'A practised eye for detail and a novelist's love for the riches of language'
'The work of a seeker who has come to understand rather than to judge'
Christopher Kremmer is a writer and traveler whose pilgrimages around the world fill readers with a sense of wonder, empathy and concern. His closely observed narratives are rich in historical and cultural resonances, and peopled by memorable characters whose lives tell the story of our vivacious yet troubled world.
Born and raised in Sydney, Australia Chris began
his undergraduate studies in journalism at the University of Canberra, where he became the campaigning editor of the student newspaper Ccaesarian, incurring threats of legal action for stories critical of the administration. His first short story, published at the age of twenty-three, won a national award for short fiction. After graduating, he spent two years in the UK and Europe, writing satirical political sketches staged by the Canal Café Theatre in London's Little Venice district.
In 1990, he returned to journalism as a foreign correspondent covering the civil wars in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, sectarian conflict and nuclear rivalries in India and Pakistan, and the rise of South-East Asia in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, experiences that provided material for four books of reportage published in the decade to 2006. He later published essays, a novel and scholarly articles, and in 2013 was awarded a Doctorate in Creative Writing from the University of Western Sydney for a thesis that examined truth claims in historical fiction.
He is a true citizen of the world, a Distinguished Alumnus of his alma mater, an Honorary Fellow of the Australia India Institute, and Senior Lecturer in Narrative Nonfiction and Philosophies of Journalism at the University of New South Wales, Sydney.
Christopher Kremmer is the author of book-length fiction and nonfiction, short stories and a substantial body of journalism. Over the past thirty years, he has explored our world in a series of acclaimed books that include Stalking the Elephant Kings, The Carpet Wars, Bamboo Palace, Inhaling the Mahatma and The Chase. Here's more about his work.
The publication in 1997 of Christopher Kremmer's first book of literary nonfiction was hailed as a watershed in
Australian writing about Asia. The Australian's Review of Books' critic Neil James wrote that "Stalking the Elephant Kings (later updated and republished as Bamboo Palace) is part travel book, part history, part diary and part detective story. And sheer storytelling. Kremmer displays an almost fictive control over his material. Each incident of his travels is brought to life with the dynamic of a good short story. Despite this control, he retains a journalist's stance, allowing the reader to form his or her own judgments and to engage imaginatively with the subject. He is a deft observer of the poignant detail, such as the sight of billowing American parachutes; leftovers from the war, these are employed throughout the temples and markets of Laos as shade marquees. They are a symbol of the massive impact of civil and global warfare and the practical efforts of a people caught in the crossfire."
"After reading this book, the Elephant Kings and the fate of Laos have become firmly etched into my cultural
consciousness. My marginal knowledge of the country is permanently enhanced: from the former royal palace at Luang Prabang to the archaeological sites at the Plain of Jars; from the revolutionary caves at the heart of the communist revolution in Viengsai to the contemporary mixed community in the capital Vientiane. Like Kremmer, I trace avidly the stories of the Elephant Kings, of the Red Prince who was central to the revolution, of the royal puppeteers and silversmiths and their fluctuating fortunes."
"Here at last is a general book that addresses all the elements that the others in the survey failed to do. It is
accessible and it genuinely engages a nation and its people without judgment or paternalism. It builds cultural understanding. I feel I know where Laos is and something of what it is. The cultural compass finally has the right orientation. Stalking the Elephant Kings is a book that suggests that Australian publishing in Asia can succeed. It deserves to do well because it places human engagement before gross domestic product, culture before trade. Perhaps it can stand as an example to the rest of the publishing industry in Australia."
The book won the inaugural Qantas/City of Brisbane Prize for Asia-Pacific Travel Writing and was published
in the United States, Britain and Thailand. In 2003, it was updated and re-issued as Bamboo Palace.
With his next book, The Carpet Wars: A journey across the Islamic heartlands, Christopher solidified his reputation internationally as a writer of critically acclaimed narrative nonfiction. A portrait of Afghanistan and Islam in crisis, it was published in nine countries, including Japanese and Spanish translations, and became a bestseller in several countries. It was shortlisted for all major Australian awards for nonfiction, including The Age Book of the Year, the Courier Mail Book of the Year, and the Victorian Premiers' Literary awards.
Christopher Kremmer's literary nonfiction has been compared favourably with the work of such writers as Bruce Chatwin, William Dalrymple and Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul. His books have been adapted for audio by Louis Braille Audio, and ABC Audio, Australia. Dr Juliet Peters, writing in Artlink magazine, said "I mean no insult in placing The Carpet Wars by Christopher Kremmer within Chatwin's genre. Kremmer's decade long textual journey through the Middle East, Islam and its conflicts is informed by the best aspects of this modern genre...Evocative turns of phrase make visible far away places for the couch-bound reader. Anecdotes flow freely, well paced in classical writing style, until the denouement, either humorous or tragic. People whom the reader will never meet take on real dimensions through the text."
Peters saw this book as part of a larger movement in publishing in the early 21st century, that being the ascendancy of nonfiction over fiction, that latter of which had dominated writing in the 20th Century. She wrote. that "I generally find current fiction ultimately unsatisfactory, conversely the non-fictional Carpet Wars has a serious mission. Accessible and moving, poetic and engrossing, it speaks of cultures and events usually rendered fixed and one-dimensional by western media."
Among its many accolades, The Carpet Wars was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier's History Prize. The judges citation described the book as "an historical and contemporary war and peace travelogue, political critique, a lesson in carpet-making history and trade, a personal account, a religious object lesson and a window into ancient and modern Islamic culture, modern tribalism and modern war. Kremmer rolls out a number of broad and significant histories in an accessible way...Without writing an apologia for past colonialisms, the barbarities of war, the tenets of Islam and the unpredictability of human behaviour, Kremmer, a journalist and not an historian, has provided deep historical insights. The Carpet Wars offers a new understanding of a particular history at a time when it has been - and still is - most needed."
A third book, Inhaling the Mahatma (HarperCollins/Fourth Estate) completed an accidental triology of books exploring themes of war, politics, and social change stretching from Baghdad to Hanoi, and points in between. Shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards for Best Nonfiction Book, this personal history of India focuses on events and people the author experienced in the decade he spent living and working in that country.
The esteemed Indian literary critic Chandrahas Choudhury placed Inhaling the Mahatma in the tradition of such travelling essayists as Mark Twain, George Orwell and Alberuni. "Personal and lyrical, roving widely and sympathetically among both high and low, and providing superb eyewitness accounts of key events of our recent history, Kremmer tells a double story: of watching a country change, and of being reshaped himself in the deepest ways. The book, Choudhury writes, is in part a "meditation" on the northern Indian temple town of Ayodhya, where in 1992, a violent Hindu mob destroyed and ancient religious shrine. But it is also an homage to the Indian literary and religious classic, the Ramayana, and it's indelible imprint on the day to day life of India. Writes Choudhury, "Kremmer adds a practised eye for detail and a novelist's love for the riches of language...On the banks of the Ganga in Varanasi, "dhobis slap wet laundry not far from cadavers roasting on pyres, life's drudgery and death's drama played out on a common stage." Investigating the problem of legal pendency, Kremmer arrives in Allahabad, where more court cases are filed than in any other Indian city, to find that the oldest case being tried dates back to 1965. An official confides that "slowly we are moving forward to the present."
As a foreign correspondent, Kremmer travelled with India's former prime minister, the charismatic
Rajiv Gandhi on the campaign trail in Uttar Pradesh in 1991 a few weeks before Gandhi was assassinated. Thirteen years later, he travelled with Gandhi's son Rahul, and noted the uncanny similarities between son and father, and the unquestioning, even comical, devotion the Gandhi name inspires among the masses, writing that "On one occasion, a knot of elderly women mistook me for Rahul and had to be prised off my feet before falling at his." Writes the critic, Choudhury, "Inhaling deeply of much more than just the Mahatma, Kremmer has exhaled an account of India of almost unmatched richness and subtlety."
The respected Asia expert and author Hamish McDonald places Christopher Kremmer's work within a lineage of Australian writers who have engaged fruitfully with India. Writes McDonald, "In 1955, the future novelist Christopher Koch and his travelling companions took an impulsive decision to disembark in Colombo from the passenger liner that was taking them on the post-graduation rite of passage for young Australians, a spell in Britain with forays into continental Europe. Together with a young Sikh they met on board, they set off on a long journey by ferry and rail the length of India that was to last months...Ten years later, the experience in India and earlier on port-calls in Java was transformed into Koch’s novel Across the Sea Wall."
"A further two decades on, in his essay “Crossing the Gap’’ published in 1987, Koch further distilled his encounters with India, Java and Hinduism into a sense of shared duality about Europe and Asia. “... I concluded that Australia and India, in at least one way, might be akin in spirit. Australians might well become the Hindus of the south.” McDonald continues, "A half-century after Koch’s impulse, another Australian writer, Christopher Kremmer, embarked on an exploration of Hinduism. Eventually he is asked by a mahant (holy man) in Varanasi whether he has decided to become Hindu. “I think I am a Hindu,” Kremmer replied. “Always have been. No need to become one.” The following morning, he takes his first ritual dip in the Ganges. “It felt good to be home, good to be free. I would be keeping the name my parents gave me, the wisdom of India’s sages, a healthy scepticism, and the secret of how a polluted river can make you clean, grinding it all down until it resembled something I could call my own.”
In 2011, Christopher turned his focus homeward to Australia with the publication of his debut novel The Chase based on the life of his father, who rode racehorses in the 1940s and '50s in Sydney. Since returning to Australia, Christopher has spoken widely at literary festivals and other events across the nation. He was invited by the international writers group PEN to contribute to its '3 Writers Project' leading to the publication of a series of essays, Courage, Survival, Greed" In 2013, he was awarded a Doctorate in Creative Arts from Western Sydney University, where he had undertaken research into truth claims in the historical novel, based within the prestigious Writing and Society Research Centre. In 2014, he became Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Advancing Journalism in the Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Melbourne. He now teaches literary and narrative journalism practice at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Australia India Institute and has conducted research as an honorary research fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States.