Winner of the Melbourne Prize for Literature’s Best Writing Award
Shortlisted for the Stella Prize
Shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards
How to speak of the searing, unpindownable power that the past—ours, our family’s, our culture’s—wields in the present?
Drawing on nine years of research, Axiomatic explores the ways we understand the traumas we inherit and the systems that sustain them. In five sections―each one built on an axiom about how the past affects the present―Tumarkin weaves together true and intimate stories of a community dealing with the extended aftermath of a suicide, a grandmother’s quest to kidnap her grandson to keep him safe, one community lawyer’s struggle inside and against the criminal justice system, a larger-than-life Holocaust survivor, and the history of the author’s longest friendship.
With verve, wit, and critical dexterity, Tumarkin asks questions about loss, grief, and how our particular histories inform the people we become in the world. Axiomatic introduces an unforgettable voice.
SHIPS AUGUST 15
PRAISE FOR AXIOMATIC
“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, author of The Children’s Bach
“Maria Tumarkin’s shape-shifting Axiomatic deploys all the resources of narrative, reportage and essay. It is a work of great power and beauty.”—Pankaj Mishra, The Guardian
“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
“As a writer she pushes at the edges, and then pushes further; she wants to shout, and sometimes she does. Axiomatic is a bracing ride. At its heart is the big question of the past and its traumas. How do they play out? Where does trauma begin? In history? Genes? Family? Society? Is comfort to be found in the familiar truisms we’re so quick to roll out?”—Inside Story
“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.”—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.”—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.”—The Australian
"In Axiomatic, her fourth book, Tumarkin unleashes a freewheeling energy that was restrained in her previous books. ... In many of its most lucid passages, Axiomatic achieves gravitas and a psalm-like plaintiveness. Memorably, Tumarkin draws upon a creation mythology to liken human beings to ‘broken vessels’ full of divine light. Spilling out of this vessel, shards of this light, our past experience, lodge in the present. Axiomatic reminds us that our word ‘poignant’ comes, via French, from the Latin pungere: ‘to prick, to sting’."—Australian Book Review
“What a wonderfully idiosyncratic, distinctive and rather wise book this is. Maria Tumarkin takes five familiar sayings – axioms – to meditate on, challenge and interpret by talking, sometimes over years, to a range of people whose experiences enlighten, educate and enliven in surprising ways. Tumarkin, who brings her own experiences to play, writes in a sometimes fierce voice that is utterly her own and brings with it an inquiring mind that together make for a thought-provoking experience.”—The Age
“What Tumarkin has produced is unlike any work of non-fiction I have read to date. To call it experimental or poetic does not cover the breadth and originality of her work. Not only in style, but in content, in the way she draws out the human experience and lays bare something fundamentally true, honest and almost unbearably tender. There is power in this, and strength. Tumarkin does not shy away from the uncomfortable, from the too-hard-to-be-written-or-even-contemplated, but faces it head on, with dignity, and with knowledge of her own fallibility.”—Caitlin Cassidy, Right Now
“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.”—Feminist Writers Festival
First Published: September 3, 2019
5.25 x 8 | 224 pages