The past shapes the present – they teach us that in schools and universities.
(Shapes? Infiltrates, more like; imbues, infuses.) This past cannot be visited like an ageing aunt. It doesn’t live in little zoo enclosures. Half the time, this past is nothing less than the beating heart of the present. So, how to speak of the searing, unpindownable power that the past – ours, our family’s, our culture’s – wields in the present? Stories are not enough, even though they are essential. And books about history, books of psychology – the best of them take us closer, but still not close enough.
Maria Tumarkin's Axiomatic is a boundary-shifting fusion of thinking, storytelling, reportage and meditation. It takes as its starting point five axioms::
- ‘Give Me a Child Before the Age of 7 and I’ll Give You the (Wo)Man’
- ‘History Repeats Itself…’
- ‘Those Who Forget the Past are Condemned to Repeat It’
- ‘You Can’t Enter The Same River Twice’
- ‘Time Heals All Wounds’.
These beliefs or intuitions about the role the past plays in our present are often evoked as if they are timeless and self-evident truths. It is precisely because they are neither, yet still we are persuaded by them, that they tell us a great deal about the forces that shape our culture and the way we live.
Axiomatic is Tumarkin's fourth book of non-fiction, and her most pioneering. Her three previous books, Otherland
(2007), and Traumascapes
(2005), have each and all been critically acclaimed and shortlisted for major prizes. More than seven full and long years in the making, and utilising her time as a Sidney Myer Creative Fellow, Axiomatic
actively seeks to reset the non-fiction form in Australia.
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“Nobody can write like Maria Tumarkin: she charges headlong into the worst and best of us, with an iron refusal to soften or decorate; sentences bare of artifice, stripped back to the bone, to the nerve; fired by raging grief and love.” Helen Garner
“Maria Tumarkin writes of difficult topics with utmost integrity. Axiomatic is a dark gift: heartfelt, painful, full of sorrowful compassion. From schools, courtrooms, prisons, refugee camps, Soviet spaces and more personal inner life, come stories that break open the silence of suicide and the mystery of spirited persistence.” Gail Jones
“A brilliant kaleidoscope of arresting observations on suffering and innocence in modern times, Axiomatic is by turns illuminating, infuriating, engrossing and even amusing. I feel ambushed.” Robert Dessaix
“Everyone is looking for the next Helen Garner and Maria Tumarkin shares with Garner a gimlet eye for the flaws in official systems, along with a fascination for the narratives nested in everyday lives. Axiomatic ’s symphonic structure, however, recalls Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian journalist and Nobel Laureate. She is another for whom reality attracts like a magnet, who has made a career out of appropriating and braiding voices and documents, seeing the world as a chorus and a collage. With this remarkable, wild, risk-laden book, Tumarkin has earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath as both of them.” The Saturday Paper
“ Axiomatic is a series of open-ended essays about different people, as well as Tumarkin’s own intense experiences of love and friendship. Consoling pieties do not interest her. There is no resolution, no comfort. It is a bleak view of the world, but for many people, including Tumarkin’s friend Vera, 'That’s how it goes.' This happened. That happened. I am here. You are here. Lucky for us Tumarkin is here, too. Trying.” Helen Elliott, The Monthly
“Again and again in Axiomatic , Tumarkin confronts the meagreness of the written word in the face of trauma as she muses on her inability to write the text she had intended ("I was working on this book and a year passed, then two, and two more …"). Yet again and again, she herself demonstrates what literary prose can do.” Jeff Sparrow, Sydney Morning Herald
“There is a convention, towards the end of a review, to compare the writer with their peers, contemporary or long gone, to situate them in a continuum, to give a curious reader an idea of what they would expect. But to compare this work to anything on the shelves would be a disservice and, besides, the sheer breathtaking ambition of it has humbled and shamed me out of it. ... With Axiomatic , Tumarkin is simply operating on a higher level to the rest of us.” Liam Pieper, The Australian
“By inhabiting and embodying the spectrum of human pain and suffering, Tumarkin fights for every person encapsulated in Axiomatic , and in doing so has created something deeply original and essential to understanding the core of the human experience.” Sonia Nair, Feminist Writers Festival
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