Killernova (Penguin Books Australia) is a collection of poetry, mini essays and art that follows Australian poet Omar Musa’s journey to his homeland of Borneo and explores the myths, traditions and artistic practices of his ancestors.

Borneo was once home to the most heavily wooded rainforests in the world, and Musa turns to the tradition of wood carving to rediscover his passion for poetry. His poetry weaves between languages: English and Bahasa, visual and lyrical, optimistic and cynical.

A stark contrast to anything you will have read this year, Musa’s rhythmic and intimate exploration of colonialism, environmental destruction, bushfires, race and recovery is breathtaking.

Like many children of migrants, Musa struggles to come into an Australian identity, conflicted by the racial divisions and political violence faced by First Nations peoples. His lineage traces back to the most important indigenous forest-dwelling and seafaring communities of the South China Sea – an area of great and, to Australian audiences especially, alarming geopolitical conflict. But Musa does not feel at home in either land, and his writing exposes this conflict with sharp, emotional precision.

In an especially poignant verse of Bendera Borneo, he writes, “I am a man with no flag, unless you count the page in front of me”.

His work invites you into one of the richest dying cultures in the world, seen through the eyes of both a man returning home and a stranger discovering something completely foreign. The book itself is a visual delight. Every line he carves honours the personal and the political, inviting us to examine our complicity in what we wear, buy, eat and think.

Warning: skip Hungry Gods if you ever want to eat laksa again without thinking of human rights abuse.

By Keshavi Jeyaseelan


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