Linda Jaivin

is the author of 12 books, including The Shortest History of China.

By this author

Culture July 08, 2023


Traced opens in 2020. The narrator, Jane, is a middle-aged contact tracer at a New South Wales Health call centre in Sydney’s western outskirts. The novel transports us back to the time when Covid-19 was new and all talk was of clusters and …

Culture May 20, 2023

The Swift Dark Tide

The parade of lyrical fragments – sensual moments, family stories, ethical inquiries and daily records – that makes up The Swift Dark Tide isn’t easy to categorise, so author Katia Ariel does it for us. The book, she tells us, is “a diary …

Comment April 22, 2023

On Penny Wong’s press club speech

“There was a moment of light relief towards the end of the Q&A following Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong’s address to the National Press Club on Monday. The Canberra Times’s Nicholas Stuart prefaced his question, …”

Culture April 22, 2023

What I’d Rather Not Think About

The unnamed narrator of Jente Posthuma’s second novel, What I’d Rather Not Think About, sees the play When Women Are Friends by the Dutch writer Hannah van Wieringen. She is struck by a character’s remark that there are many stories …

Culture April 01, 2023

Heart Sutra

Yan Lianke’s Heart Sutra portrays a corrupt and materialistic world overseen by a cynical, sloganeering polity. And, yes, it is unpublishable in China. It centres on an official “religious training centre” in Beijing. There, Buddhist, Daoist, …

Culture February 25, 2023

The Good Death Through Time

Christianity reframed the “good death” as a preparation for the afterlife: suffering and pain were seen as spiritually elevating. Religious pastors, not doctors, attended the deathbed. By the 19th century, medicine – which now focused on alleviating …

Culture February 04, 2023

The Passion of Private White

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this review contains the names of deceased persons. This is a tale of two tribes – one ancient, one modern, both wounded and alienated – and how they came together. It’s …

Culture December 10, 2022

Dark Winter: An insider’s guide to pandemics and biosecurity

The epidemiologist Raina MacIntyre is one of the world’s foremost experts on biosecurity and bioterrorism. In 2006 she warned that the Australian health system was vastly unprepared for a pandemic. Nothing changed. Our governments remained “asleep …

Culture November 05, 2022

Novelist as a Vocation

“In my daily life,” Haruki Murakami tells us in Novelist as a Vocation, “I’m hardly ever conscious of myself as a writer.” He wants us to understand: “I am, when all is said and done, a very ordinary person.” For a very …

Culture September 03, 2022

Empire, War, Tennis and Me

“The story of the first 70 years of lawn tennis (1875-1945),” the eminent immunologist and Nobel laureate Peter Doherty tells us in Empire, War, Tennis and Me, “is embedded in much bigger narratives about imperialist ambitions that led …

Culture July 09, 2022

Holy Woman

As a teenager growing up in a relatively secular Adelaide family, Louise Omer was so shocked to discover her parents smoked dope that she lost trust in their moral authority. An unhappy 15-year-old who felt “rejected and victimized, contemptuous of …

Culture June 25, 2022


When he wanted to send a secret message, the ancient Greek tyrant Histiaeus shaved the head of a slave, tattooed the message on his scalp and, once the hair had grown back, sent him on his way. In this story, Ellis Gunn finds a key metaphor for how patriarchal …

Culture April 30, 2022

Jack of Hearts: QX11594

Among the 13,000 Australian prisoners of war forced to slave on the infamous Thailand–Burma “Death Railway” in World War II were 50 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. One of these – and one of the lucky POWs of any background to make …

Culture April 16, 2022

The Good Captain

The eponymous “good captain” of Sean Rabin’s second novel is Rena, previously known as Idu, Margit, Nina and then Karen. She has never lived on land; proximity to the stench of it makes her retch. People don’t thrill her either. The ocean, however, …

Culture February 26, 2022

South Flows the Pearl: Chinese Australian Voices

There are few Australians who would have a better claim to the title of “battler” than the post-gold rush Chinese immigrants and first-generation Australian-born Chinese whose stories are told in South Flows the Pearl. In fact, they tell …

Culture February 05, 2022

A Witness of Fact

In A Witness of Fact, Drew Rooke dissects the career of Colin Manock, an English immigrant who retired in 1995 as South Australia’s chief forensic pathologist after a career spanning almost three decades. Rooke carefully weighs its …

Culture December 11, 2021

Doing Politics: Writing on Public Life

A public intellectual is a person, traditionally from within academia, who has big ideas and the ability to communicate them to the wider community. Younger readers won’t remember this, but in the 1990s and early 2000s, newspapers such as The Sydney …

podcast November 29, 2021

The disappearance of a Chinese tennis star

Linda Jaivin on what happened to one of China’s biggest sports stars.

Culture November 13, 2021

The Game: A Portrait of Scott Morrison

At least half the nation face-palmed when Prime Minister Scott Morrison explained to journalists that his wife told him that he should think about Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations “as a father first”. He said that Jenny had prompted, “What would …

podcast October 20, 2021

The new Cold War over the origins of Covid-19

Linda Jaivin, on the credibility of Markson’s claims, and how ideology has impacted our ability to get to the truth of how this pandemic first started.

News October 16, 2021

Wuhan: What the Markson book
tells us

A significant figure globally in the culture war over Covid-19, Sharri Markson gives an account of the virus’s outbreak that is lucid, flawed and revealing.

Culture October 16, 2021


In 2005, the CSIRO predicted that climate change would lead to catastrophic fires in south-eastern Australia by 2020. But rather than treating the climate crisis as “a question of science and how we prepare”, as journalist Bronwyn Adcock writes in …

Culture September 18, 2021

Ten Thousand Aftershocks

The Christchurch earthquake of February 22, 2011 hammered Michelle Tom’s house, but the terror didn’t stop that day. It was repeated in the “ten thousand aftershocks” of her memoir’s title. One day the following December after two giant aftershocks, …

Culture August 28, 2021

Travelling Companions

“How to be alone yet to be in company? That,” the unnamed narrator of Travelling Companions tells us, “is the conundrum.” As a train strike throws him into travel limbo with other tourists on the Spanish–French border, he observes: …

Culture July 24, 2021

Men without Country

Hear “mutiny”, think “Bounty”. The shipboard rebellion of 1789 has enjoyed a long and fertile afterlife. It has inspired three films and more than a dozen books, fiction and nonfiction alike, including several titles promising the “true …

podcast June 28, 2021

The story behind the Wuhan lab-leak theory

As Australia grapples with new outbreaks of Covid-19, questions about the origins of the virus have been re-emerging.

News June 26, 2021

Inside the Wuhan lab leak conspiracy theory

While a laboratory leak may never be ruled out as the origin of Covid-19, the sources of that theory remain highly questionable.

Culture June 26, 2021


Fury begins with a young Kathryn Heyman perching precariously on a narrow and slippery boom 50 metres from the deck of a fishing trawler, over a roiling sea. It’s night and a wild storm has blown up, threatening to capsize the boat. It’s …

podcast June 07, 2021

The Australian spy novelist charged with espionage in China

Australian writer Yang Hengjun has been detained by the Chinese government since 2019. He’s been charged with espionage offences and could face the death penalty. Today, Linda Jaivin on the mysterious case of Yang Hengjun and what his treatment says about the Chinese government's approach to human rights.

News June 05, 2021

Yang Hengjun and China’s rule of law

As Australian writer Yang Hengjun awaits a verdict after being tried in China on charges of espionage, a conviction seems likely. Harder to predict is the sentence he will be given.

Culture May 29, 2021

The Winter Road

As dusk closed in on isolated Talga Lane on a cold winter’s night in 2014, Glen Turner, a compliance officer with the Office of Environment and Heritage, crouched behind his vehicle in terror. He was bleeding from bullet wounds and pleading for his …

Culture April 24, 2021

First Person Singular

As with so much of Murakami’s fiction, the narrators of the stories collected in First Person Singular tend to be going about their mundane lives when there is suddenly a hallucinatory rupture in perception, a slip sideways into unreality. …

Culture February 06, 2021


When he was finally able to return home after the catastrophic Black Summer bushfires, Jimmy visited each of the places where he and Katy used to go. His life companion had died in the fires. Barely able to eat, he lay listless on the ground, until finally …

Culture December 05, 2020

On Getting Off

If the philosopher’s premise is that everything has meaning, then there is no such thing as meaningless sex. This is true, observes the philosopher Damon Young, even if many of his fellows treat sex “as something a bit stupid”. In On Getting …

Culture November 21, 2020

What Is To Be Done

The climate crisis demands urgent action. Our democracy, with its “oligarchic” major parties – “shelf companies” with “small, ageing memberships” that serve as little more than “executive-placement agencies” – and an “infantile” …

Culture October 17, 2020

In Search of the Woman Who Sailed the World

There had been an undercurrent of speculation aboard the Étoile about smooth-faced Jean Barret, the stoic and hard-working assistant and personal valet to the ship’s naturalist-doctor, Philibert Commerson. In April 1768, after the ship moored …

Culture September 26, 2020


Bluebird, the setting of Malcolm Knox’s latest novel, is an insular little community on the coastal periphery of “Ocean City”, a wink-wink stand-in for Sydney. The problem with Bluebird, and it’s mostly a problem for the middle-aged white male …

Culture August 15, 2020

Surviving Autocracy

It used to be a given that to understand the People’s Republic of China, one had to be familiar with the workings of the Soviet Union, including Leninist organisational principles, Stalinist methods of terror and control, and the nature of propaganda. …

Culture August 08, 2020

How to Talk about Climate Change

Watching the news of the 2018 climate strike, Rebecca Huntley suddenly understood that when the young people demanded action from the older generation, they were talking to her. She had, she says, a visceral reaction to this realisation. As a lawyer and …

News July 11, 2020

The case of Yang Hengjun

Amid rising tensions between Beijing and Canberra, the fate of Australian academic and writer Yang Hengjun, imprisoned in China on espionage charges, hangs in the balance.

Culture July 04, 2020

Daddy Cool

In the 1930s, as Robert Cutter, he sold more copies of “Hawaiian Paradise” than Bing Crosby. He performed before Katharine Hepburn and Clark Gable at the Academy Awards. He hadn’t quite finished divorcing his best friend’s sister when he fell …

Culture May 23, 2020

Radio Girl

As Australia entered World War II, its all-male armed services had a problem only a woman could solve. That woman was Violet McKenzie, Australia’s first female electrical engineer, a wireless radio pioneer, one of the ABC’s first broadcasters, and …

Culture April 04, 2020

Three Brothers

Yan Lianke’s Three Brothers is a tender, frank and philosophical memoir of growing up in a rural family cursed by “constant poverty” but blessed with “boundless grace”. Yan, a novelist whose biting political satires (Serve the People!, …

Culture March 14, 2020

She I Dare Not Name

Donna Ward’s piano was stranded in the middle of her study. She’d pushed it out from one wall but couldn’t get it to the other side. Two friends, a couple, came to dinner. As they were leaving, they noticed the piano. “This is a time when you …

Culture December 14, 2019

The Best Australian Science Writing 2019

We are living on the doorstep of a new global dark age, in which superstition, conspiracy theories and distrust of scientific expertise have risen hand in hand with right-wing authoritarianism. The howls of climate crisis denialists fill the air, gleefully …

Culture December 07, 2019

Paris or Die

Jayne Tuttle’s memoir, Paris or Die, is a literary suitcase packed with sparkling friendships, startling discoveries, mad love, intriguing challenges and hot sex. Quite a bit of hot sex, in fact. There’s also mortal danger and helpless loss, …

Culture November 23, 2019

Testosterone: An Unauthorized Biography

Testosterone, we thought we knew you. All those scientific studies, and all those reports in newspapers and magazines over the years, have told us you were directly linked to violence, aggression, athleticism, libido, focus, risk-taking, power and even …

Culture November 09, 2019

Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister

Three sisters born to a wealthy Christian family in Shanghai towards the end of the 19th century influenced the course of modern Chinese history. The roles played by the legendary Soong sisters, however, were as different as their politics and personalities. …

Culture September 21, 2019

Don Dunstan

When I immigrated to Australia in 1986, this country was notably forward-looking compared with the United States and Britain, where Reagan’s and Thatcher’s neoliberal policies were busily dismantling civil society and social welfare. Here was universal …

Culture August 31, 2019

Wolfe Island

There is a thin line between the present and a dystopian future in Lucy Treloar’s second novel, Wolfe Island. The story opens on the eponymous island, located in the Chesapeake Bay and sinking a little more with every wild storm. Once-abundant …

Culture August 10, 2019

Mother of Pearl

Mother of Pearl tells the story of a surrogacy from the perspectives of three different women. Meg, a married 39-year-old jeweller from Melbourne, is desperate for a child. Years of IVF treatments have left her bereft, her grief like “a wild …

Culture July 20, 2019

Disappearing Earth

Things go missing in Disappearing Earth. Children. Friends. Lovers. Dogs. Love. Life as it once was and as it seemed it always would be. We learn early on that 11-year-old Alyona, a natural storyteller, “liked, every so often, to bring her …

Culture June 29, 2019

You Will Be Safe Here

Damian Barr’s first novel, You Will Be Safe Here, grips you by the throat from its ominous prologue to its shattering conclusion. Set in South Africa, it weaves together two historically disparate narratives united not only by geography. The …

Culture June 01, 2019

Griffith Review 64: The New Disruptors

A disruptive student is a teacher’s nightmare. A disruption in normal programming can signal very bad news. But the meaning of the word “disruption”, with its traditionally negative connotations, has itself been disrupted. According to the neoliberal …

Culture May 11, 2019


When Kaya Wilson, a writer and scientist, transitioned to male, he suddenly realised he could own the streets. In his contribution to this pioneering anthology, he writes about passing a group of drunken men on a dark street, soon after transitioning. …

Culture April 20, 2019


Silence is not always golden, as the prizewinning British journalist and filmmaker Harriet Shawcross attests in Unspeakable. At the age of 13, she tells us, she lost the ability to speak more than was absolutely necessary to function. Nearly …

Culture April 13, 2019

The Colonial Fantasy

“Language is important,” Sarah Maddison tells us at the start of The Colonial Fantasy, a necessary and purposefully confronting book. She sets out the vocabulary on which she believes any discussion of black–white relations in this country …

Culture April 06, 2019

Mouthful of Birds

The 20 short stories in this collection by Argentinian writer Samanta Schweblin ooze with menace, seethe with anxiety and bristle with humour. The children of a mining town in “Underground” excavate a mysterious mound of dirt and then themselves disappear …

Culture March 30, 2019

Make Me a City

Make Me a City is a biography of Chicago in its first, dynamic century, and a wondrous, bold and playful first novel. Seductively fascinating characters, real and imagined, populate this fiction with their interweaving and intergenerational stories. …

Culture March 09, 2019

The Hollow Bones

The protagonist of The Hollow Bones, Ernst Schäfer, is an ambitious young German zoologist and hunter. It is the 1930s and he has joined Himmler’s SS for the opportunities it will give him to lead a major specimen-collecting expedition to …

Culture February 09, 2019

Black Is the New White

Nakkiah Lui is one of the country’s funniest, smartest and most deliciously outrageous playwrights. To call her a force of nature is less accurate than saying she is a one-woman cyclone. Her work – including her scripts for TV and her podcast Pretty …

Books January 26, 2019

An Orchestra of Minorities

Chigozie Obioma’s spectacular second novel, An Orchestra of Minorities, begins with the quotation of an Igbo proverb: “If the prey do not produce their version of the tale, the predators will always be the heroes in the stories of the hunt.” …

Travel September 15, 2018

Ponte City, Johannesburg

The Ponte City apartment tower in Johannesburg was built for high-flyers before becoming a violent slum ruled by gangsters. Its rebirth as respectable, affordable housing is a model of community renewal.

Travel August 04, 2018

Borneo’s Gomantong Caves

Within Borneo’s Gomantong Caves – slippery with teeming insects, bird droppings and guano from two million bats – fine dining is likely far from the mind. But overhead a perilous harvest ensues for the key ingredient of Chinese bird’s nest soup.

Travel June 16, 2017

The Museum of Ice Cream

Los Angeles’ pop-up Museum of Ice Cream has visitors shuffling from one branded photo op to another, stretching the idea of a museum until it has no meaning.

Travel August 27, 2016

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo’s streets bear the scars of the Bosnian War siege, but people are pursuing a relaxed approach to life.