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. Winner of the 2018 Melbourne Prize for Literature’s Best Writing Award.
To say that Maria Tumarkin’s essay collection scrutinises our ideas about history and the past is inadequate. This book rips into our pieties, interrogates our easy platitudes and forces us to see the world – words, things, people, feelings – in new ways ... Each essay in the collection takes an axiom about history and tests it against our gritty present day realities ... Facing all this would not be possible without Tumarkin’s sonorous wisdom; her capacity to turn things, words, people, sentences over on the page to see what they’re made of. Lucid and grave, this book is a revelation.
Though categorized as a book of essays, 'essay” doesn’t do justice to Tumarkin’s lengthy, probing, literary reports. It is made up of five forays into seldom-explored crevices of society ... The writing is dazzling without showboating. Tumarkin casts a critical eye on herself in a charming way, too. While her breadth of knowledge is impressive—the book is full of less-than-obvious, sometimes obscure, and always appropriate references—her work soars on the depth of her introspection, her interrogation, her tenacity, and her willingness to follow a story wherever it leads her ... The reader’s equivalent of catching lightning in a bottle, Axiomatic showcases a brilliant and perceptive mind writing on a variety of subjects. Full of grace and insight, it is an exceptional book.
...[a] powerful new work ... a book that proves Tumarkin to be a clear-eyed excavator of much pain and sorrow in our world ... Tumarkin is attuned to the realities of unconquerable, systemic inequalities, as well as the crushing burdens that often come with one’s familial history, recognizing the real limits of human agency to affect personal change in such circumstances. At the same time, even as she appropriately recognizes the difficulty of such lives and the myriad factors that can doom individuals starting from such perilous positions, Tumarkin refuses to write them off or treat them as lives lost and not worthy of living ... Part of what Tumarkin is trying to do in this book is simply to humanize; to say that this, in all its pain and sorrow, is the nature of our world ... Those portrayals serve to remind the reader of their humanity, reinforcing Tumarkin’s point that to look at such people, be shocked, and live in that shock is, more often than not, to dismiss.