Writers & Company

Peter Carey on cybercrime and Australia/U.S. relations

The Australian-American author explores the relationship between the two countries in his latest book, Amnesia.
Generations of competition and animosity between Australia and the U.S. inspire the work of Peter Carey, who has called both countries home. (Knopf Canada)

Peter Carey likes to call himself a "Marshian" — he was born in Bacchus Marsh, Australia. Though the two-time Booker Prize winner has lived in New York City for 25 years, but he is still very much an Australian. And Carey's homeland still has a hold on his imagination, with his work often conjuring up Australia's past as a prison colony as well as its more recent history. His new novel, Amnesia, probes the relationship between his two countries through the story of an aging investigative journalist and a high-profile, high-tech prison break.

The Guardian says of Peter Carey's latest: "Like many of [his] books, Amnesia generates an aura of the fantastical but is completely grounded; it is high-spirited but serious, hectic but never hasty."

The author spoke to Eleanor Wachtel from the CBC's New York studio.


I think it's more my anxiety than a reliable scientific prediction. But look at our ever-increasing reliance on the internet, and consider just how vulnerable it is. We know you can close down water supplies, or at least there's a real, live possibility that the water supply of New York City could be stopped. And a thing called the Stuxnet worm effectively bombed the Iranian centrifuges, which shook themselves to pieces. These sorts of things that happen in the cyber world can have devastating consequences. You have to ask yourself how our society would survive if these sorts of things started to happen more frequently.


I admit I was thrilled that he spoke against power and made information available that had not been available to us. Even if I think that the title they gave to the video of the Iraq helicopter shootings, "Collateral Murder," was editorialising a bit much for my taste. Still, I think it was essential and really vital for us to know the things that were being done daily in our name. I thought he was an incredibly important figure. Being an Australian in America, it was very interesting to me to see Assange, an Australian, called a traitor in the U.S. How could he possibly be a traitor? They don't own him, he's not a citizen. He may be an enemy, possibly, but he is not a traitor. 


It's difficult to regret things like all the science and invention of the last 200 years. If one wants to regret those things, you have to be prepared to suffer all sorts of pain and disease and sickness. Life is better because of that progress, but there are consequences to the inventiveness that has made our lives more comfortable, because we are in the process of destroying our habitat. We are a species that has thrived in just a blip in time, if you think of the history of the universe, and like some parasite, we might eventually actually destroy our host. That doesn't seem an outrageous notion. So maybe just given who we are, we are going to destroy our host with the inventions of the Industrial Revolution and before and after. It's just an organic part of the process — that's just who we are, and what will be our destiny.

Peter Carey's comments have been edited and condensed.

Music to close the show: "Whirligig" composed and performed by Dr. Didi, from the album Serotonality.