Morris Lurie Biography
Nationality: Australian. Born: Melbourne, Victoria, 1938. Education: Melbourne High School; Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Divorced; one son and one daughter. Career: Worked in advertising, early 1960s; lived in Europe and Morocco, 1965-72, then in Melbourne.
Rappaport. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1966; New York, Morrow, 1967.
The London Jungle Adventures of Charlie Hope. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1968.
Rappaport's Revenge. London, Angus and Robertson, 1973.
Flying Home. Collingwood, Victoria, Outback Press, 1978; London, Penguin, 1982.
Seven Books for Grossman. Ringwood, Victoria, Penguin, 1983.
Madness. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1991.
The String. Ringwood, Victoria, McPhee Gribble Publishers, 1995.
Welcome to Tangier. Ringwood, Victoria and New York, Penguin, 1997.
Happy Times. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1969.
Inside the Wardrobe: 20 Stories. Fitzroy, Victoria, Outback Press, 1975; New York, Horizon Press, 1978.
Running Nicely. Melbourne, Nelson, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1979.
Dirty Friends. Ringwood, Victoria, Penguin, 1981; New York, Penguin, 1983.
Outrageous Behaviour: Best Stories. Ringwood, Victoria, Penguin, 1984; London and New York, Penguin, 1985.
The Night We Ate the Sparrow: A Memoir and Fourteen Stories. Ringwood, Victoria, and New York, Penguin, 1985.
Three Stories. Melbourne, Grossman Press, 1987.
Two Brothers, Running: Seventeen Stories and a Movie. Ringwood, Victoria, Penguin, 1990.
Waterman: Three Plays (includes Jangle, Jangle; A Visit to the Uncle; Waterman). Collingwood, Victoria, Outback Press, 1979.
Other (for children)
The Twenty-Seventh Annual African Hippopotamus Race. London, Collins, and New York, Simon and Schuster, 1969.
Arlo the Dandy Lion. London, Collins, and New York, McGraw Hill, 1971.
Toby's Millions. Ringwood, Victoria, Kestrel, 1982; London, Penguin, 1983.
The Story of Imelda, Who Was Small. Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1984; Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1985; Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1988.
Night-Night! Seven Going-to-Bed Stories. Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1986.
Heroes. North Ryde, New South Wales, Methuen, 1987.
Alison Gets Told. Crows Nest, New South Wales, ABC Enterprises, 1990.
What's That Noise? What's That Sound? Milsons Point, New South Wales, Random Century, 1991.
The English in Heat. Sydney and London, Angus and Robertson, 1972.
Hack Work. Collingwood, Victoria, Outback Press, 1977.
Public Secrets. Melbourne, Sun, 1981.
Snow Jobs. Carlton, Victoria, Pascoe, 1985.
Whole Life: An Autobiography. Fitzroy, Victoria, McPhee Gribble, 1987.
My Life as a Movie and Other Gross Conceits: 24 Essays Sportifs. Fitzroy, Victoria, McPhee Gribble-Penguin, 1988.
Editor, John Hepworth, His Book. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1978.
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Morris Lurie is one of Australia's most prolific writers, centering himself firmly in the fabulist tradition, or, more colloquially, as a spinner of yarns. The son of Jewish immigrant parents, Lurie shares the call of ancient European traditions, practiced and firmly clung to by the older migrant group among whom he grew up, and about whom he writes so well, with the irresistible sense of freedom from such tradition which Australian life produced for the boy and young man in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Lurie, like Judah Waten before him, explores this conflict between the New World and the Old in compassionate, yet humorous, terms, finding a voice for hundreds of thousands of people caught up in the postwar migration and refugee flood which brought so much to Australian life and culture. Here was a different tradition, neither English nor Celtic, but firmly Euro-centered, and just as firmly Jewish, transported to a country which neither understood nor appreciated what that tradition would eventually offer.
Little wonder, then, that four of Lurie's novels, Rappaport, The London Jungle Adventures of Charlie Hope, Rappaport's Revenge, and Flying Home, as well as many of his short stories, focus on the theme of the young Australian attempting to cope with cultural traditions learned first from books and the memories of his parents and their friends, yet having to be confronted firsthand and experienced personally before any of their richness or folly can be assessed. It is not for nothing that Charlie Hope finds London a jungle and capers about with shrewd simian nimbleness, or that Rappaport, having received something of a drubbing when he first arrived in London, nevertheless manages to exact his revenge, financially and culturally, when he is safe and sound back in Australia.
Lurie's major work is the novel Flying Home. It is both a love story, as Leo Axelrod seeks to understand the mystery of his lover Marianne, and a novel which seeks to explore the confused and confusing tangle of roots and origins which migrant families carry within their displaced baggage. Leo comes to realize that he will never exorcise, much less comprehend, his demons until he visits Israel, for somewhere in that promised land lies the secret to his own self and the ambiguities which enclose his relationship with his parents and grandparents. As he reflects:
It was the way I was brought up, it was what they felt. They didn't like Australia. Well, it wasn't even a matter of like. They ignored it. They pretended it wasn't there. Australia was an unfortunate thing that had happened to them; that Hitler had done, that's all it was to them. An accident. A terrible accident. It wasn't the real world. The real world was Bialystock, Poland, Europe…. So that's where I was born, that's where I grew up, that's where I lived. Nowhere. In a black cage.
The conflict between the "nowhere" of Australia and the "real world" of Europe is exigent and drives Leo to explore that "real world" in search of his self and his true home. This exploration of the mystery of family relationships—their tortuous and often painful ambiguities—and the search for a locus, a spiritual natal place, are the predominant themes of Lurie's work until the early 1980s.
During the 1970s his trips to the U.S.A. provided him with a rich source of material for exploring the Jewish community in that country of immigrants, and allowed him to see how a more established and larger community handled the translocation from Europe to a new country of considerable freedom and material progress. Several of his books of reportage, Hack Work and Public Secrets, for example, contained witty and ebullient pieces on the Jewish community in America, particularly in New York. His novella Seven Books for Grossman explores the mad and funny world of the Jewish fantasist, coping with sexual anarchy, a maddening intelligence, and a material culture at war with ancient demons which demand guilt and obeisance to vestigial traditions. As book tumbles after book (Dirty Friends, Outrageous Behaviour, The Night We Ate the Sparrow and Two Brothers, Running are recent story collections), Lurie shows himself not only as an acute and funny social observer, but as something of a transcultural anthropologist. His interest in the quirky, the outrageous, the madcap, in no way diminishes his exploration of the roots of human behavior and ideals.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the steady and voluminous flow of his work, Lurie remains a professional craftsman. His style is colloquial and confessional, brimming with witty aphorisms and incisive dialogue. His humor teeters on the brink of the absurd, often the anarchistic, and his later works show a considerable freedom of imagination, particularly when he, or his fictive creations, explore sexual situations, as though, by having confronted a range of taboos in his earlier work, he has earned for himself the freedom to move unselfconsciously wherever his keen nose for the funny, the eccentric, or the absurd, might lead him.
One aspect of his work often overlooked by critics as though it were secondary to his short stories, essays, and novels is his attention to and success in children's fiction. His first foray into this field was as far back as 1969 with The Twenty-Seventh Annual African Hippopotamus Race, followed by Arlo the Dandy Lion, The Story of Imelda, Who Was Small, and several other stories. These simple, homespun yarns have proved immensely popular with young children, partly because Lurie manages the difficult feat of containing his narrative within the perspective of a child's eye and allowing his fictive heroes moderate, but not overwhelming, success in a world seen as competitive, but not threatening.
When one looks at the range and volume of Lurie's work, one can only admire his dedication to the creative tasks and his skill as a craftsman. Where some have found a certain sameness about his earlier works and their concentration on the young Jewish male, squirming his way to maturity through the mess of memory, tradition, and lore imposed upon him, others have seen in his humor and aphoristic style, his sharp eye for the idiosyncratic, and his keen sense of human folly a writer deeply concerned for the constant rediscovery of human values and human freedom. Behind the sophisticated wit, the mock-heroic style of so much of his works, lies a writer making sense of the modern world, noting its curiosities and failures of sensibility, but realizing, through his imaginative creations, the human capacity to survive with sadness, but also with humor.