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Transcript: Jennifer Mills’s launch speech for The Idealist by Nicholas Jose

Jennifer Mills launches The Idealist in Adelaide.

The Idealist by Nicholas Jose (September 2023) was launched in Sydney at The Cross Art Projects by Julia Leigh, and in Adelaide at The Wheatsheaf by Jennifer Mills. Read a transcript of Mills’s speech below.

I can’t remember when I first came across Nick Jose’s work as a reader, but it would have been before I knew I was a writer. I might have picked up a copy of Paper Nautilus from a second-hand bookshop, or maybe it was on my mother’s overflowing shelves. That book made quite an impression on me, presenting a version of this country I hadn’t encountered elsewhere.

I turned to his work when I went to Beijing on an Asialink residency in 2010. I looked to his words to help me make sense of that country and to unpick some of the intricacies of Australia’s relationship with China.

He is a serious writer with an internationalist outlook that is not extractive – a rare thing – but eternally curious. There are writers who close the door behind them, and writers who open doors for others as they go. Nick Jose is firmly in the latter category, very generous with other writers, I know he has done a great deal for his students in particular.

His work often has a sense of mystery that shows his generosity also extends to readers. He’s not rushing to solve the world for us, or explain it, but opening our eyes to its wonders and complexities. He has a real gift for character, a sensitivity to emotional nuance, and importantly a moral spine. He also has a really intelligent approach to narrative structure that I particularly love.

The Idealist is no different. It’s a novel about East Timor and a particular period of history, the independence struggle at the turn of this century. But it’s also a novel about complicity, the impossibility of doing right within a geopolitical context characterised by greed, dehumanisation and self-interest. It takes the shape of memory in action, moving gently through associations, with multiple points of view. There is anger here, and doubt, and horror, but there is also a moral core, a sense of the novel as doing useful work in the world.

The war in Gaza has been front and centre for the past few weeks, overlapping the failure of the Voice referendum. When you write for a living it can sometimes feel like art is inadequate to the task of politics, to the task of life on Earth. We need action – diplomacy and international co-ordination and a ceasefire. We need treaties, truth, and an education about whose country this is. But we also need voices of care and compassion, thinkers who are able to set these difficulties out before us and invite us to ask ourselves, what would I do? Whose side am I on, when would I take a stand?

So this book is incredibly timely, and incredibly useful. And it’s beautifully written, of course. That goes without saying. I am so pleased to be launching it tonight. Please raise your glasses to The Idealist, and to Nicholas Jose.

— Jennifer Mills, 25 October 2023

Nicholas Jose signs his new book at The Wheatsheaf.
The Idealist at the NSW launch.

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