“All That I Am” wins Miles Franklin

June 21, 2012 by  
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Anna Funder’s book “All That I Am” has won the coveted Miles Franklin Literary Award…a tale revealing a different but still very dark side of Adolf Hitler.

Anna Funder     pic: Karl Schwerdtfeger

It’s contemporary Sydney. Ruth Becker, wry and cantankerous, has lived here 60 years. But it’s what happened before that she cannot forget. When Hitler came to power she and her journalist husband Hans and Dora, her wild and beloved cousin, fled Berlin to London. There they tried to alert the world to Hitler’s plans for war and at great danger to themselves, smuggled secret information out of Germany. But what no one – not even the British authorities – could believe was that the Gestapo were already active in Bloomsbury.
It’s 1939 in New York City. Ernst Toller, the most famous German revolutionary playwright of his age, can’t sleep. The world is going to war, a war he tried for years – and failed – to prevent. With his assistant Clara, Toller dictates amendments to his self-serving memoir, determined to set the record straight about the love of his life, Dora, and all they tried to do. Hitler will soon have his war, but people don’t realise there have been casualties already.
In 2001 a FedEx parcel lands on Ruth’s doorstep in Bondi Junction. It contains Toller’s account of his love affair with Dora, and of everything they tried to do. In an instant Ruth is returned to her core self and her carefully construed existence with hydrotherapy classes, neurologist appointments and glorious harbour views, gives way to another era…
A time half a world away when artists and activists marched in the streets, red flags flew and kerosene fumes buckled the air; when Ruth and Dora and their friends were swept up in an aphrodisiac atmosphere of self-sacrifice and dreamt of a just world without war. Believing they had the power stop to Hitler, they risked their lives trying to do so. But amid all the revolution, desire and ambition, Ruth and Dora came to know real fear – and real danger. Exiled in London where rumours of Gestapo assassins are abuzz, it becomes clear that the very people they must outfox are those who have set them free.
At the end of our lives it is our loves we remember most, because they are what shaped us. We have grown to be who we are around them, as around a stake. And when the stake is gone?
All That I Am is a searing and intimate portrait of humanity, courage and wisdom and of the devastating consequences when desire and ambition are thwarted. Beautifully executed, All That I Am is Anna Funder’s triumphant return: a heartbreaking debut novel.

The Miles Franklin is the seventh award in three months that Anna Funder has received; beginning in March with her double at the 2012 Indie Awards for All That I Am (winning both The Indie Award for Debut Fiction and the overall Indie Book of the Year); followed by another double at the Australian Bookseller Industry Association Awards (winning the ABIA Award for Literary Fiction Book of the Year as well as the overall ABIA Book of the Year); followed by the announcement of the 2012 Barbara Jefferis Award in May.  

All That I Am continues to appear in the Independent Booksellers Top 10 (supplied by Nielsen BookScan) and has won the Nielsen BookData 2012 Booksellers Choice Award.

“The Miles Franklin has created a long and wonderful list of Australian books – this is the work of forging an Australian soul, making it visible and celebrating all the things that we are. I’m deeply honoured and grateful.”

– Anna Funder

Publisher Ben Ball of the Penguin Group said:“I’m thrilled that Anna’s book has won the Miles Franklin. Anna’s a world-class writer, but the championing of her work starts in her homeland, so it’s wonderful that she’s now been recognized by the country’s most prestigious literary award, as she has been by Australian readers.”

J-Wire publishes the full text of Anna Funder’s acceptance speech and a video interview with the author:

 

This is a huge honour. I am more grateful than I can properly say.  I thank Miles Franklin, for scrimping and saving, and for having the generous vision to endow this prize. I thank the Trust, and the judges. I thank my publisher at Penguin, Ben Ball, and Meredith Rose, Anyez Lindop and Gabrielle Coyne there for their passionate support of this book. I thank my agent Sarah Chalfant, whose strength and loyalty and commitment to literature are a plumbline to truth for me. So much so, that when I think about Sarah, I write better.

Most of all I thank my husband Craig Allchin. For the five years I worked on this book he never let on any doubt. He never asked me whether I had any plans – near or far – to contribute to the household income. He seemed mysteriously to know when to sympathise with my so-called problems, facing what I thought of as a huge mountain, and when to roll his eyes and tell me it was a molehill, and I should just get over it, and get on with it. Like any big prize, at some level there is no way you can deserve such luck.

Goethe said, long before Germany’s catastrophic 20th century, that ‘Nations, like human beings, are unaware of the workings of their inner nature, and ultimately we are surprised, even astounded at what emerges.’

It is up to writers of all kinds to examine the inner workings of the nation, and of the human beings in it.

When you read a book, if it is good enough you think, ‘But I thought that! That is my experience.’ Even when it is patently not – it’s the experience of a girl growing up in Brindabella, or of Johnno in Brisbane, of a woman who will throw herself under a train in 19th century Russia. Or it is of a gutsy Australian at the League of Nations, or a noble, hardscrabble horse-farming family in NSW, of brave children in makeshift, jigsaw families Victoria and Tasmania.

This fusing of mind and soul with strangers is what fiction, the art form that is most personal, most interior permits us. Fiction helps us understand what it might be like to be another. It makes us understand that we are different. And also, that we are the same.

This faculty of empathy is the essence of our humanity. Like any faculty, it needs exercise. Without writers, our inner lives, as well as the inner life of the nation would remain opaque to us. Our sense of ourselves would be flabby, or shriveled, and our society fractured and shallow, vulnerable to manufactured fears and noisy jingoisms of every stripe.

I seem to have made my life’s work so far in examining places where writers were banned. It didn’t go well for them – not the writers, nor the places.

The Miles Franklin recognizes fiction. Only fiction allows a writer to step into someone else’s consciousness and represent it; only fiction truly allows itself metaphors of the large and small kind – something IS something else and we see it more clearly, a story IS a story about one thing, but stands for so much else. Abolishing writers’ awards is a cost cutting measure, but also a step towards the unscrutinised exercise of power.

Prizes like this one are important to writers, but they are not necessary:  we would keep writing without them, as writers do in many countries where they are banned. But prizes are very important to the nation. They show that free speech is alive and unbeholden to government, or to media barons. And they provide signposts as to quality when it can be hard, in a bewildering topography of culture – high and low, in print and on-screen and in the fractured online world – to sort the enlightening and soul-feeding from the 50 Shades of momentarily gratifying.

Tonight we celebrate fiction. We celebrate our joy and wonder at the inner workings of our nation, and ourselves.  We celebrate by holding our mirror – all our disparate mirrors – up to this world; to its beauty, its mysteries, its cruelties:
To babies who besott us and one-armed bandits who fleece us,
To fat mining magnates and fleet-footed Opposition leaders,
To floor-crossers and cross-dressers,
To re-tried Dingos.
To photographers and pornographers,
To streetpeople and shockjocks;
To footballers – and fading, fork-tongued feminists;
To stolen children and newly discovered planets;
To Pygmy people and human mules;
To cloud-seeding, to coke-snorting racehorses;
To islands drowning and children being born;
To being left, to being found;
To stopping time.
Writing is a work of ingenious empathy.  It is work of compassion as holy as any we are likely to find. We can’t afford not to have it.
I wish I were there with you. Have a wonderful evening. Take notes.

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