Book launches back up and running
Some tough and amusing writers attended Readings book launches last month as lit culture burst out from its hibernation with a vengeance.
Most launches are still online but novelist Irma Gold was there in person at the Collective in Elgin St.
She travelled down the east coast with her own banner slung over her shoulder.
Irma has taken on the Thai elephant industry in The Breaking, a novel named after the way elephants are broken in by locking them in small enclosures.
“I wanted to keep it light,” she told her audience, but her story of how captive elephants are tortured to create loyalty towards their handlers was heart-rending.
“They’re put in a crush box not much bigger than the elephant to torture it,” she said. “Its spirit is broken. A Thai person is a mahout, like a rescuer. They remember that breaking process.”
Irma has volunteered for the Save the Elephant Foundation in Thailand and said a lot of elephants couldn’t be rehabilitated, such as those that had been blinded by sling shot wounds, for example.
“Talking about the book is hard because it does talk about tough things. I tried to do it with a light touch.”
The underlying theme of the novel, which is seen through the eyes of young Western travellers, is the ethics of tourism.
“It was a big task to write it as an outsider,” she said. She checked all of her vocabulary and used Thai words without italics to familiarise them to readers but the suffering of the elephants takes centre stage.
“You can engage with them only because they’ve been through the breaking process,” she said.
“I played with a baby. Only because the mother has been broken in can you get near it.’’
She said there were only about 2,000 elephants in the wild in Thailand but there were 40 million tourists a year pre-Covid.
“During Covid the working elephants couldn’t work. It’s so mean. They’re chained 24/7 and the owners don’t have money to pay for their food.”
“It’s so expensive to rescue elephants. I’ve seen photos with their ribs sticking out.”
Emma visited 60 bookshops on her journey, with the Readings launch the last in a promotional tour to spread her message.
She calls herself a “pantser”, a style of novelist who follows the characters rather than plans the narrative.
Readings in Carlton is the centre of Melbourne’s literary culture. Rather than holding launches at the store, they are now held at The Collective, a large warehouse space with a bar that can safely host 60 people.
Among those at the launch was writer Donna Ward who had been to three launches that week in Carlton, including Kevin Rudd at the Nova.