The Poet’s Wife
Allen & Unwin
Australian author Mandy Sayer has led one hell of a fascinating life, from her early years tap dancing on the streets for rent money from Sydney to New Orleans and back again, to publishing award-winning fiction like Mood Indigo, so it’s hardly surprising, really, that there’s plenty of material for The Poet’s Wife, her third memoir following Dreamtime Alice and Velocity. Now re-married to fellow Australian author Louis Nowra, this instalment of her crazy upbringing relays the madly passionate and unlikely love affair that led to her first marriage to Yusef Komunyakaa, a much older, down on his luck poet and sometime academic from the Deep South. As he went on to become a Pulitzer-Prize winner, the collapse of their relationship after such a whirlwind romance is traumatic to say the least.
The New Daily says: Sayer’s voice is incredible, as is her life story, with this third instalment reading more like the richest of fiction. A keen eye for detail places the reader in a palpably sweaty, smoky and music filled French Quarter in New Orleans to the down and out and dangerous dives of Sydney’s Kings Cross in the mid-1980s. There’s a taught mystery tied up in Komunyakaa, who turns out to be quite a mysterious and mercurial character, with their relationship alarmingly abusive. There’s an inexorable tragedy to this fascinating tale of two creative minds locked in a damaging love/hate relationship and all the turmoil it elicits. Sayer’s partner in busking, her father Gerry, is an infuriatingly blasé presence in her life and you find yourself willing him to do more to protect her. The Poet’s Wife is a firecracker of a memoir that’ll have you feverishly flipping pages to lap up the twists and turns that would put plenty of fiction to shame.
Booktopia says: “Told with raw candour, it documents a passionate, toxic relationship in which jealousy, suspicion and dishonesty wreck the hopes of a couple who should have everything, given their love and their talents. But there is too much baggage here. Loss, mental illness, racism and poverty erode intimacy and corrode what started off as shiny. Despite this, Sayer begins to write herself into another life. Slowly but surely as Yusef wins the Pulitzer Prize and becomes more and more successful, she too finds her voice, gains recognition and confidence and steps away from the lies and paranoia to emerge from the wreckage strong and determined.”