Today I was privileged to hear the award winning author, Anna Funder, speak about her new book, All that I am, at the Art Gallery of NSW. Anna is the author of Stasiland which won the world’s biggest prize for non-fiction in 2004, the Samuel Johnson prize. All that I am is her newest release and is her first novel.
All that I am tells the story of four characters and their intertwined lives in Germany and England during the thirties. Ruth, one of the narrators is now ninety four years old and living in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. The demise of her short term memory enables the author to explore Ruth’s vivid memories from long ago.Through these recollections we learn about her beautiful husband, Hans. Her enigmatic and beautiful cousin, Dora. As well as Dora’s lover, the well-known poet and revolutionary, Ernst Toller.
The Art Gallery of NSW is currently hosting an exhibition entitled, The Mad Square: Modernity in German Art 1910-1937. The exhibition which runs until November 6th 2011 offers an array of over 200 diverse works portraying the modern world in fascinating and complex ways.
Anna spent the morning exploring how art works such as those featured in the exhibition inspired her to write various passages of her book. It was a real treat to hear her read scintillating extracts from her book as stark and stunning images were displayed on the screen. She shared the images too that had sat on her pin up board as she wrote to serve as honest reminders of the people she was representing on the page. I was really impressed by her articulate and intelligent presentation and the warmth with which she shared her love of writing and the lengthy research process it involves.
One of the highlights for me was Anna’s description of her character, Ruth, and Ruth’s husband, Hans. In describing the breathtaking beauty of the man Ruth had married she said, “the ineffable beauty of some people (and things) causes us to temporarily suspend belief. It can also cause a form of blindness.” I was so moved by that statement I just had to write it down. I thought about the times in my life that I was completely overwhelmed by the beauty of a person or thing. The moments when I had been caused to suspend belief and even been blind to the actions of another because I was so caught up in the beauty of a person, moment or place. Those words are still ringing in my ears and I can’t help but toss them around in my head like a paper boat floating along a bubbling brook. How many times in my life have I been blind to the actions of another because I have been so swept up in their beauty as a person?
After reading All that I am and hearing Anna Funder speak today I am waiting with baited breath for her next novel. I’d highly recommend getting your hands on a copy.