strive for honesty’:

Strive for honesty, not truth – Don’t lie to your audience. Don’t lie to yourself. Dishonesty and performative actions will stick out for all to see. If you have trauma, neglect, or sorrow to contend with, be a human and reckon with it.

I have also been thinking about identity and memoir while digging into the work of Beau Miles.

Bookmarked Mary Trump and the most shocking family secrets (BBC)

From Capote to Houellebecq, BD Hyman to Margaret Salinger, these are people who wrote not just their own stories but other people’s stories, sacrificing their family lives for a writer’s pleasure in getting published. Yet it doesn’t seem, in most cases, to have made them happy. Did they get what they wanted? To borrow the saying of St Teresa from which Truman Capote took the title of his scandalous work, more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.

On the back of Mary Trump’s tell-all memoir about her family, including Donald, John Self explores a number of other past exposes involving JD Salinger, Bette Davis, Michel Houellebecq, Truman Capote. AS Byatt and Margaret Drabble